Author's Notes: I had started to write this fic last year, but did not manage to finish it at a "seasonally appropriate" time. So bear in mind that this has been sitting on my PC for almost one year now, waiting for the right time to be spewn out at last. Merry Christmas!

Disclaimer: Everything you recognize belongs to JKR.

"So basically, you're going to take the best-looking girl who'll have you, even if she's completely horrible?" [1]

Ron made a face. He was in a good mood to agree with Hermione just to shut her up but he thought better of it, realizing that he would make a complete prick of himself it he said that. No, he might be a hormonal teenage boy, but if he was honest to himself, looks did not have that much of a priority for him. No, certainly not, he thought to himself as he threw a fleeting glance up at Hermione. Still, he did not want her - or anyone for that matter - to think that there was the teensiest bit of a chance that he could fancy a girl like Eloise Midgeon, spotty, obese and socially awkward as she was, with an annoying voice and a liking for the sort of clothes that Ginny used to wear when she was seven. It would result in endless teasing. How could Hermione think that he would like a girl like that, he wondered, his hands shaking. It was obvious that she was trying to prod him into that direction, making a match between him and Eloise. Probably just for the sake of taking the mickey out of him, just like his twin brothers would. What other reason would she have for harping on about Eloise now?

"I'd take a girl I can have a good time with," he said pointedly, avoiding her gaze and hoping that his tone would make it clear to Hermione once and for all that Eloise was not a girl he could have a good time with.

If he had looked, he would have seen that Hermione had given a start at his words. But his complete attention was now directed to the reconstruction of the house of his still smoldering Exploding Snap cards and he stubbornly decided to remain deaf to the Yule Ball topic for the rest of the day.

Ron's words kept preying on Hermione's mind. He had said that he wanted to go with a girl he could have a good time with. They were best friends - so surely he could have a good time with her, right? And while he had not given a definite answer to her question, he had not explicitly confirmed that looks were really that important to him, so she would not be ruled out completely, would she? She hated herself whenever she found herself contemplating this. In her opinion, the concept of females being reduced to nothing but their outward appearance was beyond disgusting and there were already way too many who let that happen to themselves, and she certainly did not want to be another one of those. If anything, a person should be valued for their achievements and their contributions to the world, she thought, and not just for some stupid inherent physical features. That was definitely what was way more important to her than her appearance. But then again, she had never fully managed to shake off the voices of her classmates in her former Muggle primary school that had teased her day after day because of her impossible hair and oversized teeth along with her genuine interest in the school subjects - the latter being something that they had all mistaken for a want to best them all and that had given her the reputation of a teacher's pet, which, in turn, was the reason why she had never had any friends to stand up for her and tell them wrong. It were the same voices that spoke in the thankfully increasingly rare moments when she wondered if the boys had truly accepted her as an equal or if they only kept her around because they considered her useful, with what the help she provided them with their homework and all.

She was not able to focus on her Potions notes the evening after next when she was sitting in the crowded common room along with Ron and Harry. Her gaze drifted over to Lavender and Parvati, self-declared Hogwarts fashionista and natural beauty respectively, who were sitting at a nearby table, engrossed in a heated discussion of potential dance partners and confirmed pairs that was occasionally interrupted by "Oooh"s, "Aaah"s, fits of giggles and shameless glances at Harry. Would Ron prefer a girl like these two over her, undoubtedly attractive but somewhat shallow and silly? The fleeting image of Ron with Lavender on his arm popped up in her mind and her stomach clenched in a nauseating sort of way. No, she wanted to be in that place. She wanted to be with Ron. That was for sure.

But wasn't this thought rather selfish? What about Ron? He already seemed to be mortified by the mere prospect of having to go to the Ball, not to mention having to wear those old-fashioned and filthy second-hand dress robes that he so obviously hated. Wouldn't it be even worse for him if he had to turn up there with her, Hermione, to boot, as opposed to a beauty like Fleur whom he apparently fancied? Wouldn't he be ashamed of her? It was not like he had asked her, either, after all, and there must have been a reason.

It were thoughts like these that made her usual voice speak in her mind with a hint of self-loathing. 'No, he wouldn't,' she thought. They were best friends, for Heaven's sake! They had been spending nearly every single day of the past three years together and he had never seemed to be ashamed of having her around. But then again, the Yule Ball was different - they would have to dress up, dance with each other... Basically dreadfully date-like. But if she made her intentions really clear to him, if she could make him understand that she only wanted to go as a friend (well, she certainly wanted to go as more than just that, but telling him that would scare him away and ruin their friendship for sure), as, well, just as the sort of person he could have a good time with, like he had said, maybe he would not mind...

Another girlish giggle brought Hermione back to the here and now. She cast a glance at its source and sure enough, Lavender and Parvati were gawking into their direction again. Her stomach tensed up even more. If she waited too long, some other girl might claim Ron first. She had to act soon.

"Ron?" she asked tentatively, not feeling ready to do it at all.

Ron, who had spent the past half hour absent-mindedly staring into space, blotching his half-written Transfiguration essay with ink that was dripping from his quill, jerked out of whatever reverie he had been in.

"Huh?" he said, knocking over the gratefully empty goblet of pumpkin juice next to him as he flinched. A few leftover droplets of juice flew out of the goblet and splattered onto Harry's essay, making Harry sigh with frustration.

"Could we get out of here for a moment?" Hermione asked, wishing her voice did not sound as loud as she found it did. "I need to talk with you in private."

Ron glanced at Harry who looked up at him, shrugged and returned his attention to his essay.

"Um, sure," Ron replied hesitantly.

Hermione stood up and left the common room, Ron at her heels. She felt very self-conscious as they walked down the corridor and entered the next best empty classroom she could find, painfully aware of how suspicious the pair of them must be looking to an outsider.

She closed the door behind them and it clunked shut with a bang that resounded unnaturally loud in the silent room. Then she turned towards Ron who was standing a couple of feet away from her.

"Ron," she began, clasping together her hands in front of herself to keep them from shaking. If she messed this up now, their friendship would be as good as over.

"Listen, Hermione," Ron said defensively. "It's only one week till the end of term, so we won't be getting any more homework, and all I still need to do is that Transfiguration essay, unless you count the revision for Snape's stupid antidotes test. We've got plenty of time. There's really no need to -"

"What are you talking about?" Hermione asked, genuinely confused as to why Ron saw it necessary to update her on his homework status, and she furrowed her brow.

"You didn't go here with me to scold me for slacking off?" Ron asked with surprise.

"Well, no," Hermione said, giving a nervous laugh. "Though you really should be working harder if you still want to get that essay done today."

Ron looked down at his shoes, grinning sheepishly.

"So what d'you want to talk about, then?" he asked a few moments later, half looking back up at Hermione who had used the time to work up her courage. She swallowed. Now the time had come. She had to ask him.

"Well," she said, appalled by the raspy sound of her voice, and she felt heat rise to her face. She took a deep breath and then continued, "Have you already found a partner for the ball?"

The tips of his ears had turned scarlet before he even managed to lift his head completely.

"No," he muttered. "I haven't."

"So you haven't asked Fleur Delacour yet?" Hermione blurted out hopefully but did not quite manage to dispel a hint of snappishness from her voice. She instantly wished she had not said it. Why did she have to remind Ron of Fleur now of all times when she least wanted him to think of her? And of course, Ron had to snatch it up, too.

"D'you think I'd have a chance with her?" he asked, tugging uneasily at the sleeve of his jumper. "I mean... she's three years older than me and... well..." His face skipped several shades of red and immediately turned scarlet like his ears. "Well... she's... um... she's bloody gorgeous, too. I mean, all the blokes in school would line up for her, wouldn't they?"

Hermione felt as if part of her had just died. There she had it. Ron really wanted to go with Fleur, he had said it himself, even asking her for advice as though he did not even consider her someone to go out with, like she was some sort of a counselor who was supposed to stand on the sidelines, watching, but never to be properly involved. Of course he didn't. What in the name of Merlin's oversized unibrow had she been thinking? That she, plain and with terrible hair, could stand a chance against a girl with the aura of a Veela? How could she have been so stupid?

"Well, there's only one way of finding that out, isn't there?" she spat, turned on the spot and marched to the door. Tears were welling up in her eyes and she did not want Ron to see them.

"Hang on," Ron called and Hermione froze but did not turn around.

"Is that all? Did you make me come here just to ask me that?"

"Yes," Hermione lied, feeling stupid.

"I don't believe you," Ron said briskly. "There's something more, isn't there?"

"Never mind. You wouldn't understand it anyway," Hermione said through gritted teeth, desperately wishing that Ron would finally stop pestering her.

She continued to head for the door but Ron quickly walked in front of her, blocking her way.

"Try me!" he snapped and crossed his arms before his chest. "You know, Hermione, just because I'm bloody rubbish at school and everything else that's important to you doesn't mean I'm just some bumbling idiot who doesn't understand a thing!"

Hermione's stomach plummeted. She blinked away the tears in her eyes and looked up at Ron who looked positively hurt. How could this have happened? This was going so horribly wrong. She could not take it any longer. She had to get out of here, now.

"Willyougototheballwithme?" she heard herself say before her brain had fully reconnected with her tongue.

Ron's eyes became as wide as saucers. "W-what?" he asked with the air of someone who was thoroughly overwhelmed by a drastic turn of events.

"The Yule Ball. Will you go to the Yule Ball with me?" Hermione asked more slowly, frustrated at having to ask again and mortified at having asked in the first place.

Ron still looked utterly dumbfounded. He opened his mouth, hesitated for a moment and then closed it again, like a fish breathing underwater.

"Forget about it," Hermione said quietly, feeling even more frustrated. She squeezed past Ron and managed to grab the door handle. "I shouldn't have asked. It was all pretty stupid anyway."

"No it wasn't," Ron whispered, his voice so low that Hermione was not sure if she had not, in fact, just imagined it. "I... I will."

Now it was Hermione who had to ask. "What?" she said and looked up at him. His face was still deep red.

"I... I will go... to the ball... with you," Ron replied quietly.

"Really?" Hermione asked incredulously and her heartbeat suddenly tripled in speed. She needed to hear it again. It was much too good to be true.

"Really," Ron confirmed, his voice somewhat firmer this time, and flashed her a bashful grin.

The formerly defeated look on Hermione's face instantly made way for a broad smile. She bit down hard on her lip to suppress her urge to scream out loud with glee. Ron had said yes! He was really going to the ball with her!

"Okay then," she finally said breathlessly, emitting a brief laugh of relief, and walked out of the room.

[1] Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Signature Edition, p. 431 © 2010 J.K. Rowling