If I owned Harry Potter, this story wouldn't start with a bullet list of random notes.

A/N: A few things to note about this fic before you start:

• I have five chapters written, and I may not go any further than that. I started this fic on a whim, and I may abandon it on a whim too.
• Sorry.
• I'm going to try not to duplicate Rowling's books, so I'll only lightly touch on parts that are very similar.
• I'm attempting a strict single point of departure, with the point of departure being in the first scene of this chapter. Hopefully, everything else is the same as in the books (although I don't necessarily take outside-of-the-books statements as canonical), but I may screw things up.
• Sorry.
• I have a premise, but not really a proper plot. I have no real idea where this is going.
• I'm a Harry/Hermione shipper, but I'm not averse to multi pairings, and they may actually suit the premise better. Again, I have no real idea where this is going.
• Don't get too excited about the M rating. My current plans don't really require it—I just don't want to worry too much about something non-child-friendly slipping out.
• I hate it when authors write a fic without knowing where it's going. I'm doing it anyway because I've been writing the fic where I do know where it's going since well before Deathly Hallows came out. I'm not even a quarter done with the first draft.
• Did I mention I may abandon this fic on a whim?
• Sorry.
• On account of me being a delusional Harry/Hermione shipper, you may safely assume that the canon epilogue is not happening.
• I'm sure as hell not saying "sorry" for that.
• There are some OCs in this chapter. They don't matter much. This story is about canon characters.
TRIGGER WARNING: Vernon is physically abusive in this chapter. I doubt it will happen again. You should also expect this story to include blood and violence beyond what's portrayed in canon.

Chapter One
The Three Rules

Harry Potter was six years old when he came up with his first rule.

He was staring up at Vernon, the knife he'd been chopping onions with lying forgotten at his feet. Vernon had his hand raised in a familiar pose, ready for the first slap in what was sure to be a major beating.

Harry had been hit many times before, and each time it happened, he'd hoped someone would stop it. He'd hope a neighbor would hear his cries. He'd hope a policeman would stop his uncle. He'd hope a teacher would notice his bruises. He'd hope someone from his real family—his parents, miraculously alive, or a long-lost uncle, or a godfather or a family friend—would show up and save him.

But it had never happened.

And so now, as he watched Vernon's hand descend, he hoped for something different.

As he braced for the blow, as he closed his eyes and cringed, he wished, with all his heart, that he could somehow stop Vernon, somehow hurt him even worse than he was about to hurt Harry…

The shock of the hit never came. Instead, Vernon bellowed again—but this time in pain.

Harry opened his eyes and looked up. The big man was screaming, clutching at the vegetable knife that was protruding from his palm. Blood was dribbling down the blade; the bits of onion still clinging to it were turning red.

How had this happened?

I did that, Harry realized with a start. I wanted to stop him, and I did.

And as Vernon raised his other fist for a punch, as Harry wanted to shove him back against the wall—and somehow, to his astonishment, did—as Petunia came in and screamed, as Dudley lunged for him only to be desperately restrained by his mother, as Harry delivered his ultimatum—"You will not touch me again"—and Vernon assented, as the Dursleys headed to the hospital to get Vernon's kitchen accident treated—Harry Potter formulated his first rule.

You can't count on anyone to protect you but you.

It was only a couple weeks later that Harry came up with his second rule.

Harry had been fast asleep when a pain in his gut awoke him. His eyes flew open. It was dark, but he could see a figure silhouetted in the door of his cupboard.

It was Vernon. He had a cricket bat.

Harry gasped and wheezed—Vernon had knocked the breath out of him—and Vernon raised the bat for another blow—

Harry wanted to stop him as hard as he could and suddenly the middle third of the bat was a column of burning sawdust. Vernon overbalanced as he swung the handle back and he fell backwards, only to be hit in the face on the way down by the top third of the bat. He went down like a sack of bricks and didn't get up again; he'd been knocked out cold.

And as Harry caught his breath, as he waited for Vernon to come to, as he thought of a way to keep this from happening again—he would demand Dudley's second bedroom, he decided, and a set of locks strong enough to keep the Dursleys out at night, and maybe a small knife for him to carry in case Vernon needed another lesson—Harry Potter formulated his second rule.

When you have power, use it to get things you'll need when you don't.

It was another two years before Harry came up with his third rule.

Things had gotten much better for him. Vernon had tried to attack him one more time, but Harry had not only delivered another demand—he and Petunia would feed him properly or else—he'd also said that the next attack would see him no longer doing any chores.

That had put a stop to it.

Vernon didn't hit him anymore; every time his anger was close to boiling over, he glanced down at the matching scars on his palm and the back of his hand and deflated. Petunia didn't shout at him when he didn't do a chore to her satisfaction, and even let him eat his share at meals. Even Dudley had gotten the message that Harry wasn't to be crossed, and kept his budding gang away from Harry.

Harry had also gotten Vernon to get him a new knife of some sort for each birthday and Christmas since then, just so he wouldn't forget.

Of course, that didn't mean everything was perfect. It seemed that, since the Dursleys could no longer beat the "unnaturalness" out of him (he assumed they meant his ability to change things by wanting them, whatever it was), they were going to try to sweat it out of him instead. And with summer in full swing, there was nothing to keep them from crushing him with chores.

So Harry was outside weeding Aunt Petunia's azaleas when he saw Ellie scamper up a tree across the street.

Ellie was a short girl with a birthmark on her cheek who lived at Number Seven; he'd occasionally noticed her on Privet Drive or in his class. Only occasionally, though, because she seemed to have a gift for not being noticed. Teachers almost never called on her, and other students rarely spoke to her. She could sneak out of class to the loo while the teacher's back was turned, then sneak back in a few minutes later without her noticing. She could hover at the back of a group of kids being picked for teams, then slink away and climb a tree until the game was over. She could even slip into the middle of the lunch queue without anyone complaining.

Harry suspected he was the only person who realized this; years of living in Vernon and Dudley's house had taught him to see everything around him. He was a little bit jealous, to tell the truth—that talent for not being noticed could have saved him some trouble with the Dursleys.

That skill seemed to have failed her today, though, and an exposed Ellie was always a target. Today she looked even smaller than usual; she was in tears, her bright yellow sundress grass-stained and dirty. And even as Harry watched, Dudley and three of his friends surrounded the tree and started shouting up at her.

"Awww, is little Patches scared?"

"Does she want her mommy?"

Harry remembered all the times he'd been tormented, by these boys and others, and hoped someone would come for him…

Harry brushed the soil off his hands and started crossing the street, reaching into the pocket of his baggy hand-me-down trousers to grasp his favorite Christmas present yet.

"Oh, look," Dudley's friend Piers said, "Scarhead is coming to rescue Patches—"

Harry swiftly drew the throwing knife and flung it in Dudley's direction.

Harry had pretty good aim, he'd discovered after he got the set of three throwing knives. But when he guided the blade with his mind, wanted it to fly to where he was aiming, it was nearly perfect.

And, just as he'd wanted it to, the blade flew right past Dudley's head, just barely clipping his ear, before embedding itself an inch into the tree trunk with a twang.

The handle quivered. Dudley reached for his ear; his fingers came away with just a few drops of blood. The other boys stared at Harry with eyes wide as saucers. Dudley turned, his face white as a sheet.

Harry was already holding another knife by the blade, glaring at them with cold green eyes. "You will not bother her again," Harry told them.

Dudley pissed himself, and the four boys ran.

"You can come down now," Harry called up, and Ellie dropped down to the ground.

"That was brilliant," she said in a quiet little voice. "Thank you."

Harry shrugged and pulled the knife out of the tree, wiping the few spots of Dudley's blood off on the inside of his shirt. "They used to do that to me," he said. "I couldn't let them do it to you, too."

She smiled uncertainly. "Could—could you show me how to do that?"

Harry glanced at the sun and sighed. "I have to get back to my chores, I think…"

"Maybe I can help," Ellie said.

Harry was startled. He looked at Ellie for a moment.

What was her game here?

At length, though, he finally said, "Sure."

She beamed, and they crossed back to Number Four's lawn.

And as they knelt down in the dirt together, as Harry taught her which plants were weeds, as Ellie wrinkled her nose and made a "blech!" sound when he told her what was in fertilizer, as they finished in record time and headed off together for a knife lesson, Harry Potter formulated his third rule.

You can get help from people who need help.

Harry and Ellie became friends over the next few years. He showed her how to throw knives and stones and other objects with pinpoint accuracy, and though she didn't seem to have his knack for making things happen by wanting them, she got pretty good at it. She reciprocated by showing him how to hide in plain sight—how to keep to the backs of crowds, how to watch for the moments when people were distracted, how to divert attention with his body language, how to dress in colors and combinations that wouldn't catch the eye, how to keep to the shadows, and above all, how to look like he knew exactly what he was doing no matter how he felt inside.

Harry found others who needed help from him, too. Jack, a tall, strong boy with an unfortunate stutter, showed them some of the karate he'd learned but was forbidden to use against anyone who didn't throw a punch first—how to fall without being hurt, how to kick and punch effectively, how to dodge and block the clumsy strikes of untrained fighters. Mark, tiny and slight, had a talent for finding and exploring the back alleys, maintenance corridors, crawlspaces, and even rooftops of the places he went; he taught them how to open things that were meant to be closed, how to walk, climb and crawl silently, how to spot entrances and exits and guess what was behind them, how to build and hold a map of a place in your head. Neither of them were really friends, but they both sought Harry out for the protection he could give them from Dudley's gang and the friendliness they could get nowhere else, and he was happy to learn and teach.

Harry was ten years old when Ellie's family moved away. She confessed her fear that she wouldn't find anybody to be friends with in her new home, so Harry told her to do what he did: find the people who could use her help and befriend them. She thought that it sounded like a good plan. They promised to write, but within a few months, the letters dwindled as she got wrapped up in the new friends she'd made, just the way Harry had suggested.

And so it was that when a letter, addressed to "Mr. H. Potter" in emerald ink on yellow parchment, fell through the mail slot at Number Four, Harry at first thought it was a special birthday card from Ellie. It turned out to be something else entirely.