A Peck of Owls

chapter two of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

A very surprised Harry talks with Mrs. Figg about Dumbledore as he drags Dudley back to the Dursleys; there, he explains what happened to Dudley (and is surprised to learn Aunt Petunia knows about dementors), as owls arrive, chastising him for using magic and ordering him to stay put.

Mundungus! by haystax45

“He left!” said Mrs. Figg, wringing her hands. “Left to see someone about a batch of cauldrons that fell off the back of a broom! I told him I’d flay him alive if he went, and now look! Dementors! … Oh, the trouble this is going to cause! I will kill him!”


Mundungus Fletcher, by haystax45

“‘S’ up, Figgy?” he said, staring from Mrs. Figg to Harry and Dudley. “What ‘appened to staying undercover?”


Enough Effing Owls, by Leela Starsky

But at that precise moment a screech owl swooped in through the kitchen window. Narrowly missing the top off Uncle Vernon’s head, it soared across the kitchen…. “OWLS!” bellowed Uncle Vernon…. “OWLS AGAIN! I WILL NOT HAVE ANY MORE OWLS IN MY HOUSE!”


Dementors, by Marta T

Two seconds’ ringing silence followed these words and then Aunt Petunia clapped her hand over her mouth as though she had let slip a disgusting swear word. Uncle Vernon was goggling at her. Harry’s brain reeled. Mrs. Figg was one thing – but Aunt Petunia?

(by Marta T)


Petunia's Howler, by Tealin Raintree

Aunt Petunia… looked wildly around the kitchen as though looking for an escape route, but too late – the envelope burst into flames. Aunt Petunia screamed and dropped it. An awful voice filled the kitchen, echoing in the confined space, issuing from the burning letter on the table.


about the chapter


Something You May Not Have Noticed

Harry is so stunned to learn that Mrs. Figg is a Squib that he doesn’t even stop to ask himself why she’s there. Could it really be a coincidence that somebody who works for Dumbledore – and the only person to do so who has the time to live a Muggle-style life – resides just down the street from the Dursleys? She mentions that Dumbledore has ordered her not to reveal her true identity to Harry. But it’s almost certain that Dumbledore, at one point, also ordered her to move to Little Whinging in the first place. Without his realizing a thing, Mrs. Figg has been a guardian of sorts for Harry for fifteen years.

Something Else You May Not Have Noticed

One of my favorite little moments in this chapter comes when Vernon, outraged over an owl that’s just flown into his house through an open window, rushes to the window and slams it shut. The reason it’s one of my favorite moments? I know something Vernon doesn’t – that there’s a second owl soon to arrive who won’t realize the window’s been shut, and the poor bird flies smack into it instead. Whoops.

The Wizarding World

Harry only talks with Mrs. Figg for a few minutes, but she reveals herself to be quite the fountain of wizarding expressions. They’re all based on Muggle expressions, and are lots of fun to read – “the cat’s among the pixies” instead of among the pigeons; “fell off the back of a broom” rather than the back of a truck; and “no use crying over spilled potion” instead of milk. With a mind full of expressions like these, she must have found it quite challenging to host Harry in her house while pretending to be a simple Muggle.

The Power of Magic

It’s interesting that the Ministry instantly knows that Harry not only performed a Patronus Charm – we’ve heard before of their ability to detect underage magic – but also that he performed it in the presence of a Muggle. What kind of surveillance have they got to be doing to know this? And what laws must exist to prevent Dumbledore from doing similar surveillance – remember that Mrs. Figg assumes he can’t find out unless Mundungus tells him about it? It’s pretty intense, and an early warning sign for Harry that he is being watched very, very closely.

Life at Hogwarts

As Hogwarts is the only wizarding school in Britain, the divide between the school and the Ministry of Magic has always been a little sketchy. But it’s interesting that the Ministry actually expells Harry from Hogwarts. It’s never made completely clear how much control the Ministry has over the school – though we did hear Fudge say last year that he’s “always given [Dumbledore] free rein.” And the school also has a board of Governors, which somehow factor into its decisions. But exactly who holds what power seems to be a constant battle – and is about to become even more of one.

Something to Remember

Aunt Petunia gives us a very interesting, rather sideways glimpse into her childhood, growing up with Harry’s mother. Harry doesn’t think much of the things she says, though he’s certainly surprised – but why on earth would Petunia still remember hearing about dementors, decades later? And who the heck in the wizarding world (with “a terrible voice”) would be sending her a Howler? It will take quite a while, but Harry will eventually find out just what’s going on here.

The Final Word

“You know what Mundungus means? Mundungus is an old word for tobacco because, Mundungus’s always smelling of his pipe and other various unsavoury things so that’s why he called Mundungus. “–J.K. Rowling, June 2003

27 Responses to “A Peck of Owls”

  1. I’m pretty sure this is one of my favorite chapters just because it’s so funny to read. All sorts of little surprises pop up and poor Uncle Vernon is left pretty much with his jaw on the floor.

    I very much remember arguing with my roommates about the identity of “that awful boy” and whether it meant James, Severus, or someone completely different. JKR sure knows how to keep our interest, doesn’t she? :)

  2. I love going back and reading the books and finding little clues to book seven, and Order of the Phoenix is chock full of them!

  3. I absolutely love Mrs. Figg’s expressions – so much so that I’ve started using them myself, and it’s now become something of a habit. If I’m out when I’m not allowed to be, I always assure my friends it doesn’t matter how late I stay, because I “might as well be hanged for a dragon as an egg!”

  4. hmm… I’m mixed about this chapter…. there were so many things that confused me, that I just lost a bit track. Also, the dumbness from the dursleys (just because you know so much as reader) annoyes me somehow.
    At the other hand, it’s pretty cool that the wizarding world and the muggle world isn’t longer divided by a trainstation and a wall. It’s mixing :)

  5. The next chapter link goes back to the beginning of Chapter 2.

  6. Regarding the Something You May Not Have Noticed: You’re right. I automatically assumed that’s why she was around, but Harry didn’t necessarily.

    “no use crying over spilled potion” is one of my favorite phrases I use in real life now. :-)

    Regarding “The Power of Magic”: Also the owls seem to be very quick.

    I hadn’t noticed that in book 1, but apparently the Dursleys have a kitchen fireplace as well. Is that common in Britain? And if you travel by floo powder, do you have to state which fireplace you want to go to? Had only Arthur Weasley known about this in book 4.

    Harry must be very confused about Mrs. Figg and Aunt Petunia as he does not think of giving chocolate to Dudley after the Dementor attack.

    Uncle Vernon says: “This Lord Voldything…” Fans sometimes call Lord Voldemort Voldy. Is this why? Or is it the other way around, might this be a tribute to the fans by JRK?

  7. I don’t know about Mrs. Figg being moved there to look over Harry. Personally, I don’t think even Petunia would be dense enough not to be mildly suspiscious of a newly arrived neighbour offering to look after her nephew right off the bat. I’d think Mrs.Figg would pre-date Harry.

    During the first war after the prophesy Dumbledore could have placed Mrs Figg to keep an eye on the Durseleys. To be their guardian, making sure Voldemort didn’t get to the Potters through them and providing a place for Mrs. figg to be useful and safe during te worst attacks. As an already established neighbour when Harry arrives it would have been more likely for Petunia to trust Mrs. Figg and she’d be less likely to connect her to the wizarding world. Dumbledore could then quite simply re-use someone already present with new instructions to make extra sure she wasn’t found out.

  8. Liz, you make a good point about Petunia being suspicious of a new neighbor, but at the same time, would she care? It’s not as if Mrs. Figg ever looks after the son that Petunia actually cares about. Also, Mrs. Figg presumably wouldn’t have started looking after Harry until he was a little bit older, by which point she’d have been around a while (and Petunia wouldn’t have a reason to keep track of precisely when she moved in).

    Although another thing that occurred to me to support your point is that Mrs. Figg was in the original Order of the Phoenix – so what would her role have been? Keeping tabs on the Dursleys might have made sense. Hmm… I’ll have to think about this one.

  9. I can’t say that I thought over much about it, but I assumed that Mrs. Figg had “always” been there. Otherwise, I think that the Dursleys WOULD be suspicious of anyone new in the neighborhood at the time of Harry’s arrival, given all the odd happenings around the same time. Especially a “crazy cat lady” that doesn’t quite fit in.
    Kim – I’m not sure that I ever noticed the kitchen fireplace, but the Dursleys not having screens on their windows bugged the daylights out of me when I read it the first time. I’m from Florida — I didn’t know that screens didn’t come standard on windows the world over!

  10. Amanda, what are ‘screens’ on a window? curtains? blinds?

  11. Kathryn, screens are a mesh layer that’s put over the outside of a window so that when the window is open, bugs (and owls) are still able to be kept out. I’m in Chicago and they’re standard on all of our windows, too – although our bug problems would be nothing compared to folks in Florida. Either way, I had the same reaction Amanda did. :)

  12. Mmm, about Mrs. Figg living in Little Whinging: I think she moved there when Harry did, for she can look up for him. I just finshed reading book number 4 and this is why I think so:
    1. Chapter 7: When Harry first saw and entered the tent, he said it was furnished the way “Mrs. Figg”‘s house style; this doesn’t tell much, but he must have made a connection or something!
    2. Chapter 36: at the end of the chapter, when Dumbledore made Sirius and Snape shake hands, he told Sirius: ” You are to alert Remus Lupin, “Arabella Figg”, Mundungus Fletcher – the “old crowd” “… Harry didn’t noticed that someone was named exactly the same as his weird neighbor? with whom he had spent lots of evenings? Of course he was having some rough time at the moment, but still… and Dumbledore said “the old crowd”, what old crowd? old Order of Phoenix members? (another hint for her living there)
    Well, the moment I read Harry shocking when he knew Mrs Figg was a “member of the magical word”, so to speak, I remembered Dumbledore mentioning her in front of Harry. Book 5 is the last book Im missing; I started with 6, then 7, and started with 1 from there! :P It’s been an interesting journey, having read the last two first and watched all the movies, I prefered the books :)! I was hooked whith Harry Potter movies, but when I saw OP I had to read HBP! and then of course DH! :’).. Sorry for the long message!
    – MissFractal

  13. LeelaStarsky and Marta T are two of my very favourite fan artists, I love their work so much.

    Kim – Fans were calling him Voldy before this book came out. Whether Jo was referencing that or not I don’t know. And modern British houses often don’t have fireplaces at all, but some older ones do have two. Worth a read is Steve VanderArk’s book about searching for Harry Potter locations, he takes the two fireplaces thing into account when trying to find Privet Drive.

    Mrs Figg and Mundungus are a brilliant double act. Actually I think this book is the funniest of the series. “S’up, Figgy.” *snort*

    The owls do seem very quick off the mark, but I think there must be a delay between the events they’re relaying and their arrival at the house. By the time the first letter arrived the second may already have been sent etc.

    I really liked the brief connection between Harry and Petunia in this chapter. And the way she clutched Dudley’s shoulders when she found out Voldemort was back. The Dursleys actually have very strong relationships with each other. VERY strong. Vernon seems to have the more intense dislike of magic (judging by his desperate actions in book 1 to stop the letters coming) and yet Petunia appears to have confided in him about it and told him details (he obviously knows who she’s talking about when she says “that awful boy”), and he hasn’t rejected her. I suppose he takes a similar stance as his sister, that bad eggs turn up in the best families. But he might have blamed her for Harry and all the trouble having him in the house has brought – after all, if he hadn’t married her he might have found someone with a nice normal family) but they still seem to have a solid marriage.

  14. This is one of my favorite chapters too, in the whole series. I love how quickly the emotions roil
    as we learn of Harry’s expulsion, that he has unexpected help (Figgy and the Order advising him NOT to surrender his wand), and that Petunia knows way more than she’s ever let on… And all the owls. Brilliant writing!!!

  15. I’ve been wondering…when the Howler is addressed to “Petunia, the Kitchen, Number 4 Privet Drive,” etc:
    Does it say “the Kitchen” because that’s her current location or because that is her favorite place in the house and it’s where she usually is anyway?

  16. You know, if Harry really was expelled from Hogwarts and his wand snapped in half, Dumbledore would have just be able to repair the broken wand with his Elder wand.
    Just a thought.

  17. Laura – in the same vein, Harry could just get another wand, or his wand could be taken away rather than snapped in half and returned to him (as in Hagrid’s case). I think the idea of snapping the wands in half is more symbolic. Having a wand is really the biggest indication of one’s status as a member of the wizarding community. We know how lost Harry feels in book 7 with a broken wand – to intentionally do that to another witch or wizard would be a pretty severe punishment and send a much stronger message of alienation than it would actually prevent them from doing magic, and my guess is that that is the intent, which would come through whether the wand was later repaired or not.

  18. erinaceous, I do agree with you on how symbolic the act of breaking a wand is, but I think Dumbledore would have ended up repairing it, because at this point everyone thinks the only thing causing Priori Incantatem is the duel wand cores, until book 7 when that’s all thrown out the window. My point is, at this point I think Dumbledore would have been afraid this defense wouldn’t be there anymore and would instantly repair Harry’s wand. Just my two cents.

    Also, I’m going to start saying “mundungus” for tobacco, and a couple of these muggle/wizard mixed phrases x]

  19. @Casey, the only thing causing Priori Incantatem is because Harry’s and the Dark Lord’s wands are brothers (twin cores). It’s not thrown out in Deathly Hallows. The Dark Lord simply finds away around that little bit of protection. (SPOILERS) What’s added is that Harry’s wand has taken on some of the powers and magic that its brother wand had done during the connection they shared in the graveyard of Little Hangleton (GoF, CH. 34) and recognizes its brother’s master even when Harry can’t see him. (End Spoilers)

    And, yeah, I always wondered why they didn’t have screens in their windows, too. I always thought it strange, kind of like I always find it odd when I’m in (or viewing something from) some part of the country or world that doesn’t have screen doors.

  20. Lesharo, when I said “thrown out” I didn’t mean they had gotten rid of Priori Incantated. I meant that they didn’t require the same two wands anymore to be able to cause the effect. As you said, Harry’s wand recognizes the master of its twin, whether he’s using that twin wand or not. This is demonstrated in the Battle of Hogwarts, isn’t it?

  21. Casey, sorry, I misunderstood you.
    And, no, it’s not either of those things during the Battle of Hogwarts. By that time, Voldemort has gotten rid of his wand in favour of the Elder Wand, and Harry is using Draco’s wand because the holly and pheonix feather wand was broken by Hermione’s jinx in Godric’s Hollow. What was demonstrated there was Harry’s theory that, because Draco had beaten Dumbledore, and Harry had then beaten Draco, the Elder Wand’s allegiance belonged to Harry, an, therefore, that wand couldn’t strike down its own master.

  22. Ah, okay. I must have been confused from a mixture of how confusing wandlore is that Jo wrote into the books so late, and the trailers of the new film coming out, which show Harry and Voldemort locked in a Prior Incantatem-like spell lock. Plus, I’ve only read DH twice so far, so it isn’t burned onto the inside of my skull like the rest of the books are yet.

  23. Spoilers?

    They actually say in the trial chapter that the Ministry has no jurisdiction to expel Hogwarts students on the spot, which is why Harry gets the second (third?) letter telling him he is NOT expelled yet.

  24. I definitely think Dumbledore would have repaired Harry’s wand had he surrendered it, knowing (or good guessing) the power it would now have over Voldemort. And I suspect Dumbeldore has already repaired a snapped wand; when Hagrid was expelled, his umbrella works as well as an ordinary wand, which from experience with snapped wands is most unusual, the pieces should perform random uncontrollable magic (Ron CoS) or be completely useless (SPOILER Harry DH). After all when Hagrid is proven innocent in CoS and can legally have a wand again he still sticks with the “broken pieces” umbrella

  25. What really frustrates me about this chapter is that Vernon does not apparently realize that Harry saved Dudley’s life. Instead, he just blames him for all the trouble that the wizarding world brings to them. Even if he did acknowledge Harry’s heroism, though, he would probably just blame Harry for “attracting” the dementors. What a terrible human being.

  26. I’ve started using “Merlin”.
    Nice points, Liz and elizabethauthor.

  27. Oh, I wish Jo gave a little more info on what Dudley really saw…
    Petunia’s bit is brilliant. Wonder what Snape would think if he knew she still remembered the bits she overheard. (Sorry, spoilers.)

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