The Yule Ball (as it should have happened)

But Ron was staring at Hermione as though suddenly seeing her in a whole new light.

"Hermione, Neville's right--you are a girl..."

"Oh well spotted," she said acidly.

Ron chuckled lightly at her sarcasm. He turned to Harry and Ginny. "Harry, Gin, could you two excuse us please? Hermione, could I talk to you?"

Harry looked positively perplexed, but Ginny was sniggering as though she knew a secret no one else did. Ron gave her a look that could have burned the leaves off a tree. He then opened the portrait hole door for them and shut it after they exited, perhaps a little harder than necessary. He turned around to face Hermione.

The look on Hermione's face was priceless. She went through several expressions in only a matter of seconds. First, she looked amused because she couldn't see what was so important that Ron would have to ask their friends to leave in order to discuss it with her. Then she looked angry because after all, why couldn't Ron just bloody say whatever he wanted to say. Now Hermione was going to have to field all sorts of weird questions about why her and Ron had to talk alone. Lastly, a look of fear came over her face. Why, she couldn't exactly say. Was Ron going to say something about her secret crush on him? She hoped not. Surely he didn't figure out that I've liked him for a long time, did he?

Before Hermione could answer her own thoughts, Ron spoke. "Hermione, will you go to the Yule Ball with me?"

She looked up at him. He had a slight, warm smile on his face. Could this really be happening? Was Ron really asking her to the ball?

"Ron!" she gasped. "I thought you...I mean...you asked Fleur already and all."

He shook his head. "She said no. And I just realized, I don't want to go with Fleur, a girl I don't even know. I wouldn't be able to find anything to talk about with her. That's not how I want to spend Christmas night. I want to spend it with one of my best friends."

Hermione's brow furrowed. "But, Ron, I know you just think I'm a last resort because you've asked everyone else."

"No," he said adamantly. "The truth is I've thought of you all along, but was too scared to ask you." He blushed as red as his Gryffindor sweater. "Please, won't you go with me, Hermione?"

Hermione's heart raced, but she chided herself to stay cool. "Yes...yes, that's fine then." In order to escape more embarrassment, she hurried to the portrait hole and threw the door open.

"Wait!" Ron called.

She turned.

"Shall I meet you in front of the Great Hall Christmas night then?" he asked.

"Sure...of course," she stammered, and then ran out into the hall.

Harry and Ginny were both out in the corridor studying the portraits on the wall as if they hadn't seen them a thousand times before.

Ginny turned and spotted Hermione, who was trying to creep down the staircase, unseen.

"Oy, Hermione!" she called.

Hermione froze. She slowly turned.

"What was that all about?" Ginny asked.

"Yes, well...Ron wanted to...homework assignment...fell asleep in class...I'm going to go down to dinner now." And with that Hermione practically flew down the staircase.

Ginny turned to Harry. The bewildered looks on their faces were identical. Harry shrugged. "Let's go eat shall we? I'm starved."

Hermione barely held it together during the week before Christmas. She kept running into Ron in perfectly ordinary situations, such as passing the juice jug over breakfast, or bumping into each other in the corridors before class. On these occasions Hermione's heart leapt up in her throat and it took her a half hour to calm down afterwards. Of course Ron was always perfectly polite. Once or twice Hermione was sure his hand lingered next to hers longer than necessary, such as when he passed her his homework to check over in the common room.

Whether Harry knew that Hermione would be Ron's date to the ball she could not say. He didn't say or do anything to suggest that he knew. As far as she could tell, Ron had only said that he had a date, but not who. Harry, being the non-prying person he was, sensed that Ron was sensitive about the subject and didn't inquire any further. As for Harry, he would be going to the ball with Parvati Patil. Not his first choice of course, but considering his and Ron's initial attempts at asking girls to the ball, he thought they had done well to find dates at all.

On Christmas day, Hermione left Ron and Harry outside to dress for the ball. She met Ginny in the Gryffindor common room and they pounded up the stairs to Hermione's dormitory room, giggling as they went. Hermione sat down at her dressing table and spread her brown hair back onto her shoulders. Ginny tried to run her fingers through the wiry hair, and failed. It didn't take long for her fingers to become tangled.

"Hermione, your hair's so...thick," Ginny said, faltering.

"I know," Hermione said desperately. "Can you do anything?"

"Of course!" declared Ginny cheerfully. "In fact, I came to Hogwarts prepared this year." From under her robes, she pulled out a large blue vial that was labeled: Sleekeasy's Hair Potion. Hermione took it and read the label.

IMPORTANT: For use only on humans. Use on animals may cause slips and falls

Hermione blanched. "Are you sure this is safe?"

"Sure," said Ginny nonchalantly. "My mum uses it all the time. She's the one who gave it to me."

"Ok," Hermione muttered weakly.

With that, Ginny began to apply large handfuls or the potion which looked like runny glue. For a minute or two the entire room smelled strongly of rotting bananas.

"Ginny, not to interrupt you or anything but does that smell go away, or...because I can't go the Yule Ball smelling like a bunch of..."

Hermione trailed off because she had just looked in the mirror. Her once bushy, frizzy and unmanageable hair had suddenly become sleek and straight. The smell of rotten bananas was gone as well.

"Holy cricket!" she exclaimed, running her hand through her hair for the first time.

"Wow!" Ginny breathed. "Hermione, you look great! Do you still want to put it up? Or we could even just leave it down and it would look fabulous like that."

Hermione shook her beautiful hair purposefully. "No, let's put it up. I want to be totally unrecognizable."

Approximately ten minutes later she was unrecognizable. She examined herself in the mirror. "Do you think I look pretty, Ginny?" she asked meekly.

Ginny bent down and hugged the person who had become her first girlfriend. "Hermione, you look beautiful. Ron is going to faint at the sight of your beauty."

They both giggled.

***

Ron stood next to a column in front of the Great Hall. He leaned against the column as if deflated. Most of the school had already streamed past him into the Hall already. Ron expected they'd be starting the music soon. Where was Hermione? She said she would accompany him, and Hermione was not known for going back on her word. What if she's playing a prank on me? thought Ron dully. What if she doesn't like me at all and thinks I'm a total nutter for asking her?

Ron was about to issue more 'woe is me' thoughts when he noticed a girl standing on the wide staircase. She had sparkling brown eyes, gorgeous brown hair, and a lovely smile. She had on blue dress robes that looked diamond sparkled in the light. I wonder what lucky chap she's waiting for? thought Ron.

Just the pretty girl walked over to him and said, "Hi Ron! Shall we go into the Hall?"

Realization hit Ron like a ton of bricks. "Hermione?!?" he said incredulously.

Her brows furrowed. "Well of course it's me! Who else did you expect?"

Ron sputtered. "Well, I expected the bushy haired, buck toothed Hermione, that's who!"

Hermione's eyes narrowed even further. "You didn't expect to ask the bushy haired, buck toothed Hermione to the ball then? Because that's who you asked."

Ron felt dumbfounded. "I...I'm sorry Hermione, I don't know why I said that. I was just completely surprised. I mean to say, you came out looking so--so...pretty, and--"

"So I wasn't pretty before, is that how it is?" she interrupted hotly. She could feel her temper rising.

"No, I--NO! Bloody hell, Hermione! I'm trying to compliment you is all!" Ron's face was now as red as his hair.

Hermione looked at the scowl on his face and softened. She couldn't believe she was being so rude to the boy she'd had a crush on since she first met him on the train to Hogwarts. She decided to make things right once and for all. Enough of all this fighting, she thought.

"I'm sorry, Ron. I don't know what's wrong with me, I must be nervous." She laid a delicate hand on his arm in a gesture of apology, and then noticed Ron's dress robes.

"Ron? These aren't the same dress robes you had when you came to school, are they?"

He grinned sheepishly. "No. Well, they are, but Harry helped me magic the lace off the collar and sleeves, and we asked Professor Flitwick for a charm to change the color." His robes were now a dark charcoal gray.

Hermione smiled. "You look wonderful, Ron. I can't believe these are the same robes."

"Thanks." They exchanged a look that communicated what each of them felt about how the other one looked.

Ron offered his arm to her, and said, with chivalry, "May I escort you to the Hall, my lady?"

Hermione curtsied. "Of course you my, kind sir."

The Great Hall was beautifully decorated and the music was enchanting. Hermione couldn't help but be swept away. It was truly a magical night. Harry looked indifferent to it all, perhaps because he wasn't extremely fond of Parvati She kept shooting dirty looks at him every time Ron asked Hermione to dance, which was nearly every musical number.

Hermione was thrilled at the way Ron wasn't afraid to hold her close while they danced. His hands at her waist kept creeping up her back in a sort of tender embrace. Everyone kept looking at them, and some weren't sure who the lovely girl was that was dancing with Ron.

Harry watched them, smiling slightly. He had known all along, of course, that his two best friends fancied each other, without needing to be told by Ron. He felt happy for them. If only I could have gotten the girl I wanted, Harry thought.

Later that night Ron took Hermione by the hand and led her out to the gardens. He found a secluded spot near a beautiful flowered archway. They stood for a minute looking at the stars.

Ron turned to face Hermione. "Hermione, please promise me that we won't fight again?"

She grinned. "How about if we can fight, but I always win?" she suggested coyly.

Ron took both her hands in his. "Hermione, that's the best idea you've had all year."

He leaned forward to kiss her, and for some inexplicable reason Hermione gasped and pulled away from him.

"What's wrong?" Ron asked, looking worried.

She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I did that. I guess I wasn't sure if I was ready."

"Oh," Ron said, looking disappointed.

They stood there, holding hands and hugging occasionally, for a little while. Then Ron looked at her face. He wanted to drink in every last drop of this moment, and how Hermione looked, before they went back to just being Ron and Hermione, Gryffindor students.

"Are...are you ready now?" he asked, unsure.

She stared into the sky for a minute, and then looked into Ron's eyes, her gaze full of affection. "Yes, Ron," she said. "I'm ready."

Their lips met. Hermione was amazed at how warm and soft Ron's mouth was. He was equally amazed at how tender and deep Hermione was kissing him.

It probably would have continued longer, had Harry not ran up to them hissing, "Hermione, Ron, you won't believe what I just heard Hagrid and Madame Maxime talking about!"