Disclaimer: This story is inspired by the works of J.K. Rowling. All characters and locations from the Harry Potter world belong to her.
Author's Note: I would like to thank my beta, birgit, for her excellent advice and support!
The Silver Thimble
Murky grey light filtered in through the cracks of the shuttered windows, dimly illuminating the room. Quietly Amy slipped out of bed and crept to the door. She paused, listening for voices or footsteps. Hearing nothing, Amy pushed open the door and hurried down the narrow hallway to the stairs. Partway down the steps she leaned over the banister and saw two boys standing with their backs to her. One was tall and lanky with jet-black hair. He stood leaning idly with his shoulder against the wall. The other, a stocky towheaded boy, stood a few feet away fidgeting impatiently. Amy smiled, pushing her own short brown locks away from her face- a year before, Mrs. Cole, who ran the orphanage, had all the children’s heads shaved after spotting a louse crawling on Billy Stubbs’ ear. She glanced around on the steps, which hadn’t been swept in several days. She spotted a small stone, picked it up and lobbed it over the railing at the boys. It hit the blond one on the shoulder who spun around, barely stifling a yelp of surprise. The black-haired boy also turned, grinning as he looked up.
“Hey Benson,” he called to her in a loud whisper. “Quit messing around and get down here.”
Amy met the two at the base of the staircase. The shorter boy, Dennis, punched her playfully on the arm.
“That’s for throwing that rock at me!” he whispered loudly.
The taller boy, Tom, gestured at them to follow and without speaking the three hurried together to the main entrance of the building. A thick chain fastened with a padlock ran through the handle of the door and a metal ring bolted to the wall.
“Okay Riddle, how’re we supposed to get past this?” Dennis demanded.
Tom simply smiled, his eyes glittering, and pulled out a small rusted key. Amy’s eyes widened.
“How did you get that?” she hissed, incredulous.
He didn’t answer, but swiftly unlocked the chain, leaving it hanging to one side as he pulled open the heavy wooden door. The three clambered eagerly down the front steps and out into the street.
“Tom, Dennis, look out!” Amy called out softly, spotting a constable standing on the corner.
The boys saw him as well, so with a quick nod the three took off running the opposite way down the street. After they rounded the corner and were safely out of sight, they slowed their pace. Amy still had to half jog to keep up with the two boys. Tom led the way with an easy loping gait. Dennis followed closely, hunching his shoulders and striding determinedly as if he meant to plow Tom over.
A few blocks away from the orphanage they reached a wide alley where several street vendors were setting up stalls and putting out their wares. Flowers spilled over the edges of buckets and tables were piled with everything from bright woven blankets to painted tins of tea and spices. Silently Tom motioned them to go on ahead while he approached an untended cart stacked with crates of fruit. Moving almost too quickly for Amy to see him do it, Tom opened one of the crates and whisked out an apple. He strolled away nonchalantly and caught up with Amy and Dennis just past the end of the stalls.
“Why’d you only pinch one?” Dennis complained when he saw what Tom held.
Tom sat down on a nearby stoop. “Don’t wind yourself up, Bishop,” he retorted. “We can share.” He pulled out a small pocketknife and began cutting pieces off the apple.
“Is that Billy’s?” Amy asked, recognizing the carvings on the handle.
Tom smirked. “Was,” he answered and handed her a slice of fruit.
Amy took it and ate silently. Looking around, she noticed that one of the shops along the street was already open, a shabby looking second-hand store.
“I think I’m going to have a look around,” she said.
Dennis eyed the shop skeptically. “Have fun, don’t wait for us,” he said through a mouthful of apple.
Amy shrugged and left the boys sitting on the stoop. A faded sign propped up in the shop window read “Nick’s Nacks.” Amy pushed open the door and stepped into a cluttered, dimly lit room.
“Hullo?” she called out uncertainly.
A grizzled old man appeared at the counter in the back of the shop. “Can I help you?” he demanded gruffly.
“Are you open, sir?” Amy asked.
“Yea, come in, look around,” he answered, then frowned, looking at her sharply. “You break anything, you buy it,” he added and disappeared into a back room.
Looking around Amy wondered how he would know if she did, since many of the items in the shop were already broken. A bureau to her right was badly scratched and missing a drawer handle. On top lay a hand mirror with spidery cracks stretching from one corner. On her left were shelves filled with a random assortment of trinkets and small items. Amy’s eyes passed over a doll whose dress was missing several buttons and a chipped porcelain teacup, finally landing her gaze on a tarnished mouth organ at the edge of the shelf.
“How old are you, girl?” the old man had re-emerged and was staring at her dubiously.
Amy straightened and answered firmly, “I’m nine.”
The man snorted. “Where are your parents?”
Dead, she nearly blurted out. Instead, she casually gestured towards the door and said, “Outside.”
He continued glowering at her. “How about you go out there with them? I don’t like kids in my shop unsupervised.”
Amy felt anger welling up inside her, but she merely nodded politely and turned to go. As she did, she furtively slipped the mouth organ from the shelf and into the pocket of her skirt. She hurried out the door, but no cry of protest followed her. The old man hadn’t seen.
Outside, Tom was leaning against the wall by the door. “What did you filch?” he asked.
Amy blushed. “I didn’t filch anything.”
“Sure you didn’t,” Tom laughed.
She frowned and pulled out the mouth organ as they walked back over to where Dennis still sat.
“Let me see it,” Tom demanded, holding out his hand.
Amy gave it to him reluctantly. She didn’t like it when he was bossy. Tom studied the small instrument for a moment and tried rubbing some of the tarnish off with his thumb. “What are you going do with it?” he asked.
“Don’t know,” Amy answered, snatching it and stuffing it back in her pocket. “Maybe if you’re good I’ll give it to you for Christmas.”
Tom scowled but didn’t say anything more. Dennis stood up to meet them. “We better get back, Mrs. Cole will be up soon.”
The street was already beginning to come to life as the first few shoppers of the day arrived. The three friends hurried back to the orphanage. Tom paused to relock the front door as the other two went on to their dormitory rooms. Reaching the top of the stairs, Amy froze in horror when she saw that she was not alone in the hallway. One of the older girls, Jane, had just come out from her room. She looked at Amy and frowned. Pretending to not to notice Jane standing there, Amy walked forward quickly.
Jane intercepted before she made it to her door. “Where have you been, Amy?” she demanded, glowering down haughtily at the younger girl.
Amy looked back up at her evenly. “Nowhere.”
“And I suppose those two boys were nowhere too?” Jane said lightly.
“Why do you care?” Amy retorted.
Jane sighed dramatically. “I suppose I don’t care, really. But I do think you ought to be more, well, discriminating about who you associate with.”
“What’s wrong with Dennis and Tom?” Amy frowned.
Jane smiled. “Oh, little Dennis is a sweet enough boy, I suppose, it’s that pasty dark-haired one you ought to be careful of. He has a rather nasty way about him, don’t you think?”
“Tom’s not nasty!” Amy said defensively.
Jane shrugged. “Whatever you say. Just don’t let him get you into trouble. I wouldn’t want the rest of us to suffer because of what you do.”
Amy let out her breath slowly. “Mrs. Cole won’t find out a thing,” she said firmly.
“Good.” Jane turned and strode back down the hallway.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Amy escaped into her room. She pulled the mouth organ from her pocket and turned it over a few times in her hand. She crossed the room to her wardrobe and opened the door. Reaching to the very back, she carefully pulled out a small cloth bundle. She unfolded a section of fabric, tucked the mouth organ inside, and then replaced the bundle in the back of the wardrobe. A small smile of satisfaction passed briefly across her face. Out in the hallway, doors slammed and voices murmured as the other children woke and began their daily routine.
One morning a few days later Amy sat with Tom at breakfast. Dennis’ mother had taken him to visit his grandmother, who was ill. His mother had placed Dennis and his younger brother in Mrs. Cole’s care after their father was killed in a factory accident and she was unable to support her five children.
Across the room, Jane and another one of the older girls had just come in. Out of the corner of her eye, Amy saw Jane nudge the other girl and they both looked over at Amy and Tom. Amy turned and met Jane’s gaze, who smirked slightly and mouthed something that looked like the word “trouble”. Amy flushed and glanced at Tom. He hadn’t noticed.
“Ugh, I can’t stand Jane Davies,” Amy blurted out, regretting it instantly as Tom’s face lit up with a mischievous grin.
“Ooh, and here we were wondering what we could do for fun without Bishop,” he said.
Amy sighed. “What?”
“C’mon,” was Tom’s only response as he got up and headed for the doorway leading out to the courtyard.
She followed him with some trepidation. The last thing she wanted was to get herself on Jane’s bad side.
Outside, she looked around for Tom and heard a low hiss. Following the sound, she discovered him crouching by the grass where a small snake slithered out onto the walk.
Amy laughed nervously. “What’re you doing, talking to snakes?”
Tom looked at her sharply but did not reply. Gently he picked up the snake and tucked it into his shirt pocket. He stood and walked slowly over to the opposite courtyard entrance from the dining hall. “You go back in the other way and meet me upstairs in a few minutes,” he instructed, “so she won’t get suspicious.”
Amy grudgingly did as he directed. When she finally made her way upstairs he was waiting at the end of the hallway, his eyes glittering.
"Which room is Jane's?" he asked.
Amy’s stomach lurched. Incurring Jane's wrath was the last thing she wanted. However, she had just been seen alone in the dining hall and Tom was much more likely to be suspected of a prank like this.
She led Tom to Jane's room and pulled open the door. He went in and deposited the small snake on the bed, where it slowly coiled itself under a shaft of light from the window. Tom stood back and a peculiar expression came over his face. “I hope she doesn’t hurt it,” he said suddenly.
Amy blinked, unsure how to react. It was only a little grass snake. “I’m sure it’ll be okay,” she said hesitantly.
Tom turned abruptly then and pushed past her out into the hallway.
"So where's your room?" he asked.
Amy let the door click shut and pointed. “Down there.” She paused, and then added, “C’mon, I’ll show you something.”
When they reached her room, Amy went to her wardrobe and took out the cloth bundle. Setting it on the bed, she unwrapped it all the way this time, revealing the mouth organ and a silver thimble. She picked up the thimble, cradling it in the palm of her hand. Tom came over from the doorway and gazed over her shoulder.
“It was my mum’s,” she said quietly. “She gave it to me when she was teaching me to sew. Our neighbor found it, after the fire…” her voice trailed off.
“That’s how they died?” Tom asked. “In a fire?”
Amy nodded, feeling a lump in her throat.
“I don’t know what happened to my mum and dad,” Tom said, “but I have some ideas.” He lowered his voice, “there’s things I can do, you know, stuff I shouldn’t be able to.” His eyes glistened and he spoke barely above a whisper. “I think they’re still alive. I think they had to leave me here because it wasn’t safe. They’ll come back for me, when they can.”
Amy puzzled this over for a moment, doubting it was true. Tom had never talked to her like this before and she wasn’t sure what to make of it. She put her hand gently on his arm. “I wish mine could come back, too.”
Tom seemed to snap out of his reverie then, shaking off her hand. “Oh, you don’t know anything.” He whirled around and stormed out of the room.
Amy was baffled. She thought she was being nice. There wasn't much point dwelling on it, she decided finally, as she re-wrapped her two small possessions and stowed the bundle safely back in the wardrobe. Returning to the hallway, she cast a quick nervous glance towards Jane's room, and then hurried away to rejoin the other children downstairs.