A/N: So sorry for the delay in chapter; real life got in the way. Will definitely be updating this again a lot sooner; plus working on the next chapter to Unattainable and I have a few one-shots zooming around in my brain at the moment too! But thanks again for all the reviews, alerts and favourites. I hope you enjoy this chapter. :)

I really just wanted to get this chapter out, i just finished writing it and it's quite late here. i did look it over quickly for mistakes, but if there's anything really glaringly obvious, please let me know, and I'll edit it as soon as i can. Thanks again.

Of Ball Gowns, Bastards and Beginnings:

Hermione walked down the staircase to the common room attempting the sashay that Lavender was so pro at, but soon giving it up as a lost cause. It seemed that her derriere just wouldn't swing like that. She would have to try and perfect it before the ball, Ginny's comment running through her mind. "There's nothing sexier than a woman who's confident. Not cocky, but sure of herself." And while Hermione wasn't too sure she wanted to be super 'sexy', she understood that confidence was attractive. She was so eager to flounce down the staircase to the Great Hall on the night of the Yule Ball, all confidence and radiance with elegant hair, beautiful makeup and a stunning dress…

She blanched. A stunning dress... How could she have forgotten? She had picked out a dress at the beginning of the school year but no, no, no… there was no way she could still wear it. It was frumpy and old fashioned and ruffled and she was one hundred per cent sure that not even magic could rescue it. She groaned in frustration and headed back upstairs, hoping that the girls were still there.

Luckily, they were, sitting on Lavender's bed and chatting. They looked up as she came in and smiled in surprise.

"Hi Hermione," Ginny grinned. "Did you forget something?"

"Yes," Hermione replied, resigned. "My ball dress I bought back in August isn't me anymore. I really don't want to wear it-…"

"WHAT?" Lavender shrieked, clearly outraged. "You cannot change your mind regarding your dress two days before the event! It's bad enough that you've changed your hair and only just discovered makeup. You'll be a complete mess if you change your dress too!

Hermione frowned, but conceded the point. "I don't even have the money to buy a new dress anyway, even if I did have the time," she sighed.

"Let's see the one you own now?" Parvati suggested. "Maybe it's not as bad as you think?"

Hermione smiled tightly, walked over to her closet and pulled out the dress that was slowly becoming the bane of her existence. She held it up for the other girls and awaited their reactions. She was not disappointed.


"WHAT on earth were you thinking, 'Mione?"

"I'd rather go naked."

"You'd go naked anyway, Lav," Ginny joked, and caught the pillow that Lavender had thrown at her. "But really, honestly 'Mione, you simply cannot wear that…that… that monstrosity!"

Parvati and Lavender nodded their agreement. "Honestly Hermione, if you wear that, you may as well forget everything we taught you about hair and makeup," Parvati added.

Hermione grimaced and turned the dress around. It didn't look so bad from the back; a little bit of trimming here or there… Argh, no, it was as bad as they were saying. The colour was fine, although she wasn't sure why she had thought periwinkle blue would go with her skin tone. However, the material had a fake satiny sheen to it, the shoulders were puffy and ruffled, and the skirt was caught somewhere in the middle of being a full princess gown and a simple A-line. It looked as though it wouldn't have been out of place in a terrible Seventies bridesmaid photograph.

"What do I doooooooo?" Hermione wailed, in a terribly un-Hermione like fashion. "It's horrid!"

Lavender and Ginny looked on sympathetically, but Parvati jumped up from the bed, smiling.

"I couldn't decide which dress to buy, so daddy let me buy three," she said, ignoring the hiss of jealousy from both Ginny and Lavender. "I've already decided on the yellow one, but you can choose one of the other two to wear if you'd like?"

Hermione couldn't believe her ears. She would have a dress to wear after all! And, as it was one of Parvati's; it was likely to be incredibly beautiful and fashionable. She was so happy; she ran across the room and threw her arms around Parvati.

"Thank you so much, Parvati!" she gushed. "You have no idea how much this means to me!"

Parvati looked happy to be such a help, and she walked over to her own wardrobe, pulling out a ruby red dress and a forest green one, and holding them up.

Ginny squealed in delight. "Both colours would look amazing with your complexion, 'Mione!"

Hermione couldn't keep the smile off of her face. She knew which dress she wanted to wear the moment that she had seen it. "I'll borrow this one, if that's okay?" she asked Parvati.

Parvati nodded her agreement, her eyes sparkling, and she handed the dress over. Hermione sighed in delight and hung it reverently in her wardrobe, before turning back to the three girls.

"You really are amazingly beautiful, lovely people," she said softly. "I'm incredibly lucky to have you in my life, and I'm unbelievably sorry for the way I've treated you two" – looking at Parvati and Lavender – "over the past three and a half years. I just didn't understand you, I guess."

The two looked completely shocked at the unexpected emotional outburst from the usually stoic Hermione. Lavender looked to be tearing up again, and Parvati just looked delighted. "I'm super glad we're friends now," she replied. "And we're very sorry for the way that we treated you over the years; I guess we didn't understand you either."

Ginny rushed over and dragged all four of them into a group hug. They fell, laughing, onto the nearest bed. Hermione had never felt more at home. After fifteen years, she finally had some female friends.

Harry paced in the Common Room, waiting for Hermione to come downstairs. She had been up there for hours and he had no idea what she could possibly be doing. He had completed his Potions essay; been thrashed in a game of Wizards Chess by Ron; and cracked open his TriWizard egg again, listening to the intense wailing for a good fifteen minutes in his dorm, before finally giving it up as a lost cause and returning downstairs. He had thought that Hermione would have been finished by now, but alas, he had been pacing for ten minutes. Ron was lounging in a chair reading Flying with the Cannons for the umpteenth time. Well, not reading perse. He was looking at the pictures. And he still hadn't completed his Potions essay.

Finally, Harry heard a pattering of footsteps on the staircase leading to the girl's dormitory. Looking up, he felt his mouth form a comical 'O'. It was clearly Hermione walking towards him, but well… wow. His throat went dry and he swallowed nervously a few times. Hermione wasn't supposed to have this effect on him. For Merlin's sake, she was still his best friend…
It's just different hair, he convinced himself. She's still Hermione. She's always been pretty, nothing has changed, and she's still your best friend…
'And what a sexy best friend she is now',
a traitorous voice in his head said slyly.

Harry shook his head quickly. He couldn't afford to be having conversations with himself on top of everything. He plastered a smile on his face, and gestured to Hermione. He could see the apprehension on her face as she waited for his verdict on her hair.

"Hi Harry," she smiled when she reached him.

"Hey 'Mione," Harry replied warmly. "I was wondering what took you so long, but wow, your hair looks great!"

She flushed. "Thanks Harry, I wasn't sure… it's a big change; it's strange not having bushy hair anymore…"

Harry grinned. "You look beautiful. But then again, I think you've always looked beautiful. Bushy hair and all." He winked.

"Oh shush you," she replied, but the blush deepened, letting him know she was pleased. "Bushy hair and large teeth – I was quite the catch."

"You were cute." Harry said softly. 'But you're sexy now…' Ah, shut up!

They walked over to the available couch by the fire; the Common Room was quite sparse for once, and sat next to each other. As they were taking their seats, their hands brushed against one another and Harry pulled back as if he were shocked.
Get a grip, he told himself firmly. You have held hands with her before. She's just Hermione!
He smiled wanly, and made himself comfortable on the couch. Within seconds, he had a lap full of Hermione's new hair, as she stretched herself out on the couch, using him as a pillow.
Why is she doing this to me? Her head. My lap. Oh Merlin, no, not that. He moaned to himself.
'She thinks you're just her best friend, you prat', that voice replied. It sounded strangely like Professor Snape. 'The poor girl has no idea the type of thoughts you're thinking about her now.'

"Ugh!" Harry said out loud.

"Oh sorry, am I hurting you?" Hermione made to get up.

"Uh no, it's just…. I have a leg cramp…" he lied quickly. It would not do for her to notice that.

"Oh!" She leapt up and rearranged herself at the other end of the couch.

All of their repositioning finally alerted Ron to their presence. He closed his book and looked over at them, raising his eyebrows at Hermione.

"Wow, Hermione, your hair looks good! You're actually pretty…" he mused out loud.

Hermione's face was caught somewhere between offense and amusement.

"If I'd have known you would have looked like that, I would have asked you to the Ball," Ron continued.

Harry looked shell-shocked, and glanced at Hermione… They had forgotten to tell Ron they were going together. Hermione paled and indicated that Harry should say something. Harry opened his mouth, but Ron cut him off.

"Actually, I might tell Lavender that I can't take her to the Ball…"

"Ah, Ron," Hermione started. "She's right beh-…"

"Yes that's what I'll do," he persisted. "Hermione, you'll come with me right? I mean, it's not like you have a date already; not when you just fixed your hair. Truthfully, I just asked Lavender to the Ball because I heard she was easy -…"

"Is that right Ronald?" A deathly quiet voice asked from behind him.

He turned around in his seat quickly and found himself looking up at seething Lavender. She was backed up by a furious Parvati; there was no trace of any of the air-headedness most people attributed to the two girls.

"I… uh… no… I don't kn-.." Ron stuttered.

"I'll tell you what Ronald; I wouldn't go to the Ball with you if it were a choice between you and an Acromantula. You're a pathetic excuse for a boy, and I'll make sure all the pretty girls know what filth you are." She gave a tight lipped smile to Hermione, and stormed out of the common room; Parvati following in her wake.

"Well," Ron breathed. "Now that's taken care of, you'll come to the Ball with me, won't you Hermione?"

Hermione was outraged. She couldn't believe that Ron had treated Lavender like that, and then he had the audacity to ask her to the Ball? She was fuming, but she forced herself to remain calm.

"I already have a date," she told Ron patiently.

"What?" he asked, seemingly confused. "Someone asked you between the time you fixed your hair and now?"

Hermione counted to ten under her breath. It would serve no purpose to hex him so he couldn't sit down for days. It would make you feel better, her inner voice told her. No. She was better than that.

"No, Ron," she replied coldly. "Somebody asked me before I changed my hair… and I said yes!"

Ron gaped. "Who are you going with then?"

Hermione started to reply but caught sight of Harry giving a slight shake of his head. She changed her mind mid-sentence. "Ha-… Never mind, you'll see in two days."

Ron stood up, his brow furrowed. "Ugh," he grumbled. "Now I have to find another date for the ball. Wish me luck," he called as he climbed out of the portrait hole. Neither Harry nor Hermione replied.

Harry had been watching the entire scenario unfold; caught somewhere between shock, anger and amusement at Ron's brazen stupidity. He bristled at Ron's comments towards Hermione; even he could tell that Hermione was insecure about her looks, and he was sure that they would have a detrimental effect, but he was proud of the way that Lavender had defended her honour. Ron may have been one of his close friends (he refused to use the term 'best friend' after the Goblet of Fire incident), but nothing gave him the right to treat a woman like that. He knew the Weasley's were a respectful, loving family; and he was certain that Mrs Weasley in particular would have something to say regarding Ron's behaviour.

Harry sighed as Ron left the common room. The displays of Ron's emotional immaturity and insensitivity were becoming closer and closer together, and Harry had almost had enough. He was pulled from his thoughts, however, by the ragged breathing of Hermione as she fought to contain her indignation.

"That…that… bastard!" she finally exclaimed, and Harry had to stifle a laugh at the look on her face.

"I know," he replied softly. "I can't believe he treated you that way; of course you would find a date to the ball before you changed your hair!"

Hermione smiled gently, "Viktor Krum actually asked me a week before you did. I said no though."

"What?" Harry cried, suddenly feeling angry. She's not your Hermione, he told himself firmly. Why did you say no?" he forced himself to ask.

Hermione was quiet for such a long time that Harry was sure that she wasn't going to answer. He turned to face the fire and almost jumped out of his skin when her soft voice replied.

"I like someone else."

Harry felt his throat go dry for the second time that day. That tension with Ron that he had been noticing all year… But surely she wouldn't fancy someone who treated her the way that he just had? 'Girls have been known to do stranger things'; the voice in his head told him.

"Is it… Ron?" he asked tentatively, hoping for a negative answer but not quite sure why.

"Ron?" Hermione shouted. "You have got to be kidding me! There is no way that I would ever fancy someone with such a level of emotional immaturity." She shuddered involuntarily.

Harry felt relief trickle through him. "So… there's no unresolved sexual tension between the two of you then?" he asked, jokingly.

"Unresolved sexual tens- Merlin, Harry. That's not sexual tension… that's just tension. The only thing we have in common is our friendship and love for you!"

Harry grinned automatically. "Well then, who is it? It's not Malfoy, is it?"

"Malfoy… By God Harry, you really don't know me at all. Yes, Malfoy is painfully good-looking, but no, I definitely don't fancy him."

She thinks Malfoy is good-looking….
'Well, he is, I suppose.'
You, voice in my head, shut up. Malfoy is
not good-looking.
'If I know he is, then you must know he is, because I am really you…'
I have
got to stop talking to myself…

"He's alright looking, I suppose," Harry conceded grudgingly. "But who is it then?"

"I'm not going to tell you," she replied. "No seriously, Harry. Please drop it, I'll tell you when I'm ready."

Harry looked crestfallen but dropped the subject anyway, and a comfortable silence fell between the pair. That was what he liked about Hermione. That he didn't have to always be talking or doing something, but that they could enjoy each other's company just through the silence. He felt like just Harry when he was with her, and he wouldn't have traded that for anything.

By dinnertime, they had spent most of the afternoon relaxing by the fire; swapping titbits of their lives that they had never gotten around to before. They were amused to find that they both had a penchant for Mathematics in primary school, and Hermione was curious to find out why he had never picked up Arithmancy.

"I don't really know," Harry replied. "I don't know why I'm doing Divination and not Arithmancy or Ancient Runes…"

"You know, it's not too late, Harry," Hermione replied. "Especially since you're exempt from school exams this year… I could always tutor you in both third year and this year's Runes and Arithmancy now and perhaps even over the summer holidays. I'm sure Professor McGonagall would be willing to let you sit the test to get into fifth year in those subjects at the end of the holidays. If you get in, that's great; if not, well you haven't lost anything, right?"

"You'd do that for me?" Harry asked.

"Of course," she replied, smiling.

"Thank you; that would be amazing. I'm sure with you as a tutor I'll pass anyway."

"Ha ha, I'll make sure of it," Hermione said. "Runes and Arithmancy will give you a boost no matter what career path you end up choosing."

"If I don't die before then…" Harry started to say, but quelled under the look Hermione shot him. "Just kidding."

Later that night, tucked up in bed, Hermione marvelled at the day. It had been an emotional rollercoaster, and she had never felt so invigorated. She felt transformed from her 'makeover' and the realisation that she could have female friends, and she was delighted by Harry's reaction to her new look. Although, she wasn't sure why he pulled away when she laid her head in his lap – they had relaxed like that many times before. She supposed he could have really had a cramp.

With a sigh, she turned over. If only Ron would stop being a prat. Lavender hadn't seemed too devastated by Ron's comments, and to Hermione's surprise, had confirmed that she was now going to the ball with Blaise Zabini of Slytherin.

"We hooked up once before," she had said. "Daphne tried to curse a pimple off of her face and ended up in the Hospital Wing covered in boils, so he was dateless. It's just as friends."

Hermione was glad – Hogwarts needed some inter-House union. And Blaise was supremely good-looking. What is it about those Slytherin boys? She mused to herself. Apart from Crabbe and Goyle, they're mostly all handsome. But Gryffindor has some attractive ones too. Harry, for example… His raven hair, always looking bed-tousled. Those piercing green eyes... his body is quite toned from Quidditch… I felt it when I was on top of him in the snow… Merlin, no. I'm not thinking these thoughts about him. I'm going to sleep. Yes, sleep. I wonder what his lips taste like…

In his own dorm, Harry was facing a similar problem, although his was much more obvious. He would not do that whilst thinking about his best friend… that would be a breach of trust or something. 'She'll never find out…' his inner Slytherin tormented.
Harry gritted his teeth. No. But God, where were these thoughts coming from? Hermione was just a friend… Albeit, an extremely attractive (made even the more so by her new hair), female friend… but a friend nonetheless. How was he supposed to act comfortable with his body pushed up against hers, dancing at the Yule Ball, when the mere thought of her with her head in his lap sent his hormones into a frenzy? He supposed he should be glad that he was dealing with normal teenage boy problems, but he was, quite literally, caught between a rock and a hard place. With a sigh, he rolled over onto his stomach, ignoring the uncomfortable feeling in his groin.

A loud belch interrupted his thoughts, and had the added benefit of sorting out his little (not little, he corrected himself. I swear it's not little!) problem as well. Ron had evidently walked into the room.

"Hi Ron," he called out through his curtains.

"Hi Harry," the reply came back.

"Where have you been all day?" he asked.

He heard a rustling of the curtains and a loud plonk as Ron climbed into bed.
"Been with Seamus and Dean," Ron replied. "Found a date to the Yule Ball, too."

"Oh, that's great." Harry lied. "Who is it?"

The answer was almost so soft that he didn't hear it. "Eloise Midgeon…"

Harry stifled his laughter. "That's great, Ron." He choked out again. "Good night."

Ron didn't reply for a long time. "Who are you going with?"

Harry pretended he was asleep, and before long he heard Ron sigh and roll over. He liked Ron, he really did, but oh… justice was so sweet.