At midnight, the clock in the hall chimes twelve times. I listen to it, waiting until the last echo has faded, and then I get up and fold my blanket. And wait for the children.
They come in twos and threes, padding up to my rooms in the attic like little ghosts, dressed in their white nightshirts, their little gowns. The girls sit on my bed, and the boys gather around on the floor, their knees hugged to their chests. I braid the girls’ hair, and we talk. About everything. About life and love, about people, about the future. The headmistress doesn’t like them to come to my rooms. She’s always hated me: the old caretaker who has been around longer than she has. Longer even then her predecessor. She tells the children that I’m a witch, and that I’ll strike them dead if they ever come up to my rooms.
Some of them believe her.
They come at midnight, because that’s when she’s sure to be asleep, and because that’s when the moon is shining through my skylight and they can see the stars through the clear glass. I tell them that sometimes the moon lets down a ladder for children like them. Children without homes, without parents. If they catch the ladder at just the right time, they can climb it and live on the moon and play with the faeries every night, instead of going to bed without supper.
They don’t always believe me, of course. And it isn’t really true. But it’s something for them to hope for, something to dream about.
They have so little else.