Charles Weasley was a man of opposites. He was a man often seen with a drink in his hand, but rarely drunk. He was a man never seen with a book in his hand, but still had an entire library in his house. He was a man that enjoyed every luxury that money could by, from the finest silk cravats to the best champagne, but that still never shied away from hard work.
Charles Weasley was also a man well known in his community for his harsh treatment of his slaves. He was a man who tolerated no mistakes and who didn't think twice about whipping a disobedient slave to death. His closest neighbours, the Malfoys, even used to joke about it and say that he probably enjoyed it, since he never let anyone else deal with that part of taking care of troublesome slaves.
The truth, of course, was that not a single slave ever had died in Charles Weasley's possession. Although that particular fact was something that not even the slaves themselves ever dared to talk about. It was certainly not a fact known to his peers and neighbours, who only knew him as the successful plantation owner, who snorted disdainfully every time a conversation turned to the subject of the fools up North who wanted to ban slavery.
What they never guessed, was that Charles Weasley didn't snort at the people arguing for a ban on slavery, but at those very peers and neighbours that held him in such esteem. Then again, neither of them had a clue that the very slaves they thought he killed every year were in truth smuggled to his brothers' trade company in New York where they were set free. This truth was just another of those many little details that the community around Charles Weasley did not know about. In fact not even everyone involved in the smuggling knew what was going on. It seemed safer that way, for all involved.
This particular part of his trading was the reason that he had just spent three days in New York, and hence why he had decided to go up to Boston to visit the rest of his family, his parents, his youngest brother and his sister. And it was when in his family home that he first met her, Miss Hermione Granger.
Miss Granger was in many ways the essence of a lady. Or at least she seemed that way to Charlie when she walked through the door accompanied, as was the custom, by her parents. Greeting her the way that was expected of him, Charlie took the opportunity to take a good look at the pretty woman in front of him as she entered the drawing room. Her dress was a pale shade of blue that became her very well. Latest fashion of course, he wouldn't have expected anything less from a woman of her stature. Her hands were clad in pretty lace gloves, protecting them from sunlight. Charlie deduced she probably had a parasol to match the outfit as well, making sure that no part of her skin was ever kissed by the sun. He was not impressed.
Being a wealthy man in his best years, Charlie was used to women, far more beautiful than Miss Granger, swarming around him. Miss Granger may be pretty but she seemed too much a lady for Charlie's taste. After all, his experience of ladies, which was quite extensive, told him that a lady such as Miss Granger served as a very dull and uninspiring company. Then again, Charlie was the first to admit that he respected very few women, his mother and his sister being the only two respectable enough to show in decent society.
Not that Charles Weasley didn't like women, he did very much; he just couldn't stand ladies. His experience was that the women that were ladylike either had abhorrent views on important matters, or even worse – no opinions at all save for the ones the man most likely to become their husband had. As far as Charlie was concerned, views formed to please a man weren't real views and in his mind there were few things that were worse than caring so little about what happened around you that you didn't even form an opinion of the matter. Being a woman was in no way excuse you from the responsibility to care about the world.
Sitting down, he went through the routines, answering her parents' questions, presenting himself as the perfect gentleman, in short he did all the things that he had learned he was supposed to do, while not spending any amount of time thinking about doing it. It was something he'd acquired a knack for over the years, pretending while letting his mind wander. Today it was wandering towards the only interesting thing he could find about the young woman seated in front of him – the lock of hair that was trying to fight its way out of her elaborate hairstyle.
The longer she sat there, quietly sipping her tea, her lace-clad hands neatly folded in her lap, the stronger Charlie felt that, that lock, so stubbornly fighting its entrapment, was the only redeeming thing about Miss Granger.
"So what brings you to Boston, Mr. Weasley?" Mrs. Granger asked, exactly at the moment she was supposed to.
"I had some business to take care of with my brothers in New York, and I always stop in Boston to see my family when I'm up north," Charlie answered, giving the woman one of the charming smiles that always seemed to win the hearts of mothers.
"And may I ask, Mr. Weasley, exactly what kind of business it is you do for a living?" Mr. Granger asked him curiously.
Shooting off another one of his charming smiles, if only to prevent himself from telling the man that 'no, that was not something he may ask', Charlie took another sip of his tea before answering.
"I deal with cotton, Mr. Granger. I have a plantation down south, a short distance from Charleston. Quite a successful one, if I may say so myself," he added, knowing that that it was the last part that would truly interested the man in front of him. He wasn't surprised when the man gave him a big smile in return.
"A plantation? Do you have slaves too, Mr. Weasley? Do you profit from the pain of others?" Charlie almost choked on his tea at the harsh words from the young woman in front of him. Staring at her he tried to remember if a woman ever had talked to him in such a way before.
"Hermione!" It was her mother's voice that snapped him back to reality. "When will you learn to behave like a lady? Offending Mrs Weasley's son when you are a guest in–"
"Mrs Granger, I assure you I was not offended," Charlie quickly injected, thinking he should at least say something.
"What a kind thing to say, Mr Weasley," Mrs Granger said, her voice suddenly as soft as the cotton he grew. Charlie plastered a smile on his face to avoid frowning at the difference from her voice as she addressed her daughter. "But surely you must have been," she added firmly.
"We are most terribly sorry, Mr Weasley," Mr Granger cut in. "Our daughter is a lovely young lady, but she get these…ideas…sometimes. Silly little things, really–"
"Slavery is not a silly little thing, father," Hermione interrupted. "Men talk about it all the time!" she added, and Charlie had to stifle a laugh as he watched her father's face grow red. Suddenly this visit had become a lot more interesting.
"As I said, ideas!" he said apologetically while his wife gave their daughter a stern look. "A perfect example of why women shouldn't be involved in public life. I must admit I have faltered in that area sometimes, giving Hermione a little too much room. Women are so easily affected by what they hear," he finished with a smile.
"I'm sure your faults have not been that great, Mr Granger," Charlie assured him. "It's rather refreshing to meet with new ideas, after all," he said, smiling honestly for the first time since the Grangers entered their drawing room. "Not everyone can afford to speak so freely," he finished with another smile, this time directed at Hermione.
She, however, didn't seem as impressed. "Is that a nicer way to tell me that I should know my place and hold my tongue?" she asked sharply.
"Hermione, that is enough!" her mother shouted agitated. Too agitated for anyone to hear Charlie's assurance that truly that had not been what he had meant. It was his own mother that sorted the situation by promptly changing the subject, although Charlie silently wished that she hadn't. He'd much preferred the company of the agitated young woman Miss Granger had been before, than the calm, collected lady that was now taking her place. Yet she continued to fascinate him. Like the lock of hair fighting its restraints, apparently she too found the confinement of her role as a lady and a future bride a little restricting. By the time the visit was over and the Grangers were leaving, Charlie had formed a plan.
He would see her again – in an environment that was far less controlled. With a smile playing in the corners of his lips he grabbed his sister's arm and guided her hand to the crook of his arm as he asked her if Miss Granger was a close friend to her. His smile widened at his sister's nod. Leaning in to keep his plans from their parents he whispered a few instructions in Ginny's ear, knowing she'd be too attracted by the mischief in them to be able to resist.
The following afternoon, Charlie was in quite a good mood. He whistled as he changed out of the clothes he'd worn for a stroll in the town and changed into something more suitable for the afternoon. Green he decided, as it complimented his read hair and freckled complexion the best.
It was with a wide smile he said waved goodbye to his mother as she left the townhouse for visits to the neighbours and with a wider smile still he promised to look out for Ginny, now when his poor sister wasn't feeling well enough to join her on her visits.
Ginny seemed almost as exited about the plans as Charlie did, and when the maid announced that Miss Granger had arrived to see Miss Weasley, Charlie winked at her as he left the room temporarily.
"Ginny, how are you feeling?" he could hear her voice as she stepped into the room.
"Fine, why wouldn't I?" Ginny asked happily. Charlie imagined the young woman stopping in her movements, watching her friend with surprise.
"Your note, it said you weren't feeling well. That you wanted my company," she said surprised.
"And how else do you think I would get out of this afternoon's social calls, not to mention get you out of yours," Ginny said, and Charlie was quite sure she was smiling.
"Oh Ginny Weasley – that is lying!" Hermione's voice was heard saying sharply. "And I absolutely adore you for it," her voice continued, broken up by a giggle. Charlie smiled, as he waited just a bit longer – long enough for their conversation to get started, then he left his place and stepped through the door.
"Miss Granger, how lovely to see you again," he said gracefully, while walking up to her. With a slight bow he took her hand and brought it to his lips.
"I'm surprised that you'd think so, Mr Weasley," Hermione answered, pulling her hand back. "After yesterday's meeting, I'd rather think you'd want to avoid my company," she added, her lips not even beginning to return his smile.
Charlie frowned slightly as she turned her back on him. He wasn't used to women not responding to his looks and charm. Then again, he wasn't a man that didn't appreciate a challenge, and Miss Granger was apparently set on being one. His smile back in place, Charlie took his seat in the chair next to her.
"I would say that that would be jumping to conclusions," he said casually. "After all, you never really gave me a chance to explain myself yesterday," he added.
"I think you explained yourself rather well," Hermione responded.
"Actually I did not," Charlie answered her with a grin. "Or rather I did, but you chose to misinterpret my views," he added. She did not look impressed, but at least she didn't interrupt him. Folding her hands in her lap she simply waited for him to go on. "My comment about having the freedom to speak was not directed at you as a wish for you to hold your tongue, but rather at myself in a wish that my tongue could be as free as yours, Miss Granger," Charlie explained calmly, leaning back in his chair when he finished.
"And what would keep you from speaking your mind, Mr Weasley? You are a man, after all," Hermione replied.
"Not everything is about being men and women, Miss Granger. I'd say it has more to do with where you are from," Charlie explained, treading carefully as he spoke – not wanting her to think that he approved of slavery, but unable to tell her the – highly illegal – business he was in. After a quick deliberation with himself he found it cleverest not to mention his own slaves at all. "If I were to speak my mind as freely as you did yesterday, my health, my finance, my standard in society, might very well be threatened – as could in the worse case scenario my life," he continued. "Life isn't always easy down south, Miss Granger. Especially when it comes to views on slavery – there you either agree with the majority or pretend to agree with them while holding your views to yourself."
"I can't see why anyone would want to live in a place like that, then," Hermione replied simply.
"There are other things that are important, Miss Granger. Things that can make certain sacrifices worth taking. Like the way the earth smells after a rain, or the way the evening sounds after sunset – the south is a beautiful place, Miss Granger. And there is a lot of hospitality, a wonderful nature, a simplicity to life that you cannot get here up north," Charlie answered her honestly. He wasn't sure if his words would be enough to convince her, but he still couldn't help but feel a jolt of victory in his stomach when he saw her harsh expression soften somewhat.
"So what category would you fall into, Mr. Weasley," she asked, tilting her head slightly.
"Category, Miss Granger?" he asked for a moment unsure of what she spoke of.
"You did say there were two categories of people where you live, did you not, Mr. Weasley?" she asked with a slight smile, her expression one he would imagine she would have had she caught the cat with its nose in the cream. "Which one would you be? The one agreeing with majority or the one too scared to speak one's mind?"
Charlie nearly laughed out loud, the question so cleverly worded that he would be in a bad light no matter what he answered. "According to that definition I would be found among the spineless cowards not daring to speak their minds, Miss Granger," he answered, pleased when she couldn't hold back a laugh of her own at his answer.
Time passed far too quickly, and before he had barely started talking to her, Hermione stood up and bade her farewells, thanking Ginny ever so much for the welcome distraction to her routine. For Charlie seeing her leave was a nuisance, but one he could rectify quite simply. Taking the stairs two at the time to his room, he wrote a note, announcing his visit with the Grangers the following afternoon. It might not be as good as being able to talk to her outside their parents' presence, but at least it was better than nothing – and Charlie was not about to let the opportunity slip.