On the Headmaster's Wall -- Chapter 2: Main Story
Here is the central chapter of the story. It was originally supposed to be the entire story and consequently can stand on its own.
Chapter Two: On the Headmaster’s Wall
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 NEWT 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 grey 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 Muggleborn?”
“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 get 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 daughter.” The portrait looked wistful, then said matter-of-factly: “I think it was an inherited miotic transcription error.”
Linda blinked. “A what?”
“Never mind; you’re not planning to be a Healer, are you?” Linda shook her head. “Then it’s probably not relevant.” She paused. “But it means, I suppose, that Ginny would have had daughters.”
“Who was Ginny?”
“Ginny Weasley,” replied the portrait, as if this explained everything.
When Linda looked at her blankly, Hermione tried again: “The daughter; Ron’s sister; Ginevra M. Weasley.”
After another silence the former Headmistress elaborated, apparently trying to jog Linda’s memory: “Born 1981; attended Hogwarts when I did; present at the end of the last Dark War.” She looked as if the last part was difficult for her to say. There was still no reaction and Hermione began to look irritated. “See here: Am I to understand that you are attempting a research project on the end of the Dark War and the defeat of Voldemort and have reached the stage of conducting an interview with a primary source,” Hermione gestured at herself, “and yet you’ve never even heard of Ginny Weasley? Exactly how much preparatory research have you done?” It was now easy to believe that Hermione had once been the formidable Headmistress of Hogwarts School.
Linda hurriedly shuffled through her notes, looking up names and dates and facts. She turned red. “I’m sorry, I – ” She stopped. “Wait a minute. I don’t remember telling you what exact events I was researching! I only told Professor Alvaric, and you were asleep!”
“I was only pretending to sleep. ‘A temper for 200 years,’ indeed! Answer the question.” The portrait was not exactly unkind, but she was very much the tough teacher.
“Er, I read the relevant articles in Hogwarts: A History – ”
“– Incomplete, tangential, misleading,” said Hermione.
“And I looked through Gordon’s Struggles with the Dark Powers – ”
“– Completely misses the point, pays no attention to detail, no critical judgment whatsoever,” fumed Hermione.
“And Lockhart’s Wrangle with You-Know-Who.”
“You’re kidding! ” Hermione looked shocked.
“Just as background reading.” Linda said hurriedly. “And,” she added shyly. “I read your own book, Racist Origins of the Dark Wars. ”
“That’s – ” the portrait was brought up short for a moment. Then she recovered herself. “That’s very flattering, Linda, but I ended that book with the events immediately following the Quidditch World Cup of 1994.”
“How about primary sources?” Demanded the former Headmistress.
“You’re my primary source.” Said Linda brightly.
“Linda, Linda, I mean primary written sources. Have you even read the issues of The Daily Prophet from the relevant dates? I’m sure they have them in bound volumes in the library.”
Linda turned red. “I’m afraid I haven’t.”
The portrait’s lips pressed together in a prim line. “Very well. I will give you this interview, on the condition that afterwards you proceed immediately to the library, where you will read every issue of The Daily Prophet from April, May, June and July of 1998. You will also check out Luna Lovegood’s Dangerous Youth – it’s a bit confusing to read, but Luna was an eyewitness and you should be able to tease out one or two important details from it. You will also contact the Ministry for Magic and obtain a transcript of the trial of Lucius Malfoy from 1999. Then ask Professor Binns for permission to use the Restricted Section to find the Collected Papers of Minerva McGonagall.” The portrait of McGonagall rolled its eyes, but said nothing.
Linda was furiously writing all of this down, thankful that she had brought a self-inking quill. It seemed a bit odd, on reflection, that she would be taking orders from a painting. But the authority and certainty conveyed by Hermione’s portrait brooked no disobedience, and anyway she really wanted that interview.
But the portrait started by interviewing her. “Please tell me what you already know about the end of the Dark War and the defeat of Voldemort.”
Linda swallowed, and began. “Well, Voldemort was really Tom Riddle, the son of a Muggle and a witch, and the last descendant of Salazar Slytherin. Like Slytherin, he favored a strict separation between the Wizarding and Muggle worlds, and he – ”
“ ‘Favored a strict separation,’ ” repeated Hermione in an astonished, stony-faced whisper.
“Go on,” the portrait said grimly.
“Um, he attempted to gain control of the Ministry for Magic in order to put these policies in place, largely through violent means. He started his campaign in about 1970 and continued it steadily until 1981. During that time he successfully gathered a large group of like-minded followers and eliminated opposition wherever possible – ”
“You mean he killed people.”
“Yes. He was a very powerful and skilled wizard, and it appears that nobody was able to stand against him in a single duel. His followers were also extraordinarily devoted to him, often taking great risks and committing extreme actions in his interests.”
“In his service”, corrected Hermione.
“Um, yes. Aurors of the Ministry for Magic, in order to protect the interests of the current administration, opposed Riddle and his followers – ”
“Death Eaters,” said Hermione.
“His followers: they called themselves ‘The Death Eaters.’ ”
Linda wrote this down. “How strange. Why ever did they choose that name?”
“Because Voldemort told them he had defeated death and become immortal,” said Hermione tiredly.
“And had he?” Asked Linda, interested.
“Depends on what you mean by ‘immortal;’ you tell me. But not yet. Finish your recitation first.”
“Okay. Aurors opposed him; there were severe casualties on both sides. Eventually Riddle vanished for a period of fifteen years, from 1981 to 1996 – ”
“Fourteen years,” said Hermione.
“Fourteen years, not fifteen. Voldemort returned in June of 1995, but the Ministry for Magic publicly denied it for an entire year. Probably dozens of lives would have been saved if the Ministry had announced his return and helped the public to prepare for it.”
“Can one truly know what would have resulted if things had happened differently?” asked Linda in her best objective-sounding historian’s voice.
Hermione looked at her bleakly. “Perhaps one can’t. But I can. Or at least I can hope. Dozens of people were killed by Voldemort when he suddenly began his reign of terror again. Eventually I lost some of my best friends. Maybe things could have happened differently…”
Linda made a wild guess. “Friends such as, was it your sister-in-law, Ginny Weasley?”
Hermione frowned. “Yes, like Ginny. But she was never my sister-in-law. We’ll get to her in a moment. Do you know why Voldemort vanished for fourteen years?”
“The books I’ve read all say that he tried to kill Harry Potter, an infant, and that his use of the Killing Curse backfired, but that he wasn’t actually killed; they called Potter ‘The Boy Who Lived.’ I don’t really understand either of those things, though: Killing Curses don’t backfire, and if one did, wouldn’t it kill the wizard who cast it?”
“Harry’s mother deliberately interposed herself between Voldemort and Harry when Voldemort was going to kill him; he made it clear that he wouldn’t hurt her if she got out of the way, but she stood her ground. Voldemort had to kill her to get to the baby; have you ever heard of a Sacrificial Blood Charm?”
“Yes, we studied them as part of the NEWT preparation in Ancient Runes and Arithmancy. But that charm hasn’t been used in over a thousand years!”
“I don’t think Lily Potter meant to use it; she was just trying to save her son. But Voldemort attempted to kill Harry immediately after killing Lily, and the magical inertia from the Charm was still extremely high. Ramachandra’s Fourth Hypothesis – ” Hermione began.
“ – says that the Sacrificial Blood Charm will have a magical inertia equal to twice the inertia of the spell that provoked it, but that it decreases geometrically over time.” Linda jumped in. “So if Riddle tried to kill the baby immediately after the Charm was invoked, say, within twenty or thirty seconds, and if he used the Killing Curse to trigger it in the first place – ” Linda’s lips moved soundlessly for a moment and her eyes unfocussed as she did Arithmantic calculations in her head. “ – yes, yes, it would have to make the curse rebound! And – wait – the rebound would slow down the decay of the charm inertia. You could convert the charm into a shield or ward that would last for years!”
Hermione paused, clearly impressed by how fast the girl’s mind worked in this highly technical and obscure area. “It did last for years. Harry was fostered with his mother’s only living relative – ” Linda nodded vigorously, recognizing the application of Ramachandra’s equations “ – and Dumbledore performed the charm vector transformation to apply it to the freehold. Harry was essentially untouchable by violent magic within the confines of his aunt’s house for the next sixteen years.”
“You knew him?”
“He was my best friend; my husband’s too.”
“I see.” Linda’s felt herself smiling without meaning to. If Hermione had known Harry Potter as a close friend, then she was precisely the person who could tell her about the end of the war. “Why would Riddle want to kill a baby in the first place?”
“There was a prophecy. Voldemort only knew the first half of it, the part that said a baby was to be born at the end of July who would have the power to vanquish the Dark Lord. If he’d heard the rest of it, he’d never have tried to kill him.”
“The rest of it said, in part, the Dark Lord shall mark him as an equal, but he shall have power the Dark Lord knows not. By trying to kill an infant as though he were an armed opponent, Voldemort marked Harry as his equal – indeed, arguably as a superior – and began the chain of events that led to his own destruction.”
“Did he really have power Riddle didn’t?”
Hermione looked sad, and suddenly much older. “Oh, yes. No question.”
There was a long pause during which Linda expected the portrait to elaborate. When she didn’t, Linda took a slightly different tack. “I don’t understand. If the curse rebounded on Riddle, why didn’t he die? The curse should have killed him.”
There was another pause while Hermione’s portrait regarded Linda with an appraising eye. Finally, she said, “Have you ever heard of something called a Horcrux?” At least ten portraits snapped awake upon hearing that word.
“No, I’m sure I haven’t. I’d remember a name like that.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it. At least they are still maintaining the old curriculum standards to some degree. This is a kind of magic we never teach, and which is almost never discussed out loud or in print if it can be avoided. I’m going to give you a highly edited version to help you understand what happened, and you’ll probably have to use some of it in your essay, but you must promise me that you won’t seek any further knowledge – ” She was interrupted by loud objections from several portraits.
Eventually the portrait of Dumbledore prevailed over the others. “Excuse me, Hermione, but do you think that even a highly edited version of this topic is wise? After all, if the Hogwarts prohibition on the subject had been strictly followed in the first place a great deal of bloodshed might have been avoided.”
“I disagree, Albus. Riddle independently found out about the ritual and its effects; the only information he really acquired from Slughorn related to the question of multiple Horcruxes, and Slughorn didn’t give him new data on that point either. In any case, how can I explain either Voldemort’s survival in 1981, or his demise in 1998, without saying something about Horcruxes? What did I spend most of my nineteenth year doing, after all?”
“I take your point, Hermione. But please be extremely careful.”
“I shall.” She turned to Linda. “Well? Do I have your promise?”
At this point Linda was unsure of whether she really wanted to know this information, while at the same time she was dying of curiosity. She said, “I promise.”
“Very well. A Horcrux is an object containing a severed fragment of a mutilated human soul. Such a fragment can be created only at the cost of essentially destroying the internal integrity of the soul, and the subject is not really human – isn’t even fully alive – after it is performed. However, so long as the Horcrux exists, physical death of the body of the subject will not result in absolute death, because the fractured fragment of the soul remains.”
“But that’s awful! It would be like living with your insides ripped out, or half your brain shut off! Are you saying that Riddle actually created one of these things out of his own soul?”
“Several of them.”
“Several?” Linda repeated, feeling sick. “But why?”
“Have you considered what the name ‘Voldemort’ means? Do you know enough French? Vol de mort.”
Linda paused. “That’s not really idiomatic French , is it? I make it out to be either ‘theft of death’ or ‘flight from death.’ ”
“Just so. Riddle was terrified of death; he felt that it was proof of the weakness of humanity. His own mother’s death in childbirth was proof, to him, of her fallibility. He sought to conquer death to prove his own dominance over the world. Ironic, isn’t it, that someone who so feared death could cause so much of it? But really, that was the point: Riddle could deal out death but death could never touch him; this proved, in his mind, that he, and not death, was the master.” She grimaced. “Now go on.”
Linda continued. “Well, my sources aren’t very clear, but it appears that Riddle reappeared again after, er, fourteen years. But if, as you say, he was hit by the spell rebound and survived in any form at all only because of the Horcruxes, then how did he reappear?”
“He used Harry. One of Riddle’s followers, a man named Pettigrew, located the disembodied shade and created a temporary body surrogate for it. Then they found a way to capture Harry, and used his blood in the Ritual of Bone, Flesh and Blood to recreate a body for Riddle. Do you know of the ritual?”
“Only from passing references, but I think I understand what you’re saying. How did Potter survive? I know he lived longer than that.”
“It’s a long and complex story, but even after reanimation using Harry’s blood, Voldemort couldn’t beat Harry at a direct contest of power. Harry escaped. What else can you tell me?”
“Well, of course I know about the invasion of Hogwarts and the death of Dumbledore; I know that Harry Potter eventually killed Riddle, but what I don’t understand is how that’s possible. If the Horcruxes prevented Riddle’s death the first time, why didn’t the same thing happen later?”
Hermione took on a haunted look. “We destroyed them.”
“ ‘We?’ ”
“Harry, Ron and I. It took us most of a year. It’s absurd, really; three teenagers – I was eighteen, Harry and Ron were seventeen – searching England for booby-trapped, highly toxic fragments of the soul of our greatest enemy. The job was a little easier because Harry had already destroyed one Horcrux without realizing it, and because Dumbledore destroyed another. But there were still four more. There was a locket, which Mundungus Fletcher stole from Twelve Grimmauld Place after Regulus Black hid it there; he’d resold it, and we found it back at Borgin & Burkes in the case where Borgin had originally kept it more than seventy years before.” Linda was furiously writing down all of these names and places. “The explosion when we destroyed it took out most of the shop. None of us was hurt, though I don’t really understand why.
“There was a cup, which was actually secreted in the graveyard in Godric’s Hollow, although that made absolutely no sense, since Voldemort didn’t even know about Godric’s Hollow until shortly before he attacked the Potters. The cup required an actual death to obtain. Severus Snape – ” Here she shook her head as if to clear it. “ – pursued us to Godric’s Hollow and – and died there.” Hermione looked like she was about to say more on the subject, but apparently decided against it. “The cup splintered into dozens of pieces when we destroyed it, and it cut me and Harry pretty badly. I had the scar on my arm for the rest of my life.
“The statuette – you’re a Ravenclaw, aren’t you?” Linda nodded. “There was a gold statuette of an eagle, with Rowena Ravenclaw’s mark on it.” Linda’s eyes grew wide. “It was buried in the walls of Hogwarts Castle in 1970, the same day Voldemort cursed the Defense Against the Dark Arts position.”
“He – what? You can’t curse an intangible! That violates Garrett’s Principle of Magical Manifestation.”
“I know. Never mind. There was no way of getting at the statuette without deactivating practically every protective ward and spell surrounding the castle. We weren’t up to it ourselves, but the combined forces of the faculty, plus several expert curse breakers, allowed us to do it. Two teachers and three of the curse breakers died, including Ron’s brother Bill. I’ll bet they didn’t mention that in Hogwarts: A History, did they?” Hermione looked to be lost in thought for a moment.
“Was there one more Horcrux?” Prompted Linda.
“Yes: a snake. It accompanied Voldemort when he came to Hogwarts to kill us. Do you know how it all ended?”
“Not really; that’s why I needed to see you. All the books say is that the war ended when Harry Potter murdered Voldemort; then he committed suicide.”
Hermione looked sick. “That’s really what you think? That Harry would commit murder? That he would commit suicide?” Linda nodded. “Harry didn’t commit suicide, and he didn’t murder Voldemort.” Hermione said grimly. “I was there. I saw. Voldemort came to Hogwarts to kill Harry. Somehow he knew that the wards of the castle had failed, that he could get in without trouble. I’ve always thought that that meant he must have known we’d destroyed the Horcrux there, but he didn’t act as if he knew. He brought a gang of Death Eaters and his pet snake.
“All hell broke loose,” she said in an expressionless, faraway voice. “There were so many people there, so much fighting. Harry was a Parselmouth, and he somehow talked the snake into attacking Voldemort, who killed the snake in self-defense."
The portrait took the equivalent of a long breath. “I don’t know how Ginny knew Voldemort had come; I don’t know how she even knew exactly where we were. But you have to understand this – Ginny and Harry loved each other deeply. I don’t think either of them ever actually told the other, not in so many words – ” Her voice caught and she had to swallow a few times. “But I knew. And they knew. The only reason Ginny didn’t go with us on our hunt for the Horcruxes is that Harry couldn’t bear the thought of putting her in danger; he knew he’d be a wreck, that he wouldn’t be able to concentrate, if he thought she was at risk. He knew he’d do anything to protect her, even letting Voldemort win…” Her voice caught again.
“Ginny came rushing in,” Hermione continued shakily. “Ron and I were each fighting a Death Eater and were unable to move. Voldemort’s wand was raised, and he was about to use the Killing Curse on Harry. Ginny ran directly in front of him – ” She stopped, her voice soft. “It was like what his mother did for Harry all over again; she stepped in front of the Killing Curse to protect him. Voldemort killed her. That’s when it happened.”
Her eyes took on a troubled, abstracted look, as if she were still trying to understand a confusing passage in a book she’d read many times. “Voldemort killed Ginny, and Harry loved her, and he couldn’t stand it, and something happened. I don’t know what happened. He gave a great cry; it broke my heart; I’ve never been able to forget it. And his grief – it was as if his grief was something physical that came pouring out.” She sighed. “Technically I think it was a burst of wandless magic; that’s what Minerva said anyway.” The portrait of the green-robed witch nodded. Hermione continued, “It was the color of sunlight at sunset, and it was the brightest thing I’ve ever seen, and it came right out of Harry’s chest. It blinded me. When I could see again, Harry and Voldemort were both gone. We never saw either of them again. Ginny’s body was still there, though.” She paused thoughtfully. “The prophecy said that Harry would have a power the Dark Lord knows not, and Dumbledore always said that power was love. I think Harry had so much love for Ginny that he simply could not contain it when she died; it came out as a flood of magical energy that carried him right along with her. He had to go where she went.”
“But why did it kill Voldemort?” asked Linda.
“Voldemort could never tolerate love; he suffered agony when he tried to possess Harry because of the love Harry felt for his godfather. And Voldemort and Harry were linked; they could never completely avoid one another’s thoughts and feelings. When Harry simply overloaded with love, I think it obliterated Voldemort. Or maybe, well, Voldemort resurrected himself using Harry’s blood; perhaps when Harry disintegrated Voldemort went with him.”
Linda was quiet for several minutes, trying to think of something else to ask. She knew that there were pertinent details she should be asking, things about political developments and public opinion and tactics, but somehow all of that now seemed trivial. Finally she said awkwardly, “It must be an honor to have memories of such brave friends.”
“The memories,” said Hermione with a voice of desolation, “are all I have.”
“But you were Headmistress, you were a great witch and a famous teacher –”
“Once, maybe,” said the portrait, becoming increasingly agitated. “But now I’m an echo, an after-image, a repeating recording, an incomplete book.”
“Is it that bad?” Linda knew it was a mistake as soon as it came out of her mouth.
“I hate being a portrait! It’s so lonely! It’s so boring!” Hermione cried. “How can any of you stand it?” she demanded of the other portraits.
“You’re the only one it bothers,” said the portrait of the black-haired witch.
“But why? I can’t be the only one for whom this seems like torture!”
“Hermione,” the portrait of Dumbledore reminded her gently. “A portrait does not have original thoughts or feelings. You cannot feel anything that the original Hermione Granger-Weasley did not feel herself. If, therefore, you feel intense pangs of boredom, loss, loneliness and longing, it is not because you are a portrait; it is because Hermione, when she lived, felt those things herself.”
Hermione looked sullenly at him, but did not reply.
Dumbledore continued, “It means that Hermione was lonely and longing while she lived. It cannot be from missing Ronald and her sons; Ronald and she died within a few weeks of each other, and her sons survived her. What did you miss, Hermione? What were you longing for?”
Hermione’s portrait did a good imitation of taking a deep breath. “Harry and Ginny,” she said quietly.
“Ah.” Dumbledore nodded.
“They were so happy when they were together,” she continued, “and they were together for so short a time. Every day when I was with Ron – loving him, loving our children, loving our life together – every day I saw Harry and Ginny before my eyes, I imagined them – ” And now, contrary to everything Linda had been taught about wizard paintings, the portrait began to weep in earnest. “– I imagined them looking at me from across the room, looking at me with longing and with envy, asking me, Why didn’t we have this? Why couldn’t we have loved each other for a lifetime? Where are our sons and daughters?” She was unable continue and gave herself over to bitter, impossible tears.
For a few minutes there was no sound but Hermione’s sobs. Linda didn’t know what to do or to say. Many more of the portraits on the wall seemed to be awake now, and most of these were staring at Hermione with horror or pity. Linda, who had never lost a grandparent or even a pet, tried to picture what it was like: to lose dear friends – more than friends, really, more like a brother and sister – and then to feel their sad presence for the rest of your life, dogging your steps, making every sweetness bittersweet. It was beyond her ken, but it made her sadder than she had been for a long time.
“Hermione, dear,” said the portrait of McGonagall finally. Somehow the phrase didn’t sound quite natural coming from her mouth. “Look at Linda.”
The portrait of Hermione stopped crying and looked at Linda, who had tears in her own eyes and was confused by the instruction.
McGonagall continued, “Here is Harry and Ginny’s daughter. Look out the window.”
Hermione moved to the edge of her picture frame and peered, as well as she could from her position on the wall, at the window. “How?” she asked sourly.
“If you could see all the students in the courtyard, and their parents, and their parents before them, for more than nine generations since Voldemort fell, you would be looking at the children of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley. None of them, none of them would be here but for the sacrifice of your friends. Harry and Ginny knew what was at stake and they fought Voldemort, as you did, with a clear mind and an open heart.”
“But Ginny didn’t die for the generations to come,” objected Hermione in distress. “She died trying to save Harry! And Harry didn’t die for posterity; he died because he couldn’t live without her!”
“Hermione,” Dumbledore said quietly. “A poet once wrote, The night my father got me / His mind was not on me. When a husband and wife embrace, they are thinking of each other, and of their love and their desire; usually they are not thinking of the child who may come as a result. Yet the child comes, and the parents love it because it is the fruit of their love for each other. Ginny did what she did out of love for Harry; Harry did what he did – and I do think he had a choice; Harry always had a choice – out of love for Ginny. But do you think they would scorn the thousands of children, and grandchildren, and great-great-great grandchildren, who have lived and loved and prospered as the result of their love for each other? If you had asked Harry and Ginny, If you could, would you die tonight for your love, and to save a generation? do you imagine that they would have hesitated for an instant? You knew your friends. What would they say?”
Hermione paused for a long moment. She looked around the room as though trying to read the answer from the walls. Then her gaze fell upon Linda and she answered, “They wouldn’t hesitate.”
There was a long silence. In it, Hermione seemed to settle, as it were, back into her picture frame. She looked quieter, more sedate, almost as if she had had a calming glass of wine after a bad shock. Then she looked steadily and Linda and spoke in an entirely different tone than she had used before.
“Well, Linda, did you get everything you came for? Is there anything else you need to ask me?”
“Yes, I did. No, I don’t. Thank you.”
“It was my pleasure. Now, do you remember where will you be going after this?”
Linda grinned. “Immediately to the library, where I will begin reading old newspaper articles and checking out books to find primary sources.”
“That’s right. Good girl.” Linda rose and walked towards the door. “And Linda?” Linda stopped and again turned towards the portrait. “Make it a really good essay; make it an essay that people will read. Don’t let them forget about Ginny. Don’t let them forget that it was all done for love.”
Linda nodded gravely. Hermione smiled at her, then appeared to doze off.
Linda walked out the door and carefully rode the rotating staircase to the bottom, thinking about the many hundreds of students and teachers who must have used it before. As she walked out of the tower into the light, she heard the doorway seal shut behind her. She looked around her at the other students crisscrossing the courtyard, the other children living with the unconsidered inheritance from those they would never know. She sighed and went to the library.