A Friend in Need

Starring Maverick

Kathy Filardo

"You are, without a doubt, the most worthless, troublesome, delinquent, fleabag dog in the entire world!" Severus Snape shouted at his dog, Maverick, who immediately rolled over submissively. "How many times do I have to tell you—no chewing shoes! Especially not Dumbledore's fifty Galleon griffin-hide boots!" He scowled down at the big black and tan dog, who did his best to look pathetically sorry. "Stupid mutt, do you realize what you've cost me? Over a week's pay, not to mention I'll be the butt of every joke at the staff table for months. Swear to God, if Amelia hadn't given you to me, I'd get rid of you tomorrow. I give you every kind of bone and chew toy known to man and you still won't learn to leave shoes alone. Damn you, Maverick!"

Maverick wriggled, giving his furious master another pleading glance from his huge brown eyes. I'm sorry, really I am. But I couldn't help myself, they smelled sooo good! Irresistible. I don't mean to be bad, honest, Sev. I want to be good, but somehow, things always go wrong, the dog thought sadly. I'll try harder, I promise. Don't be mad, please.

The Shepherd-collie mix remained on his back for a moment more, earnestly showing the irate Potions Master how sorry he was before flipping to his feet and sitting down in front of Severus. He lowered his head, his pricked ears drooping, plainly ashamed of his behavior. He hated it when Severus yelled at him, the wizard's sarcastic tone cut the sensitive dog worse than a whip.

True, he didn't understand all of the words Snape said, but he understood enough to know that 1—he was in trouble again, 2—his master was furious, and 3—he was probably going to spend the rest of the evening tied to a stake in Hagrid's garden or shut in Snape's quarters, forbidden to come to dinner in the Great Hall, where he usually got to lie under the table and eat the food dropped on the floor.

Maverick heaved a sigh and, if possible, looked even more wretchedly sorry. Missing dinner in the Hall was a dreadful punishment, since all the teachers spoiled him, slipping him juicy morsels under the table. Minerva McGonagall was the best—she gave him chocolate cake on the sly, even though it was bad for dogs and Severus had strictly forbidden it.

Once or twice, he'd gotten sick from eating it, but not enough so that he would refuse a piece if offered it. It tasted heavenly and was well worth a stomachache.

But tonight, if the scowl on Snape's face was anything to go by, Maverick would be munching dry kibble in solitary confinement in Severus's rooms, going mad from boredom waiting for the Potions Master to return. Dinner could take up to two hours and afterwards, the Headmaster of Hogwarts liked to talk with his staff about their classes and students. "Fireside chats, he called them, and Maverick enjoyed them as well, because he was usually given a meaty bone to gnaw on before the blazing hearth while Snape and the others talked.

Sure enough, Snape ended his lecture with a disappointed frown and the words, "Well, mister, that little episode just cost you your nightly game of fetch with me and dinner in the Hall too. You can eat yours down by Hagrid's hut, and it won't be steak, either! You're a disgrace to good dogs everywhere, maverick, you hear me?"

The big dog whined softly. Yes, Sev, I hear you. I'm sorry I was bad, but those boots were just lying there waiting for me to come along and nibble on them, how was I to know they belonged to your Headmaster? And oh, the softness and succulent taste of that griffin-hide, or whatever you called it . . .It was . . .it was . . .the very best thing I've ever eaten, even better than your leather slippers.

He drooled just recalling the smoky, salty taste, then was promptly scolded for getting dog drool all over Severus's freshly scrubbed dungeon floor.

"All right, let's get you over to Hagrid's," the Potions Master said resignedly. He conjured Maverick's leash from his quarters and snapped it on the dog's collar. "Too bad I couldn't eat there, then I wouldn't have to endure all the snickers and whispers about a dog who thinks he's a goat and Snape's mischievous mongrel—the shoe-chewing terror of Hogwarts." He shook his head in disgust. "Let's go, Maverick."

Maverick followed obediently at Snape's left heel, not pulling ahead the way he was wont to do, but walking reluctantly at the professor's side, looking heartily ashamed and unhappy.

It took about ten minutes for them to arrive at Hagrid's hut. Snape informed the gamekeeper that Maverick was in disgrace for eating Albus Dumbledore's boots and was to be chained up in the garden for the evening. "I'll come and fetch him before bed—though I should just leave him out here for the night, the wicked scamp."

"Ah, professor, don' be so hard on 'im," Hagrid said sympathetically, scratching Maverick behind the ears. "He's only doing what comes natural. Can't blame a dog fer chewin'. He's a good dog, sir."

Severus snorted. "That "good dog" just cost me fifty Galleons."

"Oh. Er . . .well, I'll just keep an eye on him for ya, Professor. Him and Fang get along real well, ya know."

"Does he chew boots too?" Snape inquired snidely.

Hagrid flushed. "Sometimes, but not so much since he was a puppy."

"This one is no puppy and he still hasn't grown out of that habit," Severus said testily. "At this point, I doubt if he ever will."

"Ah, don' say that, Professor, yeh'll hurt his feelings."

"Humph. Serves him right, for he's embarrassed me past bearing." He pointed his wand. "Here, eat your supper, Maverick."

A large bowl of dry dog food appeared before the dog, along with a bowl of fresh water and a big rawhide chew bone.

Then he switched the leather lead for a stout twenty-five foot chain attached to a large stake in the middle of Hagrid's garden.

Maverick whimpered and licked his cheek as he knelt to fasten the chain. " Oh, now you're sorry, huh?" he said gruffly. "Well, hopefully this will teach you a lesson. Now behave and don't go digging up Hagrid's garden. I'll be back after supper."

Then he turned and strode back up the path to the castle, his cloak fluttering in his wake like the wings of a night haunt. Maverick stared after him longingly, wanting to run after him, but knowing he wouldn't be welcome.

I really messed up this time, he thought mournfully. He's so mad a t me I don't think he'll ever forgive me. Why can't I do anything right? Maybe I am nothing but a useless mutt.

The dog lay down with his head on his paws, too upset to even sniff at his dinner.

Hagrid patted him comfortingly and said, "It's okay, boy. The professor still loves ya, even if ya were a bad dog today. He's just in a bit of a pet righ' now, but come morning he'll be playing with ya same's always, you'll see. Now eat up, and maybe later I'll take ya for a walk with me and Fang, okay?"

Maverick thumped his tail eagerly at that. He loved walks with Hagrid and Fang.

The big man lumbered back inside his cottage, leaving Maverick to eat his nutritious if rather tasteless supper of dry dog food.

The dog ate a few mouthfuls, then drew away and drank some water. It wasn't worth even chewing a bite more, he'd have sooner eaten McGonagall's tartan scarf. He gnawed half-heartedly on his bone, but even that tasted sour. He put his head on his paws and gazed forlornly back in the direction Snape had gone.

He wished there were something he could do to make his master happy with him again. Somehow he had to find a way to prove to Sev that he wasn't the disgraceful dog he seemed, that he was worthy of being the Potion Master's pet.

I'll have to try and remember not to chew boots, or shoes, or socks, or students' underwear. Also, no playing with Sev's broomstick, or digging up Professor Sprout's marigolds, or drinking out of the toilet . . .Maverick heaved a sigh. There are so many things I'm not supposed to do that it's hard to remember them all. Sometimes I forget, and that's when I get in trouble. I don't mean to, it just happens. It's so hard to be good all the time. But I'll try. I want so much for Sev to be proud of me.

When Snape returned to pick up his dog some three hours later, he didn't seem quite so annoyed. He knelt to replace the chain with the leash. Maverick barked joyfully. "What's this, you didn't eat your supper?" Snape asked, noting the half full bowl of food. "Well, don't come whining to me that you're hungry later on." He picked up the half-gnawed bone and together they walked back to the Potion Master's quarters.

Normally, Severus allowed Maverick to share the big four poster bed with him, sleeping at the foot of the bed on his feet. But tonight, he ordered the dog off and bade him lie on the sheepskin rug on the floor.

"Bad dogs don't get to sleep on beds, understand?"

Maverick gave him a pleading look. Aww, Sev, I hate the floor. There's no one to snuggle with.

"Quit looking at me like that. It won't work. Your behavior was abominable. Now just lie down and go to sleep." Snape ordered, then flicked his wand at the lamp on the nightstand. It went out and he climbed into bed. Within minutes he was asleep.

Maverick curled up on the rug, nose buried in his plumed tail, lonely and hungry, unable to find solace in slumber. He dozed fitfully, his stomach grumbling plaintively, reminding him that he'd not eaten since lunchtime, when Severus had shared his roast beef sub with him—before he'd spotted Dumbledore's boots.

Severus awoke around two o'clock, for that was the time he began his nightly rounds with Filch, the caretaker, making sure no students were out of bed causing mischief after curfew.

Maverick lifted his head and gazed up at his master hopefully, his plumed tail wagging. The Potions Master was pulling on his boots. Where are you going, Sev? To the kitchen for a midnight snack? I'll come with you.

He sat down and offered a paw. See, I'm a smart dog, I still remember how to shake hands like you taught me. Got a biscuit for me? He drooled eagerly, forgetting he wasn't supposed to.

The professor sighed, shook the proffered paw, and tossed the begging dog a biscuit from the bag he kept in the pocket of his robes.

Maverick gulped it down. Yum! That was good! Are there any more? He gazed up at Severus, eyes bright, tail wagging frantically.

"Troublemaker," his master growled, but Maverick could tell he wasn't all that mad at him, his tone bore a crooning note in it that took the sting out of his words. It was a note Maverick had long since learned to recognize, and it meant his master had mostly forgiven him for whatever mischief he'd caused that day.

He shoved his muzzle under Snape's hand, asking to be petted.

Severus obliged, stroking the dog's head, caressing the pricked ears. Maverick sighed, his tail sweeping the rug ecstatically. Am I forgiven, Sev? Huh? Huh?

Just then Maverick's stomach rumbled loudly. Snape raised an eyebrow. "Still hungry, are you?"

Maverick panted, giving the professor his most pathetic eyes. Yes, I'm starving, wasting away to a shadow, so hungry I could die! Feed me, Sev, please! Anything, please!

The Potions Master groaned. "Stop that, you shameless beggar. You know I can't stand it when you look at me that way." He glanced away from the dog's soulful brown eyes, eyes that were slowly eating away at his resolve to remain angry with the dog. "I told you it was too bad if you were hungry later on and I meant it. You should have eaten your dog food, you spoiled mutt. Because if you think I'm feeding you again, you're wrong. You can just wait until breakfast. I'm going out on patrol and this room better be exactly as I left it when I get back, or else!" He shook a warning finger at the shepherd-collie. Because if I find one corner of my rug chewed or a sock out of place, you'll sleep outside in the dark with all the other bad animals, got me?"

Maverick whined, his stomach growling repeatedly. Sev, I'm sooo hungry! Can I have another biscuit at least?

"Oh, for Godsake!" Snape grumbled. Then he drew his wand and summoned a large plate of scraps from the kitchen. "Here. Anything to shut you up!"

Maverick dove on the food, it was mostly scraps of turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes. He gulped it down so quickly, he didn't even bother chewing.

Oh! Oh! I love this!

Severus left him licking gravy and mashed potatoes off his jaws and went out to inspect the halls.

When he returned an hour later from an uneventful patrol, he found Maverick curled up asleep on the bed. The plate of food was gone, and the plate was sparkling clean.

"Incorrigible animal!" he muttered, nudging the dog over so he could get into bed. "I don't know why I put up with you. You're nothing but trouble."

Maverick opened one eye sleepily, regarding the Potions Master, who was lying snugly under his green comforter. Then he moved over to lie at the foot of the bed, resting his head on Severus's feet.

Content at last, Maverick slept, dreaming happily of endless plates of steak and gravy and Severus's hand petting him and saying he was the best dog in the world.

The next morning, Severus let Maverick out for a walk and a game of fetch before breakfast. Playtime for the shepherd-collie was an essential part of his day, the professor had learned long before that Maverick had copious amount s of energy and high spirits and if that energy were not directed, the dog would grow bored, and a bored Maverick was a synonym for disaster. The black dog was highly intelligent and loved to play games like hide-and-seek or catch two sticks at one time, which was a more challenging game of fetch.

Snape had schooled the dog in basic obedience and certain hand signals. Maverick knew hand signs for the commands "Quiet", "Crawl", "Stay", "Drop it" as well as "Come" and "Sit".

He could also perform a number of tricks such as Pray, Sing, Roll Over, Play Dead, Shake, Beg, and balance a treat on the end of his nose. He would also find something if commanded to do so, that was how Snape had invented the hide-and-seek game.

He would not take food from a student unless Severus gave him an "Okay to Eat" signal. That had been an important lesson, since the professor knew some students might think it funny to give the dog food that contained drops of sleeping potion or pepper or some other substance that would make him sick as a joke, or a way to get back at the Potions Master for giving them detention or failing them on an exam.

All of the staff had been given the "Okay" signal by Snape, and therefore Maverick would take tidbits from their hands or plates. But let a student, even a friendly one, offer the dog a treat, and the shepherd-collie would politely back off and turn away. In that way, Sev made sure no student could deliberately poison his dog.

In all fairness, however, most of the kids liked Maverick, and the dog was free to romp with them during the day, while Snape was teaching. He was an extremely playful and loving animal, always ready for a game of tag or sidling up to be petted. Most of the students knew Maverick on sight and there were few among them that Maverick disliked.

Three exceptions were Gerald Crouch, nephew of Barty Crouch senior, and the two Thatcher brothers, Jeremy and Tom. Maverick hated them because once they had chased and tormented him in Diagon Alley at night, setting his tail on fire and casting nasty Jellylegs jinxes on him, making him helpless to defend himself. Back then he's belonged to no one, and was an unwanted stray, scruffy and starving. The Potions master and his wife, the late Amelia Amarotti, had rescued Maverick from the three delinquent children, nursing him back to health and eventually adopting him.

That had been over two years ago, but Maverick had never forgotten that time, and whenever he smelled or saw Gerald or the Thatchers, he would snarl softly and show his teeth. The big dog could look very threatening when he chose, and none of his former tormentors dared to harm the dog again, for fear of losing a hand. Also, Snape kept a strict eye on them, and none of them wanted to dare the Potion Master's wrath if they were caught hexing his dog.

After his morning game of fetch with his master, Maverick accompanied Sev into the hall for breakfast, then Snape brought him down to Hagrid. The gamekeeper would keep an eye on the dog, letting Maverick play with Fang, or taking him on walks into the Forbidden Forest, giving the dog an outlet for his energetic personality.

Kept occupied, Maverick wouldn't become bored and go looking for things to amuse himself, such as chewing up fifty Galleon griffin-hide boots or digging up Professor Sprout's newly planted tulips, or chasing poor Mrs. Norris around the castle until the cat was a nervous wreck.

Not that Maverick would have hurt the cat if he did catch her, all he wanted was to play with the uppity feline, but Mrs. Norris wasn't up to mingling with ninety-pound furry mongrels that shed entire carpets and drooled all over her tortoiseshell coat.

Despite the cat's haughty attitude. Maverick enjoyed being around her, since she was always good for a session of Race-and-Chase or Seek-the-Kitty. Several of the students, especially those in Slytherin, tried to set Maverick on the cat if they happened to see her walking when Maverick was nearby, but the shepherd-collie would only pursue Mrs. Norris when he felt like it, and he didn't obey commands from the students, only Severus and the staff.

The morning after Maverick's disastrous boot-chewing incident, Snape brought the dog to Hagrid as usual, and he spent a whole two hours gamboling with Fang, Hagrid's boarhound. Fang was much bigger than Maverick, but Maverick was more agile and smarter, and the younger dog could run rings around the boarhound when he chose.

The two played until they were tired, then returned to Hagrid for a drink of water and some nap time on the porch. Hagrid gave them both bones to gnaw on, and Maverick fell asleep with it in his teeth.

Hagrid left them sleeping and went to inspect the grounds.

Maverick was having a wonderful dream in which he was given a whole hambone with enough meat on it to feed three dogs. However, he slept lightly, his pricked ears ever alert to danger.

He was woken from his afternoon nap by the sound of someone crying. The sobs immediately roused Maverick's protective instincts, honed to a razor's edge by breeding and inclination. He raised his head, whining uneasily, all thoughts of sleep fled.

He glanced over at Fang, who was snoring loudly, unmindful of the sobs, sleeping on his side in a puddle of dog drool. He wasn't bothered in the slightest, Maverick though enviously. Then again, not much ever bothered Fang, he was an extremely level-headed dog, rarely letting anything upset him. Similar to his master, Hagrid.

Maverick swiveled an ear in the direction of the muffled cries, concern wrinkling his brow. His protective instincts roused to a fever pitch, the dog rose, shook himself, and trotted off to see what the matter was.

He came upon a young girl, an eleven-year-old named Hannah Preston, sitting in the shadow of a stone bench beside a series of myrtle bushes, weeping wretchedly into her hands. Only that morning she'd been the target of three bullies, fourth-year Gryffindors who found it highly amusing to cast Vanishing Spells on her homework, making all her hours of studying and work for nothing. Hannah was a conscientious and shy student, a member of Ravenclaw House, the only child of Muggle parents (those people born without the gift of magic).

Upon discovering she was a witch, she'd been delighted, for she had long suspected she was different from other kids her age, and going to Hogwarts instead of some stuffy all-girls prep school had been like a dream come true.

Until she realized that her studious ways, shyness, and her utter unfamiliarity with all things magical made her the target of bullies like Mayla MacTaggart, who were of pureblood wizarding families, had grown up with magic and regarded themselves as superior to witches like Hannah, raised by technological-loving Muggle parents.

Hannah's parents were computer programmers, and she'd learned how to use a mouse and a keyboard at the same time as a pencil. She was a whiz at anything to do with them, unlike her fellow students, who regarded computers as the ultimate mystery.

Unfortunately, there were no computers here at Hogwarts, and Hannah's knowledge made her seem more backward and awkward than usual. At primary school she'd been called a computer geek, here she was labeled a Muggle freak and consequently shunned by most of her classmates, save for bullies like MacTaggart and her gang, who were delighted to have found such an easy target.

She had only been here three weeks and she was so miserable she wanted to die. Her one consolation was that she was an excellent student, able to remember whole lists of obscure potion ingredients and herbs and other complex magical formulas. Thus far she had managed to earn the praise of most of her teachers, even the intimidating Potions Master, who was known for his exacting standards.

Now, however, she feared she was facing a week's worth of detentions for not turning in her homework, she who was never in trouble in school and who always handed in assignments on time or early, if possible. Mayla and her friends Charlie Stilton and Justin Fletcher had sneered nastily and said that detentions at Hogwarts were served using magic as a punishment.

"McGonagall will make you become a rat and let Mrs. Norris chase you round the castle for exercise, Mudblood," sneered Charlie.

"And there's no telling what Snape will do to you, Preston," cackled Mayla. "Last time a student served detention with him, he ended up with three arms from being made to drink an experimental limb-growing solution and it took weeks for it to wear off! How'd you like to have a third arm, Preston, or maybe an elephant's trunk, or the head of a rooster? Then we could use you as a portable alarm clock!"

"If you survived Snape's detention, that is!" Justin snickered at her wide-eyed look of horror. "Some kids have been known to report to him for detention and are never seen again. They go into the dungeon but never come out!"

"I-I don't believe you! You're lying!"

"You'll find out, won't you, Preston, when you go into class today without your homework!" Charlie sneered. "You'll get detention for sure, Snape hates shirkers, and he'll be sure to make an example of you to all the first years about what happens to naughty little Muggle-borns who disobey their teachers and don't turn in assignments."

"Either way, you're a goner, Preston!" hooted Justin. "If Snape doesn't get you, McGonagall will. She's the meanest witch you'll ever want to meet!"

The others were nodding and snickering behind their hands gleefully. "Ta ta, Preston! We'll be seeing you," Mayla said. "Not!" As a final humiliation, the older girl had shoved her hard, causing her to fall into a large rosebush along the side of the path.

When she emerged from the bush, she was badly scratched on her hands and arms and her robes were covered with thorns. Hurting and frightened, she curled up near a stone bench and began to cry.

That was how Maverick found her.

Crying children always made him feel protective, and this one was no exception. He trotted up to her, plumed tail wagging, wrinkling his nose a bit at the scent of blood, and shoved his muzzle into her hair.

Here, child, don't cry. There's nothing so bad that can't be fixed with a soft tongue and a piece of steak.

He began to lick er arm, which was still oozing blood, washing the scratches with his gentle tongue thoroughly, the way he would have done for a whimpering puppy.

Hannah gasped and looked up, to see a large black and tan dog looming over her, his brown eyes bright with concern, licking her earnestly.

"Oh! Where'd you come from?" she sniffled. "I didn't think there were any dogs here, except that huge beast of Hagrid's." She held out a hand for Maverick to sniff.

Maverick promptly swiped his tongue across her palm and half her face as well, cleaning the tears off her cheeks.

Hannah smiled in spite of herself and reached out a hand to stroke the dog's thick silky fur, which glistened from Sev's daily brushings. "What's your name, boy?"

Maverick whuffed in answer, but Hannah couldn't understand dog, so he shook his head pointedly, making the tag on his collar jingle.

Hannah peered at it. "Maverick. So that's your name. D'you live here too?" She turned the tag over, expecting to see the usual identification on the back, owner's name, address, and telephone number. Instead she read the following inscription: If found, please return to Severus Snape, Hogwarts School.

Hannah's mouth fell open. "You're Professor Snape's dog? A sweet beautiful dog like you belongs to that grouchy sarcastic man?"

Maverick wagged his tail at the mention of his master's name. That's right, I'm Sev's dog. Doesn't he take wonderful care of me? See how my coat's all shiny and soft now? Before it was always matted and full of fleas, back when I lived on the streets, but not now. Sev hates fleas and so do I. He gives me a bath every month so I won't attract them, and I don't like that, but I put up with it because afterwards he gives me a steak as a reward.

He sniffed her again. You look like you could use a bath, kid, and maybe some of that sticky stuff Sev put on my tail one time that made the pain go away. Yes, maybe that'll make you feel better. It did me. I'll call him for you. It's almost time for lunch anyhow, and he always eats lunch with me.

Maverick lifted his head and began to bark loudly. Sev! Sev! I need you!

Hannah gasped. "No! Don't bark, please! I don't want anyone to know where I am!"

Maverick whuffed at her in puzzlement. Whyever not, silly child? You need help and Sev's fingers are better than my tongue. He barked again.

"Maverick, shut up!" Hannah cried, and tried to wriggle away from him. The last thing she wanted was for someone to see her like this.

Maverick promptly put his paws on her shoulders, pinning her gently but firmly to the ground. Stay here, silly girl. How will Sev find you if you run away? Honestly, you humans are stupider than sheep sometimes. He began to lick the girl's face again, for more tears were running down it.

A loud whistle split the air, coming from the direction of Hagrid's cottage. That's Sev! He's calling me! Maverick barked eagerly.

"Maverick! Here, boy!"

Over here, Sev! Come and see who I found! The dog barked wildly.

Hannah went pale. "Oh no! He's calling you, you'd better go, please! Just go, Maverick!"

But Maverick did not move, he simply barked louder, summoning his master to his side.

"Where are you, you fool animal?" Snape called, following the barking. "Why are you dragging me out here, just to see some dead squirrel or something?"

Maverick's tail wagged harder. Don't cry, child. Sev will make you better, just like he did me. That's what he does.

Hannah groaned, unable to move under the weight of ninety pounds of determined dog.

Severus spotted his plumed tail sticking out from a bush next to a bench and sighed. "Maverick, what've you got now? A baby rabbit? You're always rescuing something."

But when he peered over the big dog's shoulder he saw not a rabbit, but a student. "What the—Maverick, down!" he ordered. "You know better than to jump on people."

The dog obeyed, stepping off of Hannah. Hello, Sev. This girl needs you.

He turned to the girl, noting that she was one of his first year students and obviously scared to death of dogs from the way she was crying. "I apologize for my dog, but the big beast's harmless, he wouldn't hurt a fly, the most he'll do is lick you to death." He held out a hand to help Hannah to her feet, shooting an irritated glance at the dog, who was acting awfully pleased with himself. "Maverick, you big oaf, why'd you have to knock her down? Especially into a rosebush?" Severus scolded. "Bad dog!"

Maverick's eyes widened. I'm bad? Why? All I did was call you to help her.

"Oh no, sir, please don't yell at him," Hannah spoke up, compelled to defend her furry rescuer, even if it got her in more trouble. "He didn't shove me into that rosebush. Mayla did," she blurted. "All he did was lick me."

"He didn't jump on you or knock you down?"

"No, sir. All he did was find me here," she admitted shyly, looking down at the ground.

Severus looked from the grubby scratched child to his dog and sighed. "Sorry, boy. I should have known you were rescuing someone again." He reached out to pet the dog, and Maverick licked his hand, forgiving him. "Preston, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir. Hannah, sir."

"You ought to see Madam Pomfrey about those scratches, rose thorns are nothing to fool about with, they can fester if not treated properly," he said briskly, eyeing her shrewdly. "Why are you out here instead of inside eating lunch?"

"I-I'm not very hungry, sir."

He raised an eyebrow at that. "Well, I'd suggest you get along to the Hospital Wing and let Poppy see to those cuts. You wouldn't want to be late for class, now would you?"

"No, sir. Only I . . .can't remember where the Hospital Wing is," Hannah stuttered miserably.

The professor huffed. "Come with me, Preston. Didn't your prefect in Ravenclaw give you a map of the castle?" He beckoned her to follow him.

"Yes, sir, she did. First night we got here."

"Then why aren't you using it?" he demanded.

"Because I . . .I lost it."

"A bit scatterbrained, are you?"

Hannah flushed. Actually, she hadn't lost it, it had been taken from her by Justin three days after her arrival. To her astonishment, she found herself saying, "No, sir, I have an excellent memory. But I never got a chance to study the map well because it was taken from me."

"Taken from you?" Snape repeated, cocking his head at her.

She nodded, her shoulders drooping.

He put a hand on her shoulder, they were alone, not even into the castle proper yet. "Preston, look at me." She did so, shivering slightly, her brown eyes bright with tears. "Has someone been harassing you? I want the truth now."

"Yes, sir."

"How long has this been going on?"

"Since . . .since I got here. B-but I won't tell you names, sir, they'd kill me, although I guess it doesn't matter since . . .since without my homework I'll end up in detention and be turned into a chicken or poisoned with some potion," she babbled, beginning to cry again. "Oh please, sir, don't turn me into anything unnatural, I'll never forget my homework again, I swear! I don't want to have three eyes or die!" she wailed.

"Preston, what on earth are you babbling about?" Snape demanded, frowning at her. "Here, take a deep breath, and for Godsake quit crying like that." He handed her a green handkerchief.

Sniffling, Hannah obeyed.

"Now then, young lady, you don't get detention for a missed assignment, not the first one anyway. You will get a zero and minus some House points, but I only give detention to those students who don't turn in assignments repeatedly. And what was all that nonsense about dying and three eyes and chickens?"

Hannah told him what the others had said. Professor Snape scowled blackly. "They were lying, Preston. Detentions here are never served using magic as punishment."

"Then what do you do to us? D'you beat us or something?"

"Beat you? Of course not! What do you think this is, the Dark Ages?" Severus cried. "Get that ridiculous notion out of your head, Preston. No one is permitted to strike a student here, no matter how obnoxiously dreadful they are. Detentions here are usually served using chores as a punishment, such as scrubbing desks or writing essays, or preparing potion ingredients in my case, but I don't whip my students, nor do I feed them experimental potions. They were putting you on, Preston, such methods are forbidden by the Ministry of Magic, you ought to know that."

"How, sir? Before I came here, I thought magic only existed in fairy tales," Hannah said, daring to meet his eyes again.

"You're Muggle born?"

"I am," she said proudly.

"That explains a lot. Such as why you're such an easy target." He frowned, recalling all too well his own school days, when he was tormented by James Potter and Sirius Black. "Have you talked to any of the students in your House?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"Not really. I've . . .been busy."

"Hmmm. Maybe you ought to speak to some of them, they won't bite, you know."

She blushed furiously and looked away. He sighed. Her painful shyness would not help her make friends, as he knew only too well. he glanced down at his dog, then back at Hannah, and an idea began to form in his head.

"Tell you what, Preston. It seems to me you could use a guardian of sorts. And my dog Maverick could use someone to keep an eye on him during the day, otherwise he gets into trouble. Therefore, I propose the best solution to our problems is for me to lend you my dog. He'll watch over you and escort you to and from class, he's big enough to act as deterrent to anyone trying to torment you. And you, in turn, can give him companionship and work that will keep him out of mischief. Is that acceptable to you, Preston?"

Hannah stared at him. "I, uh, yes, thank you so much, sir. I'll take good care of him, I promise."

Severus gave her a nod of approval and a half-smile. "I figured as much. Now, let's get you to the Hospital Wing. After my class, I will leave Maverick in your care for the next week, and we'll see if his presence makes the ones harassing you keep their distance."

He led the way to the Hospital Wing, where he left Hannah in Poppy Pomfrey's capable hands.

"Had a fight with a rosebush, did you, dear?" Madam Pomfrey asked knowingly.

"Uh, in a manner of speaking," Hannah replied.

Sev snapped his fingers and Maverick trotted away from the girl's side and followed the Potions Master back down the corridor. He was unsure if he was in trouble, but then he felt Snape's hand petting his ruff and he knew his master was pleased with him.

Later that afternoon, Severus knelt down in front of his dog with Hannah beside him and said, "Maverick, you're to guard Hannah, understood? Stay with her and protect her." He made the signal for "Stay", "Guard" and "Obey" so the dog would listen to the girl. Maverick gazed right at the Potions Master and then at Hannah, wagging his tail to show he understood what Sev wanted.

"Give me your hand for a moment, Preston," Snape ordered. "I need to let him know it's all right to take food from you."

"Maverick!" he snapped his fingers until the dog was watching him. Then he gave the dog the signal for "Okay to Eat". Maverick barked once. "Good dog," Severus praised. Then he handed Hannah a dog biscuit. "Give him that."

She held out her hand. Maverick came forward, sniffed the treat, then gulped it down, wagging his tail in thanks. "Good dog, Maverick," she said, stroking his silky head.

"Here's his leash, his chew bone, and some toys. He likes to sleep on beds and also chew shoes and socks, so don't leave any lying around. He'll eat just about anything, but don't feed him chocolate, it's bad for him and will make him sick. I have a list here of commands and tricks he knows," he handed her a rolled up piece of parchment. "I'll see you tomorrow in class, Preston. Dismissed."

Hannah left, and Maverick followed after her, padding quietly yet alertly beside her.

He sensed that the girl was important to his master, and therefore important to him as well. He would guard her with his life. At first Hannah was worried that he other teachers wouldn't let the dog in the classroom with her, but apparently they all knew Maverick and had no problem with him being there so long as he behaved.

At Hannah's quiet command, Maverick would lie next to or under her desk, alert and watchful, until class was ended. Then he would accompany her out the door to her next class.

"Why is Professor Snape's dog following you around?" asked Gina Santos, a fellow Ravenclaw.

Hannah shrugged nonchalantly. "I don't know. He likes me, I guess."

In the days that followed, Maverick became her shadow, following her everywhere. Several students who had previously considered the Muggle-born Preston an easy mark now shied away from her since Maverick was by her.

Occasionally, the big dog would have to resort to a soundless snarl or a warning glare to keep bullies at a distance, but otherwise most of them got the message and left Hannah alone.

Hannah was delighted with her new friend and protector, and showered the dog with affection, petting him and telling him what a wonderful dog he was.

He was never bored around her, for she always made sure to play fetch or some other game with him before doing her homework, so then he would take a nap while she studied or wrote essays or practiced her spells.

"You're the smartest dog ever," she would whisper to him after making him perform a trick or two in the evening, just before going to bed. At night, Maverick slept curled up next to her, though he remained "on guard" even while asleep, his ears, nose, and other senses alert to any odd noise or subtle movement that might be dangerous to Hannah.

Though he missed Severus, Maverick took his new duty seriously, determined not to fail or disappoint his master this time. He still saw the professor during dinner and when Hannah had Potions class, and his eyes would glow happily at the sight of his tall master and his tail beat out a joyful tattoo on the floor.

But the one time he'd attempted to go and sit by Snape at dinner, the Potions Master regretfully but firmly ordered him away, telling him to go back and watch over Hannah. Maverick obeyed, not understanding why, but he listened because Sev wanted him to.

Hannah was relieved that their little gambit seemed to be working, and she considered sending Maverick back to the professor at the end of the week, even though she would miss her loyal friend terribly. With Maverick, she didn't have to worry about being shy or awkward, the dog liked her just the way she was. Best of all, with Maverick beside her, she felt more confident, and had even managed to get up enough courage to speak to a few of the other girls in her year that were members of Ravenclaw.

But just when Hannah thought her luck had taken a turn for the better, trouble, after a long leave of absence, reappeared.

Justin and Charlie grew tired of playing pranks and jokes on the other Gryffindors and Slytherins, it just wasn't all that fun teasing and hexing students who could fight back if they chose. It was far more fun to torment students like Hannah, who were clueless about the wizarding world in general and only just learning magic. So, in a fit of utter boredom, the two decided to return to their original prey—Muggle-born, fearful, shy Hannah Preston.

Except they hadn't reckoned on Maverick.

The two waited for Hannah to come out of the greenhouse after Herbology, for they'd long since memorized her schedule and the best times to catch her unaware and alone. They'd heard rumors of the professor's dog shadowing her, but when she came out of Herbology, Maverick was not with her.

This was because she had sent him off to lie in the shade of a large oak tree near the greenhouse while she repotted mandrakes with Professor Sprout. Maverick was only too happy to take a nap while Hannah planted, dozing away the afternoon.

He pricked up his ears when he heard the greenhouse door creak open and the students file outside, watching for Hannah.

The young Ravenclaw walked out of the stuffy greenhouse, lips pursed to whistle for Maverick, walking slowly at the tail end of the knot of chattering students. She was reviewing the Herbology lesson in her head, going over the points Sprout had stressed about the proper care and feeding of mandrakes.

She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she was unprepared for the two boys to step suddenly in her path, mocking sneers on their faces.

"Well, look who it is, Justin. Pitiful Preston, who never knew magic existed before two months ago."

Justin snickered. "What do your parents do again, Preston? Play with stupid electronic toys all day?"

"They're called computers, Fletcher. Only an idiot like you wouldn't understand how to turn one on, much less program one." Hannah said, frowning angrily at the other boy.

"Like I'd want to!" laughed Justin. "Who cares about stupid Muggle inventions when we've got magic?"

"Maybe you'd learn something if you weren't so conceited, Fletcher." Hannah shot back, made bolder than normal by the knowledge that Maverick was somewhere nearby.

"What's this? The little Mudblood dares to lecture her betters on the benefits of Muggle technology?" Charlie demanded, scowling. "Seems to me you need another lesson in manners, Preston." He drew his wand. "Guess our last one didn't take. Maybe instead of vanishing your homework, Preston, we ought to make you vanish instead. The school will never miss the likes of you, Miss Computer Geek. It's a mystery how you ever got chosen to come here in the first place."

Before Hannah could even draw her own wand, a black shape hurtled out of the trees and landed with a thump right in front of her.

Maverick lowered his head and snarled warningly, baring his teeth in a half-growl. Leave her alone! His manner said plainer than words. If you want to hurt her, you're going to have to go through me first. And I've got teeth bigger than yours, boys!

Charlie went white as a dead flobberworm and hissed, "What the bloody hell is that mutt doing here, mate?"

"I-I don't know," stammered Justin. "But you don't want to mess with him, Stilton. That's Snape's dog."

"Yeah? Then what's he doing with Preston?"

"Protecting me," Hannah declared softly. "If I were you, I'd leave before you make him really mad. He could take your arm off in one bite."

"And I could hex him way before that," Charlie bragged, pointing his wand at the dog.

Now Maverick had learned long ago that when a person pointed one of those odd sticks at him it meant trouble. Gerald Crouch had tormented him something awful that night, and the memory remained engraved upon the dog's mind.

So when Charlie pointed his wand, Maverick's first instinct was to draw away. But that initial impulse warred with Severus's command to guard Hannah. Generations of collies and shepherds had been bred to be protectors of the helpless and in Maverick's blood ran the combined instincts of both breeds.

It was that which rose to the fore now, and enabled the dog to stand fast against the threat Charlie represented. Maverick faced down the boy defiantly, ignoring the cringing cowardly side of himself that urged him to run away.

Then Hannah cried, "Maverick, fetch!" and pointed at the boys' wands.

And suddenly Maverick ceased to think of the wands as a threat, and saw them instead as mere sticks.

And sticks were meant for fetching.

Recently, Severus had taught Maverick a new trick, how to catch two sticks at once, and Maverick recalled this now.

He gathered himself and sprang at Charlie, moving like a black streak of flame.

Charlie shrieked, stumbling backwards, certain the dog was attacking him. But the dog's jaws closed on his wand instead.

The boy landed hard on his bottom, wailing in terror.

Maverick bounded right over him and snatched Justin's wand out of his hand. Then he turned back to give them to Hannah.

But Hannah was waving him off, giving him the signal to play hide-and-seek.

Eyes sparkling with mischief, Maverick turned tail and ran, the two wands still gripped in his jaws

"Hey! That dumb mutt just ran off with our wands!" Justin yelled. "C'mon, Charlie! We gotta get them back."

Charlie jumped to his feet and the two raced off after the dog.

Hannah watched them leave, then began to giggle helplessly. The expression on Charlie's face when Maverick had jumped on him was one she'd never forget.

"Run, Maverick! Run far away, and hide those wands somewhere they'll never be found!" she called, still laughing.

Maverick was running easily, not even pushing himself. Half the fun of the game was the chase, and the big dog was having the time of his life.

He paused atop the little knoll overlooking the Quidditch pitch, letting the two boys catch up a little.

"There! There he is!" Justin howled, pointing.

"Let's get him," Charlie panted, glaring at the black and tan dog. "Rotten mongrel!"

They started to run towards the shepherd-collie, who had dropped the wands on the ground for a moment and stood watching them gleefully, panting.

He allowed the boys to get within ten yards of him before snatching the wands up in one smooth move and racing away.

Come on, slowpokes! Come and get me! Ha! You're so slow a snail could outrun you!

The dog ran with his head turned to one side, glancing back over his shoulder teasingly.

This was the most wonderful game he'd ever played.

It was so much fun he didn't want it to end, and so he continued running.

He ran past Hagrid's cottage, right up to the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Again he halted, allowing the tired dusty boys to catch sight of him. Again he let them draw close to him, luring them nearer with the promise of getting their wands back.

He permitted Charlie's hand to get within five feet of the wands before he grabbed them and bolted, bounding back up the hill towards the castle.

Missed me! Better luck next time, snails!

He led the two merrily all over the grounds, around the Black Lake, past the Whomping Willow, through the topiary bushes, behind the greenhouse. Every so often he would pause and look behind him to make sure the boys were still following him.

They were, but they were growing more and more exhausted and panicked, for Maverick's game had made them miss their afternoon Potions lesson, but they had to get their wands back, and so they had no choice but to chase after him.

"Blast that miserable mutt!" Justin shouted, after the fourth time they'd almost caught the grinning dog. "Why does he keep doing that?"

"Who cares? I just want my bloody wand back."

"I could swear he's laughing at us," gasped Justin. "It's like a big joke to him or something."

"A joke?" growled Charlie. "I'll give him a joke all right." He began to run after the big dog again, wheezing with the effort it took to keep the dog in sight.

They chased the intrepid shepherd-collie for over two hours.

By then the two were so tired they could barely walk and Charlie was bemoaning the fact that they had now missed two classes.

"We're gonna get detention for sure, and it's all that idiot dog's fault!"

"Dog? That's no dog, Stilton, that's a devil in disguise," Justin moaned. "No dog would behave this way."

Maverick felt his stomach rumble, reminding him that dinner was coming up. He was growing tired of this game anyway. So he raced back to the compost heap behind the greenhouse and promptly dug a very large, very deep, very smelly hole. Then he dropped the "sticks" in it and covered it up.

There! Now let's see if they can find the sticks now, the dog grinned, thrilled with his hiding place.

He shook his head at the rather strong smell, then ran back across the lawn, He stopped at the greenhouse, searching for Hannah, but the girl was no longer there, having gone inside the castle for lessons.

Maverick trailed her inside, finding her at last just outside the dining hall, talking to Professor Snape.

" . . .and then he grabbed both of their wands and ran off like a blue streak, sir!" Hannah was saying, half-laughing. "It was the funniest thing I ever saw."

"And he still hasn't come back yet?"

"No, sir. At least I don't think so," Hannah replied uncertainly. Then she glanced around and spotted the big dog making his way towards them. "Look! Here he comes now. Without the wands too. I wonder what he did with them?"

"Buried them, probably," Severus said. "That's what he does with most of the articles of clothing he steals. I can't count how many times I've had to dig up something he's buried. Sometimes he drives me crazy."

Maverick pranced up to the Potions Master and Hannah, plumed tail held high, a doggy grin of sheer delight on his face. Hello, Sev! Hi, Hannah! I've just had the most wonderful game ever. It was so much fun I didn't want to stop playing, but I'm hungry. What's for dinner?

Hannah knelt to hug the big dog. "Oh, Maverick! You're the best dog in the whole world. And the smartest too." Then she wrinkled her nose. "Eeew! What's that smell?" She drew back from the dog. "It's coming from him," she told the professor.

Snape sniffed, then he too wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Maverick, you may be the best dog in the world, but you're also the smelliest. You've been at the manure pile again, haven't you?"

Maverick wagged his tail affirmatively. Of course. It was the perfect place to hide the two sticks. The kids will never guess they're in there, since they haven't got a nose like mine.

"D'you think that's where he buried the wands?" surmised Hannah.

"Most likely. He's known for his love of strong odors, and the worse it smells, the more Maverick drools over it." He rested his hand lightly on the dog's head, wincing at the smell. "Good dog! You've more than earned yourself a steak dinner, Maverick!"

Steak? Did you say steak? Maverick drooled. Where, Sev? Where?

"Not to mention a bath as well," the Potions Master added, grimacing.

A bath Maverick's ears drooped at the hated word. Aww, Sev. Not another one!

"And afterwards you can have a long nap in front of the fire," Severus continued. "Unless you think you'll be requiring his services again, Miss Preston?"

Hannah shook her head regretfully. "No, sir. I think after today, Charlie and Justin will avoid me like the plague. But I'll never forget what Maverick's done for me. He's the best dog in the world."

"For once, I agree with you, Miss Preston," Professor Snape said, smiling.

Maverick wagged his tail wildly and barked happily. See? I told you I was a good dog, Sev. The best dog in the world. The very best!

And he jumped up to plant a wet kiss on his master's face.

"Maverick, you smelly beast, get down!" Snape scolded, shoving the dog off of him. "Now we're both going to need a bath, you insane animal," he sighed resignedly. "I'll see you in class tomorrow, Preston. Come along, maverick, before your stench sends everyone fleeing from the castle."

He led the dog from the hall and upstairs to the faculty bathroom, which had a bathtub the size of the Black Lake, just the right size for bathing reluctant dogs with a penchant for digging in compost heaps.

Some two hours later, after Maverick had been bathed and brushed to a silky sheen, as well as fed the promised steak dinner, Snape was on his way back to his quarters, the dog trotting at his heel, when the front doors to the castle creaked open to admit two disheveled. exhausted students.

Both boys were on the verge of utter collapse and smelled distinctly of Eau de Manure perfume.

Upon catching sight of them, Snape's nose twitched eagerly, and he moved to intercept them, standing in their path, arms folded, his famous Snape glare in place. "Ahem! Back so soon from your little holiday, gentleman?"

Both boys froze, identical expressions of dread flitting across their faces.

"Uh . . .we can explain, sir," began Charlie.

"Never mind the lame excuses, Stilton," Snape cut him off angrily.

"But, sir!" Justin interrupted. "It wasn't our fault . . .You see, your dog, he-he . . . stole our wands!"

"We had to chase him all over the grounds," Charlie added. "And when we finally caught up with him, he'd buried them . . .in a manure pile!"

"Indeed?" Snape raised an eyebrow. " So that's the aroma lingering about you two. I never would have guessed." He swept them a withering glare. "You do realize, gentlemen, that you've missed two classes as well as curfew, don't you?"

"Yes, but . . .he made us!" sputtered Charlie, pointing an accusing finger at Maverick, sitting calmly by Snape's foot.

"Really, Stilton? It was all his idea, was it?" Snape asked silkily.

"Yes! He stole our wands!"

" . . .and played keep away with them too," Justin cried, nodding in vigorous agreement.

" .. . .we had to chase him for miles, sir . . . all over the place . . ."

"I heard you quite clearly the first time, Stilton," Snape said in a dangerously soft tone. "Did I mention that's possibly the worst lie I've ever heard? Twenty points from Gryffindor, gentlemen. Do you think I was born yesterday, to swallow a ridiculous tale like that?"

"But, but . . .it's true, Professor!" cried Justin.

"Another ten points for your cheek, Fletcher." Snape continued. "Next thing you'll be telling me is the dog ate your Potions homework too."

"He did, sir!" Charlie protested. "I mean, he stole our wands. See?" He pulled out his wand, which still stank of manure. "We had to wash them off in the lake . . ."

"What I see, Stilton, is the two of you serving a weekend of detention with me for cutting my class. And Professor McGonagall says she'll have you next week for missing Transfiguration as well. And let's see, you've broken curfew too . . ."

"Because of your bloody dog!" Charlie yelled, stubbornly sticking to his story.

Maverick cocked his head and grinned innocently at him.

"That'll be ten more points for breaking curfew," Snape added, sneering nastily.

Justin groaned.

"And five for swearing at me, Stilton, better watch that mouth, boy. That's thirty-five points from Gryffindor in one evening. Almost a school record, I'd say. Want to go for forty? Or would you prefer to go straight to your dormitories and think about your atrocious behavior?"

"I don't believe this . . .we get detention and lose thirty-five points because of a stupid dog!" Charlie muttered, then yelped when Justin stepped on his foot.

"Just shut up, Charlie, before we end up with a hundred points gone and quit insulting his dog, for Godsake!" Justin hissed. He grabbed his friend by the sleeve. "We're going, sir. Right now."

"At least you seem to possess a grain of sense, Fletcher. Six o'clock tomorrow night in my dungeon, gentlemen. And might I suggest you take a bath before then?" he added, smirking, as Justin dragged Charlie away.

"Yes, sir. Right away, sir. Night, sir." Justin babbled, covering up Charlie's muttered swear words about Maverick and Snape's unfairness.

Maverick watched them leave, tongue lolling in a canine grin of satisfaction. And that, boys, is what you get when you mess with me, the best dog in the world. But it was a great game, wasn't it? We'll have to do it again one day.

He gazed up at his master, eyes shining.

Severus smiled down at him.

"That's my good dog, Maverick," he praised, rubbing him behind the ears in the special spot he could never reach with his paw. "Now why can't you behave like this all the time?"

Maverick's answer was to jump up on the professor and lick his entire face.

I'll try, Sev. Honest, I will. I love you, Sev, you're my favorite person in the world, except for maybe Minerva, 'cause she gives me chocolate and doesn't make me take baths . . .

And for once, the Potions Master didn't push the dog off him. Instead he hugged the furry beast, laughing. "All right, you walking carpet. That's enough. Quit giving me kisses, Maverick, and get down. If anybody ever sees me hugging you like this, my reputation will be ruined . . ."

Maverick got down. Okay, Sev. Now how about a game of tag?