Of Coloured Pencils and Plastic Bags
So many children had passed through her class in the small Primary School of Little Whinging, and Miss. Morrison liked to think she remembered then all. The shy ones, who hid behind their mothers legs or curled up in their fathers protective arms; the boisterous ones, who ran in small, never ending circles with boundless energy. The smart ones and the ones who struggled, sometimes bravely and sometimes with tears and tantrums. The short ones and the tall ones, the sweet and the mischievous; they were all special to her, in their own way, and they all earned themselves a special place in her memories. All of them, that is, except for one.
Harry Potter was another matter entirely.
Everyone knew Harry Potter, although his name was spoken with a variety of emotions and inflections. No matter which adorned the voice though it was always accompanied by the same look: puzzled, an acknowledgement of the tiny inconsistencies that were never properly examined and allowed to continue by unnoticed. Strange stories such as a teacher's hair turning blue were recalled with amusement that had tempered the initial annoyance and muted anger. They were laughed off as youthful exuberance in need of careful curbing lest the delinquent behaviour the boy's guardians had warned them of grow out of control. They were laughed off because to do anything else might have meant they noticed sooner, might have meant they glimpsed the obvious and blatant truth instead of the lies that were much more appealing to see. They were laughed off because otherwise it might not have been too late to do something, because otherwise they might have had to act themselves. But the laughter was always slightly forced, a little louder and more raucous than justified. And so it had been with a little more trepidation than usual that, on the first day of the school year, Miss. Morrison had waited for her new class to arrive.
Harry Potter had stepped through the door, and her first thought had been at how small and frail he seemed and how she had never really noticed it before. All children looked small from a distance though, she tried to tell herself. There was no reason she should have noticed earlier, no reason it shouldn't have been such a shock to see. It was a battle she couldn't win though, not with the evidence standing before her, tiny and huddled protectively in baggy clothes that hung loosely from his thin frame, green eyes skirting warily behind glasses held together poorly with failing tape so they balanced crookedly on his nose. Had she not otherwise know she would never have guessed the boy was even related to his whale of a cousin, let alone that they shared the same upbringing. Harry looked as though a small breeze would knock him over.
It didn't though. For his small size and stature Miss. Morrison couldn't help but marvel at his unwavering resilience. Never before had she met a child so unfazed by the constant taunts and bullying of his peers and classmates as his cousin paraded around in his expensive clothes and smuggled his new toys into the school in brightly coloured backpacks, holding them proudly for all to see yet inevitably breaking them and shrugging it off in the knowledge there would soon be another. Harry carried his few measly possessions in a plastic carrier bag, a couple of snapped and blunt coloured pencils that he treasured carefully, mainly dull colours with the occasional splash of brightness that he used sparingly as though doubting he would ever own it again.
She made a note at the next staff meeting, nothing more than the briefest of comments that she felt the boy should be watched. It was met with mixed reactions, but still unenthusiastically agreed. After all, if the cousin was anything to go by then the family were hardly scraping the barrel to survive, yet Harry appeared the very image of poverty itself.
And Miss. Morrison watched him, watched as he would timidly talk to someone just to have them driven away by the oaf of a relative. Watched as children who laughed and played with him one day would turn around the next and push him roughly to the ground, laughing as he scraped his knees and elbows. And always he would stand up and brush himself off, ignoring the scuffs and bruises that had other children crying to the nurse, and move on as though it were the most natural thing in the World.
Her desk was moved nearer the window, overlooking the large playground as Miss. Morrison ate, attention only half on her food. And every day the pounds piled onto the overweight frame of Dudley Dursley, as he stuffed sandwiches and crisps into his mouth like there was no tomorrow whilst Harry chewed thoughtfully on a few slices of bread and bit into a battered apple. Every day she watched as Dudley Dursley sought to instil that little more misery into Harry's all ready unhappy life.
And so it was that Miss. Morrison watched when Harry appeared in the corner of her eye, streaming across the concrete, dodging desperately between the groups of children, the threats and abuse of his cousin following loudly as Dudley and his gang shouted after him. She watched as he glanced fearfully over his shoulder, stumbling as his ripped and shredded trainers tried to trip him and he disappeared behind the kitchens. Out of sight and out of mind.
Not out of her mind.
Pushing her chair back Miss Morrison hurried out the nearest door, the sun warm on her face as she rushed after the disappearing group, their voices now muffled amidst the shouts of children around her. It was deserted behind the building however, the smoke and smells that escaped from the vents to the kitchen clinging to the walls, the air thick and greasy as Dudley's voice rang with clear taunting.
'You can't run away from us forever, freak.'
'And exactly who are you calling a freak, Dudley?' The boy jumped, an impressive sight given his size as his friends formed a protective guard around him. Miss. Morrison waited sternly for an answer, arms crossed and foot tapping impatiently, a quick glance round revealing no sign of Harry Potter. 'I am waiting for an answer.' Dudley, however, merely looked innocent, although his eyes glinted maliciously as he raised a chubby arm and pointed a finger accusingly skywards.
'Harry's been climbing on the roof, Miss.'
She looked up, past the large bins that gathered round the wall, past the small windows that lined the gutter and onto the high roof, flat and open as a small figure sat huddled, arms wrapped round his legs.
'Harry!' The small boy glanced down fearfully as Miss. Morrison turned back on Dudley. 'Go fetch the Janitor and tell him to bring a ladder.' Dudley took a moment to grin up at Harry. 'Now, Dudley, and don't think you will be going unpunished.' He scowled, but ran back to the playground, his gang in loyal tow. Shielding her eyes against the glare of the sun Miss. Morrison looked up again to Harry. 'How did you get up there?'
'I don't know Miss,' his small voice filtered back down tremulously. 'I was just scared and I jumped.' The roof stood at more than twice her height. It was impossible. 'Did you want me to jump back down?'
'No!' She felt herself trying to reach him instinctively, holding her hands out in a gesture for him to remain. 'You'll hurt yourself.' Harry merely shrugged, arms once again tightening round his legs as he sat quietly and just waited. Even in the Principals office later, as the dangers of climbing on school property were lectured to him harshly he made no sound and no argument, hands rubbing his arms guiltily as Harry stared resolutely at the floor. It wasn't until the promise of a letter home was made that he reacted, flinching slightly at the news before letting out a quiet sigh of defeat.
The next staff meeting Miss. Morrison was not so reserved; the next meeting Harry Potter started as a worried plea for answers, and ended as the sole focus of the conversation. The letter had been sent, not that it was needed since Dudley's loud retelling of the story was difficult to miss. And when his Aunt had glared at him Harry had visibly shrunk back with fear before trailing dejectedly after them, returning to school the next day paler than usual, the grumblings of his stomach interrupting occasionally and continuing unanswered. And slowly more stories came forward from across his childhood that shocked her and tore at her heart. The day his Aunt had ushered him into the building, shivering and coughing painfully whilst she fussed around her own son, his fever peaking midday as Harry was delivered by a worried teacher to the school nurse. The telephone call and disinterested reply as his Aunt refused to collect him until the end of the day, leaving him sweating and shaking on the uncomfortable school bed. That he had struggled almost blind for the first two years of his schooling until someone had realised the problem, and that it had been a further two months and some strict words from the headmaster before the boy had gotten himself glasses. Parents evening in which teachers would listen to the endless streaming praise of Dudley, just to find themselves cut off with an impatient glare at the merest mention of Harry's name.
But what could they do? That was the question everybody asked and no one answered. The boy wouldn't suddenly come forward now, not after so many years of silence. And with no outward signs of abuse, if there was in fact any at all, their hands were tied. Miss. Morrison wondered if perhaps Harry would have spoken up had he felt he had anyone to trust; she wondered if perhaps their hands would be loosened when he arrived one morning with a broken bone, or worse. But the only mark the small boy had on his body was the oddly shaped scar on his forehead, the faintest of lightening bolts that stood out against his pale skin. Left from the same car crash that had killed his parents and delivered him into the hands of the uncaring monsters that passed for relatives.
Which meant that all Miss. Morrison could do was watch, watch the clips round the back of the head from his aunt to hurry him up, the vicious punches of his cousin in boredom. Watch as his classmates grew around him and he remained the small, lost boy who had walked into her classroom ten months ago.
And now he was leaving. They all were, as the year drew to an end and the entire class rushed for the door, the long lazy days of summer calling to them as they barged and shoved their way to freedom, as she motioned for Harry to remain behind for a moment.
'Yes Miss?' his eyes shone brightly in the late afternoon sun, the same tattered plastic bag clutched tightly in his tiny fingers. How could she, how could the entire school have let things slip by so unnoticed, how could they have left it so late that it was all the same as being too late? 'I don't want to keep my aunt waiting. She's very busy, you see.'
'I won't be a second,' she said softly, wishing she could envelope the tiny boy in a hug. Swallowing heavily Miss. Morrison bit back on the instinct, fixing a smile she certainly didn't feel as she spoke. 'I just wanted to wish you good luck next year. Where is it you said you were going?'
'A boarding school called Stonewall,' Harry said carefully, conveying no emotion at the prospect. It didn't sound inviting though, although possibly after years with the Dursleys it would sound more so.
'Well, be sure to take care of yourself,' it didn't seem enough as Harry nodded with a quick thank you and excused himself, running across the concrete of the playground to where his aunt glared at his approach.
And now, with a new class staring up at her Miss. Morrison couldn't help the stab of anxiety in her chest. It had been a quick phone call, one she had debated over all summer and made before she could argue with herself once again that it was not her place. It had been the least she could do for the tiny boy she had known and hadn't seen since that sunny afternoon, as she had spoken to the Headmaster of Stonewall Boarding School at great length about her observations the previous year in the hope they would make a difference where Little Whinging had failed so unforgivably.
They couldn't though, the words proving to be as good as nothing. The Headmaster had thanked her for her concern, but assured her that there was no student by the name of Harry Potter at his school. Yes, he had been on the list to attend, but his name had been pulled at the last minute. No, there had been no explanation. Panicked suddenly Miss. Morrison frantically scoured the records the school kept religiously, tracking back to the exclusive school Dudley had bragged he was attending. Another phone call had been made just to receive an equally puzzled response from the other end.
And so, in the first meeting of the year, the staff of Little Whinging Primary School found themselves discussing once again the fate of a curious green-eyed boy they all remembered, and who had apparently fallen from the very face of the planet. Miss. Morrison had even called the house under the pretence of returning a lost possession of Dudley's. After lauding the boys achievements for several minutes she had questioned briefly after Harry, just to be greeted with a curt declaration that Harry Potter no longer lived there, and they would appreciate people not harassing them every second of the day. They had lived with him for almost eleven years now, hadn't they; raised him as best they could. They only hoped St Brutus School for the Criminally Insane could save the boys poor, wretched soul where they had failed. And for that were they not now entitled to a little peace? She had been shown the door soon after, led from the kitchen politely but with no room for argument; led past the walls adorned with family photos, not one of which contained even a hint of Harry; led past the small cupboard the sat under the stairs, heavily bolted from the outside as Miss. Morrison briefly wondered what could possibly be so valuable as to justify such strange storage.
The door was closed firmly behind her though and Miss. Morrison had all the answers she could ever hope to receive, aware that they amounted to next to nothing. Unfounded hope led her on a brief search for the school, but to no avail. It didn't exist, and according to the Dursley's neither did Harry. He had disappeared. She could only hope he had gone somewhere a little brighter.