The Sugar Quill
Author: PBSJones (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Conversation With Mrs. Figg  Chapter: Default
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A Conversation with Mrs

A Conversation with Mrs. Figg

By V Jones

 

A/N: The idea for this story, a prequel to “A Day with Mrs. Figg,” actually came to me as I was writing that story, as I asked myself things like, “How did Mrs. Figg get into this position, and why is she the way she is?”   I like to think of it as a pre-sequel, and they can be read in any order you like.

 

 

          Mrs. Figg pushed the silver hair from her forehead and surveyed her garden.  The wisteria that she had planted fourteen years ago was badly in need of pruning, but the pumpkins had spread so heavily underneath it that she hadn’t been able to get to it. Well, Halloween was past now; she’d clear that corner out soon enough.

 

          She paused to watch a butterfly taste a radish flower, then sat down right amongst the sweet woodruff and began to cry, long, keening sobs, the tears making a puddle in her lap.  When she had finished, she wiped her face on her apron and began harvesting the onions, breathing in long gulps of savory air.  Then she cut some lemon balm and tied it into bundles, making sure to rub some of the leaves on her arms; twilight was coming, and that meant the midges would be out.

 

          She worked until darkness hid all but the white flagstone paths, then went inside where she made herself a bowl of macaroni, melting a pat of butter on it and dribbling a little milk over it.  She ate it without tasting it, each gulp less satisfying than the previous one.  She went into her cozy sitting room with a cup of tea, sat down and gazed out the window for an hour while a fat orange tabby made a nest in her lap.

 

          She sensed the knock on the door before she heard it.  She closed her eyes; she’d had her fill of visitors.  Maybe whoever it was would go away, but she had a strange feeling that she knew who it was.  The knock came again.

 

          “The door is open, Professor Dumbledore,” she sighed.

 

          The door creaked open and in stepped a bearded gentleman wearing shiny midnight blue robes and a pointed hat.  As he hung his hat on the coat rack he said, “It’s good to see you again, Arabella.”

 

          “And you, Albus,” she replied, marveling at how strange his name seemed to her lips, after so many years.  “I was just having a cup of tea. Would you like one?”

 

          Dumbledore’s eyes lit up.  “Why yes, I would, thank you.  A little peppermint, perhaps?”

 

          She smiled and waved to him to follow her into the kitchen.

 

          He sat at the old wooden table.  As the water heated back up she stuffed two tea balls full of peppermint leaves and rose hips.  When the cups were poured, she brought them to the table.

 

          “You always did make the most wonderful tea,” Dumbledore said as he sniffed eagerly at his cup.

 

          Mrs. Figg stared at the old man until he raised his eyes and met her gaze.  “What do you want, Albus?  You’ve not come here to just give your condolences.  Besides, I’ve had enough of that.”

 

          A look of guilt crossed his face.  This might be one of the most difficult tasks he’d ever attempted, and Mrs. Figg was one of the few people who could intimidate the Headmaster.  He cleared his throat.  He took off his glasses and cleaned them with his napkin.  He took another sip of tea.  “Yes, I do believe that this is the finest cuppa I’ve had in many years.”  He glanced up at Mrs. Figg again.  She patiently looked back.

 

          He took a long breath and seemed to collect himself, then steadied his gaze straight into her eyes.  “I have a favor to ask of you.”

 

          She remained silent.

 

          “It’s quite a large favor.”

 

          Silence.

 

          “In my opinion you’re the best person for the task.”

 

          “Out with it, man,” she demanded impatiently.

 

          Dumbledore’s face softened.  “I need to you watch a child.”

 

          Mrs. Figg stared.  “Baby sit?”

 

          “Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, I suppose,” he stammered.  

 

          “I’m losing my patience fast, Albus,” she grated.  “I’ve not had a good week.”

 

          “Yes, well, of course, I understand that,” Dumbledore nodded.  “I am so very sorry for your loss …”

 

          “Thank you for your sympathy.”  She motioned “more?” at the teapot and Dumbledore eagerly offered his cup.  She poured, waiting for him to speak again.

 

          Dumbledore thought about fumbling with something as a distraction; but the only thing left was his beard and he’d long since forgotten how to braid… and he also knew that she’d not tolerate his stalling much longer.

 

          “It’s about the Potters,” he began, hesitantly.

 

          “They’re dead, yes,” she said, unsympathetically.

 

          “Their child lives.”

 

          Mrs. Figg nearly forgot to breathe.  “How can that be?” She wondered aloud.

 

          “That is something we may never know,” Dumbledore admitted.  “But the child, Harry, must be protected.  Granted, he is safe right now, as far as we know. I’ve placed him in the home of his aunt and uncle.  But we’re both aware of how tenacious Voldemort and his followers are.  Painfully aware; you in particular, my dear.”

 

          Mrs. Figg cut to the chase.  “You said you needed me to … to watch a child… that child?”

 

          Dumbledore knew he was on shaky ground.  “Now, you wouldn’t have to raise him, just --”

 

          “How can you even think to ask me that?”  She hissed.  She stood up abruptly and headed for the sitting room.  “How can you possibly ask such a thing?”

 

          Dumbledore went after her.  “Arabella, please hear me out; I must admit, it is very presumptuous of me –”

 

          She spun around.  “Presumptuous?  Presumptuous?  Fourteen years ago today Voldemort killed my only child.  Three days ago one of his minions killed my only grandchild and my son-in-law.”  She stopped to breathe.  “And now you want me to baby sit?”  The look of horror on her face held Dumbledore spellbound.

 

“Arabella, please,” he began.

 

She whirled away from him, toward the open window, where she hung her head out.  The heady smell of jasmine caressed her face as she fought against rising memories long buried.  “Kathleen and I had many a row over her marriage.  To a muggle.  Choosing that backward life, betraying our kind for … Love!  I vowed never to speak with her again.”  She shook her head shamefully.  “Why I chose to hurt myself like that…”

 

“You don’t have to do this,” Dumbledore whispered.

 

She continued, “And then Simon was born.  I’d heard about it from mutual acquaintances, and had to see the child for myself.”  She paused, closing her eyes tightly as a bitter smile played about the corner of her mouth.  “He was so small, so helpless.  So like his mother…” She turned to Dumbledore.  “He was a muggle, did you know?  Like his father.  But the instant I saw him, I couldn’t help but love him.  How could I not?  He was my own flesh and blood.

 

“So, on Simon’s first birthday, I came back into my daughter’s life.  And she treated me as if I had never been gone.”  She shook her head in amazement.  “All those years I had wasted over … pride …

 

“And then, she was gone.”  She paused as the memories fell into place.  “Andrew called me.  On the telephone -- I had one, then, for them.  It was a foggy morning.  Simon’s father, Andrew had taken him out for a stroll before going to work.  Such a normal thing to do … They came home and found Kathleen, dead.  Just dead.  No apparent cause.  Andrew was so confused.  As a muggle, he didn’t understand.  But I knew at once; Voldemort had paid Kathleen a visit, just as he had called on me years before, demanding that she renounce her muggle-life and join his Death Eaters.  It’s rather ironic, you know,” she said bitterly.  “Living as a muggle, the very thing that I’d hoped would keep her safe was her downfall.”

 

Dumbledore sympathized sadly, “Voldemort’s assumption that all Slytherins would unconditionally vow their allegiance to him has sounded the death knell for many.”

 

“What he failed to realize is that we are not all evil,” Mrs. Figg whispered.

 

“And that is exactly the reason I chose you, Arabella,” he said calmly. “You are perfectly suited, in my opinion.”

 

Mrs. Figg protested, “But they are saying that Voldemort is dead.”

 

 “You know first hand the power of Voldemort; you are wise enough to know that simply because some have chosen to believe that he is vanquished does not make it a certainty.”  He held out his hands and shrugged.   “And the boy needs a secret keeper.”

 

          Mrs. Figg shook her head.  “I can’t raise another child, Albus.  First Kathleen, then Simon. His father needed so much help; Simon was only a year old when his mother was taken.  I just don’t have the strength in me anymore.”

 

          Albus put up his hands in protest, “Oh, no, you wouldn’t be raising him, just… watching him.  Keeping his secret.    I doubt that you’ll have much contact with him at all.”

 

          Mrs. Figg shook her head again.  “It’s only been three days since I lost them to Sirius Black.”  She stammered her incomprehension.  “They were harmless – Muggles. Simon was only fifteen.  He’d grown up so beautiful and strong.  Who would think, walking to the post office . . .and the muggles called it an accident.” Her voice drifted away as she paused to let the pain pass.  “With people like Black out there, will we even miss Voldemort?”

 

          “Ah,” Dumbledore nodded.  “Sirius Black has been caught and sent to Azkaban.”

 

          “He has received The Kiss?” she asked, viciously.

 

          “We’ve decided to hold off on that,” Dumbledore explained.  “There is a chance we may learn things from him.”

 

          “Pity,” Mrs. Figg hissed.  “I’d kill him myself, if you’d only ask.  That task I would gladly accept.”

 

          “That I do not doubt,” Dumbledore said earnestly, realizing what a tenuous hold he had of the conversation.  “Arabella, we must address the reason I am here.”

 

          Mrs. Figg sat down.  “I still don’t understand why you want me.  Why should I care about the Potter baby?  I certainly didn’t know them well, and I have no opinion about their child one way or the other.  Why should I care if he lives or dies?”  The bitterness in her voice was unmistakable.

 

          “Well, you see, Arabella, that is one of the reasons I chose you.  You have that wonderfully mercenary spirit.  Who would suspect you?  You also have other qualities that made you my first, actually, my only, choice.”

 

          Mrs. Figg tried not to look interested.  “Yes?”

 

          “You would not be able to use a wand for magic,” He began.  Mrs. Figg was nonplussed.  “I assume you’ve kept up with the old ways?”  Dumbledore guessed.

 

          Mrs. Figg looked indignant.  “Of course I have.  You know I taught ‘Ancient Herb Lore and Candle Magic’ for seven years at Hogwarts.”

 

          “Then you still practice,”  Dumbledore said.

 

          Mrs. Figg confessed uncomfortably,  “It’s the only magic I’ve practiced for years.  It… it can’t be sensed, traced, as a wand can.”  She glanced warily out the window.  Years of avoiding Voldemort’s advances had left their mark on her.  “It’s hard work, that magic, and pure.  It keeps my mind clear of… other things.  Keeps me busy.”

 

          “And you denied Voldemort.”  Dumbledore stated.  “And lived.”

 

          “I don’t know if I would consider that a triumph; it has cost me so much.”  Here, she paused. 

 

The cuckoo clock announced the hour as Mrs. Figg gathered her courage.  She finally spoke, choosing her words carefully, almost defiantly, “Do not think that Kathleen and Simon can be replaced so easily, especially by the child of privileged strangers.  That part of my heart is closed – the Potter boy will never see it.”

 

          “You will watch the child?” Dumbledore ventured.

 

          “You knew the answer to that before you came in the door,” Mrs. Figg chided.

 

          “Then I thank you most profusely, Arabella.”  He struggled to keep his sigh of relief unheard.

 

          That hurdle behind him, Dumbledore now became business-like. “Arrangements will have to be made, of course.  It seems that a house just two streets down from young Potter’s Aunt’s has suddenly become available,” he said with the tiniest wink.  “And the neighbors, of course, will have a memory charm put on them to believe that you’ve lived there as long as they can remember.”

 

          Mrs. Figg shook her head in wonderment.  “You’ve had this planned for some time, haven’t you?  How could you know…?  I doubt you have ever been caught off your guard.”

         

            He got up and pulled his hat from the rack.  “And there you would err, my dear; as you well know, these past years one could not afford the luxury of inattentiveness; constant vigilance has become a necessity.”

 

          Mrs. Figg held the door open for him.  “It was good to see you again, Albus.”

 

          Dumbledore’s eyes softened.  “And you, Arabella.” He took her hands in his, reassuringly.  “I know the boy will be safe.” 

 

           She gave him a small kiss just below his ear. “I would only do this for you.”

 

          Arabella watched him as he made his way down the walk, seeming to evaporate halfway to the street.  She quietly eased the door shut.  “Well, Tabby-boy,” she said to the cat on the chair, “One door closes and another opens.”  She sighed with apprehension and resignation.  “What have I got myself into now?”

 

         

 

         

         

         

         

 

         

 

 

 

//
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