Through the window came the faintest breeze. There was a crispness in the air tonight: that very first breath of winter, which got into your lungs and into your soul, and turned summer into sweet memories. It smote the bare feet of the boy who sat curled up in the window sill, and he dragged the blanket down to cover them, grateful he had decided to bring it. His pyjamas was thin, and he had no robe.
It was three in the morning, and he ought to be in bed as all the other boys; but he could not sleep (he had tried) and despite running the foolish risk of being caught breaking the rules on the very first night in a new school, he had decided it was better than to lie in his bed staring up at the ceiling to the sound of a dozen other boys snoozing and turning in theirs. And so he had crept out, quiet as a mouse, and found a solitary corner in a dark hallway. It was not his own Sanctuary back home (oh, what he would have given to be there now!), but it would do for tonight. In his solitude he had allowed the tears to finally run down his freckled cheeks for a good amount of time, before drying them on his pyjama sleeve, and turning his attention to the grounds outside.
Unfamiliar silhouettes of trees and houses painted a strange and secretive landscape, unknown and unexplored. There was a moon tonight, but its pale light did little to ease up the picture. The only thing to offer some comfort was the sky of stars above, which constellations were most familiar to a boy of thirteen who had spent many an hour dreaming under their light; and now he let them once more soothe his mind as he thought of his mother and father, and of what trials the day to come might hold.
He jumped high when suddenly there was a step in the corridor, and a shadow appeared against the far wall. The shadow stopped, as if hesitating; and the boy sat as still as he could manage, barely breathing.
“Hello?” the shadow whispered.
The boy hesitated for a moment, wondering if he would be better off pretending not to have heard. He decided it was no use.
“Hello?” he responded timidly.
“Who is there?”
It was not a boy’s voice. It was a man’s, but of what age he could not tell. And whether it was curious or censorious, he could not tell either.
“It’s… it’s Harry Manders. Sir,” he added hesitatingly, and was met with a quiet chuckle.
“You don’t need to ‘Sir’ me,” said the voice; and from the shadows stepped a tall young man, undoubtedly from the sixth, with a handsome face, and a head of dark curly hair. He was not dressed in nightclothes, but in a plain shirt and black trousers; and over his shoulder he seemed to be carrying some sort of dark jacket. He stepped up close to the window, getting a good look at its occupant.
“What are you doing sitting here at this hour, Harry Manders?” he asked the boy, leaning himself against the wall facing him. “There’ll be the deuce of a trouble for you if they find you out, you know.”
His eyes twinkled in the moonlight as he looked curiously at Harry, arms crossed and head tilted to the wall. His tone was not unkind.
“I know,” said Harry in a low voice. “I… I just couldn’t sleep.”
The young man nodded slowly, as if he knew precisely what he meant.
“First night, eh?”
Harry met his eyes, intense and clear blue under dark eyebrows, and was glad his own were not still wet with tears.
“What are you doing up?” he asked, curiosity taking the better of him.
The eyebrows raised a little.
“Me?” he smiled, and Harry blushed. “Well… let’s just say I find the solitude of a starlit night much appealing, and would far rather live it than dream it.”
Harry nodded, and looked shyly away at the skies for a moment.
“I think I do to,” he said then.
The other smiled a little, and looked out the window.
“It’s quite beautiful around here, you know,” said he then. “See that grove over there? It’s like it’s own little forest, and closes off rather nicely when you want peace and quiet… and then there is the pond just down the slope. It’s a nice place to spend a sunny afternoon. I’m afraid these halls are rather grim; but this one here is usually empty, even during the day, if it’s solitude you’re after. But then,” he continued, and turned his eyes back on the boy, “the rest of the school is not so bad, either. One gets used to it pretty quickly.”
Harry smiled, not knowing what to say. The older boy smiled kindly back, and said:
“Well, I better be on my way. I’ll advice you not to stay up too long—there is one or another early riser around here. Manders, was it?”
“Yes,” said Harry, and the other reached out his hand.
“The name’s Raffles,” he said, taking Harry’s hand in a firm clasp. “Pleased to have made your acquaintance.”
“Likewise,” said Harry, cheeks reddening again.
Raffles grinned, before making a salutatory gesture and disappearing into the darkness of the corridor. Harry looked after him for a moment; then he drew the blanket closer around him, and turned his eyes back on the starlit landscape.
Perhaps the moon had climbed higher in the sky, for the view seemed a little brighter than it had before.