Title: In Training

Rating: K

Disclaimer: Nope, not a chance.

A/N: This story was written as a forfeit when I failed to deliver Rickmanlover24601's Christmas present (an uber-epic fic, which I will be posting eventually) in a timely fashion. She's so demanding! Anyhow, just a fluffy bit of fun for you to enjoy!

Hermione Granger was used to seeing a lot of things when she stepped through the doors of her former potions professor's private lab. Sometimes he'd be sitting at his desk grading papers muttering uncharitable things about the dunderheads he taught. Other times he could be found hunched over a cauldron, surrounded by ingredients that she might or might not recognize.

At one point, only last month in fact, she'd almost immediately found herself ducking a sailing cauldron that he'd apparently flung in a rare but violent display of extreme irritation. He'd actually almost seemed somewhat contrite about nearly braining her. Almost.

Yes, after serving as his assistant for nearly a year, Hermione was relatively certain that she knew all of Severus Snape's quirks and habits.

When she walked through the door that particular evening, however, she was struck dumb at the scene in front of her.

Professor Severus Snape, world-renowned and universally feared Potions Master of Hogwarts, was seated at his desk, talking to… a baby ferret.

He was so caught up that he didn't notice her enter at first, and she was able to catch part of the 'conversation'.

"… type of behavior is completely uncalled for."

The ferret cocked its head to the side and chattered.

"This insistence on climbing, things in general and me in particular, that's what. While I understand the temptation to view your 'newly claimed kingdom' from on high, you're supposed to be a ground-dwelling creature. And you're leaving picks in my bloody robes! Do you have any notion how much a suitable pair of robes that will stand up to the exploding cauldrons my students are so fond of generating cost?"

It chattered at him again, bouncing a few steps to the side.

"More than that I assure you," he scoffed.

The ferret ignored his huffiness and bounced closer, butting its head against Snape's arm affectionately.

"Ah yes, and the delightful fur that you leave in your wake," he groused. "I should be done with you now, just use you for potions ingredients. At least then you wouldn't be stealing and hiding my stirring rods."

Hermione noticed that despite his dire threats, he was gently scratching the small creature under its chin, a look of… was it really affection on his face?

Deciding it was time to make her presence known, Hermione cleared her throat, unable to keep the smirk off her face. She had to smother a giggle when both Severus and the ferret both looked around, clearly surprised to see her, with practically the same expression on their faces.

"Granger? What are you doing here?" He tried to sound officious, but two faint spots of color high on his cheeks gave away his embarrassment.

"It is Friday evening at 8pm, Sir," she replied politely, though her eyes were still dancing with humor. "I believe you told me to report here to replenish the Infirmary's stores of Nerve Calming Draught?"

"Ah," he said, clearing his throat. "Yes. Well, don't just stand there gawping, girl. You'll find the supplies you need on your workbench."

"Of course, Sir," she said politely, knowing better than to bring up what she'd overheard. There was always the chance he'd be in a good enough mood to explain the sudden appearance of a small furred creature in his office, but if he did it would be at his convenience.

Before she could make it to her workbench, however, his companion had jumped off his desk and bounded over to her, climbing up her robes without hesitation. She startled for a second, her eyebrow climbing upwards, before reaching down to help it the rest of the way up. There was a bit of a scramble until the ferret was nose to nose with her, then it turned back to look at Snape.

Snape sighed. "Granger, I believe Athena is expecting an introduction. I suppose you could say she has decided to adopt me."

Now the ferret chattered at Hermione, prompting a smile. "I'm sure there's a highly entertaining story about how that came to be," she said, her fingers coming around to tickle the ferret playfully.

He opened his mouth to warn her about the wretched creature's tendency to use her teeth when playing, but was too late; a finger had already fallen victim to the sharp little teeth.

Hermione winced, but without hesitating she scruffed the ferret, holding it up until she could look at it eye to eye.

"NO," she said firmly. "No biting!"

To Snape's amazement, the ferret seemed to consider her for a moment before giving what appeared to be a half-yawn.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "That was fake, and you know it." She shook her slightly, scowling. "No biting. Behave!"

This time the ferret gave a full yawn, prompting a satisfied smile from his apprentice. "Good girl," she praised, bringing it in to cuddle close. "Good Athena." She kept scratching the ferret's head, but addressed her professor.

"Their skins are three times tougher than humans," she said absently, speaking to him as if he were Harry or Ron, "so it's better to discourage biting when they play. Avoids unnecessary bloodshed. When she does it, just scruff her like I did. The yawn is a sign of submission; you'll have to watch, because they're bloody smart and she'll try to cheat."

He leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms as he observed his apprentice and new familiar.

"Dare I even ask how you know about ferret training? Did you get tired of reading Hogwarts: A History one evening, or are you exploring an alternative career in animal husbandry?"

She smiled, not at all offended by his acerbic wit at this point in their strange relationship. "Back in primary school, before I even knew about Hogwarts, my class kept a ferret as a pet. We learned about how to properly care for them and such, which included nip training. Not a good idea for the class pet to gnaw on the children, as you can well imagine."

He got a hopeful expression on his face, something that she'd rarely (if ever) seen. This was a night of firsts, wasn't it? "You know what to do with them, then? What they eat, their habits, that sort of thing?"

She tipped her head to the side. "Yes, I suppose," she said slowly.

Snape nodded, actually looking relieved. "I found her yesterday evening whilst on patrol. Mrs. Norris had her cornered and was toying with her. In a fit of temporary insanity, I 'rescued' the weasel."

"But where in Merlin's name did she come from?" Hermione wondered. "Did a First-Year lose her or something?"

He shook his head. "I checked the log… nobody at the school has a ferret listed as their familiar." He gave a long-suffering sigh, though Hermione could tell it was at least partially for show. "I suppose I'm stuck with her, but I really have no idea what she requires for care. The Elves, surprisingly, haven't been much help… apparently they are not common familiars."

"It's surprising that they're not," she mused. "They're almost as intelligent as cats, really. But if you're asking for advice and information, I would be happy to assist."

"That would be… acceptable," he said, standing up and walking over to where she stood, reaching out to pluck Athena from her arms. "Now… I can assure you that the Nerve Calming Draught isn't going to brew itself. So perhaps you'd like to attend the job you've actually been hired for, before devoting your attentions to the well-being of this fur-covered slinky?"

"Of course," she said amiably. "One thing, however… you really need a more effective way to carry her around."

Hermione transfigured a pocket into her professor's robes before pointedly turning to her work and leaving a spluttering ferret-owner in her wake.

Athena, drawn by not only a new place to explore, but also the raisins Hermione had hidden at the bottom of the pocket, slid out of Severus's grasp to happily settle in her new 'residence'.

Resigning himself to his new furry accessory while muttering about meddlesome witches, he spared a single glare in her direction before turning his attentions back to his own cauldron, which was now ready for the next addition of ingredients. With precision borne of years of practice, he added each one, then reached for his stirring rod.

It was missing.

"Bloody weasel," he growled.