'Drat!'

Hermione's hand slipped, and drew a line of eye pencil up the side of her lid. She scowled at the mirror, and picked up her wand.

'Scourgify.' The offending smear disappeared, and she braced herself once again for her fourth attempt at this miserable exercise. She caught a glimpse of her reflection: leaning forward awkwardly, pen half way to eye and mouth hanging open in the gormless expression that was for some reason necessary to apply makeup.

She streaked her face again.

Hermione threw the pencil into the sink in frustration. This was ridiculous. It wasn't like she usually bothered with make up anyway, and no-one would care if she started to bother with it now.

'Am I really seeing this? Hermione's wearing make up?'

'We must still be dreaming.'

There was an explosion of giggles, and Hermione groaned inwardly at the perfect pink spots and red silk pyjamas she could see in the mirror. This was embarrassing enough without Lavender and Parvati's teasing; she'd been counting on them being late getting up, as usual.

'Do alert the ministry, Hermione Granger's putting on make up,' Hermione deadpanned. 'Meanwhile, in other news, a wizard is spotted casting a spell, and You-Know-Who is revealed to be evil.'

Parvati yawned, rolled her eyes, and brushed back an escaped lock of dark hair as she and Lavender came and dropped their wash bags beside the basins either side of Hermione. Lavender stopped giggling to look at her curiously.

'You've drawn up your eyelid.'

'I'm aware of that,' Hermione snapped.

Lavender leaned back against the sink and put her head on one side. 'Anyone you're trying to impress?'

'No,' Hermione zipped up her washbag a little harder than was necessary.

Parvati and Lavender exchanged glances.

'You can't just go to breakfast with eyeliner all up to your eyebrow.'

'What?' She'd forgotten about that, and Hermione felt her cheeks flush.

'Look, we'll help you get ready,' Parvati flipped her plait over her shoulder, 'You're doing it all wrong.'

'I'm fine, really,' said Hermione, 'I need to go and eat early this morning -'

'Oh no you don't,' Parvati said, putting her hands on Hermione's shoulders. 'You're staying right here, and we're giving you a makeover.'

Lavender clapped her hands and squealed. 'Brilliant, Par!'

'I know, right? We're finally going to get Hermione to tart it up.'

'I really don't think -' Hermione started.

'This is going to be so fun,' Lavenderwas ticking things off on her fingers, 'We can do your hair and your nails, plus I can lend you some clothes...'

'I don't particularly - '

'Shut it,' Lavender grinned, 'You don't have a choice.' She stuck a jaunty pose, hands on hips, at Hermione's startled looking reflection. 'Ron Weasley's never going to know what hit him.'

'I don't know what you mean,' said Hermione primly.

Lavender rolled her eyes, 'Oh, Hermione, I don't think you've made it quite obvious enough yet - there's a chance Professor Binns and some of the house elves still haven't noticed.'

'We're not blind,' smiled Parvati, and Lavender nodded. 'You've been fighting like cat and dog for years. It'd be funny, but the sexual tension's getting pretty unbearable. Not to mention the fact that the Yule Ball's coming up – we're not stupid, you know.'

This couldn't be happening. Hermione bit her lip in consternation, but her attempt to run was aborted by Lavender's vice like grip on her arm

'Not happening,' Lavender said, 'It's about time we made you appreciate the perks of being female.'

'Just because I'm not always interested in clothes,' Hermione began, but all her protests were ignored as the two girls dragged her out of the bathroom and into the girls' dormitory, where they plonked her down onto Lavender's bed.

'I don't think a makeover will be very good for me…'

'Nonsense,' said Lavender, in her best Madam Pomfrey voice. 'Just because you hang out with boys doesn't mean you have to act like one.'

'I absolutely do not act like a boy,' Hermione snorted.

'Maybe not, but you certainly don't appreciate the fun you can have as a woman,' Parvati remarked, and then frowned, biting her lip.

'What are you looking at?' Hermione was getting nervous. 'I'm going to be late for breakfast.'

'I'm figuring out which hair style would best suit your face shape,' said Parvati, her cool gaze that of a professional, 'and don't worry, I'm an expert at this.'

Hermione sighed, and relented. 'Just this once, then. I could probably do with a makeover, to be honest.'

Eleanor Dobson, one of the other two Gryffindor girls, gave her a mildly pitying glance from the next bed. Ramona Pierce, the final girl in their year, pulled back the curtains of the bed opposite. Her eyes brightened. 'Are you giving Hermione a make over?'

'Absolutely,' said Lavender smugly, and knelt down under her bed, pulling out a huge purple box. 'Now this is where I keep all the goodies.'

'This is gonna be fun,' said Ramona, 'Mind if I join?'

'Not a bit,' Parvati was holding a hairbrush in one hand and a comb in the other, 'But you're not doing the hair. That's my area.'

'And I'm doing make up,' said Lavender, who was fumbling around inside her box, pulling out various bottles, pots and tubes.

'Guess we'll just have to watch then,' said Eleanor dryly.

'Is that all make up?' asked Hermione in disbelief.

Lavender gave her a look. 'What else would it be?'

Hermione yelped as Parvati wrenched a brush through her hair. Lavender's wide brown eyes appeared in front of hers, and she cupped Hermione's face in her hand. 'Now hold still, and let me sort out this eyeliner.'

'So,' said Ramona, 'is there any particular reason for this?'

'No,' said Hermione.

'Hold still!' said Lavender crossly. She huffed, and pulled out her wand. 'Scourgify. There. At least now that mess has gone, so I can redo it.'

'There's a reason alright,' Parvati chatted to the others, 'Or at least, we found Hermione trying to do her own make up.'

'Really?' said Eleanor, hopping off the end and adjusting her glasses. 'Have skrewts learnt to fly and the Chudley Cannons won the Quidditch league?'

'I rather thought,' Lavender's brush swept foundation onto Hermione's cheeks, 'That she had a certain someone in mind.'

All the girls made cooing and squealing noises. 'Are you going to ask him out yet?' said Ramona, 'Please do. I put five sickles on the last round of bets.'

'I don't think she knows about those,' hissed Eleanor.

'What?' Hermione spluttered, head being repeatedly yanked back by Parvati's brushing. 'What bets?'

'It's one of Fred and George's,' Parvati grinned, 'On how long it'll take you and Ron to get off.'

Hermione gave an indignant squeak, but couldn't do more as Lavender had her pinioned to the bed. 'Are you honestly telling me you don't know about them? They've been holding them since third year.'

'I heard Harry put down a galleon that Ron's so thick he won't kiss her till our leaver's ball,' said Ramona.

'Well I heard that Harry hasn't even noticed,' said Eleanor, 'He may be the Chosen One and all, but that doesn't seem to stop him being an utter dunderhead. I mean, he hasn't even noticed that Ginny Wea-'

Ramona pinched her and Lavender shushed loudly.

'Oh, carry on,' said Hermione wryly, 'Believe me, I know all about that.'

'Well what I was going to say is that she's obviously been in love with him for years, so his glasses must be rubbish because he's clearly as blind as a bat,' finished Eleanor.

'Tell me about it,' snorted Ramona

'Not that it seems to have prevented her getting through most of the boys in her year. And ours, come to that,' said Ramona.

'I told her she should branch out,' said Hermione, 'Have some fun and show Harry what he's missing.'

Lavender's brush paused. 'You told her that?' Her eyes where wide. 'Wow, Hermione, this isa whole new side to you!'

'Oh, honestly,' muttered Hermione with an exasperated grin, 'What did you think I was, Victorian?'

'I had my suspicions,' said Parvati sagely.

'All done,' Lavender smiled, then she clapped her hands, 'Actually, not quite.'

Reaching forward, she grabbed Hermione's tie and pulled it down to loosen it. Then she yanked the collar of her shirt out from under her v-neck jumper and undid the top few buttons.

'Don't you dare put my bra on show-'

'Shush.' Lavender waggled her finger. 'We're in charge, remember. Par, bring those shoes, will you?'

Parvati undid Hermione's flats and replaced them with pair of patent heels, then a flick of Lavender's wand took an inch off the bottom of her skirt. Hermione slapped her hands away when she looked about to repeat the charm.

'Oh honestly, have it your way,' Lavender smiled, 'There. All done, and like I said, Ron's not going to know what hit him.'

'You look amazing,' said Eleanor earnestly, and Ramona nodded.

Hermione's expression must have been dubious because Parvati gave an exaggerated sigh and flung her hands in the air. 'Oh honestly, Mione, give us some credit. We've gone for 'subtle and classy', not 'hooker'. Who do you think we are?'

'Go on, take a look,' Lavender gave Hermione's hand a quick squeeze and passed her a mirror.

Hermione gave Lavender and Parvati a wary smile. She wasn't ridiculous and insecure; she knew she was fully capable of looking nice. It was just… well, this was a rather different situation from the Yule Ball itself, and she'd never given her friends free reign over her appearance before. She looked down to her reflection, not entirely sure what to expect.

'Oh,' she said simply.

'So, what do you think?' Lavender was almost bouncing up and down with suppressed glee.

She looked good.

Hermione's hair had been swept away from her face and plaited round the back of her head, where the frizzy loops had been tamed into curls which tumbled over one shoulder. Subtle foundation smoothed her complexion, and pencil defined her eyebrows and defined the shape of her eyes. Somehow Lavender's expertly applied blusher had given her cheekbones, and a tinted gloss accentuated her lips.

'Hermione Granger,' said Parvati seriously, 'You're a sex goddess.'

Hermione went pink, passing back the mirror. 'Slightly inappropriate, but thanks. You've done an amazing job.'

Lavender clapped her on the back in a most unladylike manner, 'Go get 'em, girl. Show that boy who's boss and ask him to the Yule Ball.'

Most of the time Hermione despaired of her terrible, incurable infatuation with Ronald Weasley. Today, for once, she was determined to revel in it. She put her hands on her hips, and smiled. 'You know what, I think I will.'

The fifth year Gryffindor girls dissolved into squeals of delight.

Hermione refused to admit she felt slight trepidation upon entering the great hall – she was only going to breakfast, after all – and told herself not to be so self centred. There were three hundred students here, and none of them would be remotely interested that a random fifth year had decided to experiment with a bit of eyeliner.

It was, therefore, a pleasing stroke to her ego when an attractive 6th year Ravenclaw caught her eye and gave her an appraising smile. She grinned with amusement, but didn't return his gaze. Treasurers of wit and wisdom, my arse; the shallow dolt had never paid any interest to her assets –mental or physical – before today.

He wasn't the only male who seemed to have discovered her existence this morning. She was surprised to notice Blaise Zabini's dark eyes follow her as she walked towards to the Gryffindor table. When he realised she'd noticed, he turned quickly back to his breakfast, feigning nonchalance. She almost laughed aloud - boys were so predictable – but swallowed her mirth when she noticed Draco Malfoy staring at her white faced and eyes blazing with something that looked like fury. What on earth?

She shook off her sudden discomfort, and then the moment was forgotten as she stopped by a familiar sweep of flaming hair. Ginny raised an eyebrow as she looked up to greet her. 'Looking hot today, Mione, what's the occasion?'

Hermione felt her cheeks warm. 'Oh, shut up, Ginny.'

'Oh, I see,' Ginny gave a conspiratorial wink, 'When my brother finally asks you to the Yule Ball, tell him he's an idiot for me, won't you?'

Hermione rolled her eyes, returning her friend's smile, and then continued down the table with another crop of red hair in her sights. Finding herself subconsciously smoothing down her own hair, she mentally chastised herself for acting like a twelve year old with their first crush. She may have finally admitted to herself that it was Ron himself who wasthe reason she'd put on makeup, but that was no excuse for regressing into pre-pubescence.

'Morning, Ron.'

'Morning,' he mumbled, continuing to chew absentmindedly on a piece of bacon. Ron, true to form, didn't seem to have paid any attention to her as she entered the hall, and she remained standing behind him, determined he should actually notice her appearance for once.

Finally he stopped chewing and turned around. 'Um. Why are you just standing there?'

Hermione's breath hitched at the sight of his familiar, freckled face, and gorgeous red hair mussed and rumpled from sleep. His frame was wiry where before it had been lanky, and there was a dusting of stubble around his jaw. As usual, his collar and tie were uneven. He wasn't bad looking at all, she noted, and if you went for gingers – well.

Oh Merlin, Hermione realised, she was attracted to morning Ron. What was her life coming too?

Ron's bleary eyes slowly cleared as he frowned at her face. Hermione felt equally triumphant and embarrassed: so he wasn't blind after all. As she slid into the bench beside him, he was still frowning at her, as though trying to figure something out.

'Yes?' she asked sweetly.

Ron blinked. 'Do you have something in your eye?'

'Excuse me?' Hermione spluttered.

'I dunno,' Ron shrugged, 'There's blue all up your eyelid . You just look like someone attacked you with face paint.'

Hermione had grown to be thick-skinned over the years, but his comment still stung. 'Thank you for putting it so complementarily, Ron. As a matter of fact, I'm wearing make up. You know just how to make a girl feel good about going to the effort.' Especially when the effort is for you, you ungrateful prat. She took a deep breath, and tried to clamp down on the twinge of annoyance. 'So, do you have a date for the Yule Ball yet?'

Ron ignored her question. 'Showing off with make-up, are we? Malfoy seems to like it,' he said in a bizarrely accusatory tone. 'Planning on going to the ball with him?'

'What?' Hermione felt her good mood drain away as though she'd been doused in cold water. 'That was completely uncalled for.' Ron muttered something darkly, and she snapped. 'I presume you're going to do a repeat of last year, and refuse to dance with your date for the entire evening. Better let Confucia Smeaton down gently, she's in for a thrilling evening.'

Across the hall, a chubby fourth year Slytherin in question batted her eyelids, and took a slow, suggestive bite out of a sausage. Ron choked on his pumpkin juice.

'I'm not going with Smeaton,' he snarled, 'And shut up, people will hear you.'

'Oh, what a shame,' Hermione stabbed at a hash brown, 'You'd have looked gorgeous together. You could have colour-co-ordinated matching outfits.'

'Like you and Malfoy, I presume?' Ron speared a slice of bacon. 'Or is Krummy-kins going to fly all the way down from whatever place it is he lives in for you to fawn over him?'

'For goodness sake, Ron, shut up about Malfoy.' Hermione spat. 'And I'm not going with Viktor. We're just friends, and you know it.'

'Oh, really,' Ron snorted, a piece of yolk going flying as he sliced violently through his egg.

'Yes, really,' Hermione's goblet slammed down. 'In case you haven't noticed, 'whatever place' he lives in is Bulgaria. It's a little bit far for some sort of relationship. Or is your knowledge of geography that bad?'

'Bulgaria didn't seem to stop you before, did it, with all those lovey-dovey letters you wrote to him,' another piece of egg soared across the table, 'And you going to visit him every bloody holiday.'

Hermione gaped. 'There was nothing…lovey-dovey…about those letters, and I only went to visit him once.' She felt her pitch rise in consternation, 'In fact, why am I telling you this? What I do in the holidays isn't any of your damn business.'

'Really?' Ron slammed down his cutlery, 'When you disappeared head and shoulders for entire days into the fireplace just to talk to him, and we had to put up with him offering to come over here to 'escort' you to this that the other every bloody week, that wasn't any of my damn business?'

'You had to put up with - ' Hermione almost choked on her anger. 'Why are we even talking about this? What is wrong with you, that you turn every conversation into an argument about Viktor?'

'Because he's a self entitled prat, that's why!' Ron was almost shouting. 'He stalks around like he's so amazing, girls swooning over him just because he's famous.' His lips twisted into a sneer. 'What's he doing this time, flying in on a magic ship with all his team mates so he can give you bunch of singing flowers and tell you you're his belowed sveetheart?'

'You petty, ignorant toad,' Hermione yelled, and Ron looked as though she'd slapped him. 'I hope you have fun with Confucia Smeaton. At least then you won't have to break your pathetic illusion that most girls actually have lives that don't revolve around you!'

They stood in silence, chests heaving in fury, before realising that most of the Gryffindor table had stopped to watch the outburst. As they slid slowly back into their chairs, Hermione's fingernails cut into her clenched palms.

How had all this managed to go so horribly, horribly wrong?

'Morning,' yawned Harry, and slid on to the bench next to Ron and Hermione. Spooning porridge into a bowl, he looked up when neither of his best friends responded.

Ron was glaring at Hermione. Hermione was glaring at Ron. Suddenly, Harry really, really wished he hadn't sat there.

'Is…everything okay?' he asked tentatively, incredibly glad he wasn't sat where Ron was sitting right now. The Basilisk should have been thankful it didn't get a proper look at Hermione in second year – Harry wasn't entirely sure it wasn't the Basilisk who would actually have wound up dead.

Hermione snorted, seeming to find his question amusing. 'Oh, we're fine,' she said, in a voice so sweet it only served to make Harry deeply suspicious, 'Aren't we, Ronald?'

Ronald? Ron was definitely screwed.

Harry turned slowly to Ron, whose ear colour was now almost indistinguishable from his hair, a vein pulsing in his temple. Harry was impressed to see that he looked furious, as opposed to wanting to wet himself, which is what Harry would have been doing in his position.

'Yes', Ron said hoarsely, then cleared his throat and repeated it more loudly, 'Yes, we're fine.'

Harry nodded slowly, and began to eat his porridge as quietly as possible. He knew from experience that it was best not to get involved. An awkward silence ensued. Harry had hoped that the tension would diffuse, but if anything, it seemed to be heightening.

Without warning, Hermione jumped up from the bench, face white.

'You arse, Ronald,' she whispered, 'You – complete – bastard.' She shook her head, voice trembling. 'We are not fine. How dare you say that we're fine?'

'But you said – '

'Shut up!' Hermione yelled. Harry dropped porridge on his lap. 'Shut up,' she said, more quietly, eyes glistening. 'I don't want to hear it'.

She almost stumbled trying to climb over the bench, and turned and ran from the hall.

'Hermione!' Harry called after her.

'Don't,' came Ron's low voice, tone deadly serious. 'Don't risk it, mate.'

Harry nodded, looking at Ron in concern. His friend was staring straight pointedly at the table. 'And don't ask,' Ron muttered, as though reading Harry's mind, and stabbed viciously at his pile of bacon. 'It's a bloody nightmare.'

Hermione managed to slow herself to what she hoped was a dignified walk after she left the hall, but she was still blinking furiously and could barely see where she was going. As soon as she'd past the groups of students making their way to breakfast, she broke into a run again. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

She found herself by the second floor bathrooms, and ran inside to the nearest sink. Wrenching the tap open, she splashed water at her face, and scrubbed furiously with her hands until her skin was red and raw and the last traces of make-up were gone. Her breath came out in heaving sobs, and she glanced up, catching a glimpse of her blotchy, puffy eyed reflection. God, she looked awful. Even her hair was back to its normal frizzy explosion.

She gave a sob that was almost a sardonic laugh, then sank down, back to the wall and continued to cry softly.

When she felt herself begin to calm down she leaned her head back against the wall, knees pulled up to her chest. She couldn't decide with whom she was more furious – Ron, or herself. She'd never felt quite so humiliated, and it was all entirely her own fault. As if she'd put her faith in him being reasonable for once -

'It's a boy, isn't it,' came a sorrowful sounding voice, and she jumped. Moaning Myrtle hung in the air before her, pearly eyes glistening behind her thick spectacles. 'Boys are so good at making you feel miserable, aren't they?'

For once, Hermione didn't care that Myrtle was here to annoy her. Merlin, she always found Myrtle annoying for being touchy – how ironic.

Myrtle gave a large sigh. 'I suppose you're going to ignore me, aren't you,' she said, lip wobbling, 'That's okay. People usually do.' Hermione didn't reply, but Myrtle was clearly glad to have someone to talk to, even if they didn't respond. 'You could reply to be nice, you know,' said Myrtle, 'Even though I know you don't like me. You think you're better than me because you're clever. And alive'

Hermione wasn't going to dignify that with an answer.

'I don't suppose it's a boyfriend, is it? Of course not, your hair's rather too frizzy for that,' Myrtle said. 'It's him, isn't it?'

Hermione continued to ignore her, with the opposite effect. 'I knew it,' Myrtle squealed gleefully. 'You always hang out with him. And he is sooo dreamy…and kind. And brave.' She gave another sigh, though this one was more wistful. 'Though he never did come to visit me in my toilet.'

Hermione almost laughed. 'Harry?' she asked wryly.

'Well, of course,' said Myrtle, 'all the girls – oh!' she suddenly swooped in close, and Hermione pressed herself into the wall to try and avoid the chill, accidentally putting her hand down in a puddle.

'You mean it isn't Harry?' Myrtle asked, fixing Hermione with her big, big eyes. 'You mean it's someone else?'

Hermione pursed her lips, and staggered to her feet.

'Is is the red haired one?' tittered Myrtle. 'Did he say something horrible again? About how your hair is messy, and your teeth stick out?'

Hermione ignored her, and desperately began smoothing her hair into something vaguely presentable in the mirror. She looked a sight – she pulled out her wand and used it to magic away the rest of her smudged eyeliner. Her hair, though, was something else, but it would have to do because frankly she couldn't be bothered with it any more.

Once again, Myrtle took Hermione's silence as conformation. 'It's him?' she gasped. 'It's the ginger boy?' She suddenly gave a cackle, 'Oh this is so funny. Just wait until I tell- '

'You won't tell anyone,' said Hermione, pointing her wand at Myrtle's translucent chest, 'Not unless you want to have to explain to the other ghosts why your head has suddenly started hanging off like Nick's.'

Hermione was fairly confident magic like that wouldn't work on a ghost, but it seemed to convince Myrtle, who scowled at her and stuck out her tongue. She flung herself through the air, and landed with an enormous splash into the nearest cubicle.

Hermione sidestepped out the door neatly as yet another cascade of water flowed out from under the partition and across the bathroom floor. She gave herself a little shake, and stuck up her chin. She might feel utterly miserable, but she'd be damned if she let anyone else see it; Moaning Myrtle was a big enough gossip as it was without Hermione's mopey behaviour adding to the Hogwarts rumour mill.

Hermione shook out her shoulders, refusing to focus on the part of her that felt miserable. Instead, she allowed her wounded pride to remind herself of all the reasons why she had a right to be angry, and with this new burst of determination she strode off to morning lessons.

She knew she wasn't kidding anyone, though.

'Sorry I'm late, professor.'

Ron looked up as the door opened, then down again quickly as Hermione entered the charms classroom. Where on earth had she been?

Sneaking another glance at her as she sat down at the end of his bench, Ron realised that for the first time he could remember when they'd fought, she didn't look angry. As usual, she avoided his gaze with a straight back and a head held high, but the infuriatingly prim expression he'd come to know so well wasn't there.

This Hermione looked tired.

It was a shocking change from earlier. Ron suddenly realised that at breakfast she'd actually looked quite nice. Nicer than usual, that is. Hot.

His quill snapped under pressure.

Ron refused to dwell on this revelation and the light it cast on the events of the morning. They weren't talking, he reminded himself, and more importantly, he didn't care.

He didn't care quite dramatically all the way through charms and potions. Not caring all through transfiguration resulted in his inkpot morphing into a squawking combination of a parrot and a teacosy, and a sharp berating from McGonagall on the merits of actually applying himself for once.

At dinner, he continued not to care as he and Hermione pointedly sat at different areas of the table. Harry, like the man he was, didn't interfere by picking sides, and sat some distance from both of them. It occurred to Ron that it'd be quite nice if she'd just come sit by him, so they could pretend that none of this had happened, as they eventually did with most of their arguments.

She didn't, however. He began to have the sneaking suspicion he'd been a bit of a git.

Well, so what. She'd been gittish too. This comforting thought sustained him through his baked potatoes and steak and kidney pie.

But he'd been a git first, whispered a horrible little voice in his ear, and his spoon paused halfway between his mouth and his rice pudding. Not only that, but he'd been a really big git.

The food he had eaten sank slowly and uncomfortably inside of him and Ron stared at his rice pudding in misery. There was a good chance that if neither of them gave in they wouldn't speak to each other for days, and he'd had lots of experience of how unpleasant that could be. He wished there was someway they could just be friends again.

Well, if he wanted things with Hermione to be sorted out, said the horrible voice, the only person who could to do so was himself. And if at age 16 he wasn't capable of that, it added slyly, then he was destined to be a git forever.

Ron put down his spoon, jaw clenched. Merlin's pants, he would not be so pathetic that he couldn't back down first and talk to Hermione. Who was he kidding, he was terrified of backing down first and talking to Hermione.

He was, however, more afraid of being a git for the rest of his life. And so, as Hermione passed him on her way out of the hall, he stood up.

Hermione felt a hand on her arm and then Ron was spinning her around to face him, eyes flicking across her face and freckles standing out on white cheeks.

'Can we talk?'

'We talked earlier,' said Hermione icily, covering her surprise, 'It seemed you've said everything you had to say.'

Ron buried his hands in his hair, 'Look, Mione…'

'Don't call me that.' She pushed past him.

'Fine,' Ron slapped his hands down, hurrying to keep up with her as she began to march up the main stair case. 'I wanted to say – look – I hate it when we don't talk. Let's not do this.'

'I was looking forward to going a few days without you insulting me or my boyfriend, actually,' said Hermione. Part of her wondered if this was Ron trying to apologise, and therefore not to be taken lightly, but the rest of her remembered all too clearly quite how awful she'd felt that morning, and was in no mood to play nice.

As they reached the next landing, Ron began to walk backwards in order to force her to keep facing him. 'Look, I didn't mean to make fun of you this morning.'

'Well, you did.'

Ron did an awkward dance as she took a sudden turn down a corridor. 'I was just surprised, you know, it's weird seeing you in make up -'

Hermione scoffed.

'Well you don't normally wear any,' Ron said defensively, 'And then today you came in looking all like – like – well -' he gestured wildly, 'And I could see Malfoy and that idiot McLaggen goggling away at you like – like they wanted to – like you were some sort of - ' His next word was lost as he stumbled over a book bag, 'And it just made me really, you know, angry, and then you started talking about the Yule Ball and all I could think of was those stupid letters you wrote to Krum and I thought -' he paused, 'Merlin's beard, I don't even know what I thought -'

'You assumed, for no reason, that I was going to the Yule Ball with Krum,' said Hermione.

'What else was I supposed to think? He's rich and famous and for some god forsaken reason even with that hooked nose he's the bloody golden boy, and half the girls I know would die to get a piece of him, and you like him and he likes you, so of course I thought you were going together, why wouldn't you go together?'

Hermione stopped on the spot and spun to face him, feeling all of it burst up and out of her chest. 'I'm not going to the Yule Ball with Krum,' she shouted, 'Because I was going to ask if I could go with – with…'

Go on, say it. He's jealous of you and Krum, so maybe, just maybe…

'I was going to ask if I could go with you,' she finished softly.

They stared at eachother. 'Oh,' Ron said. He made a gulping motion as though attempting to talk, but nothing came out.

Maybe… Hermione counted to ten.

Maybe not. She gave a tight lipped nod and turned away.

Then Ron's hand caught on her sleeve once more, and her breath hitched in her throat.

'You definitely don't want to go the ball with Krum?'

'Um, blatantly not.'

'Malfoy's still just a slimy git?'

'Obviously, why would -'

'You wanted to go…with me?'

'For goodness sake, how many times -'

'You don't need to wear Lavender's stupid make up to look nice, Mione,' Ron interrupted. From the pained expression on his face she could see he was telling the truth and it was costing him a lot. 'And, if you're still feeling the same as this morning,' he shuffled his feet and Hermione raised her eyebrows expectantly, 'What I'm trying to say is, I don't want to go to the Yule Ball with Confucia Smeaton, but not because she's, well, a Smeaton. Because I want to go with you too.'

'Too late,' said Hermione, 'Deal's off.'

Ron gaped.

'Oh Ron, I'm teasing,' she grinned, 'You deserve it after this morning. I've been trying to get you to ask me out for ages, you thick idiot.'

Ron's eyes were wide, then they narrowed. 'Oi. I'd rather be a thick idiot than a bossy know it all.'

'Shut up, Ronald,' said Hermione, and kissed him.

And despite the fireworks exploding through her brain and body, there was just enough of her still capable of thinking to note, in a very Ron-like manner, that it was about bloody time too.