Written for Xcite for the "Monthly One-Shot Exchange - September". This is a one-shot, I won't be continuing it.
Trigger warnings for bullying, both past and present.
Harry runs as fast as he can, bare feet pounding painfully on the hot pavement, breaths coming in great gasps, heart pounding in his chest. He runs as fast as he can, and normally this would be enough to escape his tormenters, but today his feet are bare, one of his ankles is sore and shaky, and there's a deep, aching pain in his stomach from where Dudley punched him that gets worse with every step he takes.
"You can't run forever, Potter!" someone shouts behind him, and Harry knows he's right. But he doesn't need to run forever. He just needs to run far enough to hide. He can hear the four of them gaining on him, can hear their gleeful laughter as they shout taunts at him, shout what they're going to do to him. He's heard it all before, he's felt it all before when he's been trapped at school or at the Dursley's with nowhere to hide, but it still sends fear racing through him.
He needs to be somewhere else, anywhere else. Now.
He suddenly feels like he's being squeezed through a too-small tube, his body compressed impossibly and the air sucked away, until he feels dizzy, like his lungs are going to burst, like he's going to die.
And then he's landing hard on soft, prickly grass, and stumbling forward onto his knees with the force of it. He shoves himself up, whirling around in a circle, searching for Dudley and his gang. They're nowhere to be seen. He turns around again, more slowly this time, taking in his surroundings. He's in the park. But he can't be. The park is ages away from where he'd been running. But impossible or not, he can't deny what's right in front of him, and he can see the swing set Dudley likes and the roundabout Dudley likes making him sick on.
He can also see a girl a few metres away, perched right on the edge of one of the swings, looking at him curiously with eyes too big for her face.
"Did you just apparate?" the girl says.
Harry blinks confusedly at her and licks his dry lips.
"No," he says finally.
She tilts her head to one side, her long, blonde hair falling like a curtain. "I think you did," she says.
Harry shoves his hands in his pockets, shrugging and looking down at his feet. "I don't know what apparating is," he admits.
"It's where you disappear in one place and reappear in another."
Harry glares up at her. "Are you making fun of me?"
The girl's eyes widen further in surprise and she shakes her head. "No. You're Muggle-born, aren't you?"
"I don't know what that is either."
The girls nods, like this makes perfect sense. "Were you scared or angry just now?" she says. "I do magic when I'm scared, mostly, but Mummy's helping me control it. She says if I learn to control it I'll be less vulnerable to wonky buggnols."
It takes Harry a few seconds to take all this in, then he glares at her again, deciding she's definitely making fun of him.
"Magic doesn't exist," he says, rolling his eyes.
"Oh, but it does," the girl says. "It's just Muggles don't know about it, and if you're Muggle-born I suppose you won't know about it either. But it does exist. I've done it lots of times, and you probably have without realising it."
"If you've done it lots of time, show me," Harry says, confident in the knowledge that he's caught her out.
To his surprise she smiles delightedly and hops off her swing.
"Okay, but not here. We'll get it trouble if Muggles see."
She walks past him into the trees that surround the park, and Harry follows her hurriedly. It's cooler in the canopy of the trees, the shadows only broken occasionally by patches of yellow sunlight, and Harry feels more comfortable here, safer than he did in the open park. They walk a little way without speaking, the girl humming under her breath, and pausing here and there to examine a tree for something. Harry's just coming to the conclusion that she's still making fun and dragging him in here is a big joke, when she stops and sits down cross-legged on a large, mossy stump.
"Come on, then," she says.
Harry hesitantly sits on the ground opposite her, and watches as she lays both hands flat on the stump in front of her. For a second nothing happens, then slowly, so slowly Harry thinks he's imagining it at first, the moss starts to spread, turning impossibly green as it does. It spreads until the stump is covered, then it continues on the ground towards Harry, faster now, like a carpet being unrolled. Harry scrambles up and away, and the girl laughs, taking her hands off the stump so the moss stills.
"It's nothing to be frightened of," she says. "It won't hurt you."
"How did you do that?" Harry says, looking from the edge of the moss blanket to the girl.
"I told you, it's magic. You can do it too."
"No, I can't. Magic doesn't exist," Harry says automatically.
The girl's smile fades and she sighs heavily. "Just because you've never seen something, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist," she says. "And it's really silly of you to not believe now, because you did just see it."
"What are you?" Harry says.
"I'm a witch."
She's looking at him completely seriously, not a hint of a smile on her face. Harry looks down at the moss again and hesitantly steps forward until he's standing right in front of it. He slowly puts one foot down on the moss, and is surprised to find it's as soft and springy the brand new carpet the Dursley's have in the sitting room.
"What's your name?" he says, looking back up at the girl.
"Luna Lovegood," she says. "What's yours?"
"Harry Potter," Harry says. "Are you really a witch?"
"Yes. Are you really Harry Potter?"
Harry blinks at her, surprised at the question. "Yes," he says slowly.
Luna looks him up and down, eyes curious like he's an interesting animal she's just discovered. "My mummy will be excited to know that," she says. "She always likes to hear about the people I've met, but I bet she won't have expected me to meet Harry Potter."
Harry doesn't really understand what she's saying, but that's happened so much in this conversation that he doesn't pay it much mind.
"You said I could do magic, too," he says.
"Yes," she agrees.
"Can you show me?"
She thinks about this for a few moments, then she nods. "I think so."
Harry comes forward eagerly and sits beside her on the trunk. "What do I do?" he says.
"Put your hands on the trunk and imagine the moss growing," Luna says. "Then try to push your magic out of your hands and into the moss."
Harry does as she says, squeezing his eyes tight shut and imagining with all his might the crawly moss creature is growing again. He imagines magic is bubbling up inside him, sparkly and purple, filling him up until it can't help but leak out of his hands. Luna starts clapping and Harry's eyes fly open to see the tree opposite him covered in lime green moss.
"That was very good," she says. "I've never taught anyone magic before."
"I've never done magic before," Harry says faintly, still staring unbelievingly at the tree in front of him. He wants to get up and press his hands to the tree to check that it's real.
"Oh, you have, you just didn't realise."
Luna's voice has gone faint and distant, and when he looks over she's staring dreamily at a butterfly.
"I'm going to catch that for Daddy," she says decidedly. "He's examining the difference between butterflies and bigglyflies."
"What are bigglyflies?" Harry says, but Luna's already skipping off after the butterfly.
"Wait! Luna, Wait!"
She pauses and looks back over her shoulder questioningly.
"Will you come back? And show me more magic?"
She look surprised but pleased, and nods. "I'll come back tomorrow, if you want."
Harry nods eagerly. "We can meet at the park again."
She beams at him. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow, Harry Potter."