This came to me as a sort of spur of the moment thing, and until I got it down on paper, I knew I wouldn't be able to write anything else. So... my little contribution to the huge library of Harry Potter fanfiction here on the Internet.

Harry awoke in a cold sweat.

In the moment that he grasped around on his bedside table, searching for the glasses that would bring the blurry room before him into focus, he attributed this to the nightmare that had plagued him just previously... the same one, basically, that he had dreamed for the past month. The cold, snakelike face of Voldemort sneering before him as the Dark Lord and his followers blasted out waves upon waves of Killing Curses... The screams of his friends, behind him, as they fell one-by-one, outnumbered before a furious assault...

But as the sweat dripping down his forehead only intensified, Harry quickly realized that he had other, larger problems closer to hand. As he peered around the room, his glasses now fixed on his nose, he saw the red-hot flames, dancing around his bedroom.

He reacted quickly. His hand rushed to the table beside him once more, where had steadfastly kept his wand these past three years... fearing even through Dumbledore's reassurances that a magic protected him here, in Privet Drive. And that one piece stubbornness now seemed to have saved his life.

"Aguamenti!" Harry shouted in a panicked voice, watching as a stream of water shot from his wand, plunging to the ground below him and flooding his room. The fierce torrent's volume quickly overwhelmed the still sparse flames that had greeted Harry as he awoke... he was just very lucky that the fire seemed to have only recently taken hold.

Still stunned, Harry jumped down from his bed to examine his ravaged bedroom. His owl, Hedwig, hooted furiously at him from inside her cage, and Harry ran even more fearfully over to her. The snowy owl was unharmed, but extremely agitated, and Harry sensed that it was taking all of her resolve not to bite him.

"I'm sorry," whispered Harry, his expression dazed. "Look, you've got to get out of here, I don't know what's going on." He opened the cage hurriedly, and Hedwig flew out of it onto his arm.

"Head to Ron's, but don't actually go in his house... I don't want them all to worry. I'll be along for you soon, I promise, once I figure out what's going on here."

Hedwig hooted once more, a faint note of apology in her tone. Giving him one last, serious look, she opened her wings and soared through the window, heading off into the night.

Harry, full of worry, kept his eyes on her until she had flew out of sight. Someone's tried to do me in tonight... do us both in. I can't set my eyes off her, off of anyone I'm with, again.

...Could this be Voldemort? It's... just such a clumsy way of doing things. Not his sort of magic at all.

Poring over the rest of his possessions, Harry found that the outlook was grim. His prize broom, the Firebolt, was reduced to ashes and twigs over in the corner of the room. His trunk seemed to have protected his books, and his wand was miraculously unharmed, but the rest of his belongings were cinders.

Dispirited, he quickly unlocked and opened the door, anxious to check up on the rest of the house. What he saw was decidedly unpleasant.

He was immediately greeted by towering flames, extending throughout the length of the second floor hallway. It was only by stepping back in shock that Harry avoided the tongues of flame that surged into his newly opened room. Obviously, the fire had started downstairs and came upwards... Harry was very lucky that it had reached him last.

"Aguamenti!" He shouted once more, firing a stream of water at the fire outside. The charm had little effect... the flames surged forward with a renewed pace. "AGUAMENTI!" Nothing... Now a quarter of his room was ablaze once more.

This fire... it can't be anything a Muggle device could create. This is... magical...

Staggering backwards, it wasn't long before Harry found himself up against the open window of his room. He took one look at the fire that was fast approaching, incinerating everything before him, and then he made a spilt-second decision.

Harry turned around and leaped from the second-floor window onto the flowerbed below. He awkwardly toppled down twenty feet to the ground below, and as luck would have it, he landed on his right leg. As soon as it hit the hard, stone ground, Harry knew that it had broken. He lay on the ground, faintly groaning at the dull pain shooting through his crumpled body... and then he heard a low, contemptuous voice, from a man on the sidewalk before him.

"Potter, do you know what today's date is?"

Harry's mind wandered in many different directions. Of course he knew the date... it was the night before his birthday, July 30th... It was the night before he came of age... and who was this man to know that? What kind of perverse sort of birthday present was this?

"Why?"

"I was merely curious whether you caused the death of your family by ignorance or indifference."

"What are you talking about?"

Harry pushed his face out of the stone pavement. Through the blood gushing from several cuts on his face, and the cracked lenses of his glasses, he could make out a tall, thin man, clothed in black, with long black hair that seemed to shine in the moonlight...

"YOU!"

Harry lunged towards the hated man in front of him, forgetting all his ills, but only bought himself increased pain. He howled in agony as he tried to put weight on his mangled leg, and fell back down to the ground once more.

Severus Snape allowed a humorless smile to cross his face.

"I would have expected something better than this from the 'Chosen One.'"

Harry spit forward, aiming for the shoes of the man above him, but Snape deflected the saliva with a wave of his wand.

"You are now seventeen years old, Harry Potter. I'm not sure if that mutt or the werewolf told you anything about the day of your birth..."

"What, did some research on it for your mate Voldemort?"

Snape's eyes narrowed to slits, the grim amusement of before turning into a fierce anger.

"I have told you again and again. You are not fit to speak the name of the Dark Lord! You are a worthless wizard, skilled only in playing a rubbish sport and in having just the right friends to get you out of any danger! If not for Albus Dumbledore-"

"DON'T YOU DARE SAY HIS NAME!"

"I have more right to say it than you! I respected Professor Dumbledore as the great wizard that he was! You are unworthy to follow in his footsteps!"

At a silence from Harry, the wicked gleam in Snape's eyes dulled, and his voice returned to the one Harry had known well... the voice of Snape the teacher.

"You were born on an unusually stormy night, fifteen minutes after midnight, on the 31st of July. Seventeen years ago, in fact... more than seventeen.

I suppose I should congratulate you, Potter, but alas, I have other business with you tonight. You have come of age as a wizard... and thus, the protection Dumbledore placed upon you has evaporated."

Harry could not think of anything to say.

"Harry Potter, speechless. Now, this is precious. You really believe that your quest to defeat the Dark Lord can succeed? He outthinks you at every turn, Potter... He would have been by, later today, to burn your house and every one in this neighborhood, and he would have killed you.

But in another lucky streak for you, headquarters of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named were found and attacked today by the Order of the Phoenix and the Ministry. Not that it did them much good, apart from disposing of a few superficial Death Eaters... but in the end, he decided to send me over instead."

"If you're here to kill me, do it." Harry muttered steadily.

"So quick to plead for death? You had and still have so many escape routes, Potter. My, you deserve to die, if only for sheer stupidity. Come now, you have your broomstick, I suppose."

"...Burnt."

"Such a pity...how much did you pay for it?"

"It was a gift from Sirius," Harry growled from clenched teeth. Snape only lazily smirked in response.

"Well, even you can't have everything."

As Snape's eyes wandered off of Harry for a moment, the boy tried to stretch out and grab his wand, which had fallen onto the front porch. He was reaching, reaching, almost there... and then he saw the wand shoot into Snape's outstretched hands. But when Harry's eyes met Snape's again, a glimmer of triumph was noticeably absent from the potion master's face.

"Listen to me, Potter. I obviously taught you nothing in six years of teaching... let us see if there's anything that you actually can grasp. Until you find a way to destroy the Dark Lord's Horcruxes... and yes, I do know about them, your mind is a pathetically open book... you will remain a hunted boy. Now that Dumbledore has died, you are the only remaining enemy that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named lends any credence at all. He will not rest until you are dead... so if you sit down to rest, just once, he will find you and he will destroy you."

Looking as though he was doing this against his personal preference, Snape tossed Harry's wand to him.

"This will be the last time that you escape with your life out of luck, Potter. One last enemy grants you a reprieve. If you let your guard down like this again, you doom yourself and everyone you love.

Until we meet again."

In a flash, Snape Disapparated.

Grasping his wand in his right hand, Harry flicked his wand towards his leg, his face still contorted in agonizing pain.

"Reparo," he gasped.

At once, the crushed leg was whole again. Harry fixed his glasses in a similar fashion, and dragged himself upright.

He turned around to look back upon what had been his home for seventeen years of his life. The Dursleys had never treated him like family... but they had always housed him, and been his guardians... and they were still his blood, through it all. Now, they were just more people that he could have saved, but failed to...

With a lump in his throat, Harry turned away from the remains of 4 Privet Drive and Disapparated.