Disclaimer: you know.
A's Note: I was thinking about "the old gang" most notably Arabella Figg, and hoping she was a good strong female character. She began to take shape in my mind and so did the beginning of a story... I HAVE decided to try and pound out more chapters. Warning: Ella Figg ain't Mary Sue, but she's clearly a relative.
CHAPTER ONE: Young Ms. Figg
When Harry returned to the Dursley's after his fourth year the neighborhood was all aflutter about Old Mrs. Figg, or rather young Ms. Figg. Old Mrs. Figg was the neighbor with a fondness for cats whom the Dursley's used to look after Harry when they didn't want him around. Mrs. Figg, as it turns out, had won some sort of sweepstakes grand prize which involved a lavish all-expense paid trip around the world. Aunt Petunia, whose appetite for gossip was rarely satisfied by the quiet neighborhood around number four Privet Drive, could talk of nothing else. It seemed she was frustrated by an insufficient amount of information from Mrs. Figg about the sweepstakes itself, but was consoling herself with details of the trip.
"Well, there's Europe, of course. One might expect that. Then it's on to Africa. Africa! Can you imagine Mrs. Figg in Africa?"
Uncle Dudley chuckled dismissively behind his paper, "She hardly seems the type for safari now, does she?"
"She's terribly excited, of course, though I don't imagine too much excitement is good for her at her age."
Harry was happy for Mrs. Figg. She had been boring and subjected him to endless stories about dearly departed cats, but she was nice. He wondered, however, if the Dursleys would now leave him behind at the house on his own when they went on outings. He rather doubted they trusted him, but he also knew they would rather gouge out one of their own eyeballs rather than risk the possibility that he might enjoy himself whilst along on an outing.
Of course, it wasn't likely that Aunt Petunia would tear herself away from her constant watch at the window overlooking Mrs. Figg's house any time soon. She often popped over to the window even whilst clearing away the morning's meager breakfast (Harry's cousin Dudley was still roughly the size of a killer whale and, therefore, still on a diet). Today would be a big day for Aunt Petunia. This was the day Mrs. Figg's niece would arrive to take her to the airport in London and then return to stay at the house and cat-sit for the summer.
"Really, she's supposed to be our age and unmarried, I don't know how in the world she could possibly afford to take two months to just house sit." Aunt Petunia said meaningfully.
"Perhaps she can't afford not to." Uncle Vernon replied and both he and Aunt Petunia made small superior noises of disgust.
"Wham uft yout mem?" Asked Dudley his mouth full of toast he had stolen from his father's plate while Uncle Vernon wasn't looking.
"I expect the younger Ms. Figg is unemployed and eager for a place to stay." Uncle Vernon said snidely.
Before the conversation could continue Aunt Petunia uttered a small cry of excitement and practically ran out of the kitchen. Harry assumed she had seen something and gone to the living room window to get a better look. Uncle Vernon was following her and Dudley was taking the opportunity his parents' absence provided to poach any remaining scrap of breakfast he could find on their plates. Harry put his dry toast in a napkin (mostly to keep it away from Dudley) and took the opportunity to go upstairs to his room.
He closed the door behind him and wandered past his snowy owl Hedwig's empty cage to the window whilst absentmindedly munching his toast. He had to admit that he was curious to see Mrs. Figg leave and, incidentally, curious to see a woman his Aunt and Uncle's age with nothing better to do all summer than look after four cats in an old lady's house.
A small car was parked outside Mrs. Figg's house. (Uncle Vernon, who tended to judge people by how nice their cars were, was probably feeling vindicated of his earlier opinion.) As Harry watched the front door opened and an improbable woman emerged carrying two large suitcases toward the car. The younger Figg, for that is surely who she must be, was clad in denim trousers and a denim shirt, which was not tucked in. She also wore clunky German cork and leather buckled sandals and what looked like an American baseball cap. From beneath the cap quantities of curly hair sprang out in several directions and the glint of large shiny earrings could be seen, even from Harry's window. Harry would never have guessed this woman was roughly the same age as his Aunt and Uncle. In fact, he would have guessed much younger from this distance. She looked as if she would be at home crossing Europe with a rucksack going from youth hostel to youth hostel.
As Harry watched she stowed the suitcases in back of the car and turned to go back into the house. He noticed she was wearing round "granny glass" sunshades which only enhanced the free spirit/hippie impression. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were probably beside themselves... Uncle Vernon with righteous indignation and Aunt Petunia with the rich mine of gossip this would provide. It was almost tempting to creep back downstairs to see their reaction... almost. A moment or two later the younger Figg re-emerged with Old Mrs Figg and placed her and her valise into the front seat of the car. As they drove off Harry noticed that Old Mrs. Figg was waving back at the house... no doubt to the cats.
Aunt Petunia could talk of nothing else the rest of the morning. Harry had rarely seen her so happy. Perhaps, if he were lucky, this would draw her attention away from making him miserable for a while. Dudley, meanwhile, didn't seem to care all that much about their strange summer neighbor. He merely sat in front of the television pouting because he wasn't allowed to snack. This put him in perfect position to answer the door (although Aunt Petunia did have to ask him twice) when the bell rang about lunchtime.
"Mum!" Dudley boomed, "It's that lady who's staying next door! You know the one you said-"
Harry, who had heard all this clearly from upstairs imagined Aunt Petunia had rushed to hush Dudley. Curious about the strange woman Harry crept quietly down the stairs to have a listen.
"Mrs. Dursley, how nice to meet you and your, er, charming son Dudley" a voice was saying, "I'm Ella Figg, Elspeth Figg's niece. I'll be your next door neighbor for a couple of months while she is on her trip."
Ella Figg. Somehow that name seemed familiar to Harry but he couldn't place it. Carefully he crept off the bottom stair and snuck forward to have a peek. Through a crack in the hall door he could see Dudley looking longingly toward the living room (where the television still blared) while Aunt Petunia attempted to pry information out of the younger Figg.
At closer range, Harry could see Ella Figg was not as young as she appeared at a distance. Silver hair wound itself among the curls of her hair and there were lines on her face. Still, as she stood there with her sunshades perched on the bill of her baseball cap, she looked, well, all right.
"Oh, you don't want to hear about my work, Mrs. Dursley, I'm sure you would be bored to tears. I just wanted to come over and introduce myself. I hope to see you again soon." and with a smile Ella Figg was gone, leaving a thoroughly fascinated and frustrated Aunt Petunia in the entrance hall staring out after her.
Figg watching became Aunt Petunia's new sport over the next week or so, which worked out well for Harry since it occupied a great deal of her free time. Furthermore, discussing the minute details of her observations with Uncle Vernon when he returned home in the evening kept him occupied as well. Harry figured as long as he was as unobtrusive as possible, he might manage to stay under their otherwise occupied radar and have a somewhat decent time. He blessed Mrs. Figg and whatever sweepstakes she had won and prayed Aunt Petunia's fascination with her niece would last a good long time.
Indeed, Ms. Figg seemed to be very busy and was providing Aunt Petunia with plenty to watch. It seemed she was determined to give her Aunt's house a thorough cleaning for Ella Figg could be constantly seen washing windows, pouring out dirty buckets of water into the street drain, and hanging innumerable curtains, dust-covers, and doilies out on the line. Harry was amused to note that quite often when Aunt Petunia was watching her through the lace curtains of number four, Ella Figg would look up and wave at her quite cheerfully. Aunt Petunia invariably colored a bit at this but said nothing.
Although watching his Aunt watch Ms. Figg was a distraction, Harry found he still had a lot of things on his mind this summer. After the frightening and disturbing events at the end of last term at Hogwarts, Harry supposed it was natural. Voldemort's return and his determination to succeed in killing Harry gave Harry some fitful nights and anxious days. He had resolved to brood on this as little as possible and take things as they came, but his mind could not help but dwell on the unpleasant memories in his quieter moments.
His friends Ron and Hermione, had been especially good about sending him letters which both distracted him and helped him feel less lonely and isolated. Hermione had even given him an early birthday present of a summer subscription to The Daily Prophet, the wizarding newspaper. There was also plenty of schoolwork to occupy Harry's attention. Harry's professors at Hogwarts had given rising fifth years an astounding amount of work to do over the summer break as part of their preparation to take Ordinary Wizarding Level (O.W.L.) exams the next year.
Even though underage wizards were forbidden by law to do magic outside of school, it turned out there was plenty of magical theory to learn and far too many potions and spells to be memorized. In fact, with all the work he had to do Harry wasn't sure how much time he would have been able to spend outside his room even if he wasn't trying to stay un-noticed. With a sigh he closed the spellbook he was studying and looked longingly at his oft-read copy of "Flying With The Cannons" a book Ron had given him about his favorite Quidditch team. With a grin he picked it up and flopped on his bed to read it yet again.
Harry was enjoying a particularly good passage about one of the Cannons' more spectacular games when the doorbell rang downstairs. He paused to listen... the voice in the entrance hall sounded like Ms. Figg from next door. Unable to resist his curiosity, Harry quietly opened his door and crept part-way down the stairs to listen.
"...Just fine, I assure you, though I do appreciate your asking Mrs. Dursley. I came over because I thought young Dudley might appreciate the opportunity to earn a little spending money."
Harry was sure that Dudley would very much appreciate more spending money but he knew Dudley would not appreciate earning it.
"I don't know if you've noticed," Ms. Figg continued as Harry fought down a laugh (Aunt Petunia not notice anything?), "But I've been very busy inside my Aunt's home and have let the lawn and garden get a bit out of hand." Harry was a bit taken aback by this as Uncle Vernon had just been blustering on this morning about what a disgrace the outside of Mrs. Figg's house was to their tidy neighborhood. Ms. Figg's timing was eerie.
"If Dudley would like, I would be very happy to pay him to do a little gardening... whatever you think fair, in fact."
There was a brief silence During which Harry could hear Dudley- who had apparently also been listening in- sputtering in the living room.
"Of course, we'd be happy to help you, Ms. Figg," Harry heard his Aunt say. He nearly fell off the step upon which he was standing with surprise. Aunt Petunia continued, "Of course Dudley just has too much to do this summer to find the time. We do, however, have a nephew who we would be only too glad to lend you."
Harry couldn't believe it, he never thought he'd see the day when Aunt Petunia would give him the opportunity to earn his own money. It would be handy to have a little muggle money stashed away. He didn't have much time to think about it, however, as Aunt Petunia went on, "But we wouldn't dream of letting you pay him. After all, it's the least we can do."
"That's very thoughtful, but I couldn't let-" Ms. Figg started, but was interrupted by Aunt Petunia,
"Nonsense, we insist. In fact, I'll send him over directly."
Harry turned and scampered back up the stairs as he heard the muffled sound of the front door closing as he closed his own and skidded over to the desk looking for something innocent to be found doing. He needn't have bothered. Aunt Petunia simply called up the stairs for him to come down. Very tersely she informed him that he would be doing yard work next door, that he wasn't to accept any money, and that he was to go over there at once.
Harry left with mixed feelings. He was almost glad of the chance to get outdoors for a while. But, while he wasn't surprised at his Aunt's actions, he still found himself resenting them. Ms. Figg was waiting for him in the yard wearing the baseball cap with a ponytail of curly hair popping out the semicircle in the back where the cap's size was adjusted. She smiled and waved him over. When he drew near Harry could swear a pained look crossed her face, but a moment later it was gone and he thought it must have been his imagination.
"Hello, you must be Harry Potter," she said (Harry figured Aunt Petunia had told her his name whilst he was out of earshot), "My name is Ella Figg, I'm Elspeth Figg's niece. It's nice to meet you."
Harry managed a smile as he said, "Nice to meet you, too, Ms. Figg"
Figg rolled her eyes at this and said, "Please do me a favor and call me Ella, would you? Ms. Figg sounds like some batty old school mistress."
"Thanks. Now, listen, I offered to pay your cousin to do this and your Aunt insisted on sending you over to do it for free. That's very kind, of course," she said in a tone that made Harry think she didn't think the offer came from kindness, "but I don't think that's fair to you. If you don't mind, I'd like to pay you on the sly... just don't tell your, er, family." Figg said the last word with a definite note of sarcasm. Perhaps she was even better at observation than Aunt Petunia, Harry thought. As for getting paid, that was just fine with Harry.
She set Harry up with a power lawnmower that worked with remarkable ease. Even in rough spots Harry didn't have to push it so much as guide it along. As he walked back and forth Harry found himself wondering if he could borrow this lawnmower to do the Dursley's yard. Of course, the Dursley's probably wouldn't allow it. That would be counterproductive to their goal of keeping Harry's spirits low.
When Harry finished mowing the grass Ella directed him to the shed where she said he'd find the hedge clippers. When Harry emerged Ella was coming out of the kitchen door with a tall glass full of ice and an amber liquid. Handing it to Harry she said,
"Iced Tea, sweetened. Americans drink litres and litres of this stuff. Very refreshing."
Harry took a cautious sip and found she was right. It was good. When he had finished it Ella set him to work on the hedge.
"Tidy it up, but try not to make it any shorter between your house and this one." she said with a wink. A few moments later she returned with a flat of colorful flowers and a garden trowel. She waved cheerfully at the window of number four (where the curtain closed with a jerk) and then set to work on the flower beds. As Harry made his way toward the spot where she was working she smiled up at him,
"Going alright there, Harry?"
"Yeah., thanks." Harry paused here. His curiosity about this odd woman was getting the better of him. He couldn't resist asking a few questions, "Um, er, So you've been to America?"
"Quite a few times," she replied companionably, "I've been most everywhere once, I do research, you see. How about yourself, you're in school, I assume?"
"Yes, I go to- I go to boarding school."
"Ah, yes. Where?"
Here Harry paused. He knew that his Aunt and Uncle told people that he went to St. Brutus' Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal boys, but something in him rebelled against telling Ella Figg this. On the other hand he certainly couldn't tell her where he really did go to school because it would violate the wizarding secrecy laws and, frankly, what muggle would believe it? There really wasn't much of a choice so,
"St. Brutus'." Harry said, hoping she had never heard of it.
"The Centre for incurable criminal boys?" she asked incredulously. Harry said nothing focusing instead on the hedge.
"Bullshit!" she said forcibly so startling Harry he dropped the hedge clippers.
"Er, sorry," she apologized handing him the clippers, "Language. I picked that one up in America and it really is vulgar. I apologize. Listen, this hedge has had all it can take, I think. Why don't you grab a garden rake and a hoe and help me turn the earth in the vegetable garden on the opposite side of the house, eh?"
Harry was still a bit stunned by Ella Figg's reaction, but he obediently returned the clippers and joined Ella at the small patch of garden on the far side of the house. He noticed that they could not see number four from here. The high board fence on this side of the yard blocked the next house from view as well. He saw Ella looking at him.
"How about we drive your Aunt nuts by staying out of sight for a while, eh?" she said holding out her hand for the hoe. Harry grinned and nodded setting to work breaking up the soil beside her. After a time of working in silence he had to ask,
"What did you mean when you said that about St. Brutus'?"
Ella Figg laughed derisively, "You're no more incurably criminal that I'm the queen." She leaned on her shovel and looked at Harry, "And you don't go to school there. Maybe I should have just let it pass, but I couldn't."
"How, how do you know I don't?" Harry asked suspiciously
Ella stood regarding him for a moment she seemed to be taking the measure of him, somehow. When she spoke she was matter of fact, "Because You go to Hogwarts."
Harry was non-plussed. He didn't know what he had been expecting to hear, but it wasn't this. Or was it? After all her name did remind him of something to do with Hogwarts. Ella Figg, Ella Figg. Suddenly it hit him. He remembered Dumbledore's instructions to his godfather Sirius at the end of last year:
"I need you to set off at once. You are to alert Remus Lupin, Arabella Figg, Mundungus Fletcher - the old crowd..."
Harry looked closely at Ella Figg and asked, "Is Ella your full name?"
To his surprise, Ella seemed pleased as she said, "No. It's short for Arabella." Even though he suspected this Harry felt his mouth drop open before spreading into a grin.
"You're Arabella Figg, you know Dumbledore and Sirius!"
Harry didn't realize just how lonely he was to talk freely with another sorcerer until that moment. And, since she hadn't reacted negatively to his godfather's name Harry figured she must know the truth.
"Did Dumbledore send you? Have you seen Sirius? Where is he, do you know?" Harry's words came out in a rush.
Before responding Ella looked carefully around her then waved a finger at the garden and their garden tools saying "Animum!" She then turned to Harry and said, "Make a show of working." and picked up her hoe. Harry did the same but found only the merest touch of his hand to the handle caused his rake to work under its own power. Ella smiled and said,
"Muggles try very hard not to notice magic so if you just keep at least one hand on that I'm sure it will do. To answer your questions I would have to say Yes, yes, and I'm not sure." Harry shot her an confused look and her eyes twinkled as she continued, "Yes, Dumbledore sent me. You are safe as long as you're under the care of the Dursley's but he felt a little extra supervision wouldn't hurt. I hope you don't mind. It was important that your Aunt and Uncle not know who I was, but telling you was up to me. Of course, when I hadn't seen hide nor hair of you for almost a week, I figured I needed to check on you. I wanted to get you out of that blasted house so I decided to pop over and ask Dudley to do some yard work."
"And you knew they'd send me?"
"I thought it was a pretty good shot from what I've heard. If it didn't work I figured I'd work ickle Dudley hard enough to get rid of him and figure something else out."
Harry was shaking his head, this was almost too good to be true. Then, with a sickening jolt, it suddenly occurred to him that it might be.
"Er, Ella, I hate to ask this but," Harry cleared his throat nervously, "How do I know you are who you say you are?"
To his relief a broad grin split Ella's face. "Excellent! Very good question. I suggest you ask me a question that only the real me is likely to know... perhaps something to do with Sirius Black or Remus Lupin? Maybe Dumbledore? Or you could ask me to come up with something I wouldn't know if I weren't who I say I am."
Harry thought for a moment and then said, "Both." Ella waited while he thought for a moment, the rake moving beneath his hand. Would only Ella know Remus Lupin was a werewolf? He supposed not since Lupin resigned when that became public knowledge at the school. Did he know anything about Dumbledore that others wouldn't know unless they were on their side? He wasn't sure. Then it occurred to him that there was something that would probably work,
"Tell me Sirius Black's nickname."
Figg nodded. "Back in school there were a few of us who knew him as Padfoot, but lately he's suggested we call him Snuffles." Harry felt something in him relax. She wouldn't know about Snuffles being the code for Sirius unless Sirius himself had told her. "Now, what can I tell you? Let's see," she mused aloud, "No, you probably wouldn't know that... besides he'd kill me for telling you. Well there's... no that won't work. Ah! I've got it, no one would know this. You and your friend Hermione used a time turner to help Sirius escape from Hogwarts more than a year ago!"
"Dumbledore told you?"
Harry said nothing he just nodded for suddenly his head was a swirling mass of questions he wanted to ask.
"So, you knew Sirius and Remus Lupin at Hogwarts?"
Ella's face took on a wistful look and there was a touch of sadness in her voice when she answered, "Yes, I did, we were all part of the same group... the old gang..." and she trailed off.
"So you knew my parents?"
Ella nodded then said gravely, "Yes, very well. Your mother was like a sister and your father was a dear friend." She said nothing more concentrating on breaking up a stubborn clod of soil for a moment or two. Harry was filled with a sudden longing to hear everything she could tell him about his parents but he held back.
"I also knew your godfather," she said looking toward him again, "he got us all into so much trouble... Not that we didn't go willingly, mind." she finished with a small grin.
"And you knew Remus Lupin?"
Ella looked away again for a moment but she still had that wistful grin when she looked back, "Yes, in another lifetime it seems sometimes. But I expect you've got some questions about your parents, don't you?"
Harry suddenly felt shy. The flood of longing for his Mum and Dad made him feel a tad vulnerable. He had hardly expected to be standing in a garden today talking about his dead parents. He nodded to Ella.
She surveyed the vegetable patch which was pretty will tilled by now. Pointing at the garden tools she said "Desistio!" The tools dropped. "Let me pop around to the other side of the house and get the seedlings while you put these away. You can help me plant while we talk. Besides," she said, looking at her watch, "It's about time for me to give Auntie a wave."
Ella was chuckling when she returned with a large flat of plant seedlings. She put them down and tossed Harry a pair of garden gloves. Soon they were kneeling side by side with trowels putting in the seedlings.
"So, what do you want to know about James and Lily, Harry?" Ella said.
Harry wanted to say "Everything" but decided it was better to narrow it down a bit, "What were they like when you knew them?"
"Well," Ella said thoughtfully sitting up and bouncing on her heels, "I knew them most of the time I was at school and then after, of course. Gosh, let me see... Well your parents were both very talented, of course. Your mother got better marks than your Dad, though. He had a talent for mischief and, believe me, with Sirius as a best friend he had plenty of opportunities to get into it. Still, he was very sporting, your Dad. He was never mean spirited in what he did. In fact, I think when Sirius was tempted to go too far your Dad kind of brought him back a bit. Sirius tended to let his high spirits carry him away. He often led with his heart first and then his head. Your Dad had a big heart, but he tended to give what he did more thought... most of the time. Even your Dad got carried away sometimes. He never broke the rules simply for the sake of breaking them; but if the rules were in the way of something he thought was important then he'd just break them and bear the consequences."
"You mean like with Mooney, Padfoot and Prongs?" Harry asked deliberately leaving out "wormtail."
"Exactly. Of course your mother and I weren't supposed to know what they were doing. We played along for a good long time but then Lily got worried that they would try it before they got it right and hurt themselves. So we figured the best thing to do was pitch in and help them get it right." Here Ella laughed out loud, "I'll never forget Jimmy's face when Lily and I walked up to them in the common room and handed them our notes on animagus transformation. I didn't think someone's eyes could get quite that big. I think Lily really enjoyed having one over on him. Of course, we stayed clear of the whole thing once they got it working so we didn't know they were leaving the Shrieking Shack until seventh year." Ella shook her head, "The risk they took doing that...
Now your Mum, she was as smart as a whip and very kind very thoughtful. She was practically the only one of us who ever had any sympathy for Snape. (Harry looked up at her in surprise) She said that people like that aren't born, they're made and that we shouldn't judge him until we knew what his life was like. Still, she mostly kept to her own counsel about it when it became obvious that the bad feelings between the guys and Snape weren't going to change.
She was a good person, your Mum. She cared about people and how they were feeling. It's very hard for me to believe that... woman is her sister. It doesn't make any sense to me. I don't think two sisters could possibly be more different. When I think about how she has treated you, Harry, her own sisters child-" Ella broke off her voice shaking with anger. She took a deep breath and continued in a calmer tone, "I'm sorry, it's not fair of me to act this way toward your Aunt and Uncle and speak ill of them to you."
Harry snorted, "That's o.k., you can't say anything I haven't thought dozens of times. Actually, it makes a nice change to have an adult lay off trying to be so noble and fair when talking about them."
"I think, Harry, that we're afraid of making it worse. Certainly, no matter what we think of them, they must remain your guardians."
"I just don't get that." Harry said glumly stabbing the ground with his trowel rather a bit harder than was necessary.
"Harry, when you came to your Aunt and Uncle all those years ago Dumbledore worked a powerful and ancient magic that would keep you protected while you were under their care. Staying with them keeps you safe and-" she raised her hand to stop Harry from interrupting, "those of us who loved your parents owe it to them to keep you safe until you're of age."
Harry sighed but said nothing. He watched Ella pat dirt around the base of the last seedling then rise clapping her hands together and scattering dirt from her gloves. She proceeded to stand up and wipe her dirty gloves on her denim trousers making a mess that would shock Aunt Petunia.
"Well, Harry, we've done quite a bit of work today and I reckon you look dirty enough to satisfy Aunt Petunia that I worked you hard. I can come up with an endless supply of menial tasks for you to do if you'd like to come over now and again."
"Good," Ella grinned collecting Harry's garden gloves and trowel. "Just don't tell your Aunt and Uncle who I really am, o.k.?"
"Don't worry, that won't be a problem."
Ella grinned and waved him off, "Go on with you then. Oh, and do tell Aunt Petunia I said thank you ever so much!"
That night Harry lay awake for a long time thinking about his parents. Hearing about them from Ella Figg had been a mixed blessing. He thought that it would be good to hear about them, that it might satisfy a bit of that longing he felt for them. The exact opposite seemed to be true, however. He seemed to miss them more, now. As he thought of them his mind kept returning, unbidden, to the memory of their shadowy echos emerging from the tip of Voldemort's wand when Harry faced him, certain he was about to die.
Harry flipped over to look out the window with a sigh of frustration. It was going to be another long night.