A/N: Sorry this is late


The Breadmaking Academy

Northamptonshire

Thursday

BAM! SLAP! KAPOW!

Hermione attacked her bread dough vigorously, pummelling it with all her might. Clouds of flour swirled around her head, almost rendering her invisible to the other bread-making students and their tutor, positioned at stations along a long, cold, marble-topped table.

"Um, Hermione..." the tutor ventured carefully, concealing his horror at the state the curly-haired young woman was reducing her raw sourdough to, "remember what I said about kneading? More pushing, less punching. Much, much less punching."

"I felt like punching everything in sight when my husband ran off with his secretary," reminisced a sweet old grandmotherly type called Marcie, kneading her dough with professional éclat. "My bread always ended up a miserable failure, but I did feel much better after punching the stuffing out of it."

"O M G!" honked a young-ish woman with fat alternating streaks of dark honey and platinum hair bunched and teased into two perky pigtails. "Are you unhappy in LURVE, Hermione? Spill the tea, biatch!"

A quick glance at the tableau around the dusty marble table revealed the following:

+ a handsome and tightly-chiselled-everywhere tutor called Sean, checking his notes on his clingfilm-wrapped iPad in so he had a legitimate reason to ignore the silly woman;

+ Marcie as aforementioned, trying to decide whether 'biatch' was a swearword or not;

+ 'just friends' Markus and Horst from Germany, who finished each other's sentences and handed each other ingredients with telepathic accuracy, who were Google Translating the salient words on their Apple watches;

+ our Hermione, curls pulled back from her hot face in a tortoiseshell hair claw, no longer pounding the snot out of her dough but squishing it between her fingers and resisting the urge to fling it en masse at the woman's heavily-made up face;

+ and finally, Chantrelle, she of the striped hair and nasal vocal rendering, squeezed into a tie-dyed Juicy Couture jumpsuit two sizes too small for her buxom frame, who pretended to be everyone's bestie but in reality was more than ready to claw the eyes out of anyone that fitter-than-fit Sean looked too long at. She didn't like Hermione.

Marcie and the German boys decided that 'biatch' was an inappropriate word for the breadmaking training table, if not strictly a swearword in English canon. "Language, Chantrelle!" Marcie chided, wagging a floury finger at the prancing poser.

Chantrelle ignored the silly old bat. She was miles too old for Sean and therefore not worth her time. "Tell us, GURL," she said with her face scrunched into a parody of what she assumed to be sympathy. "We've got good, strong shoulders for you to cry on." She looked coyly at Sean.

Hermione squeezed her doughy fingers into fists. "I don't have a boyfriend," she said evenly. And it was the truth. So far as she knew.

"Well, not now, obviously," Chantrelle sighed. "But in order to make you happy, we have to get you two back together, don't we?" Because that meant she won't fling her doe eyes at Sean, she thought smugly.

Hermione sighed. "I don't have a boyfriend, Chantrelle," she said. "I'm just a naturally angry person. If I weren't here, I'd be at my local boxing studio, working out."

Five sets of eyes looked over Hermione's form for signs of Mike Tyson-ness.

"Hokay, if you say so," Chantrelle sighed dramatically, and went back to kneading her own dough without getting her long, shellacked fingernails involved (i.e. incompetently). "Oh, Sean?" she yodelled. "My dough's not coming together the way yours is. What am I doing WRONG?"

Gritting his teeth, Sean left his dough behind and headed over to Chantrelle's messy station. From experience, he knew she wouldn't stop bugging him until he stood close behind her and guided her arms onto the dough with his own, à la the pottery wheel scene from Ghost. It was plain old sexual harassment, and he was going to tell the business owner that he would not accept her in any of his classes a fourth time.

Everyone else looked away in disgust and got on with their work.

Hermione reached for more of her starter and vowed to concentrate.


Later

Riverlea Hall

Northamptonshire

The breadmaking team finally made it through the day and retired to the well-stocked bar at Riverlea Hall, the old, pricey but conveniently-situated-within-walking-distance-to-the-breadmaking-workshop former stately home whose owners had fallen on hard times and now took in paying guests to keep HM Revenue and Customs from banging on the door.

Sean, who lived locally, slid into a spare seat around a table containing Hermione, Marcie, Horst and Markus. All gripped the strongest alcoholic drinks their livers could handle.

Nervously, Sean looked around for a brassy, large-breasted pain in the arse. "Is she here yet?" he whispered.

"Nein." Horst shook his head vehemently. "We told her we'd meet half an hour after we actually got here."

"And since she always likes to be at least half an hour late for everything, we should have at least an hour's peace." Markus, as usual, finished Horst's sentence, and took a long and appreciative swig of his high-alcohol craft beer.

"Ah. Good." Sean settled in his seat and sipped his Laphroaig with a blissful smile.

Maisie passed Hermione a beer mat with her sav blanc which was so cold beads of moisture dotted her wine glass. "So, Sugar Ray," Maisie winked, "any tips to pass on to a little old lady who might have to fend off the odd toothless geezer that's escaped from the old folks' home?"

Hermione laughed weakly. "Do you really think Chantrelle believed me?" she asked, taking a grateful sip of devillish grape juice. "Because if she thinks I'll beat her up if she gets on my nerves, maybe we can get some peace for the remainder of the course."

"I shouldn't be so glad that she's not here yet," Sean said morosely. "It's not professional."

"Her constant grinding against your crotch isn't professional either," Maisie pointed out around her triple gin and tonic.

Sean shuddered. "This will be the last time, I swear."

Markus stared at Sean. "Is this really the third time she's done your course?"

Sean looked both shamefaced and chagrined. "No matter what I say, no matter what I do, she keeps signing up for these courses! It's certainly not to learn how to make bread; she's incapable of learning. So all she does is fling herself at me while I'm trying to teach. I told my boss; she said she's not turning down a paying customer. I tell Chantrelle I'm married; I'm gay; I'm a bat-eating Satan worshipper – nothing makes any difference!"

Hermione swirled her drink and started thinking of all the hexes, spells and jinxes she could literally conjure up – before remembering she was in Muggle company.

Shame.

"Well," said Horst, "let's drink up until she gets here. Alcohol makes everything better."

Technically, it didn't, but the group signalled to the bar staff for another round, all the same.


Half an hour later

Just inside the manor's entrance, the receptionist's interest was well and truly piqued by the arrival of a tall, blonde and patrician stranger ambling up to the desk. Straightening her skirt and patting a couple of stray hairs back into her bun, she smiled and said "Welcome to Riverlea Hall, sir. Are you checking in?"

The blonde man, looking like he'd just stepped from the cover page of GQ, looked a little lost. "Er... I'm actually looking for a guest. Her name is Hermione" –

"GRANGER?!" shrieked a nasal voice from the nearby lobby stairs.

Alarmed, the blonde man and the receptionist stared at the colour clash of yellow and chartreuse lycra and see-through chiffon tripping down the stairs.

"I know darling Hermione!" the lady honked as she approached, nearly asphyxiating the others with her overwhelming perfume. "Come with me, handsome, I'll take you to her."

Draco Malfoy viewed this, er, woman, through narrowed eyes and closed nostrils. Alarm bells were dinging merrily in his head. But if this eyesore got him to Hermione faster, he'd bite.

"All right," Draco muttered with the barest of civility. "I'll follow you."

The strange woman giggled and held out her arm instead. Deflating, Draco offered her the crook of his arm and despaired that his blazer would ever smell the same again.


A/N: Nearly done! Thanks for hanging in there.