Lovely chapter image by the fabulous laPeach @ TDA
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work. All OCs mentioned herein belong to me.
Chapter Six Madame Crevecoeur’s Advice
A heart full of love, a heart full of song
I’m doing everything all wrong
Oh God, for shame!
A night full of you, a single look and then I knew.
“A Heart Full of Love” from the musical, Les Miserables, composed and written by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil
In November, the French Ministry officially removed all standing Aurors in England’s Canadian colonies. In return, certain trade restrictions were lifted from those French fur traders still trapping in North America. Ambassador Honorius was beside himself with joy. He told Artemisia, often and fervently, that he was surprised Fabre had come over to their side so easily. It was a matter of great reflection, he said, that the French were making concessions towards friendship. Perhaps the diplomatic outlook wasn’t so bleak after all.
Artemisia herself was internally thrilled by her secret success. It was a small victory, but an important. She’d had her first taste of power, of the intricate dance of politics. And oh, she was wooed by it. If she could move and place pawns in a position of little repute while exiled at Beauxbatons, then what might she accomplish in London?
Artemisia wrote a happy letter to Papa and Tarquin, telling them that she thought she’d found her calling. She also told them of Maximilien Rondelet and how he was a funny little fellow who had turned into a much-needed friend.
Dear Maxime! Artemisia knew she owed her triumph to him as well, although the man refused to take any credit. Instead, he asked her to keep him in mind in the future.
And, for the first time in her life, Artemisia began to feel a stirring of desire.
At first, she wondered if it had more to do with a longing for further political advantage than romance. It seemed likely, after all. She had been seduced by affairs of the state and the tact required to institute policy. But as the days passed, she found herself quite absently thinking of him who had intrigued her from the first.
It was his words that struck such a passion within her. Artemisia knew that most young ladies of her age wouldn’t find Maxime physically attractive. He was slight, pale and short-sighted. But he was also a master orator.
Artemisia tormented herself over him for three days, keeping to her bed chamber with the excuse of a cough. November had brought cold, humid weather with it and she watched chilly rainstorms drench the stable yard at night, leaving the cobblestones glittering like onyx. And when the sun came up on the third morning, drying the eaves of the stable and baking the bricks along the walls, she made her decision.
She wanted Maxime as her lover.
But would he have her? This question troubled Artemisia more than anything. Having no mother or sisters to turn to, she wandered the halls in the early morning, hoping for an answer, or at least, some manner of distraction.
It was then, in passing through a narrow hall which gave off into the stable yard, that she met Madame Crevecoeur.
Artemisia was not one to make friends with women. She disliked her own sex a great deal and had never sought to join the ranks of those she dubbed noodle heads. Perhaps it was because she had grown up without a mother, or perhaps it was because she had distinguished herself from her companions so easily at Hogwarts. Whatever the reason, she now realized that for the first time in her life, she would have to ask another woman for advice.
Ugh, what a dreadful notion!
But Madame Crevecoeur didn’t seem so bad. She was a married lady and, therefore, not competition. Artemisia watched her dismount from a chestnut mare near the stables, the skirts of her riding habit fanning out elegantly on the still damp cobblestones.
Suddenly, Artemisia realized that she was wearing only a wrinkled pair of nankeen breeches and a mousy brown coat. And oh, her hair wasn’t even powdered.
Something of her opposition towards women sparked to life within her. She felt cornered and harassed with no clear reason. But if she was going to do something about Maxime, she needed help.
Discreetly, she stepped from out of the hall and into the stable yard.
“Good morning, Madame.”
The matron turned from her horse, one hand flying to her head as she patted back wispy strands of blond hair. “Mlle. Lufkin! How lovely it is to see you.” She paced forward, clasped Artemisia’s hands and kissed her. “You have not come by the salon in quite a while. I feared I had offended you in some way.”
“Not at all,” Artemisia was quick to reassure her. She took a small step back and tried not to wrinkle her nose. Madam smelled a bit like manure. “I’ve been most distracted. You’ve heard tell of England’s new treaty on the French fur trade I assume?”
“Indeed.” Madame laughed high and loud as a groom came out into the yard to take her horse. “I told my husband he must purchase me a new fur hat, now that he has no excuse. Tell me, have you kept up with your reading?”
“With Rousseau?” Artemisia turned slightly back to the hall and was pleased when Madame followed her. “Yes, thanks to dear Maxime. He secured me a copy of The Social Contract. I must say, my eyes were opened.”
“Splendid!” Madame began to pluck her gloves from her smooth fingers. “You’ve kept up your acquaintance with Maxime. I hope you do not think me unkind, but I am surprised. He is not a sociable gentleman. My husband was at great pains to persuade him to attend our salon.”
Artemisia listened to her frivolous chatter, happy that the topic of Rondelet had been brought up. She had a burning question though and it began to work its way down from her brain to her lips. And before she was quite aware of what she was doing, she had blurted it out.
“Does Maxime have a mistress that you know of?” she asked.
Madame arched her neck in shock, a tittering, nervous laugh causing the creases about her mouth to tighten. “I beg your pardon, Mlle. Lufkin?”
“Oh.” Artemisia blushed furiously, realizing exactly what she had done. But before she could think up a suitable excuse, Madame had taken her arm and led her across the hall to a secluded alcove.
“I think you would be very good for him,” she said in a keen whisper, her cool, grey eyes alight with sudden promise. “Yes, very good indeed.”
Artemisia choked. “Madame?”
“Please, do call me Lucille.”
“It’s exactly what you meant, yes?” Lucille clasped Artemisia’s hands tightly in her own. “I do not blame you. Maxime has a certain…aura about him.” Her face slackened.
For the first time, Artemisia realized that she was not the only woman attracted to Maxime. A sharp barb of jealousy stung her and she felt her courtesy for Lucille lessening.
“But I am happily married,” she was quick to add, “and can only think of Maxime as a dear friend. You, Artemisia, are young, however, and sweet and charming. And Maxime needs a lady. He’s so awfully morose. You would be a good influence on him.”
Artemisia didn’t know if she should feel flattered by Lucille’s babble. Instead, she nodded solemnly, keeping her interest hidden beneath a fine layer of indifference. “So I take it he doesn’t have a mistress, then?”
“No, he is quite unattached.”
An awkward space of silence passed between them. Artemisia heard a bird twittering in the gardens, a robin maybe, and felt her arms prickle as a chilled breeze rushed down the hall.
She knew what she wanted to say next, but how could she speak without thoroughly embarrassing herself? Her situation was unfair. She had no idea how to entice a man and even though the mechanics of love-making were known to her, she couldn’t imagine actually engaging in the act with Maxime. How was it to be started? Did she simply walk up to him and inform him, quite plainly, that she wanted to make love with him?
And then, there was the issue of saving her maidenhood. Ladies were supposed to give their virginity to their husbands alone. Artemisia had learned that from a particularly prudent professor at Hogwarts who had made it her responsibility to instruct her charges in morality.
Now, however, she couldn’t really reconcile the notion with her predicament.
Her silence seemed to alert Lucille of the conflict, who sighed knowingly.
“I have heard tell that the French do differ from the English in the ways of love,” she said. “I suppose that is true. We Frenchwomen are more engaging in our manners while English girls are not.”
Artemisia let her embarrassment and confusion fuel her umbrage. “The British are fair breeders,” she insisted. “We’re descended from Romans and Celts, both very voluptuous races.”
“I did not mean to insult you,” Lucille replied. “But you are young. I’m certain you’re mother has instructed you wisely.”
“My mother died when I was two.”
“Then your sisters.”
“I have only a brother.”
“Well.” Lucille placed a hand on her breast, the lace from her cuff leaking down her wrist. “I’m sure you’ve witnessed the manners of the French long enough to know that we captivate our men differently. We are a romantic people…perhaps a bit different from you English in small ways. I must dress for breakfast, but would you take a single turn with me through the topiary garden? I can tell you something of our traditions, at least, how we women charm our men so thoroughly.” She smelled gently. “Would you find that agreeable?”
Artemisia pretended to be only slightly interested, although she truly was grateful for the advice. “Yes, but I must attend to the Ambassador shortly. I do hope you understand.”
Artemisia yawned, feeling not the least bit seductive. She was sitting on bench in the Hall of Illumination, watching couples float by with languid elegance. Dipping a hand into her pocket, she withdrew her watch and checked the time.
It was nearly eleven.
She would give Maxime another hour and if he didn’t show, well, then she’d go to bed with or without him.
Despite her conversation with Lucille that morning, the intricacies of flirtation still eluded her. The French might be the masters (or mistresses) of the carnal arts, but their ways seemed thoroughly unromantic to her.
Everything Lucille had told her seemed so…stupid.
Of course, she knew enough to wear a fetching gown and to bath her skin in expensive (yet overwhelming) perfume. But then there was this whole business of fans. Supposedly, an astute gentleman should be able to tell her exact thoughts from the delicate twitch of her fan. For some reason, Artemisia doubted that Maxime, a Spartan country lawyer, knew much about fans,
Lucille, however, had assured her that she would win his affection, or at least inspire lust in him if she followed proper Beauxbatons’ etiquette. She should be direct, but coy. Discreet yet amorous.
It seemed rather contradictory, really and Artemisia wondered if bedding a man was really worth the trouble. Perhaps she should wait until she was a rich old lady and then arrange a marriage for herself with some handsome young man.
The notion certainly appealed to her…until she saw Maxime crossing the Hall in his sky-blue coat.
Her heart strained against her tightly tied stays.
With a flutter and great rustling of her grey silk gown, she rose to her feet.
“Maxime, you kept me waiting.” She waved to him, her fan dangling from her wrist.
Maxime spotted her by the bench, furrowed his brow in practiced concern and crossed the corridor.
“Have you just come from dinner?” he asked, his words plain, unadorned by pretension. Directing his gaze to her fashionable gown, (the only one she owned) he frowned slightly.
“Yes,” she said, affecting a curtsey. “It’s a bit of a hassle to dress so every evening. I do not know how you French manage. In London, our dining clubs are much more modest.” Artemisia allowed the last word to roll suggestively off her tongue.
Maxime fiddled with his spectacles. “I heard that the Ministry signed the official agreement with your English government today concerning the Aurors in Canada. Congratulations.”
“Oh, lah!” She forced a laugh and with a snap of her hand, opened her fan. “Tonight is an evening for celebration, then. Walk with me in the garden?”
Maxime agreed. Artemisia knew he was fond of flowers. He always kept a vase brimming with fresh blooms in his chambers, or so he had told her.
The gardens were a degree or two warmer than they had been that morning, but damp. Misty clouds hung languidly before a sliver of moon. Braziers lit along the pathways provided some illumination. Despite the humidity, Artemisia felt the chill slice through her and in her silk gown, she shivered.
Maxime, however, was quite comfortable in his frock coat.
He was surprisingly chatty that night and he followed her wherever she walked, speaking in his high, slightly wavering voice.
Apparently, he had been ruminating over a bit of Voltaire he had recently read. The piece in question reminded him of one legal case back in his home town, when he had to defend a merchant’s usage of a vanishing charm on some of his goods, which had, at the time, been illegal.
Usually Artemisia was enslaved by his words, but tonight she had a difficult time keeping up with him. Flicking her fan just so and supplying coy remarks every now and then kept her busy. In fact, the whole business of flirtation was distracting. She disliked being coy, hated it in fact.
Lucille Crevecoeur insisted on a woman using sly wit to ensnare a man, though Artemisia thought it perfectly reasonable to state her purpose outright. Why make a charade of the whole thing? Maxime certainly didn’t seem to be noticing her little signals.
By the time they discreetly arrived in the Grove of Aphrodite, she was fairly wound up.
Acting so coquettishly made her feel alien and uncomfortable. She didn’t think she was getting her point across, which was, quite simply, that she adored Maxime.
In a fit of uselessness, she stopped in front of the decadent fountain in the center of the copse. It was barely tasteful, a display of stone satyrs amidst plump, pretty nymphs. Artemisia could not reconcile her own emotions of admiration in their leering, lustful faces.
Maxime seemed oblivious as to their whereabouts. He had stopped by a bush of lilacs, charmed to keep their flowers all year long.
She watched him bend and raise the blossoms to his nose.
Artemisia stepped back from him and experienced a sudden jolt of reality. But the warning that struggled to reach her fell on deaf ears.
When Maxime raised his face, she kissed him.
It was a clumsy, feverish movement. Artemisia did not confine herself to his lips, but kissed his cheeks, his forehead, the bridge of his nose. His spectacles were set askew.
“Mlle. Lufkin!” He turned his head to the side and stayed her attentions with his collar.
“I’m sorry,” she bleated, realizing that he was flushed with shock.
Maxime stared at her ,and for a brief instant, was utterly without words.
“I have work to attend to this evening,” he said, breaking the painful silence with brusqueness. “Good night.”
And she watched him go, furious with herself and in her rage, tossed her ugly fan into the fountain.
Author’s Note: Just to clear up any potential confusion, Rondelet is not homosexual, he just has issues with intimacy. There is much historical gossip surrounding the love life (or lack, thereof) of the real Maximilien Robespierre whom Rondelet is based on. Robespierre was popularly known as the “Incorruptible”, seemingly beyond reproach in his morals and lifestyle. He was said to have been engaged to his landlord’s daughter, Eleanor Duplay, although nothing “immodest” ever passed between them. There is also a rumor suggesting he may have had a mistress at one time, though due to his discreet behavior, he dumped her rather unceremoniously.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read! I cannot get over the abundance of reviews I’ve received for this story. You guys are fabulous!! I feel at a loss to express how truly grateful I am.
In Chapter Seven, Artemisia will continue to pursue her beloved Rondelet, eschewing the misguided advice of Madame Crevecouer for her own instincts. Engaging in a philosophical debate on the nature of love, she challenges Maxime to accept her offer to become her lover. I should have this installment posted no later than Tuesday the 12th. Have a great weekend!
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