This Means War

A/N: All characters belong to JK Rowling.

000

He gaped at her in complete shock. The dregs of her cornflakes oozed down his face and neck, the bowl still perched crookedly over his forehead. Her triumphant smirk began to fade as the realization of what she had just initiated gradually dawned on her.

Ron, who had been in the middle of standing up to defend Hermione from Malfoy's previous insult (which, it has been confirmed, is what started the whole thing), was frozen halfway out of his seat bearing an expression of disbelief.

Harry gave a prolonged sigh, and almost immediately began wondering how on Earth he was going to find time for another shower without being late for class.

Ginny slumped forward with a groan, her head landing with a loud thunk on the wooden table.

At the head of the alumni dining table, Dumbledore picked up his breakfast tray and held it at the ready in front of his face. He turned to address Professors Snape and McGonagall on either side of him, both of whom were gawking in the most undignified manner at their prized pupils.

"I suggest you 'take cover'," the Headmaster suggested with a knowing smile, being the first one to speak and break the tense silence of the Dining Hall. Both the teachers' eyes flickered in his direction, wide with horror.

"Oh no," Hermione whimpered. Her faint voice echoed in a fluttering breath all around.

"Oh yes," Draco hissed through clenched teeth. "You've done it now, mudblood. This means war." His hand shook with quietly suppressed rage as it reached purposefully for the nearest source of ammunition. Meaning a bowl of thick, soppy rice pudding.

"FOOD FIGHT!" a now infamous yet unidentified culprit shouted in the back of the room.

And then chaos ensued.

As if possessed by the dogs of war, students simultaneously leapt up out of their seats and grabbed the first thing their hands came into contact with. Handfuls of food coloured the air like a deranged birds of flight. People shrieked and laughed and shouted as the Dining Hall was transformed into a culinary battlefield. As many students as there were who were trying to escape and run for cover, there were just as many (if not more) taking part in the launching of missiles.

Hermione gasped as Draco brought the bowl of rice pudding down on her head, spilling its gooey contents all over her. The Slytherin prefect, who had turned to share a derisive laugh with his henchmen, looked back at her just as she shoved a plate of fruit salad against his chest, soiling his once immaculate robes.

Ron, who was in the process of pelting devilled eggs at Seamus, paused to grin at her. "Way to go, Hermione! You show that git who's boss!" he called. Harry was busy ducking under the table, pulling Ginny down to shield her from being bombarded by stray food projectiles.

Hermione did not have time to make a reply, because at that moment Draco hurled a platter of bacon at her, coating her in slick grease.

"That was for ruining my robes, you little bitch!" he snarled, his grey eyes sparkling with malicious vengeance. "See how YOU like it for a change."

Spluttering indignantly as the bacon rinds slid off her front, Hermione picked up a bowl of egg salad and chucked it at him as hard as she could, which proved to be quite powerful. He nearly staggered backwards as the bowl broke against his raised elbow, and somewhere in the back of his mind he wondered if she had ever considered trying out to be a Chaser on the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

"And that was for accusing me of giving Professor Snape sexual favours to pass that test!" she retorted venomously. The Potions Master was temporarily shaken out of his stupor, only to turn a sickly shade of green.

"This is for being a stupid mudblood!" he shot back, emptying a bowl of oatmeal on her head.

"UGH! Oh, how mature of you, not to mention original. If you can be a juvenile prat, then so can I! This is for . . . for . . . for being a juvenile prat!"

A jar of jam was hurled at his face.

"Eeeeeyuck! Yeah? Well this is for always being a such a pain-in-the-arse know-it-all!"

He dumped a pitcher of pumpkin juice all over her.

Beneath the Gryffindor table, Harry began crawling on his hands and knees towards the door, where a number of students were already headed. Ginny scrambled next to him, torn between laughing and sighing at the fact that she had syrup coating her cheek.

"This is completely insane," Harry panted, flinching as somebody managed to throw a handful of marmalade right in front of him, whether by accident or not. "Even my cousin Dudley isn't this crazed about food."

Ginny giggled breathlessly. "The twins once started a food fight at a Weasley family reunion. I can tell you it was almost as bad as this, even though it was half the population."

"Oh, forget this," he grunted, yanking off his black Hogwarts robe. He then turned to the side and hung it up like a curtain, whispering an adhesive spell to make it stick. "Give me yours too."

Coming to a halt, the youngest Weasley obeyed him and handed him her robe and he repeated the same process on the other side. Thus, he created a neat little tent for them to hide in until the craze died down.

"There," he said finally, turning to sit with his back to the robe. "This should hold off the worst of the damage."

"For a while at least," Ginny added, hugging her knees up under her chin. Even in the darkness of the miniature tent, Harry could still see the outline of her features and the ginger glint of her hair. She had made an attempt to wipe the syrup off, but had missed a single drop on her jaw close to the ear. On impulse, he leaned forward and gently brushed it off with his thumb, consequentially cupping the side of her face while doing so. It did not occur to him that the gesture was rather intimate until the last of the syrup was gone and his hand had not moved from its position. He had never noticed how satiny her skin was. It was much smoother than it looked . . .

Ginny, who had gone rigid with surprise at the suddenness of it all, only blinked at him.

"Uh . . . thanks," she stammered. Harry jerked back into awareness and quickly pulled his hand away, grateful that the shadows of their hideout concealed his unchecked blush.

"N-no problem," he replied, hoping he sounded more nonchalant then he was feeling.

"You have some sesame seeds in your hair," she remarked quietly, her dark hazel eyes roaming his unruly black locks.

"Oh. Dean threw a bagel at me and it hit the side of my head," he explained, giving his head a brief shake to cleanse it.

"Here, let me." Without waiting for his response, she reached up to gently run her fingers through his hair, meticulously locating each intrusive seed and removing it. She swallowed at the feathery texture of his hair. It always looked so stiff and spiky that she had assumed it would be thick and coarse, even shaggy. In contrast, it was remarkably soft.

The other professors had long-since fled, including the heads of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, as none of their prefects had caused the trouble. Thus, only McGonagall, Snape, and Dumbledore remained to try and calm the place down. The Headmaster was still sitting quite complacently behind his breakfast tray, completely free of any splatters. Only the top of his pointed had could be seen behind the dish protecting him from any onslaught, intentional or otherwise.

"Now really, this must stop!" McGonagall cried shrilly, quivering with outrage. Not even she could escape the crossfire, and had her fair share of stains to cope with. "I demand that you all restrain yourselves. Students! Students!"

Even when Snape's patented knuckle rapping on the hardwood table failed to draw any attention, the two teachers were forced to use extreme measures.

They pulled out their wands.

At the sight of two formidable teachers brandishing powerful tools of magic, nearly every single food-wielding student made an immediate dash towards the exit. Harry, who had poked his head out from under the table to see if any of the heat had died down, saw the head of his house advancing with her wand held at the ready and quickly dragged Ginny up with him. The two of them bolted hand in hand (without realizing it, of course) to the door along with the stampeding mass and soon became lost from sight. Ron, Seamus and Dean were some of the last people to leave, still hurling last-minute ammunition at stray people and laughing all the while. Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini had already disappeared long ago, shortly after the food fight had started. Crabbe and Goyle did not participate as much, since they weren't all that willing to literally throw their food away. They could be seen waddling with their fellow Slytherins out the door, still clutching armfuls of their breakfast.

It is amazing how quickly simple intimidation can get a large job done. Within two minutes, the entire Dining Hall was empty.

Well, almost empty.

The Slytherin and Gryffindor prefects responsible for this mess were still busy hurling insults (and food) at each other. With each scathing slur that flew between them, so followed a dish of some sort. As you can imagine, this had been going on for quite some time. Neither of them realized that all their peers had disappeared. It was getting to the point where neither of them was really reacting to the assaults. Six and a half years of built up tension had finally found an outlet for itself, albeit a rather surprising and messy one.

McGonagall and Snape made as if to move towards them, but Dumbledore held up his hand and waggled a finger. Exchanging confused looks, the teachers returned to the alumni table (careful to dodge the clashing teens) and held a whispered conference with the Headmaster.

"Albus, really, we should put an end to this!" McGonagall pleaded, glancing earnestly over her shoulder to witness her golden prefect dump a pot of coffee on young Malfoy's robes. She made a point of shutting her ears to the colourful language that rapidly followed. "These two are prefects for Merlin's sake. This behaviour is unacceptable!"

"I am inclined to agree," Snape added with a hard edge to his voice. He too had received a few hits, and his normally untouched black robes were dusted with powdered sugar from flying donuts. "We must ensure that these puerile actions are duly punished."

The elderly wizard smiled benignly. "To be sure, Severus," he said with a nod. "They will receive appropriate penalties for their . . . lapse in judgement. But for now I think it is best to let the children vent and purge their systems of this aggression."

"But-"

"Minerva," Dumbledore cut in smoothly, ignoring a stray morsel of food spattering itself against the wall beside his head (also ignoring Hermione's shout of, "Oh, nice aim, Malfoy!"), "trust me when I say that this will be good for them. Clearly they have harboured a lot of anger for each other over the years. Would you not agree that this way they can deal with their emotions in a safe, supervised environment with harmless ammunition rather than hexing each other senseless in an isolated corridor?"

"I . . . well, I suppose so, but this is most-"

"Infantile? Foolish? Brash?" Dumbledore supplied helpfully. His smile broadened. "I agree."

"Let's just hope this all ends in time for class," Snape muttered dryly, perching on the edge of the table. McGonagall sighed and positioned herself on a stool to wait as well.

" . . . Insufferable spoiled brat!"

"Prissy little suck up!"

"Egotistical bastard!"

"Whiny bint!"

"Ferret boy!"

"Aesthetically challenged library whore!"

"Sadistic son of a bi- . . . did you just call me a library whore?" Hermione queried, the plate of jelly samples hesitating in her hand. Her mouth trembled from resisting a smile that was inexplicably begging to be released all of a sudden. "Where on earth did you come up with that?"

"Well, I- shut up," Draco shot back, slightly flustered at the sudden halt in hostile action. "What does it matter? We're trying to have a duel here." To emphasise his point, he promptly dumped a pot of cheese fondue all over her.

Hermione was now unrecognizable. Her hair was coated with so many different layers of ooze and mush that it was impossible to detect her original colour. Somewhere along the way, her hair had become, in a shocking twist of events, one of her greatest prides. Back in fourth year it had finally tamed itself from an untameable bush to a cluster of lustrous coffee brown ringlets that swayed and bounced in the most hypnotic way whenever she walked or moved. Now it was completely hampered down and hung in wet greasy tendrils, clinging to her face, neck and shoulders. Her normally well-maintained robes were beyond repair and had gained an extra inch and a half of every kind of residual substance imaginable. If it did not stick, it stained or left some kind of slimy excess in its wake.

Draco was no better off, as the same sad story could be said for his robes and once impeccable-looking shoes. His hair, the pride of his looks, the apex of his vanity, looked like something out of a swamp setting in a horror movie. It was abysmally discoloured and full of food remnants (Hermione was certain there was a wonton in there somewhere), not to mention the hair gel had been completely drowned out. The multi-stained locks hung across his eyes and the sides of his face in a manner that Hermione was not used to seeing. In fact, it would have looked good on any other day but this.

Blinking drops of liquidized cheese out of her eyes, Hermione grabbed the nearest weapon at hand: a mincemeat pie.

She had only a fraction of a second to enjoy his look of pure dismay before shoving the pie full into his face, utterly marring his visage.

All activity came to a halt between them.

Cautiously, moving bit by bit so as not to shatter the calm, Hermione carefully drew the pie plate back only to discover that the pastry had formed a whole mask on Draco's face. She could not even see his eyes.

A few seconds ticked by in which nobody moved until, at a painfully slow pace, the mincemeat pie began to slide off of him. It landed with a muted plop at his feet, and all that was left to ruin his face were a few lingering flakes from the crust and smudges of pie filling. He blinked at her as if slowly emerging from a daze.

He did not even move when Hermione, acting on a whim, reached out and wiped off a streak of the filling near his bottom lip and licked it experimentally.

"Hmmm," she said reflectively, a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth. "This is quite good. Have you sampled any yet?"

For one breathless minute, he simply stared at her, his mind and heart racing. It was as if there were so many thoughts clamouring inside of him that he had no idea what he was feeling, or what he should do to respond. And then, slowly but surely, a small smile began to appear. It was not long before he was actually grinning at her, the first truly human expression she had ever seen him form, and with her. With her! Her own smile widened. And maybe it was just the bizarreness of the situation, or perhaps it was simply mental exhaustion and strain. Perhaps it was just too early in the morning for rational, normal behaviour. Maybe it was a combination of all these things and more. Regardless of the direct reason, they both chose that of all moments to burst into uproarious, uncontrollable fits of laughter.

Draco, who until recently had been a master at concealing emotions, was bent double at the waist, clutching his stomach and gasping for air as waves of mirth overwhelmed him. Hermione was so weak in the knees that she had to sit on the nearest bench to keep from collapsing, leaning against the table and throwing her head back to release breathless ripples of laughter. Both of them had hysterical tears streaming down their faces as their hilarity rose and echoed in chorus around the Dining Hall.

McGonagall was incredulous. Even the normally cool and composed Snape was looking completely flabbergasted.

A seemingly endless period of time passed before things began to quiet down. It had been a long, long time since either of them had laughed so hard and for so long. In fact, Draco was unsure if he'd ever laughed like that at all.

He sat down heavily next to Hermione on the bench, still smiling, but now spent of laughter; he was still panting slightly. Hermione released one final giggle before sighing and falling into a peaceful silence, closing her eyes as she regained her breath.

"Your teeth are normal now," he told her, lifting his head to regard her with a curiously non-malicious gaze. She opened her eyes and tilted her head to look up at him, surprised, pleased, embarrassed that he had even noticed after all.

"I had them fixed back in fourth year, after an incident with a cleverly devised tooth-enlargement spell. Sound familiar?" she asked teasingly, remembering perfectly well that he was the one accountable.

In truth, he had known for a long time that she had lovely teeth, but until now it had never been even remotely appropriate for him to tell her what an improvement they were. Suddenly he could not get her flashing smile out of his head. And then it wasn't just her smile and perfect teeth. Suddenly he was envisioning her hair when it was free of its current mess, a fountain of glossy ringlets that trapped light in each swirl. He was imagining the golden hue of her skin and the flush of her cheeks whenever she was angry at something (usually involving him insulting her in some way), or excited. He could distinctly see in his mind's eye the subtle sway of her gently sloping hips when she walked. She did little things to capture his attention, like chew her lip while concentrating, or lean her head back when she laughed. He hadn't realized how observant he was wherever she was concerned until now.

He chuckled knowingly at her jest, and Hermione surprised herself by allowing a tiny rush of warmth to pass through her. His laughter was so unfamiliar, so alien to her, and yet the sound of it was one of the most enjoyable sounds she'd ever heard. Had it not been for six and a half years of bitter hatred, the two of them may have even had a chance at being good friends. There was no doubt that he was one of the more intelligent specimens in school, as his grades clearly indicated. They nearly equalled her own, and she remembered from several encounters that his wit was sharper and more sophisticated than most (disregarding that monotonous 'mudblood' insult).

When she realized where her thoughts were going, she mentally scolded herself and tried to force them away. She was not so sure she was ready to cross the barrier that had always been between them, the wall that maintained their territorial status. Then again . . . a small but steadily growing part of her wondered what it would be like to look at Draco Malfoy as a friend.

"I am appalled!"

Both students jumped to attention at the sound of McGonagall's furious voice rising sharply. She stormed towards them, her long skirt flowing around her legs. Snape glided next to her, looking rather unimpressed as well. Hermione swallowed and glanced guiltily at the boy next to her. He straightened his back and watched the two professors approach with all the cool indifference of a true Malfoy. The illusion was somewhat ineffective, as Hermione could clearly see his Adam's Apple bobbing repeatedly in his throat. She blinked and then looked closely. He had such a nice, long, perfectly shaped neck, even under all that mess. Why had she never noticed before?

"I am absolutely appalled and disgusted with your actions this morning, Miss Granger!" the Gryffindor lioness continued fuming, coming to an abrupt halt in front of her student. "I expected better from you, and don't think that you have any chance of escaping punishment!"

"You disappoint me, Mister Malfoy," Snape said icily, folding his arms imperiously over his chest as he gave his favourite student a withering glare. "A student of your intelligence should know better than to stoop to such childish behaviour."

"So," Draco said smoothly, flicking a lock of hair out of his eyes in an obscenely casual manner. "Detention?"

"Of course detention!" McGonagall snapped, her spectacles resting rather askance on the tip of her nose. "What did you think, boy, a slap on the wrist and nothing more? You are not completely immune, you know!"

"Tonight at eight o'clock," Snape cut in sharply. "The trophy room could use a good cleaning. Without the use of magic, of course."

And with the grim verdict left hanging in the air, the two teachers swiftly departed, marching out of the Dining Hall to prepare for their classes.

Both prefects exhaled heavily and then turned to face each other. There was a brief moment of awkwardness before Draco hesitantly held out his hand.

"Well . . . tonight then," he stated, clearing his throat to keep his heart from flying up into it.

"Tonight," she confirmed, shaking his hand and offering him one more dazzling smile.

The two of them departed formally outside the Dining Hall before going their separate ways to repair their appearances. For the first time to their memory, detention was suddenly something to look forward to.

Dumbledore's shoulders were still shaking with silent chuckles as he sat alone in the deserted dining hall. The sagely old man knew with uncompromising certainty that an enormous change was about to be set in motion between the two –former- enemies.

Hermione bounded back to the Gryffindor common room with an unconscious spring in her step, in a surprisingly cheerful mood in spite of the sticky, foul-smelling mess encompassing her.

It wasn't until Draco reached the Slytherin entrance (with the unfamiliar feeling of walking on clouds) that he stopped dead in his tracks and felt his eyes widen as realization shot through him.

Dazzling?

Uh-oh . . .

END