Fantastic chapter image by Anna_Black @ TDA
Author’s Note: Since Artemisia is reading Rousseau’s work in this chapter, Du Contrat Social Ou Principes Du Droit Politique is mentioned by its English name, The Social Contract.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work. All OCs mentioned herein belong to me.
Chapter Five The Social Contract
“Take the course opposite to custom and you will almost always do well”-Jean Jacques Rousseau
Over the next three weeks, Artemisia buried herself in Rousseau’s writing when she had the opportunity. It was slow going for the most part, as her French was only adequate, though soon the pages began to shed their secrets at a satisfying rate. Artemisia devoured The Social Contract, surprised by her own fascination. She’d never been on for philosophy, in truth. At Hogwarts, she had let the writings of the venerated wizard scholars such as Flamel and Slytherin pass her by with frivolous disdain. Surely those doughty old men knew nothing of how she thought. And yet here was a Muggle, gifted with perfect eloquence, pleading his case for social order.
Artemisia was enchanted.
Besides providing her with a second education, Rousseau’s work served to distract her from the regular boredom of life at Beauxbatons. Honorius still insisted on spending his evenings at the salon of Camille Desjardins, although negotiations regarding the presence of French Aurors in British Canada had hit an impasse. The French Ministry argued that since the Seven Years War had been a purely Muggle conflict, France’s wizard population in Canada still needed protection. England, needless to say, heartily disagreed.
So far Artemisia had taken only a polite interest in the state of affairs. She had never been one for diplomacy while her aspirations favored Auror work. And why oh why should she care about a few poor wizards in Canada? Colonialism was so very dull.
On a Wednesday evening in October, the salon was particularly quiet. Ambassador Honorius had fallen asleep after a single round of cards and some helpful house elf had propped his gouty foot up on a stool. Artemisia dutifully took his place at the gaming table, where Monsieur Desjardins was regaling his guests with a story of his recent hunting trip.
“It is not often you find such glorious specimens of geese in this area,” he commented, while deftly picking through his hand.
The candlelight was low and Artemisia gladly accepted a third glass of strawberry wine from a servant. Her luck was running sour tonight and she wasn’t inclined to bet the rest of her money which she had carefully set aside for a new grey silk gown.
The other guests were likewise feeling frugal.
“Will you accept this, Camille?” a woman to Desjardins’ right inquired. She plucked a silver snuff box from her pocket and laid it on the table. “It is from Provence, goblin-made, of course.”
Desjardins tested the weight of the box in his palm. “The bet is sufficient,” he remarked, “and, in that case, I fold. The game is yours, Mlle. Lufkin.”
Artemisia hid her surprise well and laid her cards face down. Ha, she hadn’t even been bluffing!
“How delightful,” she replied, shepherding the coins into her pocket. The snuff box she kept out to inspect. “Why, there appears to be some residue within.”
“Silly dear, that is snuff,” the woman supplied.
Artemisia had never partaken of snuff before and out of curiosity, she dabbed a bit on the back of her hand and inhaled.
The powder flew into her right nostril and she promptly projected it with a sneeze.
The company laughed. Artemisia turned a horrid shade of red, disguising her embarrassment as nonchalance while she glanced at the drawing room door. Another guest had arrived, a stout, ruddy fellow who she immediately recognized as Fabre. He was a veteran Auror of some distinction and promise, and was also head of all overseas affairs pertaining to magical law enforcement.
Artemisia realized that this was just the man Honorius would want to speak with. She turned around in her chair to rouse the Ambassador, but stopped when she noticed the book Fabre discreetly clutched.
The Social Contract.
She was taking a risk. A great risk. And if she failed, she could bid any career with the British Ministry of Magic farewell.
Artemisia surveyed the simple note she had written, fighting an overwhelming urge to tear it to shreds.
“My dear Fabre,
At the salon of Camille Desjardins, I could not help but notice your copy of Rousseau’s The Social Contract. Are you familiar with his work as I am?
Fredrick Honorius "
She had forged the note, the signature and the very content of the message. Honorius knew nothing of it. He was too old and traditional to deal with Rousseau. Artemisia, however, couldn’t help but wonder if this was the key to reaching Fabre and winning his support for Britain once and for all.
Since she had spied Fabre in the salon last night, Artemisia hadn’t been able to put the him out of mind. A strange hunger for prestige had seized her, as she watched the Auror make his way around the gaming tables like some grizzled, yet dignified lion. Fabre was deferred to, respected.
And there she sat, a useless secretary to the impotent British Ambassador.
It was embarrassing. It was infuriating.
She suddenly felt the need to take control of the situation.
It wasn’t exactly in her line of duties to negotiate with foreign ministers, that was a matter left for politicians alone. But secretly, Artemisia wondered if she could do a better job than Ambassador Honorius. She respected the man, yes, but had trouble swallowing her own ambition.
Auror work had always captured her interest and here she had the chance to treat with a member of an elite French unit. This could certainly be to her benefit…if no one discovered her trickery first.
Artemisia grimaced in frustration. There was little hope for advancement at Beauxbatons and she wondered if her career was destined to be lackluster. Perhaps Tarquin was right. Was it better to be an independent professional as opposed to a Ministry lackey? For now, she couldn’t decide…but she could send the note to Fabre and hope for the best.
A knock on her door sent her to her feet at once. She opened it and was confronted by a pair of bespectacled eyes that peered into her apartments from the corridor.
Artemisia’s heart bounded into her throat. “Maxime! What are you doing here?”
Maximilien Rondelet offered her a stately bow before stepping over the threshold. “Good afternoon, Mlle. Lufkin. I wanted to see how you liked the book.”
A wave of inexplicable heat washed over her. So he had been thinking of her. Well, this was indeed thrilling, for scarcely a night past when she didn’t lull herself into a doze without picturing him, cutting such a smart figure in his blue coat.
Unable to restrain herself, she gently touched his shoulder. “I love it! Rousseau’s flair for republicanism is appetizing. Surely this is not what you meant when you spoke at Madame Crevecoeur’s salon?”
Maxime was instantly flattered, though he fought to conceal it. “I am pleased, then,” he replied. “You must come to Madame’s salon sometime soon. I find the conversation to be quite lacking lately.”
Artemisia ushered him over to a small chair by her desk. “I shall, I promise. You must forgive my absence. Progress has been slow for the Ambassador, but ah, I won’t trouble you with trifles.”
Contrary to her expectations, Maxime appeared intrigued. “I’m sad to hear such,” he said, adjusting his spectacles.
Artemisia, for all her strength and independence, basked in his aura. The autumn air was spiced with his pleasant citrus cologne and she was perilously drawn to his austerity. She wanted to stroke his smooth cheeks, to revel in his youth which was both delightful and severe. Such a man she had not met before, a man, it seemed who had a touch of renown about him.
For the first time she saw him withdraw his wand--willow, nine inches--and cast a cleansing charm upon his already pristine shoes.
Yes, he was finicky. It made her smile.
But as he went to pocket his wand, he turned slightly and noticed the note upon her desk.
Artemisia’s heart plummeted from her throat straight into her gut.
“Fabre?” Maxime held the missive between his long fingers. “I did not know Ambassador Honorius was familiar with Fabre.”
Artemisia narrowed her eyes. Damn it all to bloody hell. “I do not know, I only suppose. Honorius asked me to the deliver the note…I have not read it.”
And oh, she really didn’t want to lie to Maxime. But he was French, after all and she couldn’t stand to have her secret operation put in jeopardy. With any luck, he’d let the matter be and return to his usual indifference.
But today, Maxime was a bit too curious.
“The tone is awfully informal,” he mused.
Artemisia shrugged artlessly. “Honorius was never a poet. He spent his youth trading with Indian shamans in the colonies. Oh, I heard they practice dreadful magic over there…scalping their enemies and using the hair for poisonous potions.”
“I know Fabre,” Maxime interrupted her. “He is an intelligent man who possesses a keen understanding of society and how it will inevitably change. Tell me, Mlle. Lufkin, why are you trying to contact him?”
Artemisia’s jaw dropped open. She whirled away quickly to hide her shock, but it was too late.
“That’s rather presumptuous of you,” she sputtered. Behind her, Maxime rose slowly.
“Strange, you don’t seem suited for intrigue.”
“Are you trying to further your own cause or your country’s?” He posed his question so deftly that Artemisia felt compelled to respond.
“It would be a blessing if we both succeeded.”
Maxime paused a mere step behind her. Artemisia listened to his measured breathing which chilled the back of her neck. She tugged at her cravat.
“You have an air of wit about you,” Maxime noted, “and yet you are not without substance. I think you could make a grand politician.”
“Not here,” Artemisia mumbled, trying to shake off what she perceived to be flattery.
Maxime sighed. “No, you are correct. Beauxbatons may be grandiose, but beneath she is an old, ugly maid. I think, however, I may be able to help you.”
Artemisia turned on him. “Why,” she stammered, blood throbbing in her reddening ears, “would you do so?”
“I have a very selfish reason,” Maxime replied primly. “You’re a promising witch, Artemisia and I think you may do a great deal of good for your own people some day. I want to ally myself with you while I can, in hope that when the time is right, we may both serve our countries well.”
Does he sense the same greatness I find in him within me as well, she wondered. The mere notion left her faint.
And yet, she was captivated by the tremulous air about this man.
“Very well,” she managed to reply.
Maxime only nodded. “You must let me correspond with Fabre,” he said, taking his wand and taping the note. Her forged handwriting vanished. “Tell me, what it is you want from him?”
Fabre was pacing across the long, narrow lawn outside the conservatories, ankle deep in dry, autumn grass. One of his nimble servants charmed a fist-sized stone into the moody sky and the veteran Auror arched his arm, wand pointed upward with perfect precision.
Even from where she was standing, concealed by hedges, Artemisia could see the fine wrinkle that appeared on Fabre’s brow as he cast a non-verbal spell.
The stone shattered and powder painted the walkways. Staccato applause echoed from his trio of servants.
“Well done, monsieur! Have another go?”
“Indeed.” Fabre’s voice was deep-throated, the growl of an alpha wolf and his hands themselves were more like giant paws squeezed into leather gloves. “Fetch me the oak,” he ordered and was handed a second, longer wand.
Again, another, smaller stone was propelled into the sky. Fabre shot it from the air in an instant, his spell stinking of ozone.
Artemisia tried to take a deep breath. She was nervous, yes, but determined. Maxime had worked too hard, after all, for her to turn tail and run. For two weeks he had whittled away at Fabre with notes and stolen conversations, persuading the prickly man to meet with Ambassador Honorius’ secretary.
And now, finally, it was all upon Artemisia.
Nervously, she patted her dry lips with a handkerchief.
A third stone had been sent into the sky and it was small, only just visible against the low-lying clouds.
Fabre squinted. “Dammit! I cannot see the blasted thing!”
Sensing her chance, Artemisia stepped out from behind the hedges and sent a spell at the rock. It exploded with a rumble like soft thunder.
Fabre whirled around to glare at her.
“Pardon me, monsieur!” she called, feigning innocence.
Fabre raised a thick eyebrow. “Was that you, mademoiselle?” He looked surprised. “A fair shot.”
“Thank you.” She bowed lowly. “The wind carried it to me. I shouldn’t have seen it otherwise.”
“Hmm.” Fabre looked skeptical. He handed his wand back to the servant. “Are you Fredrick Honorius’ girl?”
“Yes, his personal secretary, Artemisia Lufkin.”
“Rondelet told me I could expect you. He’s a shrewd man. I’m surprised he would have anything to do with an Englishwoman.” Fabre pronounced the last word with a certain degree of distaste.
Artemisia ignored the barb. “I haven’t come here on behalf of England, monsieur.”
“For France, then?”
“No.” Artemisia folded her hands in front of her as a stiff breeze stirred the grass. “Rondelet has informed you of my position, I believe. I am concerned, of course, with the state of the magical community.”
“You speak for yourself?” Fabre said, his shirtsleeves rippling.
“I think I speak for all,” she replied plainly. “I speak for the natural man, at least.”
Fabre’s nostrils twitched. “What does Rousseau have to do with several French Aurors stationed in Canada?” He seemed to be quickly losing interest in the conversation.
Artemisia fought back her nerves. “Everything, considering that the very presence of those Aurors has corrupted relations between the English and French colonists.”
Fabre stared at her for a long moment. “You must be sincere, Mlle. Lufkin,” he concluded at length. “Rondelet wouldn’t trust you otherwise. But, in truth, I’m not entirely sure what I can do for you.”
Now she was flushed with triumph. She had him! Taking a step back, she lifted her head slightly to look Fabre in the eye. “If you’ll speak with Ambassador Honorius about this matter, he will in turn discuss the lifting of all inter-colony trade tariffs so that your fur traders may ship their pelts down British rivers without harassment.”
Fabre gawked at her. “Those negotiations have stalled.”
“We are willing to make concessions.”
Another dreadful minute of silence passed. Fabre shifted his weight from foot to foot. “You know, it is not the place of a secretary to treat with those beyond her station.”
Once more, Artemisia weathered the insult with neutrality. “Well, monsieur, if I may be permitted to quote Rousseau, ‘Take the course opposite to custom and you will almost always do well’.”
Author’s Note: Thanks so much for taking the time to read! If you have a spare moment, please leave a review. I’d love to hear from you.
In Chapter Six, Artemisia will make a momentous decision about her relationship with Rondelet and go to Madame Crevecoeur for advice. I should have it posted no later than Tuesday the 5th of May.
I hope you have a great weekend!
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