This editorial is the winning entry for the Forgotten Characters contest.
by Hannah Wegg
I have always been very fond of Mrs. Figg, even before her true identity was revealed. I always got the impression that there was something mischievous about her. Just the notion of Harry having to visit this “…mad old lady” (Philosopher’s Stone, ch.2, p.22, 1997 paperback UK edition) every year and endure a whole day of looking at cat photos and eating moldy chocolate cake – I imagined J K Rowling chuckling to herself as she wrote it.
The descriptions of Mrs. Figg are not very detailed, she is not portrayed as an important character and we don’t know very much about her, but I would like to explore that and to see if, actually, she may have been more crucial to the story then we would at first believe.
Mrs. Figg is first mentioned in chapter two of Philosopher’s Stone. It is Dudley’s eleventh birthday and the Dursleys are looking to get rid of Harry for the day so they can go out and have a nice time without him. We are told that, usually, Harry would be sent to Mrs. Figg’s, but this year he can’t go because Mrs. Figg has supposedly broken her leg. I find this arrangement between the Dursleys and Mrs. Figg interesting – from what we know of the Dursleys they are not very sociable people, they keep themselves to themselves and they certainly don’t like to introduce Harry to anyone. How did they come to know Mrs. Figg? She lives two streets away after all. And what was it that made them trust her enough to allow her to spend time with Harry?
Well, we know from Goblet of Fire when Dumbledore asks Sirius to get in touch with “the old crowd” and mentions Arabella Figg by name that she is likely a member of the Order and is certainly a trusted acquaintance of his. Then later in Order of the Phoenix she reveals to Harry that she was sent by Dumbledore to keep an eye on him but under strict instructions not to make him aware of her magical connections. She plays her role of the batty old woman so well that the Dursleys never feel she is a threat to their well-concealed secrets and they are likely to be positively thrilled at the prospect of Harry having such a miserable time with her.
There is the question though of, if Mrs. Figg wasn’t around, could Dumbledore have just sent someone else to watch over Harry? I believe not – it seems that Mundungus Fletcher would have been his next option, as this is who he originally sends on the night of the Dementor attack, but look what happened there! Mrs. Figg had to step in anyway because Mundungus “left to see someone about a batch of cauldrons that fell off the back of a broom!” (Order of the Phoenix, ch.2, p.24, 2003 UK hardback edition.) All the other members of the Order have families or important jobs to attend to, and I believe that Mrs. Figg being a squib, not a witch, is what allows her to blend so seamlessly into the Muggle community.
So we know that Mrs. Figg has been keeping an eye on Harry for Dumbledore, a very important task in itself, but I also wonder, how could the story have been different without her? Would the main events have stayed the same? Or would her absence have given Harry a completely different path to follow?
Going back to Dudley’s eleventh birthday, when Mrs. Figg supposedly breaks her leg, if Harry had gone to Mrs. Figg’s as normal that day he would not have had the experience of making the glass vanish from the snake enclosure at the zoo. He would still have got his letter from Hogwarts, and still have been visited by Hagrid at the hut on the rock, but would he have had a different reaction to that? Without the incident at the zoo, Harry would have been none-the-wiser about his magical abilities and would have considered himself a completely normal boy. When the letters started turning up he may have thought it nothing more than an extreme prank that someone was playing on him. Furthermore, when Hagrid burst through the door at the hut and said “Harry – yer a wizard,” would he have believed him? I think his experience at the zoo that day is what planted the seed of curiosity in his mind, to make him start questioning everything he had been told previously, and causing him to hate the Dursleys so much for their betrayal that he would rather go with Hagrid – a “fierce, wild” looking stranger – than to stay another day with them.
In Order of the Phoenix, when Harry and Dudley are attacked by Dementors, Mrs. Figg acts as a witness at Harry’s Ministry hearing. Before her account of the incident, the majority of the Wizengamot seems to be in favor of Harry’s prosecution, but it is her description of the way the Dementors made her feel that tips the verdict in Harry’s favor. What if Harry had been convicted and was never allowed back to Hogwarts? That would have been a completely different story!
So, I think we can all agree, Mrs Figg is a kick-ass kind of lady. She’s a member of the Order, a trusted friend of Dumbledore, a brave, witty woman who breeds Kneazles on the sly. But best of all? The moment she attacks Mundungus with nothing but a shopping bag full of cat food tins.