Stories from Sixth (and Seventh) Year
Jasmine prided herself on stability and flexibility, key characteristics for a profession that required no-notice relocations and lots and lots of travel, so she was pretty sure the relief she felt in returning to Abelard’s villa wasn’t a sense of coming home, but more a sense of standing down. She’d already walked the grounds with Rosie, checking a number of sensors and wards that would report all sorts of untoward activity. Now she checked the refrigerator and the pantry, making sure that there were no shortages that could interfere with household operations. Although she liked all varieties of adventure, she hated surprises.
Her most recent trip had been a courier operation, taking physical packages and packages of information to various friends, allies and customers of Abelard. She knew that he was asleep when she arrived, which was to be expected, as it was well after midnight when she crossed the threshold with Rosie. She’d caught a welcome nap on the next to last leg of her flight into Africa, so she wasn’t feeling any fatigue.
She almost missed the letter — it was tucked into the stand that held the napkins — not Abelard’s usual place for communications. She pulled the envelope open and read the note — typed on an old manual typewriter, which must have taken him ages, as his hands were now too twisted to comfortably hold a pen for very long.
I received several favourable reports on your recent tasks. I’m glad to have you home. Rosie has missed you. We have things to discuss — please meet with me after breakfast.
There was nothing untoward about the note, but she was uneasy nonetheless. There wasn’t much she could do about it, so she brought her bags into her quarters, dumping her laundry into the hamper and hanging up the clothes that hadn’t been worn. Because her circadian rhythm was a bit off from travelling, she set her alarm, rather than relying upon her usual sense of time. Sleep claimed her quickly when she finally retired.
Life at Abelard’s villa was orderly. Jasmine was usually the first to wake, starting her day with a series of exercises in the courtyard and a lengthy run on odd days and a series of laps in the exercise pool on even days. While she was exercising, Mrs. Paprikash would arrive and begin her labours for the day, preparing meals and other domestic tasks as necessary. Abelard would rise, take his morning tea and then spend time in meditation and prayer before breakfast, where more often than not he’d be joined by one or the other of the women on his staff to coordinate the day’s activities. This morning was purely routine, following the pattern.
"Where’s mum?" Jasmine asked as she entered the kitchen.
Abelard looked up from his demitasse of coffee. "She’s out for the morning, laying in supplies for our guests arriving on New Year's Day. You look well — I trust that things went well in Pretoria," Abelard said.
"About as well as expected — the Kashan family wants a larger percentage, but they’re not willing to walk away from the transaction, at least not until they have an alternative," Jasmine reported in a matter-of-fact fashion.
"Are you ready for our guests?" Abelard asked.
"A simple task — using the Portal there should be little risk in bringing the entire party here — although I don’t understand why they can’t provide security on their end," Jasmine said.
"Perhaps I neglected to share that small detail," Abelard said with a small smile. "Mr Lupin is marrying Miss Tonks on Boxing Day — as he will be on his honeymoon, I believe he has better things to do than performing routine security sweeps."
"Well, good on them," Jasmine said with a broad smile.
"It’s not going to be all social — Dumbledore wishes to discuss a problem in which he wishes to enlist my aid," Abelard said.
"I don’t trust him," Jasmine said quickly.
"I do not trust him either," Abelard replied. "But he has served for many years in holding back the darkness, so he is to be allowed his share of mistakes and misjudgements."
Jasmine said nothing. She didn’t need to; the momentary curl of her lip said enough. "What does he want?"
"He wants assistance in finding certain objects and destroying them after they are found," Abelard said, reaching for his first piece of toast.
"So, is it in the finding or the destroying that he wants help?" Jasmine inquired. "And what sort of objects are we talking about?"
"Both the finding and the destroying — as to the objects, they are highly cursed objects — and likely to be guarded or booby-trapped as well as being intrinsically dangerous. The objects contain bits of Tom Riddle’s soul," Abelard said.
"The fellow they call Voldemort?" Jasmine asked.
"Lovely," Jasmine said, curling her lip again.
"We’ll receive a full brief after dinner on New Year’s Day," Abelard said.
"Will Harry be involved?" Jasmine asked.
"I would not be surprised either way, but I’d place my money on a minor role if I were a betting man. Well, enough of that, we can’t make plans in a vacuum, so we’ll have to evaluate it after we have more facts. While you were gone, I received a call from Mr Paprikash."
"Oh? How is the good judge doing?" Jasmine asked.
"He is well. What did he ever do to earn your wrath?" Abelard asked.
Jasmine smiled wryly. "I’m not mad at him. He loves mum and she loves him, so I guess I couldn’t expect more than that."
"Then what are you still angry about after all these years?"
"You’ll laugh at me," Jasmine said, pouring a cup of coffee.
"I think you know me better than that, Jasmine," Abelard said, placing his palms on the table.
"We were living here, mum and I, when Dad died. I missed Dad terribly, but I had it all worked out — you’d marry Mum and then you’d be my dad," Jasmine said, suddenly flushed.
"I can think of a number of impediments to that plan, but I’m flattered that you thought of me that way," Abelard said.
"I even talked to mum about it a number of times — she said she’d be willing to convert, so that wouldn’t have been a problem," Jasmine said, suddenly wondering if she’d said too much.
"Again, I’m flattered, but as fine a woman as your mother is, I don’t think I’m what she was looking for in a husband," Abelard said graciously.
"Don’t sell yourself short, mum thought it was a good plan, all except for the love and romance part," Jasmine volunteered.
"Contrary to what you might believe, I have been in love before," Abelard said.
"Then why did you never marry?" Jasmine asked.
Abelard laughed. "When I was young, I was foolish and thought that I had all the time in the world. I had my eye on a particular girl who I thought fancied me in return. I thought we had an understanding; I thought she was going to wait for me. There was a major war calling on my attention. We were separated; by the time I found her again, she’d taken the veil," Abelard explained.
Jasmine looked at him incredulously. "Which means what, exactly?"
"She’d become a nun — one of the Daughters of Divine Compassion," Abelard said before sighing and looking out the window into the garden.
"The same order that runs the orphanage in the village?" Jasmine asked, astounded that she’d lived with this man all these years and never known this story. "Why didn’t you ask her to leave?"
Abelard chuckled. "I had boxed myself into a corner — I was her friend — as her friend, I wanted to be supportive of her decisions. If God had called her to this life, who was I to call her away from it?"
"Is she still in the order?" Jasmine inquired.
"After a fashion — she died before you were born. We had a number of lengthy chats before she passed. She asked that I keep an eye on the orphanage, an obligation that I was only too glad to embrace," Abelard said.
"Did she know?" Jasmine asked. "I mean, did she know how you felt?"
"I think she suspected," Abelard said sadly. "She said she had no regrets."
"What of Molly Prewett?"
Abelard laughed again. "That was when I was old and foolish," he replied. "We both acknowledged that there was a certain frisson between us. She was very close to a fellow student at school, but she knew if she went abroad to study, that relationship would probably wither. At this point in my life, I think she chose wisely."
"Harry thinks so," Jasmine quipped.
"Yes, young Harry has reason to be glad for Molly’s choices, although if Ginny were my daughter I’d certainly be happy to see the two of them together," Abelard said with a knowing smile. "Which brings us back to Mr. Paprikash. He has received several matrimonial inquiries from the heads of magical families."
"You’ve got to be kidding me," Jasmine said, her voice unsteady.
"I do not regard this as a joking matter," Abelard said calmly. "The first inquiry was from the head of the Rasman clan."
"Why are you telling me?" Jasmine asked, suddenly changing tack.
"In light of your pledge to me and the fact that you never lived under Judge Paprikash’s roof, he does not think that he is capable to act for you in these negotiations," Abelard replied with a twinkle.
"So you’re acting as my father now?" Jasmine asked before she began to laugh.
"It would seem as such — apparently the world at large believes your juvenile plan had merit," Abelard replied before joining in the laughter.
"Rasman? Not! Definitely not — I would mutilate myself and become a nun before I would consent to marry any of the eligible Rasman men," Jasmine said, leaning back in her chair. "What’s next?"
"Sistani," Abelard replied.
"Abdul Sistani? He’s like what, 60 years old?"
"I’ll have you know he’s a vigorous and virile 58 years old — or so he informed Mr Paprikash. He also wanted to know if you were still a virgin."
"I bet," Jasmine said, tossing her braid over her shoulder. "Another not — a definitely not — delivered nicely, of course."
"Then there was an inquiry from the patriarch of the Pakar family."
Jasmine lifted one eyebrow.
"Ali Pakar is looking for a second wife," Abelard said, wincing as he saw Jasmine’s expression change.
"I will not be a second wife!" she shrieked. "That one I will deliver in person, with a blade."
"I don’t think that would be either advisable or necessary. Well, in that case, having rejected all of the other offers, that just leaves one inquiry," Abelard said.
"Which would be from whom?"
"Ravi," Abelard replied.
"My brother?" Jasmine asked incredulously.
Abelard nodded. "Ravi says that Beckman is moving to London in a week to become General Manager of the European branch of some company."
"Beckman’s married," Jasmine said bitterly.
"Not quite. According to your brother, the arranged marriage fell through."
"Beckman didn’t know what he wanted, I suppose," Jasmine said coldly.
"He knew exactly what he wanted — unfortunately for you he considered it his duty to honour his father’s wishes, no matter how he felt about you or the other girl. It appears that he was quite happy to be informed that his bride-to-be had a bad case of cold feet," Abelard said.
Jasmine’s face went through a range of expressions. "When did she tell him?" she asked quietly.
"A fortnight before the wedding," Abelard replied. He poured another demitasse of coffee, swirling the fluid in the tiny cup. "Well?"
"Well what?" Jasmine replied.
"Aren’t you going to reject him in turn?" Abelard asked.
"What does my mother think?" Jasmine countered.
"Your mother is quite fond of Beckman," Abelard said.
"That’s not what she said when we were seeing each other."
"Beckman is not attempting to negotiate a bride contract — he is merely inquiring if you are interested in seeing him again. His intentions are quite clear, however," Abelard explained. "As to your mother, that was then; this is now. Your mother wanted him to honour the bride contract his Father had negotiated. Shall I tell him that you are not interested?"
Jasmine was silent for a long while.
"What do you think?" she asked.
"I have no interest in Beckman — I’ve always been partial to women," Abelard answered drolly.
Jasmine tossed her napkin at Abelard, who turned it into a brightly coloured bird that flew out the window. They sat together in silence again.
"I don’t know," she finally said.
"Shall I tell him that you have not rejected his inquiry out of turn?"
"Let me think about it," Jasmine said, pushing away from the table. "Are we done?"
"For now — yes, I believe we’re done."
"I’ll let you know tomorrow after I sleep on it," Jasmine said, pushing up from the chair. "If I say yes, and if things work out, you know you’re going to have to give me away, don’t you?"
"That had crossed my mind," Abelard said with an amused expression.
Jasmine leaned forward to kiss his forehead. "Thank you" she whispered before she darted out of the kitchen.
"You are most welcome," he replied to no one in particular.
Copyright © 2006 J.E. Cornell — all rights reserved.
Write to me — I write back.
Author’s notes: Well, to all of the fans who have a soft spot in their hearts for a certain young War Witch, I have this advice: act quickly before she’s off the market permanently!
Okay, for those of you who wanted to know what happened Christmas Eve, be very, very patient - it will come up in the next chapter which has been outlined, but not written. If you look
however at the chronology, you should have a hint.
As always, thanks to Runsamok for her beta job.