Harry stood in the hazy, lamp-lit street, shivering. His white-knuckled fingers clenched around Hedwig's empty cage, while he seriously contemplated digging his cloak out of his trunk. He weighed the two evils in his mind: looking like a freak in Muggle London at one in the morning, or freezing to death in the unseasonably chill night air. Sighing, he dragged his trunk a little further onto an empty street, before giving in to exhaustion. He dug out his cloak, and sat on his trunk, wand clenched in his fist. His head drooped morosely; he was cold, hungry, alone, on the run from the Ministry, and thirteen years old. As he slipped into a wary daze, he wondered, 'how did it come to this?'

One Week Earlier

Harry left platform 9 3/4 with a growing sense of dread. The train ride had not been easy – trying to keep up with the celebratory mood in the compartment the Weasley brothers had commandeered for their sister was difficult. While he was glad Ginny was alive, his near-death in the chamber and his probable death awaiting him at his 'home' loomed over him. Luckily, the Weasley twins and Ron were boisterous enough, exclaiming over Percy's un-petrified girlfriend while Hermione and Ginny giggled.

Harry left King's Cross station and immediately spotted his vast, multi-hued uncle. Without a word, he followed him to the car, and loaded his trunk in the boot without any assistance, not that he expected any. He quietly slipped into the backseat, with a murmered "thank you, sir" to his glowering uncle. He saw Hermione pass in front of their parking spot, but he made no motion. Hew was no longer at Hogwarts, he was officiallt 'at the Dursley's', and and the Dursley's, Harry Potter had no friends.

As they approached Little Whinging after a tensely silent ride, Vernon Dursley spoke. "Marge is coming tomorrow. You shall not reveal your ... freakishness to her. If I even get a hint of something funny, it's on your head. You've already got that ruddy window to pay for."

Harry winced. He had hoped Vernon had forgotten his summer escape to the Weasley's. Evidentely, he hadn't.

"Yes, sir," he murmured, cringing. His magic had been slightly volatile since the chamber – he wasn't sure why, but he was willing to pin it on the cocktail of basilisk venom and phoenix tears he had floating around in his blood. He hadn't mentioned it to anyone at Hogwarts, as he was slightly resentful to the teachers for their attitudes. His near-death experience had gotten him thinking about how his life had been at school. The teachers had let an unknown monster petrify the students! And they could have died, Ginny almost died, no thanks to them. No, it had taken second years to figure it out – Hermione to do the research to discover what the monster was, and Harry to go down and kill it. Admittedly, they had access to a few more clues than the staff did, mainly the voice in the walls and Tom Riddle's diary, but still, the staff were fully trained magical professionals. In Harry's eyes, they hadn't done their jobs.

The magical world seemed very off to Harry. Not that he didn't love it – it was a welcome escape from his horrible relatives. However, he highly doubted he should even be with said relatives. Didn't the magical world have orphanages? It should have an equivalent to child services at the very least – that way children like Harry and Tom Riddle wouldn't be raised in such negative environments. Harry frowned, thinking back to his muggle school days. They had been horrible, but the guardians were much more involved in the lives of their children. His aunt had gotten called for him being found on the roof, so surely the school had notified the parents of the petrified children? He then remembered that they were muggleborn, but that shouldn't make a difference, in his opinion. The parents had a right to know if their child was missing classes due to almost being killed by a giant snake.

Then there was the matter of Ginny. Harry wasn't sure how it worked in the other houses, but McGonagall wasn't the best head of house. He didn't remember her ever meeting with the Gryffindors, other than the time a few weeks ago when she had stepped into the common room to announce Ginny's disappearance. No, she usually delegated to her prefects to care for the students. Harry figured that they had arsed that job up pretty well, especially Percy. As Head Boy and older brother of Ginny, shouldn't he have been able to tell if she had started acting differently?

That wasn't even taking his first year into account. How in the world had Quirrell managed to be hired with bloody Voldemort sticking out the back of his head? And hiding a highly coveted and dangerous magical object in a school full of children just wasn't on in Harry's opinion. Sure, he had gone after it, but that was only because no one would take him seriously and listen when he said it was in danger. No, it was all "it's perfectly safe, Potter, now go play outside." The 'perfectly safe' part came into question when three first-years were able to beat all of the enchantments guarding the stone. Looking back, it seemed terribly contrived to Harry. He was a naturally suspicious child – you don't grow up with the Dursley's without developing a finely tuned skepticism on human nature. He knew everyone saw him as some sort of celebrity, and he thought is was the most idiotic thing ever. It was all very frustrating, and Harry let out an inaudible sigh as they pulled into the driveway at Number 4 Privet Drive.

As soon as Harry walked in the door, Aunt Petunia appeared, glaring at him. She pointed imperiously at the cupboard under the stairs, and Harry suffered a moment of heart-stopping panic before she snapped, "all that junk goes in there. Now. Duddy grew again so there are some clothes for you upstairs. And send that creature away – it will upset the dog." She said this all with a scowl twisting her thin face, and Harry grimaced in return, dragging his trunk down the hallway. No wand, no books – nothing this summer except what he could scrounge up. Sighing, he turned to his Aunt as she closed and locked the door, and said, "I'll send her away, but I'll need to write a note so they know to keep her there."

Aunt Petunia pursed her lips as she tried to find something amiss with his reasoning, but eventually she turned and walked briskly into the kitchen. She opened a drawer and took out a single post-it note and a cheap ballpoint pen, and gave them both to Harry. He quickly wrote on the limited space:

Ron, please take care of Hedwig for -

Harry hesitated and glanced up at Aunt Petunia through his fringe.

"How long ...?"

"Two weeks," she snapped, and he nodded hurriedly, trying to hide a wince as he quickly scrawled the rest of the note.

two weeks. No letters during that time, tell Hermione sorry. Uncle's sister is visiting. - Harry

Aunt Petunia glanced at the note, sniffed and handed him a list of chores.

"You can send it tonight when it wont be seen. Marge is arriving tomorrow, so these must be done by then." She pointed at the rather lengthy list.

Harry nodded and climbed the stairs with Hedwig's cage in one hand and the list in the other. Harry reflected that if any of his schoolmates could see him now, they would be completely shocked. But Harry had learned over the course of his life that confrontation was a very bad idea when it came to any of the Dursleys. So it was that Harry meekly accepted what came to him, and rolled up his figurative sleeves, preparing himself for his work. He knew he would not eat until it was done.