The Picture of Sirius Black

Summary: In 1979, Remus Lupin makes the mistake of painting a perfect portrait of his lover, Sirius Black. When Sirius become insanely jealous of the portrait's eternal youth, he makes a wish – that the picture should age instead of him.

Rating: PG-13

Info: AU fic. Probably.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter characters all belong to J.K. Rowling. 40% of the story line belongs to Oscar Wilde. 40% belongs to JKR. 20% belongs to me.

Part one

"The artist is the creator of beautiful things."

James Potter lounged idly on an old velvet-upholstered divan and fixed his friend with a lazy stare. The scent of roses wafted in on the warm breeze, edged with the tang of freshly cut grass. The air was fresh and clean, and bright, clear sunlight bathed the conservatory where the two young men sat.

Remus Lupin was glaring critically at the canvas from a distance. He was apparently unaware of James' gaze on him across the room, and failed to acknowledge his friend's amused expression. His attention was dedicated solely to that painted canvas three metres in front of him. The easel sat between the painter and his friend, almost as if James had been sitting for him. While James was a ruggedly handsome young man, he didn't have the elegant beauty of the figure captured in oil paint on the screen.

A lazy butterfly flittered in through the open French windows and did an orbit around James' head. He glanced up at it, then waved a hand to prevent it from alighting in his scruffy hair. The movement caught Remus' attention, and he looked up.

"You've been staring at that painting for quarter of an hour," James complained, his voice softening as the butterfly perched on his outstretched hand and started to clean its feelers. Remus gazed wondrously at the black and yellow insect, then forced his attention back to James.

"I'm sorry," he said. "But I. . .I think it is finally finished."

"Finally!" said James, waving his hand and dislodging the butterfly. "You've been tweaking and poking incessantly at it since before New Year."

"Yes," said Remus, smiling softly as the butterfly chose his easel as a safer spot to sit. "It has taken an unusually long time. But I couldn't possibly do anything else to it."

James got to his feet. "Well, let me see it!" he demanded, striding swiftly round to Remus' side. Automatically the painter moved in front of the easel to protect his work from prying eyes, as he had for months. But James made an exasperated noise and moved him aside.

Remus hovered nervously as his friend inspected the work. "M-maybe it could do with some more work after all," he quavered. But James spun round to face him.

"No! You mustn't touch it again!"

"Is it that awful?" Remus sighed.

James' expression indicated that he was either about to hit Remus or burst into frustrated tears. Thankfully he restrained himself from either.

"Awful isn't nearly the word. . .It is awesome. Remus, it is easily your best work. You should send it to Dumbledore himself, get him to hand it somewhere in Hogwarts, in full view of everyone. Nowhere else is prolific enough for something so fine, and you know he adores your work."

Remus shook his head firmly. "No, I don't think I can do that. I've put too much into it. Too much emotion. Some things should be kept private, if you see what I mean."

"Nonsense. The important people already know everything there is worth knowing about You, Sirius, Peter and I, and anyone who doesn't know must be so absurdly irrelevant that you needn't worry about what they think."

Remus frowned, and James took on a disgusted expression.

"Don't scowl, Moony, it makes you look quite hideous. You weren't made to scowl. Men like you should permanently wear either a wistful expression or one of deep contemplation. And don't give me that smirk, it's perfectly vulgar."

A sharp laugh escaped Remus' lips, and he turned from James, reaching out a tentative hand to stroke the portrait's porcelain face. He half expected it to feel warm, but it was just cold paint.

"You know what else is vulgar?" asked James, in a tone which suggested he wasn't actually interested in the words coming from his own mouth, but couldn't be bothered to put a stop to them.

"What?" asked Remus, tearing his gaze once more away from the image of perfection he had created.

"The way you and he are constantly fawning over each other in the most public of places, then insist that this excuse for a scandal must be kept in the utmost secrecy. It is enough to make me physically choke."

"Then choke quietly," said Remus tartly.

"It seems something of a fad these days," James continued, "for every person to have their own personal secret, something which they would not dream of discussing in public for fear of humiliation, yet they insist these miniature atrocities be known by anyone who's anyone in society. It is quite disgusting, and what is more, they seldom bother to create a very good scandal, such as one might enjoy hearing the gruesome details of over supper. They merely settle for something mundane and pretend it is awful. Perhaps they think it makes them appear more decent to pretend that they think they are perfectly horrid. You, Remus, you are not one of them. If anyone discovered your biggest secrets, they would surely finish you, but Sirius. . .ah, he is the greatest of fabricators. No one gives a damn what you and he get up to behind closed doors, but if he doesn't sincerely believe it is the most outrageous thing to happen this century, he does a good job pretending it is so."

"You simply don't understand, Sirius," said Remus briskly. "And why should a boy like you attempt to understand what Sirius and I have? I would not be surprised if you and Lily were engaged by Christmas, but don't expect me to come to the wedding if you continue to speak in such a dreadful way."

James laughed curtly. "What makes you think I'd invite you to my wedding, werewolf? Oh don't look at me like that, you know I'm joking. You're as dear to me as my left arm. Sirius, of course, is my right and most useful arm, but you're the mainly decorative one which nevertheless is essential to my continued existence."

Remus apparently didn't find this at all complimentary. He made a small sound and headed over to the window. The butterfly, in the manner of all winged insects, was worrying at the closed window while it's unhindered path to freedom lay mere inches away. He opened the other window, and the butterfly fluttered away into the afternoon sun-bathed garden.

"When we get back after the holidays, don't think I won't be having words with the Headmaster," said James, refusing to let the subject go. "You've never let the school have one of your paintings, and you're quite evidently the best artist they've ever had. Dumbledore will talk you round. You'll let them put your painting up in the entrance hall."

"But James," the smaller man explained in exasperated tones, "it is not mine to give away."

"Then who's is it, Moony?"

"It belongs to Sirius, of course. He may do with it as he wishes, although he may wish to destroy it."

"Destroy it!" James was distraught at the idea. "If he does any such thing I shall never speak to him again as long as I live."

"Really, Jim. You do embellish things so. It is only a painting."

"It is much more than a painting – it is a work of art. Any fool can paint things, but you, Remus, create nothing but art."

"And all art is completely useless," said Remus dismissively. "I freely admit, I am beginning my career in art not because it gives me any pleasure but because it is something I can do well, and it is a line of work in which no one need know what I am. It is people like Sirius and yourself who are truly talented."

"Yes, but it is people like yourself who prevent people like us from getting intolerably bored. And you do such a good job of it too."

Once again, Remus wasn't nearly as impressed as James had hoped. He raised his eyebrows and made a comment under his breath which the bigger man couldn't quite make out.

"Anyway, Moony, this painting is a fragment of pure genius. Give it to Sirius if you must – and I must say it flatters him terribly, as if his head is not already of an adequately enlarged size – but do not let him ruin it or lock it away where no one will see it. I implore you, Remus, it must be seen by as many people as possible."

"He will do with it as he wishes," said Remus firmly. He walked away from James again, heading towards the painted image of his absent lover. He knew the painting was proof of his absolute adoration of and devotion to Sirius Black, and that such things should never be left lying about for anyone to see. Why, if too many people laid eyes on it, it would be marred, ruined beyond all salvage. But alas, it would be varnished tomorrow and framed after, and then it would no longer be his own. It would belong to Sirius himself, who would indeed do exactly as he pleased with it.

"Just like he does with everything else," said Remus under his breath, as James took him by the shoulder and led him out of the doors and into the wonderfully fragranced garden beyond.