Linda Norfolk-Howard approached the stone gargoyle with trepidation, rearranging her arms around the pile of parchments she was carrying so that they wouldn’t fall. She felt foolish, but this is where she’d been told to go.
“I have a note from Professor Binns telling me to see the Headmaster,” she told the gargoyle.
There was a slight pause; then a massive stone door slid open, and a revolving spiral staircase revealed itself within. Linda entered.
She had never been to the Headmaster’s office before. It was a huge room, filled with thick books on transfiguration and potion making. An apparatus that looked like some sort of distilling mechanism filled a table in one corner of the room. The walls were covered with portraits, most of which appeared to be asleep. Professor Alvaric rose from his desk when she entered.
“Good afternoon, Miss Norfolk-Howard”, smiled the Headmaster. It was a bit disconcerting; goblins have carnivorous teeth and their smiles, however well-intentioned, are sometimes alarming. “Do sit down. May I offer you some tea?” She shook her head while she sat. “Then to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”
“Well sir, you know that I’m preparing for my N.E.W.T. in History of Magic.”
“Indeed, one of the very few. I must commend your devotion to your studies.” Again he grinned, showing those teeth.
“Thank you, sir. I’ve been working on a project on the Dark Wars of the late twentieth century, and Professor Binns suggested that I come to you for help.”
Professor Alvaric looked uncertain. “I am pleased that Professor Binns thinks so well of me, but I cannot say that I have any expertise in that particular period. History of Magic isn’t really my field, and what study I did in that area was related to the Goblin Wars…” He shrugged apologetically.
“I’m sorry, sir; I wasn’t clear. He didn’t suggest that I ask you for help, yourself. He suggested that I speak to one of the portraits.”
Alvaric frowned, which made him resemble the stone gargoyle outside his office. “The portraits? The portraits of former Headmasters on the wall?”
Linda nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Are there eminent historians among the former Headmasters or Headmistresses?” He swiveled his head, surveying the eighty or more portraits that lined the walls from floor to ceiling. “I had no idea.”
“Neither do I, sir. Professor Binns said that some of the portraits might actually remember the Dark Wars.”
Professor Alvaric’s frown deepened. “Remember? From when they were alive?”
“Yes, sir; I think so.”
“Doesn’t Professor Binns remember the Dark Wars himself? I believe he was on the faculty, living and dead, for at least a century before them.”
“Yes, sir, he was. But he was here at the school the whole time, and I gather that he didn’t pay too much attention to events in the outside world.”
The Headmaster was scandalized. “Events in the outside world? My dear girl, Hogwarts castle was invaded and some of its staff were killed during that war!”
Linda was embarrassed. “Yes sir, but I don’t think those things happened in Professor Binns’s classroom, you see.” She was unhappy putting it this way, but there it was.
Alvaric gave her a sympathetic nod. “I think I understand you.” He paused. “Miss Norfolk-Howard, you do understand, I hope, that a portrait does not have a complete living mind – that it does not even have a complete dead mind, as, say, a ghost would have?”
Linda nodded uncertainly.
The Headmaster continued, “A portrait is an imprint of the major characteristics of, and the beliefs held by, a living person. It cannot really think – or at least, not think originally or creatively. It is more like a lengthy song, performed by a virtuoso – the song might be several hours long, perhaps even several days long, and might be exquisitely complex, but every time you heard it, it would still contain the same music and the same lyrics.”
Linda chewed her lip. “I understand, sir. But if the particular music and lyrics happened to contain information that was useful to my project...”
Alvaric nodded slowly. “I see. Since you are researching the Dark Wars, I presume you wish to speak to Albus Dumbledore? He was Headmaster during both of the Dark Wars.” A portrait about halfway up the left-hand wall of an ancient wizard with a long, white beard, purple robes and half-moon spectacles, awoke as if from a nap.
“Good afternoon, Alvaric! How can I be of service?” The portrait beamed.
“Um, actually, Professor”, interrupted Linda, feeling uncomfortable. “Professor Binns suggested that I speak to one of the later Headmistresses.” Alvaric’s weighty eyebrows slowly lifted in surprise, and the portrait of Dumbledore looked a bit disappointed.
“Indeed?” The goblin looked at her expectantly. “Which one?”
There was a pause.
“Oh, dear,” said the Headmaster in a very soft voice, his eyes darting upwards for a moment. “Are you sure?”
Linda lowered her own voice too, though she wasn’t sure why. “Yes, sir. Professor Binns said that she was an eyewitness to the final events of the last Dark War, and saw its very conclusion. That’s the series of events on which my essay is based.”
He nodded again and continued in the same soft voice. “Yes, I think that’s true. However, it may not be the easiest interview you have ever conducted. Hermione has a bit of a temper; from what my predecessor told me, she’s had it for at least 200 years.”
“I understand, sir. Still, if she can help…”
Alvaric sighed. “Very well.” He raised his voice. “Hermione?”
A portrait about six feet off the ground, behind Linda and to her right, of a bareheaded witch in Gryffindor red robes with a mass of bushy gray hair, opened its eyes and smiled. “Hello there, Alvaric. How have you been?” Linda twisted around in her chair to look.
The Headmaster said, “Very well, Hermione, thank you. I have a student who wishes to see you.”
The portrait wrinkled its brow. “Am I doing student counseling now? Is this something you can’t handle yourself? I hope it’s not because she’s a girl – I mean ‘girl’s issues’ and all that, I was never very good at that. Maybe Minerva – “ Across the room, a stern-looking female portrait in green robes and square spectacles scowled.
“No, no, it’s not counseling. She’s a History of Magic student and she wants to ask you about things you saw when you were alive.”
The portrait looked interested. “Oh, I see. That’s a new one. I can do that.”
The Headmaster looked a bit uneasy. “Well, Miss Norfolk-Howard, I think I will leave the two of you to discuss this by yourselves. I should probably be ‘walking about’ to observe the various classrooms anyway. The office entryway will seal itself when you leave. Will an hour be sufficient?”
“I think so, sir. Thank you.” Alvaric rose and walked (somewhat hurriedly, Linda thought) to the door.
“What’s your name, dear?” asked the portrait kindly.
“Hm, Norfolk-Howard”, the portrait muttered. “Probably descended from Thomas Howard, Fifth Duke of Norfolk. Are you Muggle-born?”
“So am I. You don’t have to call me ‘Ma’am’. I’m not alive. Call me Hermione. Can I call you Linda?”
“Yes, Ma’am – I mean, yes, Hermione.”
“That’s better.” Hermione frowned. “Alvaric did explain to you about portraits, didn’t he? I mean, I don’t have a real mind, not like the one I used to have. I’m pretty much a compendium of attitudes, slogans, and random data. The data’s accurate, I’m pretty sure, but ask me to generate an answer to a new problem and I’ll probably be stuck.” She looked glum.
“That bothers you,” said Linda.
“Of course it bothers me. I used to be the smartest person I knew. I was smarter than all my friends, smarter than all the other teachers – well, it was the main source of my self-respect.” The portrait looked even sadder. “I wasn’t afraid of death; I never would have left a ghost behind me to wander the hallways. But because I was Headmistress,” she grimaced, “I am stuck up on this wall for all eternity with a sorry excuse for a brain and endless boredom. Two hundred seven years, six months and ten days, and counting.” She sighed. “And I miss my friends and my family. I mean, I knew Albus and Minerva and Matthew, who served before me – “ The portrait of Dumbledore smiled at her in a kindly way. “And I knew Ursula and Randall and Marion, who served after me – “ A portrait of a beautiful, tall witch with jet-black hair winked at Linda. “But it’s not the same thing. I had a husband and sons…” She looked as if she would have cried if she could.
Linda was feeling slightly alarmed that the portrait was becoming so unhappy. She tried to think of a way to distract Hermione from her self-pity. “You had sons? No daughters?”
“Right.” Hermione seemed to recover instantly. “Four sons, no daughters.”
“Really? What are the odds of that, I wonder?”
“Fifteen-to-one, for most women,” answered the portrait promptly. “Rather the opposite if you’re married to a Weasley.” She grinned.
“Weasley was your husband? And Weasleys don’t have daughters?”
“I was married to Ron Weasley. Weasleys have very few daughters. I had four sons, seven grandsons, fifteen great-grandsons and not a female descendant in sight. Molly, my mother-in-law, had a similar record: fourteen grandsons and thirty-three great-grandsons, and no girls either. She had only the one d