Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, settings, plot elements and other literary devices are property of JK Rowling and various assorted publishing companies, none of which I am even remotely affiliated with. The letter at the beginning of the chapter is quoted from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 1: Dudley Demented, and I hold no claim on that, either. However, all of my writing is my own.

Part One:

Chapter 1: Breaking Point

Dear Mr. Potter,

We have received intelligence that you performed the Patronus Charm at twenty-three minutes past nine this evening in a Muggle-inhabited area and in the presence of a Muggle.

The severity of this breach of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery has resulted in your expulsion from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ministry representatives will be calling at your place of residence shortly to destroy your wand.

As you have already received an official warning for a previous offence under section 13 of the International Confederation of Wizards' Statute of Secrecy, we regret to inform you that your presence is required at a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic at 9 A.M. on August 12th.

Hoping you are well,
Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk
Improper Use of Magic Office
Ministry of Magic

Standing in the kitchen at Number 4 Privet Drive, Harry Potter stared numbly down at the letter in his hands, only dimly registering that said appendages were shaking. His brain seemed to have been disconnected; only random words registered through the haze that had descended upon him. Breach of decree… underage … expulsion… disciplinary hearing… destroy wand… expulsion…

Shortly. Ministry representatives will be calling shortly to destroy your wand.

That snapped him out of the descending spiral of his thoughts. Harry looked up as he realized dimly that the Dursleys had stopped their shouting in the background to stare at him fearfully. Then he noticed the dishes rattling on the shelves, and quickly clamped down on his impending panic attack. If the Ministry was willing to condemn him for using his Patronus to save his own life, who knew what they would do if he added accidental magic to the mix...

Harry's thoughts flew. He would have to run; Hogwarts or no, he needed his wand. Hogwarts… I might never see Hogwarts again… No. Focus, Potter. Focus. Harry painfully buried the acute despair that came from the thought of never returning to the school that he had always seen as his true home. He couldn't afford to waste any time; the Ministry could be here any minute now.

He drew his wand and started for the stairs, mentally cataloguing what he would need to take and what he couldn't immediately throw in his trunk. Harry took the steps two at a time to his room, already planning. He would need to make his way to Gringotts eventually; he had almost no money...

But how would he get off Privet Drive? Number Four had no Floo connection; he couldn't Apparate or make a Portkey, and judging by the way his first trip on the Knight Bus in third year had turned out, that route was certainly out as well.

Harry came to as he realized he was simply haphazardly throwing his schoolbooks into his trunk, with no kind of plan whatsoever and no idea how to get out of the house that was beginning to look more and more like a trap. He had just begun to truly panic when a large hand closed about his throat from behind.

Harry choked and clawed blindly at Uncle Vernon's fist for the second time that day as his uncle dragged him away from his trunk and shoved his back against the wall. "WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS GOING ON?" his uncle shouted, his face purple and spittle flying from his lips. The vein in Vernon's temple seemed in grave danger of exploding as he spluttered. "WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY SON?"

Coupled with dementors, emotional highs, unpredictable magic, and the looming threat of the law, Vernon's outburst was just enough to push Harry over the edge. Considering all he had gone through that night, it was no surprise to anyone but the Dursleys when Harry drew his fist back and punched his uncle in the face as hard as he possibly could.

Uncle Vernon released him more from shock than anything else. He stared down at Harry as the teen gasped for breath and glared up at his uncle. "I've just driven off two dementors and gotten expelled from Hogwarts, and you ask ME what the hell is going on? You want to know what I did? Nothing. I did nothing to your bullying pig of a son except save his miserable life!"

Harry heard a gasp from the doorway and realized Aunt Petunia was standing outside the door. "D-Dudley… you… th-those... awful creatures… here?" she stammered. Then her hands went to her mouth and her eyes widened in her horsy face. "Oh no… he isn't…"

Harry stared blankly at her in disbelief for a moment, his mouth working, then shoved his uncle roughly out into the hallway – no small feat, with the man's weight – and said, quite calmly, "He's fine. And now you can explain to this tub of lard exactly how your son nearly lost his soul."

Harry slammed the door in both of their astonished faces before they could protest and pushed his own shock to the back of his mind. He would find out just how on earth his magic-hating aunt knew about dementors some other time, when he wasn't about to be on the run from the law.

His thoughts flew as he threw things into his trunk. He could go to the Burrow – No, you don't know how to get there, and you're not stupid enough to try to take the Knight Bus again… He could find Ron and Hermione – They're probably at the Burrow, you idiot… He could go to Sirius, his godfather would surely understand – WHERE? Face it, freak, you've got nowhere to go!

Harry sank down onto his bed, a pair of shoes dangling from one hand. Who was he kidding? He might as well just stay here and let the Ministry show up, let Dumbledore sort it out later… He could always get a new wand…

He shook his head rapidly, wondering where on earth that last thought had come from. Of course he couldn't just get a new wand, hadn't he proved that in the graveyard with - No, he couldn't afford to think about that, he had to move, now, get out of here. If Death Eaters—hell, if anyone showed up, he couldn't be left defenseless. He could worry later he always seemed doomed to fail, how everything always seemed against him… Why does Fate seem to hate me so much, anyway? Fate and everybody else…

Blank eyes stared up at him from a face gone pale with shock and fear, stilled now in death – No. Stop it. Not today… please, not right now. Harry shook his head again, trying to clear it. How long had he been sitting there, sunk in memories and gloom? Surely not too long… He had to get moving. The ministry would surely be here soon.

With that thought prodding him into action, Harry stood up, threw the shoes in his trunk, and looked around his room. Almost everything was in his trunk, save a few of the most horrible of Dudley's castoffs, so Harry strode over to the window and unlatched Hedwig's cage. The owl hooted at him, apparently disturbed by the shouting that had slowly begun to fade from outside his door. He murmured to her softly, apologizing as he carried her to the window.

"Come find me in a few days, Hedwig. Go to the Burrow until then – Ron will feed you for me." She looked at him reproachfully. "Look, girl, I'm sorry. But I don't think you'll enjoy where I'm going." Harry sighed. "If I can figure that out…" Hedwig hooted again, this time sounding rather reassuring for an owl, and took off silently into the night, heading north.

Harry watched her white form disappear above the streetlights, then spun, slammed his trunk closed, and dragged it to his door. Bumping down the stairs, he heard the dulcet tones of his uncle in the kitchen. Vernon spotted him as he dragged his trunk past the door. "Boy! Come here this instant and tell me-" Harry hadn't even paused. "BOY!"

Vernon made a grab for him with both hands that the teen easily evaded. "WHAT –" Harry lowered his voice a little when he saw Dudley and Petunia cowering away from the kitchen doorway, Petunia white-faced and Dudley still looking decidedly green. "What do you want?" Harry demanded. "In case you may have noticed, I'm in a bit of a hurry…"

"That's exactly what I'm talking about!" his uncle blustered. "What is the meaning of this? Where do you think you're going—?"

Harry had turned around and continued dragging his trunk to the door. "Away. Where do you think I'm going?"

Vernon sputtered for a moment. "But – no! You're not going anywhere! You have to stay here! What if those – those dememter things come back?"

"It's dementor," said Harry roughly, "and I'm leaving because I've been expelled from Hogwarts, and if I let them snap my wand I'll probably end up dead within the week."

Vernon gaped at him, apparently disarmed by this unusual clarity of information. Or possibly Harry's casual assessment of his own mortality. "But – but why? Pet said those dem—those things would've killed… You didn't do anything!"

It was decidedly odd to have his uncle taking his side for once, Harry observed in some far-off corner of his brain. "I cast the Patronus charm in front of a Muggle. That's enough for the Ministry; they hate me right now. Look, if anybody shows up, you can just say that you kicked me out and you don't know where I am. It will be true enough; you've threatened to do just that for quite a while now, and I'll be out of your lives, at least for a bit—"

By now they were standing by the front door, Harry having continued to drag his trunk and his uncle following behind him listening to his short explanation. "But where will you go? What about Dudley? And what if those dementoid -"

"Dementor," said Harry in exasperation. "And they won't come back; it was me they were after. You don't have anything to worry about, but I need to go, the Aurors could be here any minute now -"

And as if just waiting for him to have said the words, there came a knock on the Dursleys' front door.

Harry froze. No, no, it's too soon, they couldn't possibly be here already… There was a kind of sick disbelief in him and time seemed to slow as he turned to open the door. Just as his hand neared the doorknob, it glowed red and the lock clicked. The door swung slowly open to reveal two men in sharp black suits. Harry would have mistaken them for businessmen if one had not had on a large yellow sunhat, and the other red rubber rain boots poking out from beneath his sharply-pressed trousers.

One of the wizards smiled at him genially, but the other man's blue eyes were ice as he spoke. "Mr. Potter. So nice to see you tonight; I only regret that we come on such unfortunate business."

In honor of my friend's coming of age in the wizarding world, I dedicate this first chapter to her! Happy birthday - you know who you are =)