The Mystery of the Paintings

By Kayla P.

“I am counting upon you to remain in Lord Voldemort’s good books as long as possible, or Hogwarts will be left to the mercy of the Carrows…”

This quote was spoken to none other than Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (page 688). And you may be wondering who this was spoken by? The great man himself; Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Of course, this should be impossible; Dumbledore died in Half-Blood Prince, so he shouldn’t be able to speak as if he were really there. Even though this is the magical world of potions, spells, and enchantments, even this mystery can’t be explained clearly in the books. How can people that have died communicate through portraits or photographs?

It is seen throughout the series that pictures are able to talk to living human beings. The Fat Lady, Sir Cadogan, Phineas Nigellus Black, Dumbledore…all have spoken to various characters in the books, and are treated as if they were actually there. But Dumbledore clearly stated that no spell can reawaken the dead in Goblet of Fire (page 697). The portraits may act as the Resurrection Stone did; by bringing back an essence of the prior soul to converse here on earth. However, there is a falsity about that sentence. According to The Tale of the Three Brothers, when the second brother brought back the girl he loved, he felt her sadness and loneliness at being forced back into the world of the living (page 409, Deathly Hallows). If you may recall, this was the reason he took his life. So, if the portraits truly were the same kind of souls brought back by the Stone, then why is there no reluctance of being there? There isn’t, and so this is not the answer.

Another explanation may lie in a certain spell, but quite like our machines in the muggle world; there is no explanation as to why the portraits able to speak and act for themselves. There isn’t any spell that says “Act like [insert name here],” like a computer in the muggle world; it can be programmed to do certain things, but never act on its own or express emotion. This is true because there are no wizards and witches that know how that exact human would behave and think. Take Dumbledore, who is the most brilliant wizard to have lived. No one knew what went on in his mind, and so no one would be able to imitate his actions.

The truth may very well lie in the painting itself. The artist could have captured the essence of the person so well, that it was able to think for itself. This could have been done in numerous ways; magical paint, a spell or enchantment, etcetera. Or, the living witch or wizard that is portrayed might have performed a bit of magic before death that enabled the painting to think as he or she would think. The world may never know.

One more question: If people can really speak to pictures, then why can’t Harry speak to his parents? He has many photographs of them, but it never shows him actually speaking to them. In the Order of the Phoenix, Mad-Eye Moody shows Harry a picture of the old Order of the Phoenix members. He orders the people in the photo to “shift aside there” in order for Harry to see the others (page 174). There’s no denying that the photographs move and are able to comprehend words spoken by the living. However, this may be the difference between a photograph, and a portrait. We muggles expect the very opposite; that photographs seem more real than paintings or drawings. But in Harry Potter, the portraits seem more alive, like the person is actually there, than the photos.

I hope you consider these unraveling thoughts. Do you know the truth? The truth to the Mystery of the Paintings?