Part Two

Disclaimer: Unlike the first chapter, which contained nearly no direct Wilde quotes, this one is riddled with them. Play spot-the-quote with a friend. It's the perfect thing for a tiresomely dull spring afternoon. (You could also play spot-the-Velvet-Goldmine quote. . .But since there's only the one, it wouldn't be quite as satisfying.)

Note: Peter really sucks in this part. He sucks anyway, but I wrote him even suckier. However, he has suddenly become as masterful of the English language as his friends. Go him, I guess.

***

"Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming."

Six days later, they were back in their dormitory. Sirius Black leaned casually against the wall. James was watching the werewolf anxiously. The only other seventh year boy in the room was Peter Pettigrew. James had always told Remus in private that he disliked many things about Peter, especially his habit of following the bigger bots about. However, he also said he liked standing next to Peter for photographs. Peter's hopelessly dull appearance heightened James' attractiveness, so he said.

It was another lazy sort of afternoon of the type you get in late spring, before the thrill of the warmer weather has given way to an indecent, sweating desire for autumn's soothing chill. There was a yellow and black butterfly trying to decide whether it wanted to come inside or stay out in the open. It was a Saturday, which naturally meant there were no lessons, and the three young men had been watching Remus fussing over the painting and its velvet cover for longer than any of them cared to count.

"Well, come on," Sirius insisted, adjusting his position against the bedpost. "I've been waiting to see this for longer than is surely decent. Take the blasted cover off."

Remus twitched nervously. "Well," he murmured, "if you really want to see it. . ."

"That is an absurdly stupid thing to say, dear. Now do as I ask before the anticipation finishes me off."

Looking more nervous than ever before, Remus removed the green velvet and revealed his masterpiece in all its glory. Sirius leaned forwards and his jaw hung loose. Peter also started forwards to get a closer look. James stood back and grinned enthusiastically at Remus.

"Moony, it. . ." Sirius began, but words momentarily failed him.

"Do you like it?" Remus asked, a little unsettled by his silence.

"Of course he likes it," said James. "Who wouldn't like it? It is the most flattering thing you could ever do for him, and we all know Sirius loves being flattered so."

"How sad it is," said Sirius quietly, but the two other boys didn't hear him because Peter had started with a cry and backed into a bedpost.

"Remus, how could you?" the small, fat boy squeaked. "How could you paint something so vile?"

James' face had gone bright red, but it was Sirius who suddenly raised his voice above his previous whisper.

"Vile? It is not vile! You had better explain what you mean quickly, and make sure it is a perfect explanation!"

Peter was obviously terrified of Sirius, but he managed a reply through clenched teeth. "What Remus has done is disgusting. It's enough that you and he defy ever law of nature and social decency, but to put these things in a painting for everyone to see? It is too much."

"Peter, it is only a portrait!" exclaimed James.

"It is the portrait of a lover, by a lover. It is repulsive!"

The door slammed behind him as he left. Remus put a calming hand on James' arm. Sirius had already forgotten Peter and was staring intently at the painting again. He was completely absorbed in it, gazing at it with wide open eyes. "Why did you do this, Remus?" he murmured.

"I. . .I guess I wanted to create something as perfect as you are," Remus explained.

"Perfect?" Sirius stood up from his crouch and gave Remus a piercing glare. "Yes, it is perfect. It looks just like me, right down to the very last detail. How well you know me, Remus." He turned back to the portrait. Like all magical paintings, it could move, and kept adjusting its proud pose. Thus far it had remained silent, but Remus assured them it could speak when it wanted to.

"I think it's too proud to hold conversations with mere mortals," he said with a wry smile.

"Mere mortals," repeated Sirius distantly. He was entranced once more by the portrait. It paraded up and down in its frame, obviously relishing all the attention. When he spoke, it was as if he addressed his oil-painted self.

"Would that I were no mere mortal. . .But I shall grow old and ugly, and this picture shall remain fresh as the day it was finished and as young as I am now. If only it were the other way round! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old!. . .I would give my soul for that."

Remus laughed softly. "I should object very strongly to that, Sirius. My best work marred by mortal aging?"

"You'd rather it was I who were to die?"

"Sadly, Sirius, that is the way of the world."

"How can you speak lightly of such things?" Sirius turned to face his friends once more. "How can you say such things at all? You are quite content to see me get older and uglier every day – every second! – and you sit here admiring this painting, this perfect form which will never know pain or even age! Remus, you love your art more than you love me."

Remus was quite startled by this sudden outburst. He tried to reassure Sirius, but the bigger boy was far from finished. Sirius batted away the butterfly which had tried to settle in his hair, and it spiralled down to the floor. Automatically, Remus scooped it up and placed it on the windowsill. A moment later it fluttered off into the darkening sky.

"See?" Sirius demanded, cornering Remus against the windowsill. "You care more for beautiful things such as pictures and butterflies. But what of me, when I lose my looks? I will be discarded like that butterfly's old cocoon, that's what!"

"Nonsense!" Remus cried. He was completely unsettled by all this, and had gone pink in the cheeks. "Sirius, don't tell me you are jealous of such material things?"

"I am quite jealous! All your paintings are perfect and you will love them always. They will always retain their beauty. Oh, if only the painting would change and not I! Remus, why did you paint something which mocks me so horribly?" He turned away and flung himself down on the bed. Remus climbed up beside him, placed a consoling arm around him, and tried to reassure his distraught lover. James let his gaze linger on them for a brief moment, then turned to face the portrait.

"And what do you think about all this, Pseudo-Sirius?"

The small figure within the frame was surprised to be addressed. "Think?" it retorted. "I am a thing, Potter, not a person. I am not designed for thinking, I am designed for looking at."

"Remus made you, and if I know Remus (which, incidentally, I do) then he made you to think."

"I will never grow old," said the painting eventually. "It is impossible."

"Nothing is impossible with magic, Thing," said James thoughtfully. "Everything is at least a little bit possible anyway."

Remus glanced up from his consoling of Sirius. "Are you talking to it, James?"

"I am indeed."

"Well don't. I am going to destroy it. I won't let it upset so many people like this. I have realised I hate it. It is my best work and I despise it." Remus stood up from the bed and looked about the room, Sirius raised his head to watch him. Finally Remus picked up his wand and strode over to the painting, pointing the long elm-wood shaft at it. Sirius frowned. What was he doing? Nut it was obvious.

"Remus, don't! It would be murder!"

The sandy-haired boy paused. "You do not wish for it to be destroyed?"

"No! Don't do it, Remus, for the love of god."

Remus lowered his wand-hand. He gave Sirius a long, cool stare. "The painting is yours. Do with it as you wish."

"I'll send it home then. It is an. . .extraordinary gift you have given me. One which I will treasure always. It will remind me of how much you loved me."

"Wonderful," said James, standing up swiftly. "And now Sirius and I must leave you, Remus. We are already late for Quidditch practice."

Remus Lupin watched his two best friends leave. As he watched, it occurred to him how beautiful people look when they're walking out of the door.