A/N: This piece was written for the HP Mental Health Fest on LiveJournal. I've only changed a few minor grammatical errors, as well as went with the Queen's English over American spelling. Otherwise, the gist of it is very much as it was when it was originally posted. You can find more information about my prompt below.
Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Brittny, for her immeasurable help!
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is copyrighted to and belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just playing in her sandbox. No money, just fun. Artwork is credited to PhalacrocoraxCarbo on DeviantArt and entitled "Go Away, Miss Granger".
LJ Fest: HP Mental Health Fest
Warning(s): Mild Language
Mental health issue: portrait adjustment disorder
Additional prompt: Some portraits have trouble adjusting to their new 2D existence. Some experience depersonalisation. Some feel something very like claustrophobia, and feel a desperate need to escape their frames. The portrait of your choice struggles to adjust and gets help from an unexpected source.
Squicks: The idea that portraits somehow have less of a personality and inner life than 3D people do. (In other words, please ignore Pottermore's ideas about portraits if you know them.)
A Portrait's Preeminence
"Irritable, wretched, insolent scaffolding!"
Hermione Granger bit her cheek and punctured her parchment with the tip of her feathered quill. Would that blasted man ever quit his bickering? She had been forced to cease penning her late-night owl to Ginny at least three times already thanks to that irksome, cutting voice stationed directly above her head, who kept sparring on gratuitously and causing the other portraits around him to either exit their frames in search of peace and quiet elsewhere or to curse him out, which not only made him angrier by the minute but caused him to swear louder.
If only I could find some peace and quiet in my own office! she huffed to herself, rolling her eyes as that deep, sinister voice started up again. Oh, bloody joy!
With her face half-hidden behind a bundle of grey curls that had escaped her plaited bun, Hermione was hunched over and had just begun reformulating her thoughts to her good friend when the voice rose to a near boom.
"Meddlesome, damnable, no-good—"
"Curse it, Severus! Enough! Some of us are trying to sleep here!"
"As if I give a damn about your wretched beauty sleep, Dexter," the portrait of Severus Snape snarled in reply. "Or have you had another unfortunate lapse in judgment, old man? You're dead. Sleep is irrelevant."
Dexter Fortescue grumbled under his breath and turned his chair in the opposite direction, somehow thinking that would help him escape the noise of his darker, more abrasive-sounding colleague.
"Well, at least have the common decency to remove yourself from here if all you intend to do is pace and sputter in your frame!" sniped the portrait of Dilys Derwent, who stuck up her nose in the man's direction. "We don't need to hear you go on and on all night long about your damned disorder again!"
Hermione's ears perked up at overhearing that. It was common knowledge amongst the school staff that when Severus Snape's portrait had originally been hung in the Head's Office over the summer hols that the wizard hadn't adapted well to his two-dimensional format, but that was as far as anyone understood. Not many had conversed with his portrait since its instillation, including Hermione, which she felt terribly guilt-ridden over and had expected to make right following her return in the fall as the newly instated Headmistress.
Alas, she had yet to have that long-awaited conversation with Severus Snape's portrait. Time and work had simply gotten away from her; or, so, she kept telling herself.
As it was, Hermione hadn't found much of her time spent in the Head office since she—reluctantly—took it over. She preferred the comfort of her personal quarters to clear her head, pace, or read when she was finally off the clock for the night, so spending a late night in her office penning an owl to a friend was a rarity. Why so many of her predecessors preferred the Head office to take their mind off school-related affairs was beyond her.
In fact, Severus himself used to read for hours in that chair, Hermione found herself reminiscing, her eyes darting towards a heavily worn leather wingback chair by the fireplace. It was empty and had remained so since its former inhabitant passed away. Hermione hadn't been able to bring herself to sit in it; perhaps she never would. After all, until fairly recently, it had been Severus Snape's chair, so, as far as Hermione was concerned, no one else deserved to take his place in it.
Speaking of which...
The dark wizard's snarling and growling brought Hermione painfully back to the present. Apparently, he had sought to ignore the groans and protests of those around him by expressing a handful of colourful remarks under his breath about each and every one of them.
"Severus, dear boy," came the tinkling laughter of Albus Dumbledore, nestled in the frame to his left, "you must calm down. I know you've been feeling a little agitated and claustrophobic lately but—"
"That's an understatement!" barked another portrait. "He hasn't let up since his portrait was hung in July!"
"Now, now, Caligula," spoke Albus calmly, "it can be a frightful adjustment to portrait life—"
"I do not fear this!" Severus thwarted Albus from finishing his thought, growling lowly.
"Really, Severus, it's quite all right, you know."
"No! You have it wrong, Albus," he seethed heatedly. "You always did get it wrong."
At last, the Headmistress felt compelled to speak up. Hermione's high chair screeched back from her desk and her voice hollered above the commotion, "That's enough!" to which every portrait still present fell silent, including an infuriated Severus.
Hermione whipped herself around to crane her neck up at Severus's portrait. He was pacing back and forth in his frame, arms crossed firmly over his chest. The other portraits sat quietly in their chairs, however, some rolling their eyes or giving the Slytherin vexed glares. Albus was notably the only calm portrait Hermione glimpsed, perched quietly in his chair with his elbows raised and a concerned expression mounting his aged face.
Hermione took a deep breath. "Severus?" she addressed him softly.
Severus immediately ceased pacing and turned to her with an accusatory eyebrow raise. "What?" he snapped before thinking better of his biting reply. "I mean, yes, Headmistress?"
Hermione blushed under the scrutiny of that uppity acknowledgement. It felt entirely out of place coming from this individual, a notion the witch had inwardly feared might occur once she finally got around to speaking to him at last.
In life, Severus Snape had rarely addressed her as Professor Granger, unless they were in the company of less familiar colleagues in the academic arena, but even then, it had been a rarity, especially as the two aged. For so long she had been simply Hermione and, with time, he, in turn, had become Severus to her. Years—decades, in fact—the two academics had spent at the castle together in one another's steadfast company had seen them form an immeasurable bond of close friendship.
Thus, to hear herself addressed by Headmistress, in such a formal, stiff manner, felt deeply painful; more so than Hermione had bargained on. "Severus, you know you can call me Hermione, surely? You..." She paused to collect herself. "You always addressed me informally in life."
"As you can well see for yourself, I am no longer living," he came down on her hard, sounding exceptionally bitter on that score, "and you are now Headmistress. It's a form of respect that I should submit to calling you."
To Hermione's dismay, the sulking, unhappy wizard turned away from her and proceeded to pace again, though his cheeks seemed to have garnered more colour. Could portraits do that? Hermione contemplated with curiosity. Then again, if they could express anger, hurt, and frustration, perhaps blushing wasn't so farfetched.
"Can you tell me what's wrong?"
"Nothing that concerns you," he insisted and bared his teeth; the portrait artist had certainly gotten the man's yellowed, crooked dentition dead on, no pun intended. "You should return to your duties, Headmistress; or whatever it was you were doing."
Hermione frowned up at him. "But I want to help, Severus."
"I don't need your help."
"Oh?" Hermione patiently turned to Albus for some sort of guidance, the pair of them tuning out the other griping portraits around them. Albus's glistening blue eyes offered the witch silent encouragement to keep pestering, so she did so without a second thought. "It sounds like this has something to do with your portrait. Are you unsatisfied with the result?"
Severus snorted but didn't meet Hermione's eyes. "'Unsatisfied,'" he grunted mockingly. "What with my natural good looks, what faults are there to be found?"
Hermione's collected expression morphed into shooting daggers. "Don't mock me, Severus. You know better than that. You also understand what I'm getting at. It was a legitimate question. Are you unsatisfied with your portrait?"
Hermione scratched her head, perplexed. Splotches of dried ink covered her knuckles and blackened her fingernails, but she never saw fit to cleanse the ink away. In fact, it was a trait Severus used to tease her about relentlessly.
"Are you unhappy with your placement in the room?"
"I should hope not. You're directly above the high chair. That's quite an honour, you know."
"Is it?" Hermione detested how utterly bored Severus sounded; several other portraits hissed at his blatant disrespect, but Hermione only shook her head. This was nothing compared to how combative Severus Snape used to be in the actual flesh.
"Do you not like the connections your portrait has to other places in the castle?"
"What about your second portrait at Spinner's End? Does that displease you?"
"Do you wish your portrait were taller or wider or perhaps less rectangular? I heard you griping about the framework earlier."
"That was figuratively speaking, my dear," Albus piped in, smiling knowingly down at Hermione, who attempted to keep from glaring at her former Headmaster as well. That meddlesome man was about as irksome to her as Severus was proving to be at the moment.
"Then what, Severus? Merlin's arse, this is the first we've spoken since— Well, since your portrait was hung over the summer! Can you please help me out a little here, for goodness' sake?" Severus mumbled something incoherent that had Hermione coiling her fingers into fists; she was losing her patience, and fast. "Or would you prefer that I settle this by burning a hole through your portrait now and putting you out of your misery?"
Many of the other portraits gasped in horror at such a violent suggestion, but their reactions only garnered more glaring daggers from the current Headmistress in their directions. "And the rest of you can clear off for the next hour or two! Leave us!"
A couple of the oldest portraits bickered angrily at being instructed to leave but complied rather easily. Apparently, Hermione's threat to set one of the portraits ablaze was enough incentive to get them scampering elsewhere for temporary shelter, including Albus, who was one of the last to exit his frame. He turned to Severus, who had stopped walking and was now gaping down at Hermione, a mixture of shock and agitation written across his painted features.
"Hear her out, Severus. I'm sure she can help."
Severus responded to the old wizard with a defensive curl of his upper lip, but Albus had already turned his back on the scene and fled. Severus himself had started to bolt towards the edge of his frame when Hermione's command impeded his escape.
"Severus Snape, do not play the coward with me!"
In the next instance, Severus's black eyes met hers and glinted sharply. "What?" he whispered; Hermione despised resorting to such measures, but there were few other words she knew of that would have stopped the one-time spy in his tracks.
"You heard me!" she spat back and placed her hands reprimandingly on her hips. "When it comes to discussing matters of the heart, you always were the type to initially clamp up and run from your feelings."
At once, Severus turned on her. "Why you wretched—"
"I said, 'initially', Severus. In any case... It doesn't matter now." She sighed heavily and sunk her weight against the edge of her desk. "You want to tell me what's wrong, now that we're alone?"
"I have nothing to say to you!"
Hermione felt a stabbing pang in her chest at that. "That's a bit harsh, Severus. I thought we were—"
"What, friends?" Severus chortled rancorously, sounding nearly mad with indignation. "Indeed! So did I!"
Hermione's frown deepened with concern. "We were, Severus."
Apparently, her deceased 'friend' thought otherwise, for he let out a disgruntled "Humph!" and crossed his arms. "Is that why you've only spoken to me for the first time only this evening? Because we were such close friends?"
The emphasis on that word was riddled with resentment that Hermione would have had to be a fool not to catch on to. So, his portrait was holding a justified grudge for her lack of civility towards him since becoming Headmistress. Hermione couldn't blame him for his anger; in all likelihood, if their roles were reversed, she would have been infuriated, too. She swallowed hard, aware of the heartfelt apology she owed him, amongst other things.
"I'm so sorry, Severus..."
Severus stuck up his overly large nose. "There's no excuse that will suffice!"
"You're right... There isn't." Wistfully, Hermione sunk her hands into the pockets of her long, crimson-coloured robes. "I have no legitimate reason to have ignored you for so long. And I wouldn't had I... Well, I've missed you, Severus...terribly."
Severus's eyebrow arched questioningly. "Have you?"
"Yes, of course I have. Don't look so skeptical; it's quite easy to miss you! It's been very hard on me, you know. I would've thought you'd know how I felt..."
The fury in Severus's pinched features subsided, though his stark eyes quickly darted from Hermione's evident sorrow to something less discomforting in the room. "Well, I know why you've been avoiding me," he muttered under his breath. "Why you purposely keep from spending much of any time in here."
Hermione's heart clenched. Staring up into that beautifully pale face—so life-like and familiar—was suddenly entirely too painful for her. His portrait reminded her of the real gut-wrenching grief she had wrestled with after losing him not so long ago.
"I see..." she murmured, her voice catching in her throat. "You know it...it hasn't been intentional, Severus."
"I have been meaning to come talk to you."
"I suspected as much."
"I really am...sorry."
Those mysterious eyes, still ever elusive as they had been in life, grew soft and gentle. "You needn't keep apologising, Hermione," he responded, at last without malice. "After all, we both know I'm not truly here."
Hermione couldn't withhold her dissatisfaction at hearing such words, no matter how true they may be. "Where are you, Severus?" she inquired mournfully.
His portrait seemed to puzzle the matter a long moment. "I cannot say exactly. My body lies buried in the ground, of course, and my soul... That resides somewhere else. I'm everywhere, I suppose."
Hermione projected a woeful smile. "Here with me, perhaps?"
"When you've wanted me to be, yes..."
Hermione inhaled a steady breath. "That's an enormous comfort to me to know. Thank you, Severus." His portrait cocked his head sideways, which prompted Hermione to shake her head. "But enough of this talk. We're not here to discuss me. We're here to discuss you. So, tell me, what's troubling you?"
Unsurprisingly, Severus scoffed at Hermione's plain attempts to get him pouring out his feelings. He stubbornly kept his arms wrapped across his chest.
"Please, Severus? We always could talk to each other..."
At this reminder, Severus bit his cheek. "Yes...I remember."
Hermione nodded her head encouragingly. "So, what is it? Tell me why you're so unhappy."
Severus brought his lips tightly together. His angular features scrunched up as he appeared to debate the matter or how much he should or shouldn't divulge. After a rather pregnant pause of considerate staring between the two, Severus finally drew closer in his frame, his arms unraveling from his chest. When he spoke, the lack of confidence he conveyed surprised Hermione.
"Portrait life is...is far too confining."
Hermione's eyebrows rose high on her forehead. "You feel confined?" It was more of a rhetorical question, and knowing the clever woman as well as he had, Severus merely nodded, waiting for Hermione to press on. "But, you don't have to stay in this frame, Severus. You can retreat to virtually any other frame in the castle, or back to Spinner's End if you'd like."
"My home is abandoned and falling to shambles," Severus uttered in frustration. "Why on earth would I go there?"
"I don't know... To reminisce? To ensure its upkeep? I'm not a portrait."
"And why must I be one?"
Hermione scowled, her expression turning profound. "So, it isn't claustrophobia you're experiencing within your frame but a sense of insignificance, is that it?"
Severus's acknowledgment was flat and monotone when it finally came. "Yes."
Hermione's face took on a look of genuine empathy. "Oh, Severus, why would you think that?"
"All I do is sit, stand, or pace." A disheartened portrait Severus ran a hand through long, straggly hair, sprinkled of salt and pepper hues; it was a charming quirk Hermione had always enjoyed witnessing when the man had trouble expressing himself. "I coast to other frames with no purpose; I converse with other portraits like me, all of whom talk with as much depersonalisation and dullness as befits what we are, and every day it numbs me more and more.
"I'm merely an observer here, Hermione; a useless outsider forever looking in on life's comings and goings but no longer a participant. I... I loathe being here. I can't stand being reduced to nothing more than a damned accessory condemned to grace Hogwarts's walls for the rest of time. I'd rather I didn't exist at all."
Hermione's heart stopped short. "'Accessory'?" she breathed, exasperation creeping into her tone. "Is that all you think you are? Oh, Severus, you couldn't be more wrong!"
"But I don't serve a purpose!" he argued, waving his hands defensively in the air. "Portraits have no value! They are mere embellishments!"
"Oh, rubbish! That isn't true, Severus. Of course they serve a purpose, and the portraits of past Headmasters and Headmistresses serve the highest purpose of all the hundreds of portraits in this castle!"
"What, because we converse and offer advice? A living, breathing individual could easily do as much!"
"That may be true, but not easily! There are few living and breathing Wizarding Headmasters or Headmistresses, for instance, whom I can turn to. The current Head of this school needs portraits like yours to look to in times of crises. We can't rely solely on ourselves or our staff to provide us balanced input. Our staff can't be burdened with the responsibilities the Headmistress carries; they have their own duties to see to.
"Who else am I to turn to, Severus, who's actually been in this position and experienced the daily ins and outs of this job that keep me up late at night? You, Severus Snape. It's portraits like yours who fully understand the burdens of this position. That's why you're here: because Headmistresses like myself have a need of you."
By the end of Hermione's urgent speech, however, Severus's scowl had hardened. "You haven't expressed any need of me since you took over as Headmistress!" he countered, to which Hermione sighed.
"You're right, I haven't; but that doesn't mean I haven't wanted to come to you. There have been times; so many times. I told you that and you claimed that you understood."
"I do!" Severus paused to exhale a sharp breath. "I just... I feel so much less than myself now."
Hermione, feeling heartsick for the man, wished she could reach through his frame and shake him senseless; or embrace him tightly. Yes, that she would have very much liked to do more than anything.
Hermione could sense the crippling enormity of grief getting the better of her and fought to suppress her emotions. It wouldn't do either of them any good—portrait or no portrait—for the Headmistress of Hogwarts to fall to pieces, so she gulped her feelings down as best she could.
"You do serve a purpose, Severus Snape," she conveyed with the utmost sincerity, from the heart. "You are not insignificant, do you hear? If I meant anything to you in life, if our friendship was genuine and whole and real..."
Her words trailed off in a painful whisper, but her hesitation was one Severus, even as a portrait, could internalise and well-understand. He reluctantly spoke after a long period of silence followed.
"It can never be what it was, Hermione..."
"I know it can't!" came her resentful retaliation; this time, it was Hermione who was going on the defence. "But, if I meant anything to you, Severus—anything at all—then you would... You would know that having your portrait here in my office, even if it's not really you but a reflection of who you once were, means a great deal to me!"
Severus stared down at the overcome witch in shock, raven irises glimmering in the night, and, for the first time, with hope, though Hermione was too distracted with wiping away the tears trickling down her cheeks to catch it. "I had no idea," he confessed in a lamenting murmur. "I'm sorry, Hermione... I didn't know..."
"How could you not?" Hermione glared up at him, hurt washing over every aged line of her broken face. "How could you not know how much you meant to me, or how deeply I've missed you?"
"No, I do; I have known, Hermione. I just..." Again, his cheeks secreted a redder blush. "I hadn't realised till this moment how I might do more than advise and mentor." Muffling a quiet chuckle, he shook his head in shame. "Merlin, but I've been a brooding fool."
"Bloody right you have!"
A fragmented smile—handsome and good-humoured—met that fiery expression. "My apologies."
Hermione sniffed a few times and ransacked her pockets for a clean handkerchief to dab away the remainder of her tears. Despite getting emotional on the man, she felt an enormous sense of relief at finally unburdening her feelings. It was surprisingly soothing to hear confirmation from Severus that he, at least, had gone to his grave aware of how deep her affections for him ran. She knew he returned those feelings, even if he had never found the gall to express them aloud. Love beyond friendship hadn't been something either of them discussed or really been searching for, and, until Severus's death, it remained an unspoken inclination that, even in its silence, was well-regarded and understood. Both professors had received tremendous emotional satisfaction from their friendship of so many years, but never expressing to Severus how deeply she cared for him before he passed was one of Hermione's most profound regrets.
And why you put off speaking with him until tonight...
"Hermione?" she suddenly heard him calling to get her attention.
Hermione peered up at Severus's portrait, feeling still highly sensitive but better after having gotten such important matters off her chest. She was taken aback by what she discovered.
Severus was staring down at her with an attentive countenance and emotionally changed outlook. It was palpable in those rich eyes of his, even from a distance and in the form of a painting, and that deepened awareness he projected excited her. If her words had been truly effective and this was the result, then Hermione could afford to be a little hopeful.
Severus's eyes slowly blinked. "Thank you...for helping me see things clearer. You've helped me better understand my purpose here. Perhaps, if you'll permit me, I can try to be of better use to you?"
"I hope you can, Severus. I want you to feel that you are wanted here, even if it's only by...me."
Severus's mouth stretched into an attractive smile. "That is a sufficient enough reason." Hermione rolled her eyes but broke out into a smile as well. As she started to direct her gaze towards her unfinished owl, Severus stopped her short. "More than sufficient, in fact."
Hermione stole an appreciative glance up at him before snatching up her quill and resuming her spot at her desk, halting before she began scrawling her reply to Ginny. "Severus?
"Yes?" came that deep purr above her head.
"When I've finished this response to Ginny, would you please meet me in the lily pad painting in my personal quarters, the one directly above my fireplace? There's still a lot more I'd like to talk to you about."
"As you wish." Hermione felt her heart swell with that simple but mollifying reply, and had just begun writing again when Severus piped up overhead, "You know, you could have picked a drier landscape. My boots are likely to get soaked."
Hermione bit back her laughter, though with difficulty. "I've always liked lily pads. I thought you knew that?"
"I do know that," he barked in annoyance. "It doesn't mean I appreciate the probability of getting drenched just to hear you yap on and on and on."
"I'll have one of the house-elves trade it out for something sterile before I retire for the evening. Would that suffice, Your Highness?"
"No, don't bother," he grumbled, this time with far less aggravation. "You always did love lily pads..."
A thoughtful, small smile tugged at Hermione's lips, and she swallowed hard to keep her sensitive emotions at bay. "The painting includes a wooden bench that's positioned under a willow tree in the left hand corner."
A pause later, "Sounds remarkably similar to my backyard at Spinner's End."
Hermione ceased writing and stared off towards the empty chair Severus had, at one time, occupied nightly, recalling how she would often join him, taking a seat in the opposite, less weatherworn chair. She would grade, he might read, and, together, they would converse for hours.
"Yes..." she expressed delicately. "It is quite similar. I always admired the lily pond you maintained. It was my favourite spot at Spinner's End, as you may recall; so unexpected."
"Because of that or because of its tranquility? It was a comforting place to sit and talk, as I remember..."
"Neither, actually." Hermione continued to stare on at that favourite chair, the countless conversations and debates they had shared etched in her memory; she was looking forward to continuing those again. "It was my favourite simply because it was yours."
An accommodating silence met her ears, a quietude that wasn't at all discomforting, and, with her considerate smile still intact, Hermione finished her personal owl and prepared it to be sent out the following day. Her brown spotted owl, Angus, was already asleep at his perch, and she didn't have the heart to wake him at this late hour.
When Hermione at last rose to retire for the evening, Severus had already departed his frame in anticipation of her coming. It put a sanguine smile on her face, one that hadn't been spotted since before his death.
Yes, his portrait could never, ever replace the real flesh and blood Severus Snape, but it would continue to serve a purpose for many years to come. They had both faced and come to terms with the reality of Severus's passing this evening, and the result they had reached was enormously comforting.
Hermione inhaled a deep breath. She made an elegant wave of her arm, extinguishing both the fire in the hearth and the candles hovering throughout her office, and exited the Head office to search for Severus elsewhere, knowing that a part of him would always linger behind, wherever she was.
A/N #2: Thank you for reading. Reviews are always greatly appreciated.