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Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work. However, all OCs mentioned herein do belong to me.
Chapter Twenty-One The Grand Deceiver
I love him, but every day I’m learning
All my life, I’ve only been pretending
---Taken from “On My Own” composed and written by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil
Artemisia dropped her quill pen into the silver inkwell and leaned back in her chair. “My apologies, Mr. Roberts, but I cannot attend to matters of salary until Head Auror Hart returns from his wedding trip. If, at that time, you still feel the need to address the issue, I will be happy to inform him of your complaint.”
The man sitting across from her curled his long fingers over the brim of his hat. Artemisia noticed the vein in his right temple bulge dangerously and she bit back a smile.
Oh, how she loved the perks of power.
“If your clerk had not made the error, Auror Lufkin,” Mr. Roberts stated, “then perhaps I would not have to disturb you now.” The last word was pointed and Artemisia enjoyed the way it slithered off his tongue.
Mr. Roberts, was, quite plainly, a round idiot. He had been hired by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement nearly ten years ago after failing as a merchant, and, although his career consisted of little more than tedious paperwork, he always managed to rub his cohorts the wrong way.
“Not at all, Mr. Roberts. I am quite glad to have spoken with you,” Artemisia continued pleasantly. She herself had had few dealings with Roberts, although she had heard from others that his weighty ego was legendary. Now that Dick had left her in charge of his office while he went on his honeymoon, Artemisia could experience firsthand Roberts’s arrogance. And she quite liked him, actually…so long as he continued to break-up the dreadful monotony of her day. While acting as Head of the Auror Office, she often found herself called in to settle petty squabbles and soothe the hysterics of her underlings. Well, they were not her underlings, only loaned to her while Dick was away. But perhaps someday they would be hers. Someday in the near future.
Mr. Roberts took offense to her casual smile, looking austere himself, dressed all in black with only a tightly tied white stock to off-set the drabness. If she didn’t know better, Artemisia might mistake him for a minister of God.
“My salary is forty pounds, Auror Lufkin.”
Artemisia sighed. “That’s thirty-five pounds, Mr. Roberts, plus five pounds to pay for the maintenance of your Ministry-issued broomstick, which, I notice, you have not used once this year.”
“Then I ought not to pay for something I do not use.”
“Fine.” Artemisia reached for her quill and watched as the man’s colorless face hardened. “Your salary will be thirty-five pounds from now on” She pretended to make a note of it in her ledger.
“Then you admit, it was forty pounds to begin with!”
Artemisia scratched her quill along the parchment, leaving a trail of meaningless, spidery lines. Hmm, perhaps Mr. Roberts wasn’t so amusing after all. She had never known a man to be so thoroughly stubborn, except, of course, for Maxime….
The knock on the door startled them both.
Artemisia immediately dragged herself back to the moment and raised her head. “Come.”
Hugh Brinton popped his head inside. “I beg your pardon, Auror Lufkin, but there is someone here for you.”
Mr. Roberts, if possible, looked even more ruffled. “I am meeting with Auror Lufkin now,” he snapped.
Artemisia ignored him. “Who is it, Hugh?”
“Captain Farrell. Shall I tell him to wait?”
“No, send him in.” Artemisia offered Roberts a pointed look and for all the man’s bravado, he knew not to respond. “Will you wait for Head Auror Hart to settle this matter when he returns?”
Roberts seemed to hesitate, gnawing for a moment on his lower lip before muttering, “Aye.”
Artemisia found a final smile for him as he rose and moved towards the door. But before Roberts could exit, Farrell put his broad shoulders inside the room, blocking his way.
At once, Artemisia’s stomach filled with ice. Her lover’s face was of thunder.
“Pardon,” Farrell did not even spare a glance for Roberts, ignoring the man’s attempts to scramble around his large frame and out of the room. “Hullo, lass.”
Artemisia rose from her chair, only now noticing the ink stains marking the cuffs of her work robes. She had unwittingly trailed her hand over the wet parchment, leaving smudges in her wake.
To distract herself from Farrell’s steady gaze, she searched for her handkerchief. “Martin, what are you about here?” She was trying to sound congenial, but the strain in her voice was shamefully evident.
Farrell did not answer, handing her instead an unopened note.
Artemisia took it from him and her fingers brushed against the raised seal, the red wax glaring up at her like the evil eye.
“Is this from Dick?” she asked. “Oh and I told him not to write. He thinks I might become a right tyrant overnight if I am left too long in charge. Well, he ought to know that I am taking a very passive approach to all this. Very passive, indeed.”
She was almost too frightened to turn over the note and read the address. The seal was certainly familiar, but not Dick’s, that she knew. And Dick never signed his letters in French.
“Are you going to open it?” Farrell was obscenely calm. He sat in the chair Mr. Roberts had of late vacated and pulled off his tricorner, resting it on his right knee.
Artemisia looked back down at the note in her hands and realized, all at once, that Farrell was testing her. He was a soldier, after all, adept at sensing the prickle of fear in an enemy, the strain that shot the whites of the eyes with blood. But since when had she become his enemy?
And since when had he become hers?
No matter, she told herself. Farrell could not read French and Maxime always used his native tongue whenever he wrote to her, desiring that his wife abandoned her awkward Anglo-Saxon phrasing for his own.
Artemisia forced herself to sit back down, if only to disguise how her legs trembled. The seal was broken, the red wax disintegrating in her hands, melting as it was touched by the sweat pooling in her palms.
Maxime had written very little.
My dear Artemisia,
I write to congratulate you for you boldness in supporting the American cause. It was well of you to express you sentiments as you did last week, at the wedding of your superior, no less. I am proud of you.
Do not think me a poor husband for having been so remiss lately with my letters. I am reminded of Rousseau when he said, “Plant and your spouse plants with you; weed and you weed alone.” I know that we parted with some distraction between us at the last…but I am not angry with you. I think of you daily and wish to see you again.
Yr. Most Affectionate Husband,
It was all there. Complete incrimination. Anyone of her enemies could charge her with spying for the French, especially now, with rumors that King Louis was entertaining American ambassador Benjamin Franklin.
But then she looked up at Farrell, who’s face was no longer of thunder but apprehension, and all her worries fell away…to be replaced by guilt.
God, oh God, what had she done?
It was a double-sided betrayal and she was the grand deceiver. A wretch.
With uncertain hands, Artemisia shred the letter from Maxime and fed it to the fire in the hearth.
Farrell watched her. “You have French contacts?”
“Yes.” The heaviness in her heart forbade her from lying again. Artemisia turned to face Farrell, fighting the urge to lean across the desk and take hold of his hands. She wanted to feel him now, but even as she met his gaze, a great chasm sprang up between them. And if she reached for him, she would be reaching through the dark and shadow into emptiness…
“The man who sent me the letter is a lawyer I met while in France,” she told him. “He writes to me from time to time.”
Farrell suddenly dropped his gaze, dragging his tongue over his teeth. “You think that I accuse you of espionage,” he said at length.
Artemisia felt the world fall down around her. “No!”
“And that is entirely right,” Farrell replied quickly. “I never would. I know you are no spy, Artemisia, but why have you not opened with me?”
“Martin,” she began but could not finish. He waited for her to continue and when she did not, he stood and paced restlessly.
“Is this Dick Hart’s doing?” he prompted.
Artemisia’s brows nearly jumped up to her hairline. “I don’t--”
“Has he asked you to keep in contact with this man should we go to war again with France? Have you been weeding secrets out of this lawyer for the Ministry’s sake?”
And so easily, so very easily, Artemisia found a new deception laid at her feet. She could lie again without even trying. She could soothe Farrell’s worries and justify her secrecy and carry on with her life as though nothing had happened.
She could, she could…but she did not want to.
“No,” Artemisia said.
Farrell stopped pacing, his proud shoulders sagging. “What then?”
But she could not play the game any longer. Pressing her fingers into the hollows above her eyes, Artemisia tried to think. “I cannot open with you yet, Martin. I am sorry.”
He did not to ask why, although she knew it pained him to concede defeat.
“I must go to Bath first and see my brother,” she said. If anyone was to know, she decided, Tarquin had the right first.
Farrell was ready to break. “Go then,” he said and Artemisia was heartbroken when he turned to leave without looking at her. “Go then and be done with it.”
When Artemisia finished her work at the Auror Office, she used the Floo Network in the atrium to travel not to her London flat, but all the way to Bath. Six o’clock was a safe hour to arrive at her family’s estate, the soft time between daylight and darkness that her father spent in his greenhouses tending to the flowers so that he might in turn nurture his paternal instincts. Markham Lufkin had not let his children go into the world gently and every time Artemisia visited her father, she minded the wistfulness in his voice when he spoke of her youth.
Her brother Tarquin was less affected by their father’s pining, and living close by to his family home, he helped to ease his sire’s loneliness. But Artemisia herself fancied she had never been quite so strong as her elder sibling, and when she saw her father so sad, it broke her spirit.
Which was why she had no intention of running into him now, not until she had regained some sense of stoicism and settled her mind on a safe course of action. Her family must know of her marriage, that much was clear to her. Relaying the news, which might prove devastating, was proving to be suitable challenge.
In setting out for the Lufkin estate, Artemisia laid bare two possibilities in her mind. Her father and brother would either be thunderstruck and enraged, or they would consider her wedded state a mixed blessing. She was married to a Frenchman, yes, but there might be grandchildren soon. Grandchildren always softened the blow, or so Artemisia hoped.
Now, if only she were with child….
As she stepped out of the dusty fireplace in her mother’s old sitting room, Artemisia allowed herself a brief moment to think of Farrell. Despite her strongest convictions and undefeatable love for Maxime, she thought her family might have greeted the news of a marriage to Farrell more readily. He was a squib, but a good Englishman and something about Martin’s personality just lent itself to affability. With a sinking feeling in the deepest pit of her gut, Artemisia began to realize that she had lost him.
For a moment, she tried to imagine what it might have been like if she had met Farrell before Maxime.
But no, that was useless. Utterly useless. And although her mind was quick to withdraw back to her paramour, she found her attention soon snagged by the pleasant pitter-patter of Sissy’s feet.
The parlor door was opened slowly, spreading dust motes and casting lengths of light upon the grey linen draped over the old furniture.
And despite it all, Artemisia found herself smiling when she heard the house elf’s timid voice. “It is just me, Sissy,” she said. “Come in and shut the door. I don’t want Papa to know I’m here.”
“Oh Mistress Artemisia!” Sissy bobbed into the room, something akin to relief shining in her round eyes. “Sissy is thinking you was your mother’s ghost! No one ever comes in this room no more. Not even the mice!”
“I was counting on that,” Artemisia replied. She let Sissy hug her knees and then pulled the house elf away, giving her a small shake to restore the seriousness of the situation. “Listen to me, Sissy. I want to know…is Papa in the house?”
“Yes.” Sissy glanced up at her earnestly. “But he is in bed. Sissy is not to be waking him before dinner and that is an hour away. If yous want, I can ring for him now.”
“No!” Artemisia said firmly, plunging her hand into the pocket of her coat and extracting a note she had written before leaving Dick’s office. “I do not want Papa to know that I have come home, do you understand? Yes. Good girl. Now, you must do me a favor. Send one of the gardener’s boys to Tarquin with this note. I’ll stay in this room and wait for him. I must speak with him before I see Papa. This is very important, Sissy.”
The house elf nodded gravely. “Yes, Mistress. Sissy is going right now. Is Mistress sure about staying in this old room, though? There is no fire and too much dust.”
“I will be fine,” Artemisia assured her. “Just hurry. And if Papa wakes up, keep him away from this room.”
Sissy took the note and before she was out the door, she glanced around the sitting room once more. “Master Lufkin is never coming in this room anymore. Master Lufkin misses your Mama too much.”
Artemisia had not known her mother. The woman had died when she was only two, living traces of haunted memories and an emptiness that could not be filled even by the presence of the governess, Mrs. Philomena, who had attempted to instill the proper feminine graces in her young charge. Even now, Artemisia felt guilty for disliking members of her own sex so greatly. Perhaps, she mused, it was her mother’s fault after all.
While waiting for Tarquin to arrive, she removed the dustcover that hung over the portrait her father had commissioned of his new bride so many years ago. The woman in the painting surprised Artemisia with her familiar features and, with a sense of muted shock, she realized that they had the same hair color….
A forgotten ache nipped at her breast.
But then Tarquin came clambering out of the fireplace and, as Artemisia stepped back to make room for her brother, she turned from the portrait.
It made her nervous to be watched.
“Merlin’s bones,” her brother coughed. He was covered in soot, his formal lawyer’s robes dusted grey instead of ebony. “What is all this, Artemisia? Is it Papa?”
The fear in his eyes was unexpected. Artemisia touched him gently on the shoulder, comforted by his presence alone. “No, Papa does not know I am here. I must speak with you…and I had to come tonight or it would destroy. Darling, I fear you will hate me.”
When Tarquin looked at her, she minded the very fine lines around his mouth. Smile lines, she told herself, because her brother was always smiling. Though not now….
“Dear God,” he said, struggling to remove his outer robes. He wasn’t one to freeze with fear, but rather kept on fidgeting, as if the bad tidings would evade him so long as he hopped about. “I know what this is. Do not think me blind to it, Artemisia. I may be your brother, but I understand these things. This has to do with Captain Farrell, yes? You are with his child.”
“No!” Shame darkened her cheeks. Who should ever think that she might discuss such a thing with her brother? “No, Tarquin, this has naught to with Captain Farrell. He--he is an honorable man.”
And it was true. Martin was an honorable man, as was Maxime, in a manner…
“Have you gotten yourself in a bind with your Ministry friends?” he asked, although this time, she clearly heard the relief in his voice.
“No, Tarquin. I think it would be better if I told you outright. I have kept this secret for far too long.” She turned, lifting one of the sheets off an antique chaise and settled herself gingerly upon it. The floral upholstery was faded and frayed. “Tarquin, darling,” she said, looking only at her hands, which were still smudged with Maxime’s red sealing wax. “I am married.”
Her brother said nothing for a long time, but leaned forward away from the fireplace and braced his hands on the back of a wooden chair. “Not to Captain Farrell?”
Artemisia shook her head. “His name is Maximilian Rondelet--”
“He is a lawyer I met in France.”
“Artemisia, you were in France two years ago!” Understanding dawned on him and his jaw slackened slightly. “Have you been married all this time?”
“Yes.” She twisted her hands into an uncomfortable knot. “And I have kept it from you.”
“Dear God, dear God.” Tarquin pinched the bridge of his nose. “Have you gone mad, sister?”
“I meant to--”
“And you are married, legally married to this man?”
“Yes.” Her neck stiffened as she raised her shoulders in a shrug. “I have the marriage certificate--if you would see it.”
Tarquin lowered his head. Artemisia could see the tension coursing through him, across the arched line of his back and whitened knuckles. “Why now? Why do you come to me with this now?”
“Because,” and when she spoke, she was surprised to find tears in her voice, “I cannot live knowing that I have deceived you and Papa…and Martin. Maxime is a good man and there is no reason why I should suffer my marriage to be a secret. I have wounded this family, I can see that. Tarquin, I am sorry, you know I was never as brave as you.”
She paused and pressed her fingers to her damp cheeks.
Tarquin sighed. “Darling, had I not known you were always so skittish with matters of love and union, I should think you were mad. And a Frenchman? It is a Frenchman you are married to? My God, surely you know that we are on the very brink of war with France!”
“I mind such things,” Artemisia replied. With a desperate jolt of her stomach, she realized that the Ministry would not be pleased with her union. If only she could explain things properly to Dick first, then mayhap her career might be saved from ruin.
She was not a spy for France. That she knew in her heart. Artemisia would always love Maxime, but England owned her body and soul before all else.
“How can you come to me with this and expect me to be pleased?” Tarquin asked. He was pacing now, trying to shake off the air of mourning that left the room closed and tight.
Artemisia felt it seep into the fabric of her clothes and nestle against her skin. And despite herself, she shivered.
“I did not expect you to open your arms to this,” she said.
“At least you retain your sense in some fashion.”
“But Tarquin, please,” she dropped her hands over her knees, her fingers digging into her breeches. “I cannot lose you to this. God, I cannot!”
And after she had spoken, she promptly burst into sobs.
Tarquin, however, was not sympathetic. “Do not think to cry now!” he commanded. “Compose yourself, Artemisia. I want to know the story of all this. You must tell me how it happened.”
“Yes, you can and by God you will.” Her brother was adamant.
Artemisia was reminded of the time when she was but a child and intended to sneak out to the stables to ride her father’s new gelding. Tarquin had gotten wind of her plan before anyone else and he had been waiting for her on the servants’ staircase before she could ever leave the house. He appeared just as likely to give way to her hysterics now and she found herself struggling for composure as he watched her carefully.
“Very well,” she muttered thickly, both angered and frightened by his obstinacy. “I will tell you. Maxime, ah, Maxime. I met him in the gardens of Beauxbatons.”
Stony in his silence, Tarquin listened to what she had to tell him, never sitting, never stopping, but pacing the length of their mother’s sitting room as she talked. He did not interrupt and seemed to listen thoughtfully until Artemisia mentioned that she had not seen Maxime in over a year.
“A year!” he cried. “Then why not arrange for a divorce? I can help you, darling, please let me help you.”
But the very suggestion made Artemisia’s blood freeze. “I love him still,” she said. “And you cannot ask so much of me. Tarquin, how…how dare you!”
She expected him to fire back at her and when he did not, she was surprisingly relieved. Artemisia had no desire to go to battle with her brother. Her beloved brother.
Tarquin raised his hand, but let it fall dismissively. After a long moment, he crossed the room and sat beside her. “I will not pretend that I am happy,” he said. “But let me meet the man. And please, calm yourself, my dear. You know I do love you.”
But Artemisia could only repeat, “I am sorry. Tarquin, I am sorry.”
When she had stayed her tears and dried her swollen eyes with her brother’s handkerchief, she followed him out into the hall. The air was instantly clearer, free from the dust and ashes of the old room their mother had so cherished…and had died in when she was still young and fair.
Tarquin held her arm as they moved down the stairs into the foyer. “I shall have Sissy ring for Papa. He will be happy to see you. Stay with us until you leave for France. You can Apparate to the Ministry in the mornings.”
“If Papa will have me,” Artemisia said miserably. “I cannot think of what he will say when I tell him of Maxime.”
But before she could finish, Tarquin stopped cold and released her arm.
“I would not tell him.”
“What?” Artemisia turned. “What is this, darling?”
Tarquin did not answer. Their father had been roused from his nap and was now coming down the stairs behind them, still in his dressing gown. At once, Artemisia noticed that he needed a cane to walk with.
Markham Lufkin smiled at his children and his eyes were feverish. “What a surprise!” he croaked. “Tarquin and Artemisia, my dear children, my dear, dear children come home at last.”
Artemisia looked at Tarquin and nodded. She would not breathe a word of Maxime to their father.
Author’s Note: Maxime will be back in the flesh for the next chapter. Thank you all so much for your continued support and patience!
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