"Luna, you're crazy".
The new owner of the large house on the hill just smiled as she opened the door for Hermione Granger. Piles of loose paper and dust bunnies gently drifted in the breeze, and it took all Hermione's self-control not to ask if there were Puffskeins hiding in the wainscoting. A slight sour smell from the nearby river wafted past, but the house itself was light and airy, quite different from the industrial town huddling at the bottom of the slope and stretching out to the north as far as one could see.
"It is rather large, Hermione, but just think. We'll be able to fit in all the children, and their pets, and hopefully there will be some healing at last." Luna Lovegood's voice was quietly sad, her normally buoyant state still to recover properly from the losses of the War. "There's fourteen orphans, including the three whose parents are at St Mungo's; and several people have offered to come and teach. Andromeda Tonks wants to help and bring Teddy, and I think it will do her good." She looked around the reception hall, and grimaced. "But we've got to get the place cleaned and furnished before then. And I don't want it to look like a hospital."
"And neither do I." Hermione walked over to the largest wall space. A few tattered lists were stuck to its surface, the yellowing tape showing their age. "What was this before?"
Luna shrugged as she ran her hands along the top of the old iron central heating. "Some sort of short-term foster care. Children whose parents needed a break, or who were in the Muggle government care for a while. Like if their dad was away and something happened to their mum. It has a sad feel to it. And there's some old papers in the office and then …" She held up a small stuffed toy, unrecognisable as any form of animal but obviously much loved at one stage. "There's a dormitory upstairs, but it's nowhere near as nice as Hogwarts."
They wandered through the ground floor, torn posters from the 1970s urging people to "never let another Maria Colwell happen" hanging off corkboards under layers of grime and water stains. Their footsteps echoed off the lino floors and the glass corridor windows, the "institutional green" walls mocking any attempt to be cheery. Hermione shuddered at the complete soullessness of the place. "It must have been pretty grim then."
"I wouldn't want to have come here." Luna replied. "But I've read some of the stuff in the office. You only came here if there really wasn't anywhere else to go, and at least they tried. The dormitories have pictures on the walls, and there were a couple of old bedspreads in the linen cupboard that would have been pretty at one time." She opened the door to what must have been the kitchen, and Hermione was pleasantly surprised to see the equipment, while old-fashioned, was still clean and looked in good condition. "I think if we cleaned the place up and re-painted it, it could be something special." Luna's enthusiasm started to creep through, and, as if by magic, her small smile lit up the hallway and lifted the gloom a trifle.
"Is that like a baby Heliopath?"
Hermione stifled a giggle, and hugged her friend. "Not quite, but it involves friends, a weekend, and pizza. And before that, I'll come in a couple of days and see what I can do.
Two weeks later, a very dusty and grubby Hermione was sitting on the floor of the old Matron's office, surrounded by boxes of papers. To her left she was carefully putting some of the previous children's artwork, to be framed and used around the place to brighten it up. But it was the file box of old residents' dossiers that had her transfixed.
She hadn't meant to pry. Not really. The box had started to fall apart as she lifted it up, and the folders inside had spilled out, papers and photographs scattering across the floor. At least one of the photos had her wincing at its dark, evil bruises over a child's back, and she flinched at the sores that abounded on the arms – and then cried when she learned they were cigarette burns. At that, she had to know the child's fate, and had delved into the ancient papers that accompanied the horrible sights.
Luna came in just as she was wiping her eyes for the fourth time, and wordlessly passed over a box of tissues.
"Thank goodness this place was here, Luna. You should see what state some of these children were in when they came here." Hermione stifled another sob, and laid out the photographs of previous abuse. "Beaten, starved, neglected – this poor one burned her hands when she was left alone at age five, while her mother worked and her father decided to go to the pub instead. And this one..." She picked up the shots that had started her tears, and the hopelessly sad eyes of a small boy looked up at her and Luna, the black ring around one just emphasising the bright eyes. He had plaster on one arm, and another bruise of unimaginable darkness on his chest. Hermione's finger ran down the child's cheek, wishing she could actually touch him and hold him.
"But what happened to the children?"
"Most of them actually did rather well once they were here." Hermione's voice was calmer now, the information having reassured her. "Many of them stayed long enough for another family member to be located, and they went off to a new life. And some just stayed for a few weeks to make sure they got better, then went to foster families who actually cared for them. Look at this one."
The smiling, laughing boy was almost unrecognisable as the same one in the first pictures. He was a few years older, filled out and looking cared for, and gladly holding the hand of the foster parent who very obviously loved him back. The smear of chocolate icecream on his cheek said so much more than any report could. "No, the saddest ones are the ones who were only here for a couple of days, and whose parents convinced the courts that the neglect was a temporary situation. Some of them were back five or six times, before the courts could make some sort of other arrangement. Or seemed to be dumped here every Christmas and Easter."
Hermione gestured towards a folder she had put aside, the contents spilling out onto the floor. "It's Christmas wishes from the children. Have a look."
Luna picked up the bundle and leafed through the crudely-written letters, the crayoned requests echoing the hopes of children long past. Some had pictures on them of the children's wishes, the usual mixture of bicycles and horses, but some again were truly heartbreaking. "Oh look, Hermione. I hope this boy got his wish."
"What did he ask for?"
Luna silently handed the paper over, and Hermione found herself biting her knuckles to stop the crying again.
Dear Santa, Daddy says I was bad. I will be good. For Christmas may I have a new Daddy who won't hit me. SS.
"Tell me he got his wish, Luna."
"I can't tell." The blonde leafed through the rest, pulling out two more pages. "I don't think so, judging by these. It's the same child, and he was here for two more Christmases. The next year, he wanted his mother to run away with him and live with Santa, and then three years later – Oh. You'd better look."
The letter this time was brusque, neatly written and still completely heartbreaking.
Dear Mr Clause.
The last few times I wrote to you, you didn't give me what I wanted. I don't think you really exist anyway, but they told me I had to write a letter to you. So here's the story.
Spinners End is a dump. My parents hate me. My mum goes weird and starts acting strange with knives, and they take her away again. Then my dad hits me. He doesn't hit me in front of her any more, but when she's not there he goes for it. He broke my toy Zokko that it took me four months of paper rounds to save up for. And he won't give her any money for clothes, so the other kids laugh because I look odd. I wish I'd been picked for the Home Children, and sent to Australia.
So please, Santa, send me somewhere new. Send me somewhere where I'm not the odd one, where people don't care that I can do different things, they don't laugh when I wear old clothes, and where no-one will hit me if I say I can make things move without touching them and where they say I'm telling lies.
My mum said I would be going away to school, but she says a lot of things when she's ("completely loopy and out of it" crossed out) sick. Besides, she can't afford new school uniforms or anything for me anyway. But it would be bostin if I could go away to school because then I could start again.
Also please could Lily Evans come too, because she's been my only friend.
Hermione read the name once, then carefully again. "Oh. Hell." She looked up at Luna with heartbroken eyes. "No wonder he's such a grumpy blighter. Imagine growing up like that. What does the file say?"
"Hang on a second." Luna leafed through the pages, skimming the notes. "Six times here – if there had been one more, he would have been taken away from the family for good. Occasional unexplained bruising, and once he had a broken arm that he wouldn't say how he got. His mother was frequently being committed involuntarily, so he was often just in the care of his father. And it says here that every time he came, he was in desperate need of food, a wash and clean clothes that fitted."
The women looked at each other sadly, then back at the files.
Luna spoke first. "We shouldn't have looked."
"No, we shouldn't have." Hermione gathered up all the official papers and threw them back into the box beside her. "These get burned. Now. And we only keep the pictures."
That afternoon, a pall of smoke hung over the old Children's home, and a darkness lay on Hermione's heart as she scrubbed the old bathrooms and washed down the grubby walls. In her mind's eye, she saw the young dark-haired child standing in the reception hallway for the third time, defiant and bedraggled, and wished she had been able to do something then. Finally the absurdity of her wish caught up to her, and she laughed at herself for wanting to change something that had happened ten years before she was even born.
Luna was still learning the vagaries and variations of Muggle life, so Hermione slipped down to the town for some takeaway Balti, and promised to take her friend next time. Now, she just wanted to grab some food and head back.
Hermione had spent the time since the Great War catching up with Muggle life as well as magical. She'd taken her driving test (and passed with full marks, of course), and made frequent use of her parents' car. They had been restored to home and memory after a long six months of searching for them, and while it took them a quite a while to forgive their daughter for her actions, they did eventually concede that it had been for their own good. The thing that finally decided them was the look of sadness in her eyes when she finally restored their memories; a look which had them realise that their little girl had truly grown up.
They'd encouraged her to take a break from her studies, and she'd enjoyed the next few months of frivolous behaviour, until Luna had contacted her for help in dealing with Muggle real-estate firms. And the result – the old Children's Home – looked like just what Luna needed to bring back her own joy.
Luna herself had been uncharacteristically quiet since her imprisonment in Malfoy Manor, and had felt quite differently about her father ever since she heard of Xenophilius' betrayal.
"I need a break, Hermione," the young witch had said over a well-deserved afternoon tea the day the Home became hers. "I feel like I owe the community something, that I need to help rebuild people's lives. There's so much pain, such sorrow... " and at this her eyes closed, her soul echoing the same pain in some deep, dark recess. "I know He-Who is gone, and most of his followers, but I still don't feel safe. But perhaps doing this, making a safe place – a haven – will make me feel safe too."
Hermione had already located three enormous boxes of brightly-coloured curtain material in her parents' attic that they swore they'd never need again. The day Luna staggered into the Home, almost lost under a tower of paint tins of bright hues, was the day Hermione knew "therapy" was working for her friend. And one afternoon Hermione found herself in old blue overalls, on her knees painting fantastical snails and butterflies and frogs on the entrance hall wall, and she laughed and realised her friend's "treatment" was working for her too.
But those files … Hermione cursed the dark cloud that was threatening her own soul, and drove carefully down the winding road towards the town. Soot-covered buildings lined the streets, and the clouds overhead (not all of her own making) had left an oily sheen on the cobblestones of the narrow roads. She vaguely remembered seeing an Indian Takeaway in the first few blocks, and she was watching more out the side window than the front as she turned a corner and almost hit a tall, dark figure who was starting to cross the road.