The last claws of cool spring still held fast to the robes of Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy as they fled the Hogwarts grounds.

"Quick!" yelled Snape. "With me!"

With one last frantic burst of speed, Draco grabbed for Snape's arm, and they Disapparated just in time to miss a well-aimed Petrificus Totalus and a furious rush from Buckbeak, whose loud screeches pierced the forbidding night air.

"Bloody hell!" swore Tonks, firing red sparks at the ground in frustration, and turned back to Hagrid, who was kneeling at Harry's side, one large hand on his shoulder.

"Yeh all righ', Harry? Yeh all righ'? Speak ter me, Harry..."

Draco and Snape appeared outside a shabby, neglected brick house. "What is this place?" Draco demanded instantly, repulsed at the sight of such poverty. "Where are we?"

"Spinner's End," Snape replied impatiently, bursting through the door. "We haven't much time-- some of the Order knew I lived here. We have to find somewhere else to go."

"You lived here?" Draco said incredulously. He picked up a cracked teacup from a rickety end table with amused interest.

Snape glared at him. "Put that down," he spat.

He did.

"There are a few things, Draco, that would be prudent to remember. First of all, the Dark Lord is going to be none too pleased that your mother went behind his back to protect you. If you had killed Dumbledore, it may not have made much of a difference. However, since you lacked the backbone necessary to finish your task, I had to step in and do it for you, and this little fact is going to rub the Unbreakable Vow that your mother made with me directly in his face."

"I was--"

"Second of all," Snape interrupted, "know that the Dark Lord probably meant for you to fail."

Draco fell silent.

"Your father disappointed him, and he gave you this task with the assumption that you would try, then fail, then he would be rid of you and have an excuse to get rid of him. The Dark Lord likes to play games with his servants, Draco. Do not assume that you are special. He has no friends, no confidants. All of us are dispensable. Understand?"

He nodded.

"Now, you may think you put yourself into his favor by having a hand in Dumbledore's murder, but in reality, you did the opposite. There are two reasons for this. One, you threw a wrench into his plans. He thought you would fail, yet you succeeded. Now he has to figure out another use for you, and he has to figure out what to do with Lucius. Two, killing Albus Dumbledore is something he could never do. To know that a sixteen-year-old wizard accomplished the task of skirting Dumbledore's security, getting Death Eaters into Hogwarts, and bringing the greatest wizard on earth to his knees while he, the Dark Lord could not-- this will not sit well with the Dark Lord." Snape shot a warning stare at the young wizard opposite him. "Humility has never been a strong point of yours, Draco. Perhaps it is best you begin practicing."

Draco watched anxiously as several of Snape's belongings came whizzing down the staircase and jammed themselves neatly in a bag. "What are we going to do?"

"We?" Snape laughed shortly. "I cannot be your babysitter, Draco."

His eyes widened. "But you said--"

Snape shut his case and strode over to him. "I said that I would get you out of here. I'll get you to someplace safe. But after that, you are on your own."

"I'll go back home," Draco said, half to himself. "Mother will--"

"You cannot go home," Snape said, gathering up his things. "They'll search for you there. He'll search for you there."

"What? What do you mean, he'll search for me there? Who am I on the run from?"

Snape fastened his cloak. "That's really up to you, Draco. But I am fairly certain that if the Dark Lord finds you, it will only be a matter of time before you are dead."

Draco stared back at him.

"Now come along."

Grudgingly, Draco went to stand by his Head of House. He felt the familiar unpleasant sensation of Apparition, as if he were a square peg being forced through a tiny round hole, and a moment later he found himself standing in front of a broken-down little shack. Looking around himself, he saw the edge of Hogsmeade glittering in the distance.

Seeing the question in his eyes, Snape obliged with an answer. "I've been hiding right under their noses for years," he said dryly. "Trust me, this place is safe." He unlocked the door and ushered Draco inside.

"Stay here. I'll come back for you."

"Where are you going?"

"There are some things I need to take care of." And with that, he was gone.