Chapter 1 : Painting
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Luna threw open the doors of her wardrobe and stared inside. Her clothes hung shapeless on a crooked rail above her, and, below, a large, crumpled cardboard box sat on a low shelf. The lid didn’t quite fit anymore, and a few paintbrushes stuck out at odd angles, bristles splayed. She leaned over and hoisted the box into her arms, knees buckling slightly under the weight of it. Carrying it over to her bed, she dumped it atop the crinkled duvet, where it dislodged a flurry of old flaked paint atop the white fabric. Straightening up, she frowned at the ceiling.
How was she supposed to get up there?
Carefully, she clambered onto the bed. It wobbled dangerously as she stood, spreading her arms about her to steady herself. Tentatively, she lifted a hand to the ceiling and mimed drawing a brush across its surface. He bed gave another dangerous wobble, and she almost lost her balance.
No. That would not do.
She jumped down off the bed, landing nimbly. Her feet had left two muddy footprints on the bedspread, but she merely shrugged, thinking that they were due a wash anyway. She put her hands on her hips and gazed around the room, thinking of a different means of climbing.
Her eyes fell upon the wardrobe. An idea flashed in her head, and she rushed over, gripping the sides of her wardrobe in her palms and tugging with all her might. It gave an almighty creak and shifted a few inches, the screech as it moved across the floor echoing around the quiet room. She paused, bent double, arms aching, staring at the wardrobe in disbelief. How on earth could it be so heavy?
‘Luna?’ her father’s voice drifted from below. ‘Are you alright?’
‘Yes, Daddy,’ she called back, her voice quite choked from the effort of heaving the wardrobe. ‘It’s nothing.’
She abandoned all plans of moving the wardrobe and stepped back, collapsing down on the bed with a heavy sigh. Resting her elbows upon her knees and placing her chin in her hands, she looked around her room again. The only thing left was the desk, but that was coated with a mess of parchment and books, and she didn’t dare disturb it. The detritus of four years’ drawings lay beneath it, and only Merlin knew how many Nargles would be waiting there.
She scrambled across to her bedside table, pushing aside a heavy, leather-bound book and reaching underneath for her familiar Butterbeer cork necklace. Ignoring the heavy thump as the book hit the floor, she looped the necklace over her head and fastened it at the nape of her neck, grinning. It wasn’t the best protection, but it was certainly a start.
Reaching over to the box beside her, she pulled one of the paintbrushes free. It was old; the handle was chipped and cracked, coated with a thick layer of old, dusty paint. She stared at it for a second, perplexed; there were no bristles. It simply ended in a rusty old ring of metal. Luna felt a slow wave of shock roll over her. Nargles! She was used to them stealing her things, but they always returned them, and this time, they’d actually damaged something...
She stood, frowning, broken paintbrush in hand, and stalked over to the desk, where the melee of parchment and old sketchbooks stood almost to her neck. With a sweep of her free hand, she skimmed the top of the pile, letting the loose sheets and sketches fall around her feet like snow. Nothing ominous appeared aside from a Transfiguration essay she was supposed to have handed in at the start of last year that she could have sworn the Nargles had hidden from her in her dormitory.
Sighing, she reached over and scooped up the rest of the parchment in her arms, releasing a storm of dust that surrounded her like a cloud. Coughing, she flapped her arms around her head to clear it, the parchment falling around her feet. Blinded by the sudden hail of disturbed dust, she didn’t see the heavy book that teetered on the edge of the desk before, with a crashing finality, it fell on her toe.
‘Ouch!’ Luna grabbed at her foot, hopping on the spot. Her father’s concerned voice drifted from the stairwell again.
‘Luna? Is everything okay?’
‘I’m fine, Daddy!’ she coughed, gently replacing her foot on the floor and nudging the book aside. A slow, dull, thudding pain creaked into life in her toe. Stubbornly, she hopped forward, staring down at the surface of her desk.
Merlin, she hadn’t seen it in a while.
Carefully, she smoothed a hand over the pockmarked, dull-brown wood. It was the colour of milky tea, scratched and grooved by a lifetime’s use. Several Lovegoods had owned it before she did, and she loved the history that lingered in the deep gouges of the surface, loved inventing the stories of great-great-great Aunt Euphemia who sat and wrote love letters by candlelight. In fact, there was a whole elaborate fantasy there that explained away things like the small, darkish burn near the left corner where great-great-great Aunt Euphemia must have knocked over her candle one night in a…a fit of desperation for her love.
It was that or it was the Nargles. She thought she preferred the idea of great-great-great Aunt Euphemia causing the burn. Nargles usually meant ill.
Did she even have a great-great-great Aunt Euphemia? Was it Eugenia? Eunice? Eustace? It was Eu-something, anyway. It might actually have been great-great-great Uncle Eu-something.
If Luna had one bad habit, it was letting her imagination run away with itself too much. She rather thought that it did this just to spite her, for it had a habit of wandering at vital moments, like in conversation, or in important lessons. Or when she was talking to Harry. She didn’t think he cared about Nargles or Wrackspurts or the Rotfang conspiracy. She didn’t think her cared a bit, which, she had to admit, upset her slightly. He was supposed to be the chosen one! How was he supposed to avoid being attacked if he didn’t know such simple things? He wanted to be an Auror, but, surely, he couldn’t join them when they were so corrupt…
She shook her head, slowly, trying to clear her thoughts. She had cleared the desk because she wanted to paint the ceiling, not because she wanted to think about relatives who might or might not be called Euphemia or keeping Harry safe from dodgy Aurors…
Luna crossed the room again and hoisted her painting box in her arms, bent backwards slightly by the weight of it. She dumped it on the table before climbing up after it, pushing the lid off with a knock of her hand. It took her five minutes’ rummaging before she found her tools; the nine squat bottles of paint, the handful of paintbrushes, the flat, chipped palette, coated with seven years of dried oils and acrylics.
And now was the tricky part. Choosing the colours she’d use. Well, she’d have to use the bright orange, for Ginny and Ron’s hair, but for the skin...she pulled forward the red and the white, gauging how to mix them to get the perfect peach-pink she was looking for. And then she’d need a touch of green, just to offset the vivacity of the pink and tone it down, make it real...
Her mother had taught her to paint when she was eight. Well, she’d never taught her to paint, as such, but she’d taught her the basics. Like how red and blue made purple, and yellow and green made blue. If you mixed all of the colours together you got sludge-brown. These were the simple things that started off her hobby.
She’d had to teach herself the rest, though. Perspective. Sketching. The proportions and dimensions that formed a face; how the corners of the lips were in line with the pupils of the eyes, how the eyebrows fed down into the curve that straightened and fell, tracing the contours of the nose at the bottom. The lobes of the ears were roughly parallel to the dark curve that divided the two lips. The top lip was always darker. Hair should be drawn with smooth, flowing arcs.
She’d picked these up from a combination of the Hogwarts library and careful observation. A first browse of the paltry art section had given here diagrams of the face, with careful lines and circles marking out the dimensions and proportions that should be followed. She dismissed these; they were mathematical, factual. Art wasn’t supposed to be like that, she thought. It was supposed to be free and unstructured. In the common room, though, she studied the faces of those who sat around her and found the books were accurate. She got funny looks, but what did it matter? She learnt how to map a face beneath a pencil lead, and that was what was important to her.
After a few minutes, she stood, pencil in hand, and began to draw out the faces of her friends.
It took two days to finish the drawings. It was a lazy summer, and the heat pressed against her window with such force that she thought the glass might shatter under the weight. She threw them open, listening to the sluggish hum of passing insects as she drew and drew, only stopping when the miserable snip of hunger called her down from the table, or weariness made her hand erratic and spoiled the portraits. They were done after about fifteen hours (she’d been counting) but were only stark, rough grey lines across a white plastered ceiling, devoid of colour or shade. It was only then that she filled an old jam-jar from the kitchen with water, upended pots of paint onto her palette and lifted the brushes. She made sure she’d had a good night’s sleep before. Snoozing on the job would definitely ruin the pictures.
Ginny’s portrait was first. She started by dabbing blotches of red and white on her hand and, little by little, dragging them across until they met in the middle, just over the angles of her bones. Swirling the brush around, she got a garish, pale pink, and swept down to lift the tiniest dab of green from the palette, mixing it in. (It was a habit to mix skin tones on her hand like this. Her mother had told her it was better, more accurate, and Luna trusted her advice to the hilt) Once the skin was done, shaded in the angles of the face with a tiny mix of grey, she worked on a chocolate-brown colour for the freckles, then there was the flame-orange of the hair, the blue of the eyes...after a few hours, the colours blended into one, and she painted mechanically, absorbed and absent at the same time, transforming monochrome into the faces of her friends. It was only when it grew dark that she stopped, with Ginny, Ron and Neville resplendent against the white plaster, and only Hermione and Harry left to go.
Her father came to the stairs then. She pointed a finger skyward and he smiled. His eyes were a little watery, but she didn’t think much of it.
The alarm clock awoke her with a shrill scream the next day, and she leapt from her bed, fully clothed, grasping for the apron that hung over the back of a nearby chair. Her eyes were still crusted with sleep-sand, however, and she missed, hand flailing somewhere nearer to her bedside table where it knocked a picture frame to the floor with a muffled clatter of glass and metal. Rubbing her eyes, she stepped forward and found the apron at last, looping it over her head and around her waist. Work on the paintings started immediately. It was cruel, she thought, to have three finished and two left in boring black-and-white, like ghosts on the ceiling. Within ten minutes of waking she was stood on the table again, brush swirling in a palette of fresh paint. Hermione was first, and by one in the afternoon she was finished. The wild, erratic zig-zag brushstrokes of her hair had sent droplets of brown paint around the room and onto Luna’s face, making her look as if she’d taken an odd turn of the measles.
Harry was last. Luna stalled slightly, biting her lip. Glasses. A problem she hadn’t given much thought. What would glasses look like perched upon the face she’d drawn at a three-quarter angle? What shadows would they cast, and wherever was she supposed to colour the sheen of the light on the lenses? Abandoning the palette, she jumped from the desk and plunged her hands into the half-open trunk standing to the side, sifting through layers of crumpled robes and old issues of The Quibbler until she found a small, grubby-looking envelope that held, with a rubber band, a handful of photographs. Colin Creevey in her year had taken them and distributed the prints at the end of the year, and she pulled the largest out, staring at the occupants, who grinned and waved at her as if they could really see her. It was the DA, and she saw herself, standing off at one side. Staring at the camera with her lips slightly parted, her eyes wide as saucers, only a small distance from the five faces that now beamed from her ceiling. Her finger drifted over the surface until it found Harry, and she squinted at him. In a few seconds she figured out the angles and shadows of the glasses, but she kept the picture clutched in her fingers. Looking at it made her feel rather sad.
They were her friends, weren’t they? They weren’t just humouring her or feeling sorry for her, were they? They liked her, she was sure of it, but...but then they usually smiled when she mentioned things like Nargles, and they weren’t happy, pleased smiles, but amused ones...
Of course they were her friends. Of course they were. Harry had taken her to Slughorn’s party, didn’t he? As friends. He’d said it himself. They were going as friends.
Just as friends. He’d seemed very adamant that she understood that. There wasn’t anything suspicious or odd about it. But she’d hoped…just a little bit…
‘As friends.’ she whispered, slightly distracted. The tiny faces in the picture blinked and waved at her, unaware that she’d just spoken. Well, not like they’d ever know. They were a frozen plastic print. A moment trapped on paper. Smiling and idly waving their hands at her, dumb, knowing nothing of the small, paint-splattered hand that closed around them and stuffed them back into the envelope, drawing a thick line through the middle as the paper buckled and bent. No, she could not think of Harry like that, she had glasses to paint…
A set of footsteps on the stairs drew her attention away from painting and she stood, dropping the envelope back into the trunk. After a moment her father emerged, cradling a dusty pot in his arms, staring agape at the paintings on the ceiling.
‘They’re marvellous, Luna,’ he said, his voice slightly choked by the effort of keeping his head tilted back. ‘Simply wonderful. That’s Ronald Weasley, isn’t it? And that must be his sister, Ginevra…’
Luna pointed to the other three. ‘That’s Neville, then there’s Hermione, and the unfinished one is Harry.’
‘Harry Potter,’ her father said, with a slight smile. ‘Wonderful…’
‘How do they look?’
‘They’re very good,’ he unfolded his arms and stretched out one hand, handing her the pot like a peace offering. ‘I meant to give you this. Your mother used to use it when she painted…’
Luna took the pot from him and held it aloft, gazing at the label.
‘Gold paint?’ she asked. Her father nodded.
‘Wow…’ she breathed. His face cracked into a smile, and his eyes wandered over the paintings on the ceiling again, the lazy one fixed upon Harry, and the normal one pointed at Neville.
‘Your mother would have loved these. Perhaps you could pick out Mr Potter’s glasses in the gold…’
‘But that would be unfair to the others.’
‘Maybe a border?’
She considered it for a second, staring up at her work.
A border would not do. A border constricted the faces and boxed them in, confining them to a fixed place on her ceiling – she had to admit, even as she watched, that there was something alive about them, something that breathed through the layers of paint and the fixed smiles, something that suggested they breathed…she thought herself mad for a moment. Pictures only moved when you enchanted them, and she certainly hadn’t even so much as thought of a spell the whole afternoon.
Luna glanced back at the gold paint again. She had to use it, if it was her mother’s. Maybe…maybe, she racked her brains for another solution. Maybe…maybe something flowing? Something smooth, swift, darting between the portraits, linking them as one? Not to constrict, not to bond, but to connect, to bring together. As friends.
The idea sank in her mind like an anchor. The word friends, repeated as many times as the pot could provide, running in rhythm amongst the paintings, roping them together. She turned to tell her father this, but he was bent to the floor, a picture frame clutched in his hand. Behind the smashed glass, Luna and her mother waved in unison at the far wall, unseeing. She vaguely remembered knocking it off the bedside table in the morning, but she couldn’t be entirely sure…
‘The glass is all shattered.’ said her father, stupidly.
‘It must have fallen.’
There was a silence. Luna’s father looked from the broken photo to the beautifully painted faces on the ceiling.
‘I suppose you were too young to remember your mother,’ he said, sombrely, ‘but she was a very gifted painter.’
‘I remember, Daddy.’
‘Oh,’ his voice was almost inaudible. ‘Oh. I’ll…I’ve got some more copies of this month’s issue to print.’
Without another word, he clattered back down the stairs and out of sight. The room was very quiet in his absence. Even the bees seemed to have stopped buzzing outside, privy to the blush that she felt spreading across her cheeks. It looked so careless, with the picture all smashed on the floor and those faces staring down from above, so lovingly painted.
Carefully, she lifted herself back onto the desk, listening hard for a sound of her father from below. There was silence, and then the front door closed, quietly. She thought he might be a little upset.
Her head tilted backwards, staring at the faces above. They stared back, smiling benignly. Unseeing.
A/N: First time ever with a 12+ fic, let along the 'No Warnings' box. I hope I did the right thing |:
Thanks to blueirony for another challenging challenge (and a good one - I can finally say I've written for all ratings!) and, as usual, everything you recognise belongs to JKR. Reviews are helpful and very much appreciated (: