The Fine Art Of Not-So-Fine Art
“There are only two styles of portrait painting; the serious and the smirk”–-Charles Dickens
“This way Ginny…or at least I think it’s this way. Luna’s maps tend to be a bit confusing.”
“Harry, Luna’s maps are brilliant. She has an absolute talent for them. Let me see. Ah, here’s the problem.”
“It’s upside down,” the couple say in unison. Setting it right, studying it again, they both nod and take a moment to smile at each other.
“Spenser’s notes here and right here confused me. They’re what’s inverted. Yes, I know. No one we know has explored Hogwarts more than Luna. It’s uncanny all the undiscovered places she keeps finding.”
“What’s uncanny is the crush she has on Spenser,” Ginny counters. “Did you know that she even allows…encourages him to call her Loony?”
Harry grins and nods. Only their insane (figuratively) American friend is allowed the privilege of the nickname and then only in private. He has the habit of filling the pants of anyone else who uses the term with cold mashed potatoes.
Having gotten his bearings again, Harry points down the hallway to a large door, gently takes Ginny’s hand, and leads her to it. He draws his wand to apply the unlocking charm. The girl checks the handle first. It’s unlocked.
“As far as we are off the beaten path, they probably haven’t seen a need to lock an empty room,” she points out.
“The faculty may just as well have forgotten it.” Pushing the door open, Ginny and he see that except for a table with two chairs, a sofa against a far wall, and a dumpster worth of dust and cobwebs, the room really is empty. “It’s perfect. A little housecleaning and…”
“Sod housecleaning Harry! I have forty minutes until…”
“Thirty-five minutes then until Charms. I expect some world-class snogging until then you hunka, hunka burnin’ love.”
“Hunka what? Have you been reading Spenser’s stories again? Oh, not Elvis!”
Harry gives the girl his best expression of mock indignation and shock. They are both Elvis fans. He then allows the pretty redhead to draw him into a long and long anticipated kiss. It’s wonderful, they both think, and exceptionally dangerous. Unlike what the nice Muggle lady writes in his biography series, Harry does return to school for his seventh year…at least in this reality. The couple are in fact…a couple. The danger of green puss and his dancing minions using Ginny to hurt Harry demands that their relationship remains a secret. That, in turn, requires a number of secret meeting places for them to be together.
Luna, being one of a handful who know of their dilemma, has suggested this long abandoned office. It had once belonged to a certain school golf pro, the famous Tin Cup MacWoods, who had suddenly departed the position nearly five decades earlier. Actually, a kraken then living in the Black Lake had seized the man while he was trying to retrieve a golf ball from the shallows. The room has remained empty ever since.
It is secluded, clandestine, and convenient, but it probably won’t be for long. Between hero-worshiping underclassman dogging his heels, troublesome Slytherins wanting to cause him grief, suspicious instructors seeking him out, and the possibility of more Death Eaters infiltrating the school (a serious consideration after Dumbledore’s death), there is a constant need to look for new and better hideaways. It is frustrating but necessary for the couple’s safety.
Harry and Ginny break apart as if poked with pins. The first thing they think is that Dolores Umbridge has walked in on them. The voice is so similar. A quick scan shows that there is no one there apart from dust mites and a few of Aragog’s spiders. Harry’s face goes dark and Ginny notices. He moves to the filthy window, stares out for a moment, and lets his mind wander back to the hated Ministry crony.
“You heard her too Ginny?” Harry asks.
“Ahem. I beg your pardon. All this dust really does affect my throat. Not that I actually breathe. I’m pleased to see that you still can after that long, intense kiss.”
“Umbridge?” Ginny asks the room. “Delores Umbridge?”
“Who? Oh no, no, no, no. My name is Philadelphia Umbridge; the Divination instructor extraordinaire from 1887 to 1902.”
Ginny and Harry draw their wands and dart about the room. The source of the voice alludes them. Neither know what to think…what to believe. Is this a ghost speaking to them?
“I’m over here dear hearts. If you could lift this filthy cheesecloth off my frame, we could… Oh, thank you young man. My, my, it’s so much easier to see now–--not that Mr. MacWood’s office has much to offer these old eyes.”
“You’re…you’re…” Ginny begins.
“Philadelphia Umbridge. I thought we had established that already. I was born in that nice Pennsylvania city while Mummy and Daddy were spending a year with her grandparents.”
“You’re a beautiful red haired woman ma’am,” Ginny stammers.
“You really are. I’m somewhat of an expert of the subject, so I would know.” Harry feels Ginny swat his arm, but he also hears her giggle. “You’re an ancestor of Delores Umbridge? You sound like her, but don’t look anything alike.”
“Your eyes are so much more kind. You have such a nice smile.” Ginny cocks her head as she continues to study the painting.
“Sweet children. Thank you for saying so. I will admit that the artist was a beau of mine; he painted this when I was younger. To answer your question, I’m afraid that I am a great, great aunt to that dreadful woman. I never met or spoke with her directly. I never wanted to. I did discreetly travel into one of her office paintings to catch a glimpse of what she looked like. I shudder to think which Umbridge wed a toad and produced that hideous person.”
“I forgot how easily and how far a magical painting can travel,” Harry admits.
“I’ve visited friends at London’s Tate Gallery every spring since I was created. Considering how drab this old office is now, how could it surprise you to know that I spend a great deal of time wandering the castle and exploring its many hidden spots and mysteries? Did you ever imagine a storeroom in the basement of the east wing, hidden entrance and all, stacked to the ceiling with wooden cigar store Indians?”
“What’s that you said ma’am?” Harry takes two steps closer to the wall where the portrait hangs. He senses Ginny joining him. “You said…”
“Oh, I do apologize. They prefer to be called Native Americans now don’t they? I suppose that I’m American as well, I mean having been born there. The Cherokee portrait in Professor Marvel’s classroom has never really minded the old title, but he is a tad bit sensitive about the stereotype wood sculptures.”
“Excuse me. No, what I mean is do you really explore every part of Hogwarts? You know every nook, cranny, and secret room?” Harry asks.
“Why yes. All the portraits do, and there are thousands and thousands of us throughout the school.”
He spins around to face the girl. Harry’s face displays an enormous smile. Ginny’s is awash in confusion.
“Ginny, she knows every nook, cranny, and secret room at Hogwarts!”
“What?” It takes Ginny no more than three seconds for what Harry says to register in her brain. “Secret rooms! More secret meeting places for us!”
“Ginny, you need to get to class. I need to go find Luna.”
Harry starts off at a run. He doesn’t get to the door before Ginny clearing her throat, Umbridge-like, stops him in his tracks. The grin is back as he returns to her for one last passionate kiss–--the kind sentimental writers include in their stories.
“Breathe dear hearts,” the portrait admonishes with a laugh. “Breathe.”
“Luna, you do know that Ravenclaw has its own wonderful Common Room?” Harry asks the girl as he steps through the portal. The question is a good-natured one.
“Neville let me in. He’s in your room now. I think his feelings are a little hurt that I have a new boyfriend.”
“When are you going to tell Spenser that he is your new…?”
“Oh, probably not until the end of the book he’s writing now. He really is clueless. I have been waiting for you Harry. The portrait of Richard Thompson James inside our girls’ shower room told me that you were looking for me.”
“Shower room? What? Who? What?” Harry somehow gets out.
“Inventor of the slinky,” Luna clarifies. “Don’t worry. We make him wear a heavy blindfold.”
Harry again bites his tongue to keep from laughing. It wouldn’t be a polite thing at the moment he decides. Luna is one of just three people of a different house who are allowed inside the Gryffindor Tower. All have repeatedly risked death earning the privilege. Harry is amused at seeing the girl here, but not at all surprised. Luna is almost psychic the way she can anticipate some things. He sits down on the sofa next to her.
“I think it is an…interesting idea Harry. I have been talking to them about the secret rooms for years.”
“It will not hurt if you have the portrait of Sir Brutus Burgerville tell you about the attic room with the golden kangaroo figurine.”
“Professor Bangle Bellbottom’s painting can lead you through the giant gopher labyrinth under the Quidditch Pitch. Lady Godiva Gallbreath could tell you about the hiccupping dragon that lives in a chamber behind Professor Flitwick’s office wall.”
“That explains a few things. I’m told he sits around in the office in his underwear it’s so hot in there.”
“He doesn’t wear underwear Harry.”
“The portrait of Lord Engelbert Pumpernickel from his wall told me,” Luna clarifies.
“Naturally.” Harry can’t stop a small laugh this time. He’s relieved to see Luna smile back. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about this? This is going to be a great resource for Ginny and me. We can be alone together in any of those secret places they know. Could you introduce us to the portraits? I mean as many as you can?”
Instead of answering, Luna looks long and hard into Harry’s eyes. The smile is gone. It’s replaced with as serious an expression as he has ever seen with her.
“Alone Harry?” A ten-second pause follows. The only sounds are the crackle of the fire and the clock ticking. “I’ll help you Harry, but are you sure you want this? It could be a difficult relationship. Are you sure?
“Luna, there couldn’t be anything more difficult than Ginny and my relationship the way it is right now. Do you know how much it hurts not being able to show any affection for her in public, to hold her hand, or even to sit with her here in the Common Room or at meals? Please introduce me to more of the portraits.”
Luna looks to the fireplace. Harry can see that she’s deep in thought again and avoiding his pleading gaze. Finally, she inhales deeply and turns back to him.
“If you are sure Harry. Lady Portia Pomegranate, the Freedonian sword dancer hanging on the third floor landing, she might be a good first stop.”
The project starts well. We should have done this a while ago, Harry thinks time and again. With Luna’s help, Harry and Ginny are introduced to some of the more prominent portraits. The pair come to know past instructors such as Professor Nitro Nobel who introduced exploding pumpkin seeds to the school. For some strange reason his picture frame is pitted and singed. Another useful find is Chef Girl-Ardee whose painting has the distinct aroma of beef brisket (Ron is suddenly his new best friend). Harry and Ginny are provided their first new meeting place in the form of a bat cave located under the ruins of an old greenhouse. That tip comes from the portrait of someone named…something, something Wayne.
The couple is almost able to double their time together. All it has taken is getting to know a number of historic figures on canvas and becoming friends with them. The conversations are often entertaining as well as useful. The two spend hours with the portrait of Darian Beasley, one of Hogwarts all-time best Keepers as well as a pioneer in broom airmail. Ginny ensures that Ron meets the gentleman as well.
Besides the new meeting places, the relationship provides other benefits as well. After-hour hallway excursions have a series of lookouts for roaming instructors. A host of knowledgeable tutors is now available. Owls are spared long flights when portrait figures can deliver messages in a fraction of the time. Naturally, Harry begins to share these new gifts with any number of friends and other students. Each day’s expansion causes Luna to become quieter and much more thoughtful.
It’s the second week before the problems begin.
“Harry, I want to thank you for the ten days of detention,” Seamus tells him at breakfast one morning. His voice is loud and sarcastic for a moment, then he slaps his forehead.
“What do you…?”
“No, I can’t blame you. It was that stinkin’ portrait of Bunson Honeydew hangin’ in the Potions classroom. Went right to Slughorn about how some of us were tryin’ to swap out our Gynfzz Root Potion homework.”
“I don’t know that portrait Seamus.”
“It knows you Harry. They all do. You’re a popular guy in school now…powerful popular, but not with everyone. Watch your back. I am now.”
This is the first sign. It isn’t the last. Other instructors begin to question Harry and friends about certain information, conversations, actions to which they could not have been privy. New meeting sites become compromised as soon as they are provided. Twice Harry and Ginny enter them only to find other students, Slytherins in fact, waiting for them. Any time one or both walk the hallways, the movement is anticipated and privacy denied. On more than a few occasions, undisclosed conversations become public knowledge. Harry cannot call it paranoia. The term does not apply if someone really is out to get you.
“In here Harry,” Ron tells him. They’re the first words out of his mouth since he had grabbed Harry’s arm and almost physically forced his friend down two flights of stairs to this strange, new corridor. Ron continues to shush as they walk. Harry knows why.
A pair of doors slide open revealing a relatively tiny chamber. No, that’s not what this is. Hogwarts has an elevator? Ginny, Hermione, and Luna are already inside. Only the blond Ravenclaw is not surprised with this revelation. The doors slide shut behind Ron and Harry; they begin to move. A flick of Luna’s wand pauses the elevator’s ascent.
“I got the idea for using this from Spenser. It is not as original as the telephone booth lifts at the Ministry, but it is very secure from eavesdropping. Is that the correct term? Spenser says that the Americans’ Navy Criminal Investigators use these for privacy all the time.”
“Luna, Hogwarts has an elevator?” Hermione finally asks for everyone. Her tone is disbelieving.
“Only Professor McGonagall utilizes it,” Luna says. “I believe, at least of the school staff, only she knows of it.”
“Only her and the castle’s paintings maybe?” Ginny’s expression is one of defeat.
“No, there are no paintings anywhere near the elevator entry points.” Luna finally allows a small smile. “Please trust me. Apart from us, there are no more than three people in all who know of this lift–--not the ghosts, not the elves, not the faculty, and certainly not the portraits. We are safe here.”
“The fact that we need an elevator’s privacy makes me question what is safe anymore,” Hermione tells them.
“We are safe here,” Luna reassures her…everyone. “I did not want Harry to do what he did. No, rather I did not want him to do it the way that he did. Do you know how many portraits there are at Hogwarts?”
“Thousands,” Harry quietly admits.
“Many thousands.” Luna’s jaw goes tight and the others note her deep breathing. “Are all Witches and Wizards good…loyal…truthful? No? Neither are the portraits. These paintings are magical, but they are not living. They have no souls. No Harry, they are nothing like Horcruxes.” She pauses awaiting a reaction from him. She gets none. “They are more like what Spenser calls robogs, but much, much smarter. He has asked me to go into Hogsmeade with him this weekend. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“They’re called robots Luna. Please stay on topic.” Ginny is smiling though. “Yes, it is wonderful even if he is so dense.”
“I recruited a network,” Harry says. Everyone is quiet again. “Good paintings, bad paintings, Gryffindor paintings, Slytherin paintings, faculty paintings. Portraits can go anywhere there is another portrait. They talk to each other. They share things including secrets. It’s George Orwell’s 1984. I’ll explain later Ron. Luna…?”
“I should have brought up my concerns immediately Harry,” she tells him. “We should have just interacted with those I knew well and could really trust. You thought the best. I hoped for it. I do not know what to do now to restore your privacy. I do not know who does know how.”
The seconds tick by. Everyone goes exceptionally quiet–--deep in thought. Harry notes how Luna is close to tears. He’s never seen her this way before. Luna has had a much closer relationship with the portraits over time. She has been the one helping me. She’s blaming herself.
“Luna, I…” It’s Harry’s turn again to pause and brood. He only allows himself a heartbeat. “Luna, tell me all you know about how magical portraits are produced. Ron, could you arrange for Hedwig to get letters to Moody and Shacklebolt. I need a list of names; a long list of names. Hmm…Luna, did you know that Hermione once worked as a stripper?”
Harry enters the headmistress’ office with Ginny, Luna, and Alastor Mad-Eye Moody. He acknowledges her, and then moves to the enormous portrait behind her desk.
“Good morning Professor Dumbledore,” he says. Harry glances to the left to take in the newly hung portrait. His attention returns to his former headmaster. “Professor McGonagall has briefed you I understand.” He sees her nod out of the corner of his eye.
“Yes Harry,” Dumbledore acknowledges. “I regret that it has come to this. I must admit that your plan is as unique as it is clever. Professor Palatine?”
“Yes?” the new painting asks. Ginny finally notes his Slytherin robes.
“Are you familiar with the term ‘checks and balances’?” Dumbledore asks. “That is what my young friends are initiating today.”
Inside the Palatine portrait, a figure in an Auror uniform appears to either side of him. He’s more than a bit surprised. Understanding comes next. Moody looks Harry in the eyes and nods.
“Professor Palatine, these are Aurors Kenneth Hutchinson and David Starsky,” Harry tells the Slytherin. “They are two of a score of new portraits introduced to the school. You’ll love their car, trust me. Anyway, their mission, which they have chosen to accept, is to enforce a new, intense code of privacy being introduced into your…world. All of you are free to travel where you will. We are fair. However, if personal Wizarding secrets are shared, gossip spread, undue advantage of friendships taken, reputations besmirched, lies told, et cetera, et cetera… Professor, would you really like to know what will happen?”
“Yes.” The stereotypical venom just drips from the short answer.
“I strongly doubt that you’ve seen the Muggle film Who Framed Robert Rabbit?” Ginny asks then.
“Roger Rabbit,” Harry corrects. He smiles remembering the evening he took her to see it, and how he suggested not explaining Looney Tunes to Luna yet.
“Sorry.” Ginny gives him a quick moment of bogus embarrassment. “They introduced something called Dip which could eradicate all vestiges of a cartoon. My good friend Hermione worked with stripping agents during her summer internship at Diagon Alley. You know, varnish, lacquers, stains…oil painting.”
Paintings are not capable of going pale. Palatine would if he could. The artists’ color tints are permanent everyone has discovered. They also know now that a portrait’s animation is reversible. The key is the paint itself. The key to the reversal is the newly produced Wizard Dip. The key to where it will be applied is shared between the Portrait Aurors and the offending parties therein. Dumbledore and Palatine will now ensure the word is spread.
Harry walks over to Ginny, takes her hand, and moves toward the doorway and the stairs. He sees McGonagall’s and Moody’s grins as they pass. He somehow knows there was one from Dumbledore as well. In part, their open display is an act of defiance and frustration with what the two have had to endure. In part, it’s a test for the paintings. No one is kidding about the stripping agent. The portraits are not alive despite appearances. No hesitation there.
A few years have passed now. Efforts by the Ministry, as well as those of portrait Dumbledore and Aurors have saved us all. Strategically placing jugs of Hermione’s Wizarding Dip near certain portraits on a regular basis has not hurt.
Harry never did become an Auror in this universe. He does own a large farmhouse near Hogsmeade–-The Broom Farm. There is also Grimmauld Place of course. Ron and Hermione opened their own large school. There are yards and yards of wall space. It is not uncommon, to this day, to see any number of paintings on those walls occasionally covered or turned about. Old suspicions don’t die.
I found this story in an old notebook propping up a table leg in Loony’s and my home. Sorry, no Rolf in our reality, and still, only Harry and Ginny’s daughter Lily and I are permitted to use that name. I still tinker with this story from time to time. You know–-a word here and a comma there. It’s what I do. I’m Spenser Hemmingway…or maybe I’m just his portrait somewhere.