Summary: After saving himself and Dudley from the wayward Dementors, Harry flees Privet Drive rather than allow himself to be taken into custody by the Ministry of Magic.

Improvisation

"Improvisation is a parlor trick – anyone can do it." – Willy Wonka, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Harry wasn't sure exactly of the order of events of that night. One minute he was taking the mickey out of his cousin for sport, the next the whole street had been plunged into darkness and the stifling summer heat replaced with an eerie, bone-chilling cold that dug up frightful memories best left forgotten.

'Dementors,' he remembered thinking. 'There are Dementors in Little Whinging…'

Everything after that was a blur.

He supposed he cast his Patronus since he and Dudley escaped with their souls intact, and there was something about Mrs. Figg and a man named Fletcher, but the entire event was hazy at best. Harry concluded that he had gone into shock at some point, and had only recovered after reading the warning.

The warning. It was that one slip of parchment that had really set the ball rolling. Harry had read it three times before the words had finally sunken in, and now, hiding in a department store after hours, he could reproduce its contents from memory.

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 Warlocks' Statute of Secrecy, we regret to inform you that you presence is required at a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic at 9am on the twelfth of August.

Hoping you are well,

Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk

After the message had penetrated the shock he was in the world had snapped back into focus rather abruptly, and all Harry had been able to think for several seconds was that someone was coming to snap his wand.

My wand. The wand that saved my life in the graveyard; the only thing standing between me and sudden death.

He couldn't let them take it – he couldn't them take him. With all the rubbish the Prophet had been spewing over the summer he couldn't trust the Ministry to treat him fairly. The hearing would just be another chance for Fudge to drag his name through the mud, and he'd likely be banished from the Wizarding World at best, and sent to Azkaban so as to be "out of the way" at worst.

No, Harry couldn't let himself be taken – not by the ministry, not by anyone. Voldemort had people everywhere, most of whom he likely wouldn't recognize, so he couldn't let himself be captured at all, by any faction. That meant that he had to leave now and that he must not be seen.

Well, that at least was something he could do. All of the preparation he did for the Tri-Wizard Tournament had allowed him to pick up a few spells beyond his year level, and the Disillusionment Charm was something that the fake Moody had insisted he become proficient in.

'Never thought I'd be glad for a Death Eater', he'd thought as he packed, shrunk, and pocketed his trunk, 'but then, I never thought I'd be on the run from my own government either.'

The cheery ding-dong of the doorbell had Harry Disillusioning himself and, after a moment's deliberation, his Firebolt. After all it wouldn't do to get caught just because some Muggle saw a broom flying itself. Downstairs, he could hear the Ministry workers asking his whereabouts and his uncle Vernon's angry reply of "I can't be bothered to look for that blasted boy! Can't you freaks see we're having a crisis? My son's been voodoo-ed by one of those thingies your lot breeds and now he can't even talk!"

While Vernon was distracting the Ministry workers, Harry quietly made his way to the spare bedroom in the back of the house, threw open its window, and soared out into the night completely unnoticed. Once the lights of the city were just twinkling dots in the distance, Harry turned South and headed for the Burrow. He might have been angry with Ron for keeping things from him this summer, but Harry decided that the situation was dire and he needed help – he could always be angry with Ron later.

Spotting the quirky house that could only be held up by magic, Harry descended. Once firmly back on the ground, he noticed the dark, shuttered windows and the abnormal quiet. The Weasleys, it seemed, were not in. 'Then where are they living, if they're not living here?' he wondered briefly. Shrugging it off as something to ponder when he wasn't on the run, Harry whispered a quiet Alohomora and let himself in.

"Hello?" he called. After a few moments of silence Harry determined that the house was empty, and decided that while he was in need of their help, he would have to stay on the move to avoid getting caught. Grabbing enough food to last him a couple of days, Harry sprinted up the stairs to Ron's room and, after rummaging around in his closet for a bit, managed to find a set of clothes and an old robe that, while a bit worn in places, would provide far more warmth than his ratty old t-shirt and over-large shorts. Spying a few ginger hairs clinging to the shoulder, he had an epiphany: the Ministry wasn't looking for Ron. If he could get his hands on some Polyjuice, he could walk right into the Ministry as Ron, and walk out with Mr. Weasley! No one would suspect a thing!

With a plan in mind, Harry turned his mind to the more pressing of his problems – he had no place to stay. He was underage with insufficient funds to rent a room and as much as he might want to stay at the Burrow, he knew that it was the first place that any sane person would look. Thinking quickly, Harry recalled a vacant shop that was located on Charing Cross Road not too far from the Leaky Cauldron. He would stay there, he decided. Scribbling a quick note for Ron to find later, Harry took to the sky, Disillusioned once again.

Xxx

The Order of the Pheonix was in an uproar. Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived and linchpin of the organization's plans had gone missing several hours earlier, leaving only a vague, hastily written note behind.

"QUIET!"

The room, once filled with pure pandemonium, stilled. All eyes turned to a grandfatherly old man with silver hair and a long beard tucked neatly into his belted, fluorescent green robes.

"Now that I've gotten your attention," said the man, who was none other than Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts and self-proclaimed Leader of the Light, "perhaps we should call the children in and see if they have any ideas of where young Mr. Potter could have gone." Seeing the nods of agreement, the elderly wizard set one Nymphadora Tonks to the task and returned his attention to the matter at hand. "Does anyone know where he might have gone? It is crucial that we find him before the Ministry or Voldemort do. Any lead must be considered."

"I don't see why the lad didn't just come here" remarked a stately woman sitting in the rear of the room. "It's what I'd have done if I needed to hide."

"Albus, Emmeline brings up a good point. Why hasn't Potter shown up yet? Surely he must know that we would help him?"

"Alas Minerva," the old man replied as Tonks returned with the five teens, "it is, to my great shame, an oversight on my part. I did not see reason to inform Mr. Potter of the Order's location, so he could not find us here even if he was sitting on the front stoop."

The woman called Minerva pursed her lips in a way that everyone present who had attended one of her classes knew to mean nothing good. Albus winced at the sight, knowing that he would be having a long discussion with the Deputy Headmistress that would involve no small amount of scolding on her part.

"You wanted to see us Professor?" one of the summoned teens asked politely, breaking the mounting tension between the two adults.

"Yes. Mr. Potter has gone missing from his relatives' home. As evidenced in this note found on your bed at home Mr. Weasley, he did at one point stop by the Burrow, most likely for assistance. Clearly he deduced that no one was home and that you were not likely to return anytime soon and vacated the property. Can any of you tell us where he might have gone? It is imperative that we find him." Dumbledore inquired, handing the note to a tall, gangly, ginger-haired youth.

Ron frowned. There wasn't much to the note that had been left – just three lines of Harry's messy scrawl that was just as informative as the letters that he'd sent Harry himself this summer. Guiltily, Ron read through the letter a second time:

Ron –

Saved me and Dudley from Dementors that attacked at the park. Ministry sent a notice saying they would arrest me and snap my wand so I left. Flew to your house for help but no one was home. Hope you don't mind if I nicked some food – haven't eaten properly in ages. Also, I borrowed your robe, like I did in second year. You might want to stay indoors tomorrow.

-- Harry

Ron's brow furrowed deeper in thought. 'Second year? What does an old robe have to do with anything? Why would I want to stay indoors tomorrow? It's not supposed to rain… Slowly, some half-forgotten memory made its way to the front of his mind. 'What happened in second year, other than Ginny being tricked by that diary? Hermione was petrified, I remember. Didn't we brew a potion in Myrtle's bathroom? It changed us into Crabbe and Goyle for an hour. What was it called again? Starts with a 'P'…'

"Polyjuice!" he exclaimed, startling Hermione, who was sitting next to him debating with Ginny as to whether Harry would have flown to Hogwarts. All talk stopped as everyone turned to stare at Ron.

A shifty-looking man sitting to the left of a man that could only be Ron's father frowned. "Polyjuice? What in the blazes does that have to do with anything?"

"Mr. Weasley," the Headmaster said, observing the teen over the top of his half-moon spectacles, "Please explain."

"Well, in Harry's note he mentioned borrowing one of my old robes like in second year and warned me to stay indoors tomorrow. Long story short," here he shot an apologetic look at the bushy-haired girl sitting next to him, "in second year we infiltrated the Slytherin common room using Polyjuice Potion to try and ferret out who was behind the attacks. Harry mentioned the robes and second year to pass a message that only me or Hermione would have been able to make any sense out of. Brilliant really, considering how little time he must have had."

"And that message, Mr. Weasley?" an oily man prompted.

"The message," Ron replied, looking as though everyone else should have figured it out by now, "is that Harry will be walking around somewhere Polyjuiced as me. That's why he needs me to stay indoors – because if people saw two of me they would become suspicious. My bet is that since the Ministry isn't looking for me -- and everyone knows where to find dad on weekdays – Harry plans to use Polyjuice to slip into the Ministry long enough to get help from my dad. Like I said, brilliant."

"I wasn't aware that Potter was capable of thinking, let alone something as well thought out as what you're proposing" the oily man sneered.

"Severus," the Headmaster warned, making the oily man huff in indignation. "Mr. Weasley, are you sure that Mr. Potter is planning what you suggest?"

"Pretty sure, yeah. After all, it was Harry that came up with the plan to save Ginny from the basilisk, and Sirius from the Dementors. He might go rushing into things, but he's really good at putting a plan together on the fly, and this sort of thing is right up his alley."

"I still think he would go to Hogwarts," the bushy-haired girl huffed, "It's where I'd go if I were in trouble for underage magic."

"True, but Harry's not you is he? He'd have to either take the Knight Bus – and risk having his identity compromised – or fly. If he flew he'd have to cross not only Muggle-inhabited areas but large amounts of empty space in the countryside, and the longer he's in transit the greater the likelihood that he'll be spotted, tracked, or caught. Harry wouldn't risk it – not after going to the Burrow and seeing the house empty. He'd hide in a heavily populated area with a significant Muggle population – the Ministry has a hard time tracking wands in population-dense areas, and most wizards don't know how to properly blend in with Muggles, which would make them easier to spot and give Harry more time to get away or form a contingency plan. Ergo, Harry is hiding in the Muggle world but close enough to a magical hotspot to have any minor magic that he does masked by the ambient magic of the area."

"What makes you think that Harry will have reasoned things out the way that you have? Surely he wouldn't have known any of that information – I've yet to see either of you read anything outside of the required texts!" Hermione accused, frustrated.

Ron shrugged. "Just because he didn't read it doesn't mean he doesn't know. Harry's as curious about the Magical world as dad is about the Muggle one! He badgers me and Neville about random things we hardly even think of all of the time – says it fascinating."

"Why didn't you tell me any of these things?!" Hermione screeched, clearly offended that she'd not been included in the boys' talks.

"You never asked."

Xxx

The night inside the store was long, cold, and uncomfortable and by the time the first rays of dawn finally made their way upon Harry's form, the teen in question was already wide awake. Yawning, Harry stretched his stiff muscles and rubbed the sleep out of his bloodshot eyes, intent upon completing the first -- and hardest -- part of his plan as soon as possible. The Ministry of magic was looking for Harry Potter, and he wanted to be safely tucked into Ron's form before they had the opportunity to spread the word. Casting a cautious look around, Harry slipped out of the dusty establishment and hurried across the street and into the Leaky Cauldron.

The pub, which was usually bustling with both patron and passerby, was all but deserted at this time of day – which according to the clock behind the bar read just after seven – and for that Harry was grateful. He was a very well-known figure in the Wizarding world, and if anyone had recognized him the Ministry would have gotten wind of his location. Nodding to the old barkeep (who was the only one there besides Harry himself), Harry stepped into the cluttered alley out back, tapped the appropriate brick, as had squeezed through the archway before it had even had time to fully materialize. Keeping his head lowered and his stride purposeful, he made his way uninterrupted to the one place where anyone with enough money could buy nearly anything – Knocturn Alley.

The seedy area was just as he remembered it – narrow and dark, with bits of parchment and carts bearing questionable wares left strewn about rather haphazardly, giving the entire place the felling of one in which it would be best not to linger. Allowing his instincts to guide him, Harry hastily scanned the shops for an apothecary and upon spotting one nestled near the end of the street between a pawn shop and what appeared to be a brothel, quickly made his way to it.

"Domovoi's", read the sign hanging above the door, "Established 1072AD". In the window was an array of brass scales, crystal vials, and silver knives. Upon entering, Harry found himself in a long, narrow space that (unlike the apothecary in Diagon Alley) was both well lit and well ventilated. The room was illuminated by hundreds of small glowing bulbs that floated near the ceiling, and the walls were covered from floor to ceiling with glass display cases. A counter sat near the back of the store, and behind it sat an elderly man whose monocle, leather gloves, and stained white over robe gave him the look of a mad scientist.

"Well," said the man in a smooth, deep voice, "Don't just stand there looking lost! Come in! And shut the door behind you boy – there's a reason why it was closed when you got here."

Slightly embarrassed to have been caught wool-gathering, Harry closed the door behind himself and approached the counter. "Good morning," he said, "I was wondering if you happened to have any Polyjuice for sale? I'm not going to do anything illegal – not really – and--"

"Twelve Galleons a dose," the man replied, "and I don't give a rat's arse what you're wanting it for. My only concern is whether a person can pay or not, so the clear question is this: can you?"

"Yes." Harry replied, pulling his money pouch out of his pocket and counting out forty-eight of the gold coins. "I'll need four hours worth. You wouldn't happen to have a potions kit for Hogwarts would you? Might as well get it while I'm here – I probably won't get another chance."

The man squinted at Harry, cast a spell on the Galleons, and – once satisfied with their authenticity – swept them into the cash box under the counter. "Stay here," he ordered, "I'll return shortly – I keep specialty items in the back." With that, he slipped through a door Harry hadn't noticed before and was gone.

'Interesting bloke, he is,' Harry thought as he waited for the strange man to return, 'At least he didn't ask any questions.'

Once the man had come back with his items, Harry purchased his wares and was on his way. After looking around to insure he wasn't being watched, he slipped into a dark corner where he quickly used on of the hairs he'd nicked from Ron's room at the Burrow and a single dose of Polyjuice to take the image of his friend. Satisfied that he was suitably disguised, he made his way back to the Leaky Cauldron and through the Floo to Ministry of Magic.

Stepping out of the Floo – and for once not falling on his face in the process – Harry found himself in a large atrium full of witches and wizards who were making their way about the building. Opposite the hall from him was series of golden-caged lifts where a long line of people were waiting for their turn. To his right was a sign that read "Visitor's Check-in" in bold purple letters. Underneath the sign was a desk with a bored-looking wizard in blue robes behind it, and behind him was a long hallway that seemed to stretch on forever.

'Well,' he thought, 'here goes nothing.'

Xxx

"Ron!" Arthur Weasley exclaimed, making a beeline for the teen waiting in queue for the lifts, "I was just looking for you! Did you make it alright?" Receiving a nod, Arthur heartily thumped the youth on the back and steered him away from the lifts and towards the Floo. "That's my boy! Did you enjoy your time visiting Aunt Muriel? It's been ages since I've seen her last – how is she doing? Still breeding those kneazles I hope – I think I might get one for your mother as a present. They're dreadfully useful and now that you all have moved out or gone off to Hogwarts she needs something to keep her company during the day when I'm at work. What do you think, Ron – a kneazle or a crup?"

"Aunt Muriel had a few kneazle kittens – she says hello by the way – but they're all too young to be away from their mother just yet. If I had to pick I'd get Mum a crup since they'd keep the gnomes out of the garden. You know how Mum feels about the gnomes trampling her flowers." Harry replied, moving up to the next spot in line.

Arthur laughed. "True enough, true enough! A crup it is then! Aha! Looks like you're next then – go straight home you hear? You nearly gave your mother and I a blooming heart attack when we saw you hadn't come back with Ginny."

"Sorry about that – Aunt Muriel had a bit of an emergency that she needed help with last minute. I did try to Floo back last night but you had all left already, and Aunt Muriel didn't want me to stay alone."

Arthur nodded. "I see. Well, it's your turn now so you you'll have to tell me about it later. Now remember, go straight home. If a little old lady needs help she'll just have to wait."

Taking a handful of green powder, Harry nodded and stepped into the Floo. "I will."

"Good." Arthur said, giving him one last pat on the back. "And Ron?"

"Yeah Dad?"

"I'm glad you're alright."

Harry nodded and with a woosh of green flames, was on his way.