He didn't listen when she firmly told him to put her down, nor did he let her go when she tried to wiggle her way out of his grip, but held her tighter as he ascended the stairs and carried her inside. He put her down on the sofa in the library, surprisingly gently when considering that nothing had been gentle about him since he grabbed her and kissed her.
He kissed her! Her lips still felt swollen and the taste of the kiss lingered as did the scent that she had learnt to associate with Charles. The kiss hadn't been anything like she had imagined her first kiss to be. It had been crude and rough and there hadn't been a trace of the gentle softness that she had so many times read about. And still, it had taken her breath away and left her far more speechless than she could ever remember being. Confused, she wished she had not liked it as much as she had. Charles Weasley was a slave owner and a liar, she reminded herself, and no kiss could ever change that. No matter how little breath was left in her when he let her go.
Annoyed, she noticed that she had raised her hand to her lips, as if wanting to make sure the kiss actually had happened. Her hand shook slightly when she forced it down into her lap. As much as she wanted the truth to be something other than it was, she couldn't let this go, she couldn't just forget who he was and what he had done.
"Do I need your permission to leave, or do you only order your slaves around?" she spat, knowing that her words sounded bitter. Then again, she was both bitter and angry – bitter for allowing herself to be so utterly fooled, and angry at him for fooling her. It was with not a small amount of pleasure that she saw him flinch at the tone of her voice.
"There are things you don't understand, that you do not know yet," he said, his voice forcibly calm, as if he was holding back in order to explain something very difficult.
Hermione stared furiously at him. How dared he have the nerve to talk to her like that? Like she was a child, someone less knowing than others! She had been talked to like that too many times in her life, by too many men, and it was not something she appreciated – not from anyone and certainly not from a man like Charles Weasley! How could she ever have thought he was different?
"I understand what I need to understand, Mr Weasley!" she interrupted him, not able to stop her voice from growing shrill as the anger inside her rose. "And I do not appreciate you talking to me as if I do not. I am not a fool, although you seem to have believed so, and nothing you say can change my views. Slavery is immoral and should be illegal – and no matter what you think your reasons are, you are a horrible man for keeping them."
"Miss Granger, I asked you politely to listen to me!"
"And I told you I will not! Nothing you say could ever change my views. You cannot 'teach' me to accept something my heart knows is wrong–"
"Miss Granger! If you do not stop talking on your own, I will make you stop!" Charles cut her off. His voice forceful and filled with built up frustration as he sat down next to her.
It took only a moment for Hermione to catch on to what he was referring and when she did her gaze immediately moved to his lips, almost as if her eyes had a will of their own. Irked and embarrassed, Hermione turned her head away, feeling the colour rise in her cheeks.
Her eyes fell on the book lying on the seat next to her by chance, its red leather cover still smooth and untouched, drawing her attention to it. More out of a wish to do something than anything else, she reached out and touched it, fingering the bindings and the tracing the letters of the title.
"I bought that today," Charles said. "It's your favourite, is it not?" he asked.
Hermione shot him an annoyed look. "Buying me things isn't going to change the way I feel about slavery, Mr Weasley. Or change the fact that you tried to deceive me."
Charles sighed and from the corner in her eye she could see him running his hand through his hair. "I'll make you a deal," he then said. "Listen to what I have to say before you make up your mind. If you still want to leave after that, I'll get Hetta to pack for you and I'll have Kingsley prepare a carriage to take you back to Charleston. I give you my word, that if you still think I am a horrible person, then I'll stay away from you. But please, hear me out first. If you don't I will not give up until you have, even if I have to follow you to Boston to get you to listen to me."
"It would seem you leave me little choice," Hermione said tersely.
"Will you agree?" Charles insisted.
"I can't see the good it will do, but since I have no alternative, yes I'll agree," Hermione answered, still fingering the book beside her.
"Do you remember, a couple of days ago when you saw that book on my shelf?" Charles asked.
Confused, Hermione looked up. He couldn't possibly be serious, could he? Did he really think that a conversation about a book would change her focus from the fact that he kept slaves? That he had lied to her for months and had apparently no respect for her views what so ever?
"I fail to see the importance," she replied, annoyed.
"Then humour me, Miss Granger!" Charles said firmly, getting up from the sofa to pace the room.
With a sigh, Hermione nodded. "Yes I remember," she said.
"Then you also remember, that I picked out another book to read that day. Not the one you said was your favourite, but another." He waited for her to nod again. "You didn't find that a bit odd?" he then asked.
"I assumed that you didn't like the book that much or that you weren't in the mood to read it," Hermione answered, tiredly, not understanding at all why this had any type of relevance to her changing her mind about leaving. "But yes, I did find it slightly odd," she admitted, when he didn't immediately respond.
"The reason I didn't read it is because I didn't have the book," Charles said, making her if possible even more confused.
"What are you talking about?" Hermione asked annoyed. "I can see the back of it from here!" she continued, gesturing to the shelf that carried a copy of the book she had read so many times in her life.
Charles smiled, as if she'd just said something that pleased him. She couldn't possibly understand what that would be, and understood even less when he walked up to the shelf and pulled out the book.
Only the book didn't leave the shelf, and the action was followed by a low clicking sound, as if someone had turned a lock. With decisiveness, Charles pushed the dark mahogany bookcase, and to Hermione's surprised it swung open like a door, revealing a dark corridor and a staircase leading down to the cellar of the house.
"What is that?" Hermione asked with a frown.
"That, is what I have been trying to talk to you about since the ball," Charles said calmly, walking over to the sofa to once more sit down next to her. "That, also happens to be the reason why what you saw today isn't the true picture of who I am. As for me deceiving you, I never did. Hid things from you, certainly, I can't deny that, but I didn't lie. I never lied to you."
"What I saw–" Hermione started, shuddering when she thought of the image of the women working in the fields and the sheds she had seen them live in, and pushing the nagging feeling that, maybe, Charles hadn't really lied to her to the back of her mind. She couldn't forget what she had seen, and she was not to be made a fool of!
"Was a front," Charles interrupted her. "That was the lie. What I told you never was. I do not believe in slavery–"
"You keep slaves!" Hermione cut in, her voice forceful. She would not let his voice and gentle manner mislead her again, it just wasn't worth the pain and anguish.
"Only because I can help them," Charles answered.
"And how would being locked up in sheds help them?" Hermione asked sarcastically.
"They are not locked up," Charles said firmly. "The gates are there because it would look odd if they weren't, but they are never locked."
"They still can't leave whenever they want, can they?" Hermione replied.
"No of course they can't, they'd be killed if they were found! People like Mr Malfoy or Mr Nott, or most other men in the area for that matter, would never acknowledge their right for freedom!" Charles said, as if he, himself, had nothing to do with slavery.
Hermione snorted. He really had some cheek to sit here talking like this. Charles, however, ignored her and continued to speak.
"I know you doubt me right now, but I do believe they have the right to be free. It's just that, as long as they live here, in the south, they will never have that freedom," he said calmly.
"So keeping them under lock and key is your way of helping them to freedom?" Hermione replied wryly.
"Actually yes, it is," Charles replied. "Through this," he added and gestured towards the hidden door, "and through the help of people who are prepared to take a lot of risks for what they believe is right, there are a number of slaves who gain freedom each year," he continued.
"Explain," Hermione said, glancing over at the dark doorway, still wary, but starting to wonder if maybe she, after all, had been a bit hasty in her judgement, her heart somersaulting at the mere thought.
Charles, however, started looking more nervous again. Suddenly getting up from the sofa, he paced the room and ran his hand through his hair in the way she had seen him do before when he got anxious. When Hermione started to wonder if he might just change his mind about what ever it was he wanted to tell her, he turned back around.
"I smuggle slaves, Miss Granger. I pretend to either sell them or kill them, when I am, in truth, smuggling them to New York, where Fred and George take care of them. They are kept safe in the back of one of my brothers' warehouses until they can be found employment and a place to live," he said rapidly, barely breathing while he spoke. "So you see," he continued, in a much calmer pace, "that while I have not been completely honest with you, I have not lied to you either. I do believe that slaves have the right to be free. I just go about it a bit differently, that's all," he finished.
Hermione was stunned. Out of all the things she thought he'd tell her, this wasn't it. Letting her gaze wander from him to the secret door, she tried to think of something to say. Her attempts were futile as her mind wouldn't stop spinning.
On the one hand, there was this incredible feeling of relief that washed over her, as if a great weight was lifted from her shoulders making breathing remarkably easy all of a sudden. It made sense after all, his attempts to try and tell her something he so obviously found important. The reason Hetta and Kingsley and even Eve seemed so very fond of him. Even Mr Malfoy's and Mr Snape's discussion about his behaviour around slaves could be explained if this was true.
But then there was that little voice of doubt in her mind – what if he wasn't telling the truth? What if he was just deceiving her? She had after all seen the so called village his slaves lived in. No matter what he said, there had been gates, and the houses had been nothing but sheds.
"If this is true, why do you let them live like that?" she asked, quietly hoping that she would find his answer satisfactory.
When Charles looked at her, he smiled before he moved to sit on the sofa next to her again.
"Those 'sheds' as you call them have real floors, and real beds and aren't half as ill-built as they look. I would love to give the people who work for me more, but if those houses did not look like sheds… I need people to believe that I wouldn't hesitate to kill a man for no reason at all. If I can't maintain that image, then I can't smuggle slaves out either," he said.
"But why this way? Why not work for the freedom of all slaves instead of a chosen few?" Hermione asked.
"Because, while politicians like my brother are busy arguing pros and cons, people here are suffering and dying! Women, like Hetta, get separated from their children, or are forced to watch them be beaten or worked to death. Women like Eve are raped, people like Kingsley killed for learning to read – I could go on," Charlie said passionately.
"You think things are moving too slowly," Hermione said, wondering how many times she'd thought the same thing herself.
"I do," Charlie confirmed. "I am not a patient man, and I'm not a politician. If I can help people, actually do something, then I can't sit idly by just talking about it. It's not who I am!" he said quietly.
"But if no one talks about it there won't be any change at all," Hermione argued.
"I know that, and I do appreciate the fact that others are talking about it. But that's not me. I act, I can't be any different," Charlie said softly, watching her closely before he spoke again. "I am well aware of the fact that what I do here is illegal, and I do understand if a woman like yourself, would have a hard time accepting that," he said, taking a deep breath before continuing.
"I won't pretend that I haven't thought about the future a lot lately, and I don't think I'm being too presumptuous if I suggest that you have entertained such thoughts, as well," he said, making the colour rise in Hermione's cheeks as she remembered just how many times that type of thought had crossed her mind over the last few weeks – months even.
"I have," she answered, glancing down at her hands, wondering if this might be what she had been waiting for all that time. If he would actually ask, like so many seemed to have been convinced of and she had secretly hoped for.
"In all honesty, living this life, this lie, isn't easy, and it does demand a lot of effort. Of behaving the way you are expected to rather than the way you want to, of being able to hold your tongue even when those around you behave and act abhorrently," Charlie said, making Hermione's heart sink, his words not being either what she had expected or hoped for.
"I guess the latter isn't one of my strong suits," she replied, feeling disappointment rise as the meaning of the words sank in and became clear. She wasn't good enough. Charles may like her outspokenness, but it wasn't a trait he was looking for in a wife. She hadn't been able to hold her tongue when speaking to Mr Malfoy and Mr Snape. She would have spoken up in front of Mr Nott had Ginny and Mrs Weasley not stopped her. Charles was looking for a wife to keep a secret, and the only thing she managed to prove while here was that she was not the person to choose.
"I guess what I'm asking, is would you be willing to learn?" Charlie asked, reaching out and taking her hands in his.
Surprised, Hermione looked up at him, wondering if she truly understood what he meant. This was hardly the type of proposal of marriage she had expected to get, and yet it couldn't be anything else, could it?
"Mr Weasley…" she started without really knowing what to answer.
"My offer still stands, if you want it. If you do not want to stay, if you do not want my company, I will arrange for you to go to Charleston, and will not bother you again," Charles said, still holding her hands in his.
"And if I do not feel the need to return to Charleston as pressingly as I did?" Hermione asked hesitantly, wondering if it was even proper to stay after this.
"I'd be delighted to have you here, for as long as I could persuade you to stay," Charles answered with a slight smile.
Her heart positively dancing in her chest, Hermione returned his smile. "You asked if I was willing to learn," she then said, watching their hands together, his so much bigger than hers.
"Would you be?" he asked.
"I guess that is dependant on the teacher, and the reason for teaching," she answered.
"And would this, would I, be enough of a reason for trying?" Charles asked, his voice sounding more nervous than she would have expected.
"It would," she answered, her voice so faint that she herself could barely hear it. Charles, however, heard her just fine, and a smile spread across his face as he squeezed her hands tight.
"Does that mean that I have your approval to write to your father and ask for his permission to marry you?" he asked, raising his hand to brush away a stray lock of hair from her face.
Suddenly feeling elated, Hermione laughed at the formality of his question. So far today, nothing had been formal. Charles had even kissed her, in public no less, without so much as a breath of consent from her father. In truth, Hermione was rather sure that Charles would never have obtained a permission to do that even if he had asked for it. With a smile she met his gaze.
"No, Charles, you may not," she said, revelling as much in the use of his name as in the surprised and confused look on his face. "Any such letter will be written by the both of us together," she added with a smile, yelping only a little when Charles leaned in and quietened her with his lips.