Ten-year-old Harry Potter ducked under Mrs. Figg's front porch, soaked to the
skin from a summer rainstorm. He looked back just in time to see the Dursley's
car disappearing around the corner, his cousin Dudley pulling faces in the back
Wiping water from his eyes, he hesitated before knocking on the door. He didn't
come here often, only a few times a year, if that, but he enjoyed Mrs. Figg
only just slightly more than the Dursleys. She always had him doing chores;
heavy chores, not like simply washing the dishes, although there always seemed
to be plenty of them, too. Last year, she'd made him help her turn the mattresses
in every bedroom, even though Harry was pretty certain that she never had guests
and no one had slept in any of the beds in years. The year before that, when
he was eight, he'd helped her repair the fence in the back yard, his scrawny
arms barely able to control the hammer. At least she wasn't mean, just weird;
always puttering in her garden and talking to her cats as if they could understand.
He wondered if it would be worth the trouble he'd be in if he just took off
on one of his walks, but he was already hungry and his usual punishment was
no dinner. He didn't have many privileges at the Dursley's house that could
be taken away.
Knowing that she'd probably already spotted him through the curtains, Harry
took a deep breath and knocked on the door. It was answered surprisingly fast
by an old woman wearing a garish purple flowered dress and a large cast on her
left leg. A sour cabbage smell followed her, wafting its way up his nose.
"Come on in out of the rain now, boy." Mrs. Figg held the door open
with one crutch and tut-tutted, shaking water off Harry's oversized shirt. "Didn't
think to grab an umbrella? Let's get you into something dry." She dashed
off down the hallway, mumbling and shaking her head.
From where he stood dripping in the entryway, Harry could hear her digging
around in one of the many rooms. He'd never been completely through Mrs. Figg's
house; sometimes it seemed as if it were bigger on the inside than it was on
the outside. A loud crash was followed by a shrill shout of "Eureka!"
and Mrs. Figg appeared from the opposite side of the entryway.
"Here we are!" She held up a cozy looking but moth-eaten bathrobe,
lime green with a big daisy pinned to the lapel. Paying no attention to Harry's
look of dismay, Mrs. Figg flipped his shirt off, sending water splattering onto
the walls and ceiling. She wrapped the robe around his skinny torso then tugged
his pants off in one motion so quickly that Harry was sure he hadn't had to
lift his feet. She tossed the wet things into a small basket. Harry felt very
silly, standing there in that bathrobe, but as he followed Mrs. Figg into the
sitting room a comforting warmth began to spread through the chenille. He climbed
up into a soft overstuffed chair, not even trying to brush away the tabby, Mr.
Paws, that sullenly agreed to share it with him, or the tabby's hair, which
pretty much gave the chair it's color.
"Well, that was a quick shower," Mrs. Figg piped, pulling open the
chintz curtains to reveal bright sunlight, gray clouds scudding off into the
distance. "Summer is like that." Another cat, this one black, jumped
into the window and meowed loudly. "Oh, you want out now, do you Tufty?"
Mrs. Figg opened the window and the cat flew out. Two more came charging across
the room from opposite directions, nearly toppling Mrs. Figg over in their bid
for the window.
"Whew!" She gasped as she plopped onto a tattered striped sofa,
dropping her crutches to the floor. "Wouldn't do to have another broken
leg, would it? And how are you today, Harry? Your Aunt and Uncle are out for
"Yes, ma'am. They've gone to get Dudley a smelly uniform or something."
(He knew very well it was a Smeltings uniform.) " Said I'd be too much
trouble and just get in the way. It's just easier for everyone if I stay here."
Harry realized that he was quoting his Aunt Petunia nearly verbatim.
"That's just as well; no need to subject yourself to unpleasantness.
Besides, I've got some weeding and laundry to do, and you can give me a hand.
Ground will be nice and soft now from that shower; easy to pull those little
buggers out." She grunted as she pulled herself out of the chair. "And
we've got to get your clothes dry. Grab the basket, and we'll hang them on the
line." Harry picked up the basket and followed her through the kitchen
and out the back door, grateful to leave the stuffy cabbage-cat smell behind.
Her washing machine resided on the rickety back porch. It was a very old machine.
Harry could see that Mrs. Figg had another, full basket of wet clothes; he sighed
thankfully when he noted that they had already been sent through the wringer.
He added his pants and shirt to the already full basket, grunting with the strain
of picking it up.
The sun shone on a yard filled with all manner of growing things: Bright orange
calendula shared space with airy lavender and pink poppies; sage, marjoram and
rosemary filled the warming air with a comforting soup-scent which made Harry's
stomach growl. Across the walkway, cabbages nestled with peas and squash, while
bees buzzed happily from blossom to blossom.
Mrs. Figg headed toward the clothesline, Harry hot on her heels. Harry had
been fascinated with the idea of hanging clothes in the sunshine to dry; The
Dursleys, of course, had the latest electric clothes dryer, which seemed to
be running constantly. "Ridiculously old-fashioned," Aunt Petunia
had remarked about Mrs. Figg's clothesline. "An eyesore," Uncle Vernon
Mrs. Figg flapped the wrinkles out of Harry's hand-me-down pants and affixed
them to the clothesline with two wooden clothespins. "Not many folks use
clotheslines these days, Harry. 'Takes too long,' they say, 'too much work.'"
She snorted. "Most folks these days could use a little more hard work;
they're too soft and lazy." She poked him in the stomach with one of her
crutches. Harry chortled and handed Mrs. Figg his wet shirt, which she placed
next to the pants.
"Now, you get on to pulling those weeds while I hang the rest of the
clothes. You might want to use the trowel for the tough ones. And there's plenty
of 'em, since I haven't been able to get at them in weeks, thank you Mr. Paws."
She knocked on the cast that started somewhere under her voluminous skirt and
ended in a pink striped sock. Harry obediently dashed into the little potting
shed near the fence. The trowel hung just inside the door, but Harry took his
time. The shed held a fascinating mish-mosh of old tools and gadgets. Things
that looked like giant scissors, pokey things, prying things, all with a reddish
hue of rust to them.
"Get a move on, boy," Mrs. Figg called from the yard. Harry snatched
the trowel off the nail and headed back out to find Mrs. Figg elbow deep in
"Oh, there you are. Seeing the sights, were you? The world doesn't wait
for dawdlers." She straightened up, several joints cracking. "Checking
for fruit. There's a couple of 'em, pretty small yet." The hem of her dress
was wet from brushing the ground. "Oh, well," she harrumphed, brushing
at her skirt. "A little mud never hurt anyone. Now, you can start over
there, under the peppers. Make sure you only pull the weeds, mind you. I've
got some marigolds just starting in there. You know what they look like, right?"
"Yes, ma'am," Harry responded to her stern look. She'd shown him
the difference last year when he'd made a right mess of one of her beds, trying
to be helpful. When he'd seen the look of disappointment on her face, Harry
was crestfallen. But she'd just pursed her lips and said, "While I appreciate
your eagerness, I do wish you'd waited 'til I could show you how to do it, but
we all make mistakes. The key is to learn from them." Then she had gone
into the shed, brought out a little bag of seeds, and she and Harry had replanted
the bed. "There are not too many things that can't be made right again,
with a little patience," she winked. "That goes for people as well
They worked steadily and quietly for a good part of the afternoon, Harry tossing
the small weedlings into a wicker basket, Mrs. Figg snapping clothes and pinning
them to the line. Every now and then Harry had to flip the belt of his bathrobe
out of the dirt. The sun had got quite hot by now, and sweat dripped off Harry's
nose. He delighted in the sensation of damp earth working its way under his
nails. Aunt Petunia would have had a fit if he'd come into the house with even
a hint of dirt on him or his clothes, but Mrs. Figg seemed quite happy to shove
her own hands into the soft loam right along with Harry as she showed him how
to use the trowel. She kept a little scrub brush and some strong smelling soap
near the hose faucet for cleaning up dirty hands and knees.
"Ah, nothing like spending a little time knee-deep in Mother Earth, is
there, boy?" She declared, slapping him hard on the back. "It's good
to remember where we all come from, and where we're all going to end up, sooner
or later! Makes the future look not so bleak." She nudged the basket of
pulled weeds. "Take these over to the compost pile now and bury them in
the center where it's good and hot. I'll go inside and start us up a pot of
tea, maybe dig up some cake."
Harry jumped up and walked briskly to the steaming compost heap, where he
dug a hole in the center and plopped in the weeds then covered them up. He imagined
them cooking like steamed turnip greens, which reminded him how hungry he was.
As he turned and headed for the house and the promised tea (and maybe cake)
he heard a rustling behind the compost. Curious, he stopped to see if it would
repeat. It did, this time accompanied by a faint, breathy sounding squeak. Cautiously,
Harry peaked around the side of the pile. He spotted a long black tail with
a tuft on the end, then a sleek black body, then a leg covered in blood. "Aagh!"
Harry jumped back and ran toward the house. "Mrs. Figg! Mrs. Figg! Come
quickly!" As he reached the door it slammed open and Mrs. Figg poked her
"Hush, child! Why the shouting?"
"A cat; I think it's Tufty," Harry panted, pointing toward the compost.
"I think he's hurt bad."
"Oh dear." Mrs. Figg dried her hands on a kitchen towel and lumbered
down the path. "Kittykittykitty," she trilled. A weak mew answered
her from behind the pile. "Ooh, poor baby," she whispered as she leaned
over the injured cat. "What kind of mischief have you gotten yourself into?"
Harry watched squeamishly as she softly patted Tufty, checking for other injuries.
"Seems to be just the leg; a nasty cut. Now, how did you do that? Been
harassing the neighbor's dog again? I told you he was going to catch you one
day." As she spoke she gingerly gathered up the cat in the same towel she'd
dried her hands on and headed briskly back to the house, Harry following close
As they reached the door, Mrs. Figg turned to Harry. "I need you to find
me some things from the garden. Bring me feverfew, garlic and stinging nettle;
best be careful with that one. You remember what they look like?"
Harry thought for a second then nodded his head. "Will Tufty be alright?"
"Oh, I'm sure he will be," answered Mrs. Figg. "I think he
may be milking this a little for the attention. He is a cat, after all. Shoo,
now, and bring me those herbs."
Harry turned and ran down the path. He spotted the tiny daisy-like blooms
of feverfew and snatched several from their stems. Nearby he found the garlic;
he grabbed the long green leaves and pulled a bulb out of the ground and jammed
it into his pocket. The stinging nettle was a large bush up against the shed.
He'd come up against this plant before; it's tiny spines hadn't started to sting
until they'd settled firmly into his fingertips. He made a detour into the shed
and found Mrs. Figg's pruning shears and her cotton garden gloves. With these
he dashed back to the bush and cut off a few sprigs. Then he headed back to
As he entered the kitchen, Mrs. Figg was nowhere to be found. Just as Harry
was drawing a breath to call her, her voice came from . . . somewhere. "Right
here, Harry. Just off the sitting room. Hurry it up." Harry followed the
sound of her voice down the hall and found her in a tiny room, not much larger
than a linen closet. "There you are," she said as she took the leaves
and blossoms. She looked over what Harry had brought her. "Good job, Harry."
She pulled a clove off the garlic. "I'll save the rest for some good, stout
cabbage soup." Harry hid his grimace.
Tufty was sitting up on a tall table, looking quite put upon. Harry noticed
that the small room was lit with green candles. He edged toward the back to
stay out of the way of her crutches, but made sure he could still see what was
going on. Mrs. Figg stripped the bud and leaves off the nettle with her calloused
fingertips and dropped them into a small bowl where she began mashing them with
a pestle. She added the garlic and feverfew blossoms then mashed them some more.
"Oh, I've forgotten the cloth for the poultice!" she realized aloud.
"Would you like me to get it for you?" Harry offered.
"On, no. I doubt you could find it. I'll get it; you crush this some
more." And she handed Harry the bowl of herbs. "Mind, stir it clockwise
and make a good paste." She bustled out of the room and out of sight.
As Harry dutifully crushed the pungent mass clockwise, he glanced up at Tufty.
The cat was watching him intently, twitching his tail and favoring his paw.
Harry could see that Mrs. Figg had cleaned the wound; it was an inch long gash,
oozing just a little blood now.
"Mrs. Figg really cares about you, doesn't she?" Harry said to the
cat. "It must be nice to have someone who loves you." The cat twitched
it's ears in Harry's direction. "I wonder if anyone will ever love me?"
"Talking to the cat, boy?" Mrs. Figg barged into the cubbyhole with
a bundle of fabric. "Did he answer?"
Harry twitched, embarrassed. "Erm, no. Of course not; cats can't speak."
He hoped she hadn't heard what he'd said to Tufty.
"Ah, but they can communicate, can't they?" She scratched Tufty
behind the ears with one hand while taking the bowl of herbs from Harry. She
sniffed at it and rubbed some between her fingers. "Good job. Now, hold
that piece of cheesecloth flat on the table while I spread this on." Harry
did as he was told, while Tufty watched his every move. "You know, Harry,
there are more things here on Earth than most of us can imagine. I'm sure you'll
find out soon enough." She gave him a knowing look. Harry smiled back,
not quite sure what she meant.
The poultice was ready. Mrs. Figg picked it up, careful not to spill the gooey
ingredients. "Now, you hold Tufty still while I wrap this around his leg.
Mind, don't let him go if he makes to jump."
"Me? Hold Tufty?" Harry's eyes widened. This cat spit had spit at
him more than once.
"This is no time to get squeamish, boy. Do as you're told; you've got
someone depending on you." Mrs. Figg held up the poultice expectantly and
nodded toward the Tufty.
Harry looked at the cat, who chose this moment to yawn widely, displaying
two sets of teeth that looked ready for ripping. Harry set his jaw, took a deep
breath and reached his hand out to Tufty.
As he had expected, the cat spat at him and he jerked his hand back.
"These herbs aren't going to wait all day, young man." Mrs. Figg
hefted the wrapping.
Harry looked Tufty right in the eye. "You behave, now," he said
firmly, and he reached over and grasped the cat firmly around its shoulders.
Tufty blinked sleepily.
"That's a good boy," Mrs. Figg murmured as she wrapped the poultice
around Tufty's leg. Harry wasn't sure if she was talking to him or the cat.
She began to mumble a little tune, more like a chant as she settled the cloth
into place. Her voice drifted off and she stood calmly, her eyes half closed.
Harry barely breathed so as to not break the spell.
"Well, that's it then!" Mrs. Figg exclaimed and Harry nearly jumped
out of his skin. Tufty wasn't too happy about it, either. They exchanged a sympathetic
glance. Mrs. Figg carefully lifted the cat off the table and carried him into
the sitting room where she nestled him into the big, cushiony chair. "You
have a bit of a rest, then. You'll be fine." She patted the cat on the
head and turned to Harry. "He's getting on a bit in years. He's nearly
eleven, you know."
Harry gasped. "I'll be eleven next week."
"Now, isn't that a coincidence! You two have a little something in common.
You know, I'm sure we were getting ready for tea, before all this excitement.
I'm feeling quite peckish," she said. Harry realized that he'd forgotten
how hungry he was, too. "Come help me make tea, Harry." He followed
Mrs. Figg as she headed into the kitchen.
"Check the bread box. I'm pretty sure there's some cake left in there.
Too bad I've run out of muffins and jam. That's a good boy." Mrs. Figg
had the kettle whistling in no time, and Harry had pulled out some cake of dubious
age and some small plates, forks and cups.
"Good job," Mrs. Figg said as she eased herself down into her chair,
leaning her crutches against the side of the table. She filled two tea balls
from a jar of dried leaves and tiny white blossoms. As the boiling water filled
the cups, the sweet smell covered the usual stench of cabbage.
"You were a great help today, Harry," she said briskly. "I
appreciate a person who's not afraid of hard work. And you were very brave,
helping me with Tufty."
Harry looked surprised. "I was?" He'd been so frightened when he'd
found the injured cat, he thought he might throw up.
"Of course you were," Mrs. Figg snorted. " I could tell how
afraid you were, yet you kept your wits about you and did everything I asked
of you. You got right in there and did what needed to be done. That takes strength."
"Strength?" Harry repeated, nearly choking on a bite of the dry
cake. "But, I'm not strong. Uncle Dursley calls me a runt." He looked
down at the brown crumbs on his plate.
"There are different strengths, Harry. Muscles are just one aspect. There
is an inner strength that people have, but most don't know how to use it. You
found yours today."
Harry gazed into Mrs. Figgs' face. "Aunt Petunia says I'll never amount
to anything. That I'm
Mrs. Figg made a raspberry. "It's a weak man who lives his life based
on what others think of him."
Harry thought really hard. "Sometimes I feel worthless. But then I think,
I'm just a boy; how can I prove otherwise?"
Mrs. Figg said gruffly, "You'll not be a boy forever, Harry; no sense
using that as an excuse. You stay on the right track; you may find a chance
to prove yourself soon enough. The world doesn't wait for you to be ready."
She looked thoughtful, and said more softly than any way she had ever talked
to Harry before, "You of all people."
At that moment, Tufty came limping into the kitchen. He sat in front of the
table and gave a strong, "Meaow!"
Mrs. Figg cleared her throat loudly and looked at the cat suspiciously. "Hmmm,
think you're deserving of a snack after all that folderol?" She began to
shove her chair back to get the cat a treat.
"Wait, let me do it," Harry said, hopping out of his chair.
"I'll not argue with you," she waved a hand and settled back down.
"There's a plate of kippers on the second shelf of the refrigerator. I
think Tufty deserves one, don't you?" Harry nodded and pulled out the plate.
Tufty was immediately under Harry's feet, yowling for the treat. Harry laughed
as he slid a small fish onto the cat's plate and set it on the floor. Tufty
rushed to the plate, then stopped short.
Harry scowled. "What, you don't like kippers? Is it the cream sauce,
Tufty looked at the plate, then at Harry.
"What in the world?" Mrs. Figg asked curiously.
Then Tufty walked up to Harry and rubbed against his leg.
"I think he likes me," he gasped. Tufty looked up at Harry with
squinted eyes. "Okay, that's pushing things a bit. How about, 'you're welcome?'"
Tufty blinked, rubbed Harry's leg one more time, then went to his plate and
tucked into the fish.
"Well, look at that," Mrs. Figg interrupted, peering out the kitchen
window. "I can see your Uncle's car coming up the road now. No need to
hurry, though, is there?" She gave Harry a surprisingly sympathetic look.
"I don't think your clothes are quite dry yet. How about a little television
before you head back? Wouldn't do to have your cousin seeing you dressed like
that now, would it?"
"Sure," Harry responded, relieved. Mrs. Figg had already turned
on the TV and, as so often happened here, it was right at the beginning of one
of Harry's favorite programs.
As he settled onto the couch, he could hear Mrs. Figg puttering around in
the kitchen, hopefully not making cabbage soup. An odd feeling of comfort came
over him as he snuggled deeper into the bathrobe. He dozed off.
"Hop on up, boy." Mrs. Figg was waving Harry's clothes at him. "Time
to get dressed. Sleeping the afternoon away! It's nearly dark; time you were
getting on home."
Harry rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, took the clothes and hid in the bathroom
to dress. When he came out, Mrs. Figg met him at the door with a small bundle.
"Here's some more cake to tide you over 'til dinner."
"Thanks," Harry said, and immediately began to plan where to dump
"And Harry," Mrs. Figg called, "If I don't see you next week,
have a happy birthday."