The Lives We Touch
Chapter One - First Impressions
"Who do you think is actually more nervous today…you or the students?"
Maggie Thompson looked up from her desk to see her new friend and colleague Katie McNamara leaning against the doorframe of her classroom with a knowing grin. She returned Katie's smile and admitted sheepishly, "I feel like I'm five years old all over again and headed off to kindergarten. I have butterflies in my stomach and couldn't sleep at all last night. Is that normal?"
"Perfectly." The redhead assured her, moving into the classroom and seating herself on top of one of the student desk's that Maggie had neatly lined up in straight rows the day before. Glancing around the room, she added, "The room looks great and your lesson plans are on point, so you are all set. Once the kids get in here and you stand in front of them, instinct will take over and you will be fine. Trust me, it happens every year."
"What if the kids don't like me?"
Katie grinned again at her worried friend and reminded her, "You're the teacher now, Miss Thompson. It really doesn't matter if they like you or not because you have the power of pop quizzes, extra homework, and detention on your side."
"True." Maggie admitted, standing up and moving from behind her desk to sit near Katie. "But a teacher's life has to be a little bit easier if the kids like you."
"Maybe," Katie conceded and then added wickedly, "but they're more likely to shut up and listen if they fear you."
The moment the words were out of her mouth, Katie McNamara had to keep herself from laughing. Maggie Thompson was a twenty-two year old, fresh faced, blond beauty with a musical laugh and a bewitching smile who would be hard pressed to scare a mouse…let alone a ten year old troublemaker. The boys in her incoming fifth year class were more likely to fall in love with her before they would ever fear her.
"Come on," Katie said, standing up and pulling Maggie to her feet next to her. "We have a few more minutes of freedom before the first bell, so let's go get a cup of tea. It'll settle your nerves."
Maggie had to smile as she fell in step beside Katie and they headed down the hall to the staff lounge. Tea was the answer to anything that ailed you, according to every Englishman she had ever met. Growing up in the southern region of America, Maggie had rarely…if ever…used tea to sooth her nerves, but everyone she had met since moving to England five years ago to study at Oxford University swore that a soothing, hot cup of tea was nature's perfect cure all.
As the two women's heels clicked on the polished floors of the hallway that led to the staff lounge, Maggie once again looked around at her new place of employment. The primary school in Little Whinging, Surrey, was a completely nondescript building. It was a perfectly ordinary school in every way, complete with twenty equal sized classrooms, a gymnasium, library, cafeteria, and sensible playground. The suburb was a bit farther outside of London than Maggie had liked when she applied for the fifth grade teaching position, but she had instantly fallen in love with the little hamlet and, more importantly, the school's headmaster, Mr. Damien O'Rourke. So, after accepting the position, Maggie relocated herself to Little Whinging to begin her teaching career.
A career that would begin in exactly twenty minutes.
As Katie pushed open the door to the staff lounge, the pair were greeted by a deep, booming voice from within.
"Ah! Good morning Miss Thompson. Good morning, Mrs. McNamara."
Maggie and Katie both smiled up at Headmaster O'Rourke and returned his hearty greeting. The elderly British gentleman smiled down upon the two young teachers, his lips completely hidden beneath his snowy, white mustache and his bright blue eyes twinkling. "Are you here for a spot of tea before the students arrive this morning?"
Maggie nodded as Katie informed him, "We need to calm a few first morning jitters, sir."
"You're not alone." Headmaster O'Rourke informed them, nodding to the scattering of teachers already congregated in the staff lounge. He gave the newcomers a knowing look and patted Maggie on the shoulder as he said, "I would be more concerned if you didn't have a few butterflies, Miss Thompson." Winking as he gave her arm a final pat, he added quietly, "You'll do fine."
As he breezed past them back out into the hallway, Katie mimicked his wink and told Maggie, "You see…a cup of tea and some encouragement from the headmaster and those nerves will be settled in no time." Moving over to the kettle, Katie lowered her voice and nodded to a group of teachers in the corner as she said, "Those are the first and second year teachers. They live in an entirely different world than we do…their students are still small and cute and think the world revolves around their teacher."
Pulling a couple of mugs out of the overhead cupboard, she nodded to the pair of teachers sitting at the table in the middle of the lounge and continued, "Those two at the table are Mr. Cunningham and Mrs. Kwan…the fourth year teacher's. If you have any questions about your students, they are the ones to ask since they had them all last year."
Katie poured the tea into their mugs and then led them over to the empty chairs at the table they were just referring to. "Good morning, Kevin….Lucy." she chirped brightly as the pair sat down. "Have you met Maggie Thompson yet?"
After the introductions were made, Maggie realized that the small talk was over when Lucy Kwan turned to her and said, "Let me see your list, dear."
"My list?" Maggie repeated in confusion after swallowing a sip of tea.
"Your class list." Lucy explained gently, trying not to roll her eyes. "Kevin and I can tell you which students to look out for this year."
"Oh," Maggie mumbled, trying not to look embarrassed and then explained, "Well, I'd like the students to come into my classroom with a clean slate and to have my first impressions of them be my own. I don't want my view of them to be based on any reputation they may have earned before stepping into my classroom…"
The rest of Maggie's words were drowned out by the boisterous laughter erupting from Lucy Kwan and Kevin Cunningham. She glanced over at Katie and saw that she, too, was biting her lip in an attempt to keep from laughing at Maggie's pronouncement.
"Kevin, my boy, were we ever that young?" Lucy asked, wiping away the tears that had formed in her eyes as she laughed.
"Of course," he answered, smirking at Maggie through his horn rimmed glasses. "All teacher's were that young once. Fresh out of university and full of idealistic solutions that will change the world one child at a time…" Kevin reached over and patted Maggie's hand and assured her dryly, "Not to worry, my dear, it will pass."
"But I don't…"
"Don't argue, dear," Lucy said, smiling sympathetically at the naïve first year teacher. "Just trust us and hand over your list. It will make life so much easier."
Maggie spared another glance over at Katie, who nodded, and took her class list out of her pocket. She unfolded it carefully and handed it over to the two fourth year teacher's, who moved their heads closer so that they could read over the students' names together.
"Ah…Millicent Carlisle." Lucy said, peering up at Maggie. "She is a lovely girl. Very smart and so eager to please…"
"Allison Higgins tends to be a bit bossy. You'll want to put a stop to that right away…" Mr. Cunningham added as he continued to peruse the list.
"And you will certainly need a firm hand with Dexter Murphy." Lucy warned. "He is nothing more than a big bully…" she stopped mid-sentence and looked over at her colleague as she said quietly, "Kevin, she has Harry Potter in her class."
He shook his head and Maggie looked at them both in alarm. What was it about Harry Potter that made them both look so…concerned.
"At least they wised up and separated him from Dudley Dursley this term." Katie chimed in, taking another sip of her tea. "Dudley is on my list."
"I don't know which one of you got the better deal in that one." Kevin muttered, still shaking his head.
"What's wrong with Dudley and Harry?" Maggie asked, looking at the three faces before her.
"They're cousins." Katie answered, tucking a lock of her red hair behind her ear. "But you wouldn't know it to look at them. Dudley is a fat, over-indulged slob of a boy who steps on anyone who doesn't give in to his demands."
"Harry, on the other hand," Lucy cut in, "is a painfully shy little boy who looks as if he would fall over if the wind blew too hard."
"Well then shouldn't I be grateful to have Harry in my room instead of Dudley?"
"That depends on how you look at it." Kevin informed her. "Whereas Dudley is just a straight up spoiled brat, Harry is…"
He looked around the table for help and Lucy supplied, "Strange."
"Yes, Harry Potter is one strange boy." Katie agreed as Kevin and Lucy nodded in agreement.
"Strange in what way?" Maggie asked, puzzled by the lack of description.
"Well, that's just the thing." Katie told her. "We can't put our finger on it. This will be his fifth year at school and no one has been able to figure him out. He has a penchant for wearing ill fitting, hand me down clothes that are about four sizes too big for him, he never smiles, and he wanders around in his own little world most of the time. I even caught him muttering to himself a few times over the years."
"He won't speak to anyone unless directly spoken to." Kevin added. "And even then, you'd be lucky to get more than a one word answer out of him."
"And," Lucy said dramatically, leaning forward and lowering her voice, "Abigail Struthers swears that he turned her hair blue in his third year."
"Turned her hair blue?" Maggie scoffed as it was her turn to laugh. The serious looks on their faces were simply priceless. "How could he have done that?"
"We told you…he's strange." Kevin repeated smugly. "There is something about that boy that is just not right."
Later that morning...
Half an hour later, Maggie stood in front of her desk in her classroom as twenty-five pairs of eyes stared back up at her. Twenty-four pairs, actually. One of the desks was empty.
Maggie smiled at the dark hair girl who sat in the fourth row and then glanced back at the list of student names on her attendance sheet.
Maggie waited for the student she had already been warned about to raise his hand and make himself known. But there was no answer as Maggie looked around at the sea of young faces before her.
"Harry Potter?" she repeated, putting down her roll book. She heard the snickering begin quietly in the back of the class and get increasingly louder as the sound worked it's way around the room. Trying again, Maggie raised her voice and asked, "Has anyone seen Harry Potter?"
Twenty-four sets of eyes suddenly became very interested in the floor as Maggie scanned the room once again for the missing student. Surely the boy was not absent on his first day of school. Walking over to stand in front of the desk of Millicent Carlisle, she asked the young girl, "Millicent, have you seen Harry?"
Millicent's eyes, like every other pair in the room, were focused so intently on the floor that she gave a small jump when her teacher's voice startled her from above. Very slowly lifting her head, Maggie could have sworn the child was scared for her life as she met her teacher's gaze.
"Millicent?" Maggie repeated. "Do you know where Harry Potter is?"
Maggie could see the little girl weighing her answer very carefully before she timidly answered, "I think he's in the cloak room, Miss Thompson."
"Well, would you please go to the cloak room and tell Harry that class has begun and he is expected to be in his seat?"
Maggie was shocked when the student, who had been described to her as 'very bright and always eager to please', shook her head and looked back down at the floor. But before Maggie could inquire as to why Millicent had refused her teacher's request, a voice from the back of the room stepped in to offer clarification.
"She can't do that, Miss Thompson."
Maggie looked up to see that Malcolm Fisher was no longer looking at the floor, but was instead beaming up her with a mischievous smile on his face.
"And why is that, Malcolm?" Maggie asked, walking down the row to stand beside him. "Why can't Millicent go to the cloak room to fetch Harry?"
"Because she doesn't have the key." he answered simply, smiling up at her from underneath his mop of mousy brown curls.
"The cloak room isn't locked…"
"But the supply cupboard is, isn't it?"
Maggie turned around to see that Dexter Murphy had joined the conversation and the smile that curled upon his lips was certainly not mischievous. His smile was down right sinister.
"You do keep the supply cupboard locked, don't you Miss Thompson?" Dexter asked without even trying to sound innocent. "To keep the students from stealing your supplies?"
"Well, then Millicent can't possibly fetch Harry because she doesn't have the key."
Maggie's eyes narrowed as she looked from Malcolm to Dexter and back again as she asked, "And why is Harry in the supply cupboard?"
Dexter shrugged as Malcolm answered, "Probably because he feels more at home in there."
Another chorus of snickers went through the classroom as Maggie hurried to her desk and pulled the supply cupboard key out of her top drawer. Twenty-two pairs of eyes followed her as she made her way back to the supply cupboard that was located in the cloak room, while Dexter and Malcolm mimicked her panicked expression and made rude noises.
"Harry?" Maggie called, unlocking the cupboard and peered inside. There, curled up on top of the packs of drawing paper and next to the extra jars of paste, was a runt of boy whose glasses overwhelmed his pale, narrow face and whose jet black hair stuck up in many different directions.
Inhaling a sharp breath, she reached out a hand to Harry and exclaimed, "Oh my God, Harry! Come out of there before you run out of air."
A pair of brilliant green eyes, full of hesitation, peered out at her from behind glasses that had been repaired with tape many times over and she noticed that his scrawny body was quivering with nervousness and uncertainty. But he took her hand nonetheless, unfurled his cramped body, and crawled out of the cupboard to stand in front of her. Even at his full height, Harry barely reached past Maggie's elbow and he was so skinny she felt as if she could wrap her entire hand around his upper arm.
"How did you get in there, Harry?" Maggie asked, looking down at him in concern.
After casting a quick glance out into the classroom at Malcolm and Dexter, his eyes dropped down to examine the laces of his shoes as he shrugged his response at her.
"Harry?" she tried again, gently placing a supportive hand on his shoulder. But his unexpected flinch caused her to remove it quickly as her eyebrows suddenly knitted together and her pink lips twisted into a frown.
After only a brief encounter, Maggie could tell that there was much more to this boy than simply a pile of pale skin and bones that were mostly hidden underneath a huge pile of rolled-up raggedy clothes. But to find out what was at the heart of his strange appearance and quiet demeanor, Maggie knew she was going to have to tread lightly and work slowly.
So, changing her tactic, she said, "Well, we were right in the middle of roll call when we noticed you were missing Harry. Would you like to follow me to your desk so that we can continue with our morning assignments?"
The boy who was much too small for his age looked up at her in confusion before he realized that he wasn't going to be punished for being found in the supply cupboard. Nodding up at his new teacher, he quietly fell into step behind her as they walked up through the rows of students toward the only unoccupied desk at the front of the room.
As Harry sat down, Maggie turned her attention once more to the class and announced brightly, "All right then everyone, we have a very busy morning ahead of us. After we review our rules, we will begin with a writing assignment and then move quickly into our mathematics lesson to see what you remember from last year."
She smiled that bewitching smile of hers down upon her class of students and continued by saying, "And after that, I think everyone will all be ready for a little break out on the playground."
As a cheer went up around the room, Maggie's eyes narrowed in on her two troublemakers as she added coldly, "Everyone, that is, except for Dexter and Malcolm…who would be more than happy to help me re-stock and rearrange the supply cupboard during recess this morning." She watched them bite back their protests as she asked, "Wouldn't you, boys?"
As both boys mumbled their "Yes, ma'am's" in Maggie's general direction, the rest of the class began to take out their tablets and pencils while she turned to mark the writing assignment on the chalkboard.
And as she turned away, Miss Maggie Thompson was almost sure that she caught the ghost of a smile appear on Harry Potter's thin lips.