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Chapter 1 : the artist
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(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.
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.
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.”
“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…”
“Good to know you’re feeling better, then. And as for that really scary one –”
“The one with 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.”
“Not to mention someone slightly better looking than our banshee friend over there.”
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 Lefčvre.” 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 ;)
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