Author's Notes:

This is in AU, but I will do my best to have characters remain mostly true to Canon. Or at least, my headcanon.

This story takes place after Harry's 1st year- instead of returning to Hogwarts, Harry runs away. The majority of this story will focus around Harry's return to Hogwarts and his apprenticeship with Severus Snape. It may be angsty at times, but I really want to explore the relationship (no slash) between Harry and Snape as a mentor, guardian, and teacher.

I shouldn't need to say this, but this is a work of fiction. I don't believe in violence against children (or anyone), nor do I condone everything/anything my characters do.

With that said, please enjoy! And please review :) This is my first story on FFN!

When Dobby had come to see him the summer after his first year, Harry had been stuck with a choice- return to Hogwarts or run away. He had desperately wanted to return, but he spent nights awake worrying—less about himself—and more about the only people he really cared about. If he was in danger, he knew that meant that it would put other people at risk, people like Ron and Hermione.

He knew he could never live with himself if anything happened to them because of him. When the Dursley's had left on a weekend away to visit Aunt Marge, Harry took his moment to escape for good.

He was able to break down the locks and retrieve his wand and his invisibility cloak- he was packing light so he'd leave everything else there. He grabbed one of Dudley's backpacks and filled it with a few essentials and then stole 200 quid from Aunt Petunia's "emergency" money in a coffee can under the sink.

Harry knew that this was best for everyone, so he said his goodbyes to 4 Privet Drive and walked out the front door, making his way to the bus stop just as the sun was beginning to creep over the horizon.

By his calculations, it would take 3 bus transfers and a few hours to make his way to Croydon. He had decided it would be best to stay on the outskirts of London for the time being, afraid someone might recognize him if he was creeping around in the main part of the city.

He knew he had to be smart about things and avoid using magic at all costs. If he was going to stay under the radar, he had to be careful. He knew his cloak would help him move around easily, and he just hoped that his years of fending for himself would help him survive. Anything was better than being at the Dursleys, or getting himself and his friends killed back at Hogwarts.

It was nearly the start of term before Dumbledore or anyone in the Wizarding community realized that Harry Potter had gone missing. His relatives had returned to find him gone and counted it as a blessing, going about their normal lives considering themselves quite fortunate that their freak of a nephew had taken it upon himself to remove himself from their care.

It was the Weasley's who raised the alarm, after multiple letters went unanswered and finally a trip to Surrey found a Dursley residence completely devoid of a Potter. They immediately reached out to Dumbledore to formulate a plan to track him down and keep him safe.

Dumbledore had convened a group of his most trusted colleagues- he called on Minerva McGonagall, Severus Snape, Arthur and Molly Weasley, and Alistair Moody. They knew that they could not let news of Harry's disappearance leak into the Wizarding world at large, and that they must find him as quickly as possible in order to keep him safe and return him to Hogwarts.

At first it was days, then weeks, then months without any signs. They had told the other students that Harry was recovering from a particularly terrible case of Dragon Pox and that he would return when he was feeling better. After a few weeks, the questions died down and everyone seemed to go on without asking too many more questions.

Behind the scenes, however, everyone "in the know" was frantic. Dumbledore had regularly called on Snape to investigate any potential tips or ideas as to where to find him, but they had continued to come up empty. Harry had not used his magic once since walking out the door of Privet Drive and tracking him down, without alerting those who might want to harm him, was proving a very difficult task.

It was the end of April and it had been 10 months since Harry had run away. He had started his adventures in Croydon, but realized that it didn't take too long before his face became known by the locals and things had become too familiar for his comfort.

He moved on every few months, staying in Muggle areas and trying not to draw too much attention to himself. He had moved on from Croydon to Bristol, then Bath, and finally Brighton, where he found there was just enough of a transient community to pass unnoticed with all of the people on holiday.

Harry had learned that as a younger person, one who looked quite innocent, he could get by fairly easily with handouts. He knew the bakeries and shops who put their "expired" food out, carefully wrapped up in plastic just outside their back doors. There were also several kebab shops and other places that would give him a free meal if he walked in and asked for it.

When he needed to, he had his cloak, and he'd become quite adept at swiping whatever he needed if he didn't have a choice. He tried to avoid stealing if he could, but he knew if he had to he could get away with it.

He was lonely often, and while he tried not to let anyone get to know too much about him, he'd occasionally hang out with some of the other kids he knew were sleeping rough. Most of them were a few years older, and the group was constantly changing as kids went back home, got picked up by police, or moved in and out of hostels or other crash pads with their friends or partners.

He learned a lot from these other kids- following them around to know the best spots to hide out during the day when it was too cold or too hot, where to get food, and where to avoid getting harassed by police. They'd taught him quite a bit about survival, and it also helped him feel less alone to know there were other kids who had come from quite horrible circumstances- many of which made him feel like life at the Dursley's was rather tame. Still, none of them had a crazed evil wizard trying to murder them, so, he tried not to play the "whose life is worse" game in his mind.

The weather was just starting to be somewhat decent in Brighton and the crowds were picking up, which meant he was able to slink around and survive out in the open a whole lot easier.

It had been a pretty uneventful day, and Harry was pleased that he'd waited long enough on a Tuesday night that the kind lady at one of the local kebab shops had given him a bag full of chips and a chicken shawarma and wished him a pleasant evening. He walked out of the shop and headed back toward his little hideaway, not realizing that he was being followed.

Harry had rounded the corner, heading toward a cozy courtyard where he'd stashed his stuff and usually slept the night in a small garden surrounded by mostly pensioners in a half-empty apartment complex. It was always quiet there, and safe, and with his cloak draped over him at night, no one ever bothered him or even knew he was there.

But what Harry didn't realize is that as he was mindlessly enjoying his hot chips, two teenage boys had followed him out of the shop. They weren't part of the crew of usual runaways and other teens that he knew slept rough in Brighton, but they were local lads who would sometimes drink a bit and cause some trouble when they were bored.

"Oi, give us some chips!" one of the boys shouted at Harry, grabbing his arm from behind.

Harry spun around and tried to keep his face neutral. His heart was racing but he knew that he had to keep his cool. He didn't want them to see the fear in his eyes, but neither did he want to act tough and antagonize them. They were much much bigger and there were two of them.

He handed over his bag of food. "Take it," he said, trying to sound unfazed.

The bigger of the two boys laughed and pushed Harry against the brick wall. "What else you got there?" while he started pushing his hands around Harry's pockets, looking for cash, a card, or anything they might be able to take.

Harry didn't have anything on him. His wand and his cloak were hidden in the bushes near his hideaway, and he only had a few coins on him which he would gladly give them. But it seemed obvious to Harry that these boys didn't really want his food or the few quid he had, they were just looking for trouble and were amusing themselves with him the way an alley cat might play with a mouse they'd pounced on.

"Where's your mummy li'l boy?" laughed the other boy, swigging from a large can of beer. "You shouldn't be out all by yourself at night like this, tsk tsk tsk. Summat bad could happen to you."

Both boys laughed and the bigger boy again pushed Harry against the wall, grabbing at his shirt and ripping the collar, causing both boys to crack up even harder.

The second boy grabbed Harry's pants, reaching into his pockets and finding a few pound coins and about 60 pence in change. He pocketed the 1 pound coins and threw the rest onto the street.

Harry tried to remain calm but he knew now that he was in a position where his internal alarm bells were ringing and his anxiety was skyrocketing. These boys were ASBO delinquents, a little drunk, and fully capable of harming him in more ways than one. He could feel his magic starting to well up inside of him.

When the bigger boy put one hand around his neck, and reached for the waistband of his pants with the other, something exploded in Harry. He knew he had to get away from them and only his magic was going to save him, so he closed his eyes and let it explode out of him.

The boys were blown back away from him, beer can going flying, and the two of them landing on the street, unconscious, with a thud. Harry looked around quickly and realized they were still alone in the alley, and he made a run for it.

He ran quickly to his stash, grabbing his backpack with his wand and his cloak and the few items of clothes he had, and kept running. He ran for a while, making his way to the beach but making sure to run indirectly so that no one could follow him.

It wasn't the height of tourist season yet, but there were still people along the boardwalk. He made his way in that direction hoping he'd be safer in the one part of town where there were still people walking around.

He knew he needed to get out of Brighton, but now it was close to midnight and there was no way out tonight. He'd have to wait until morning and take buses and trains and find his way somewhere else. He knew it wouldn't be long before they tracked his magic, but he'd hoped that he would still have a good enough headstart. He just needed to find somewhere he could rest and plan for a few hours.

He walked down to a deserted part of the beach off the boardwalk, finding his way to an abandoned pier. He figured he could see a long way down the beach in both directions and he could just camp out underneath it until daybreak when he'd find his way out. He set his bag down and leaned up against one of the columns, catching his breath and trying to push the events of the evening out of his mind, willing himself to relax and think clearly.

He was exhausted. He was scared. He was lonely. He quite felt like indulging himself in all of his feelings of misery and self-pity, but he also knew that he didn't really have the energy for it. He just needed to rest a bit and make a plan. He'd get out of there tomorrow and he'd start all over again.

Harry allowed himself to close his eyes and think about happier times. He thought about Hogwarts and playing quidditch and chatting away happily with Ron in the Great Hall. He hadn't meant to fall asleep...but his mind drifted off, desperate for the comfort of his happiest memories.