Disclaimer: I would never be such a fibber as to claim I owned any part of Harry Potter
A/N I must thank Shadowycat and her excellent stories for making me think about the living art of Hogwarts
There is now a complete, reedited, and illustrated version of this story. Check my author page for the URL
The Prefect's Portrait
Chapter one: The Reading Room
Hermione had walked past the picture for weeks. Down the stairs from the Gryffindor common room, past the archway leading toward the library, and into a dusty, narrow hall that suddenly opened into an inviting windowed alcove; she had worn a path day after day and night after night, looking for a quiet place to read.
The picture hung on the south wall, close to the window seat. Hermione liked the picture, for the girl in it was quietly reading herself, pale profile turned to the viewer. It was a wonderful picture of the Hogwarts Library, the girl sitting at the very table, and the very chair, that Hermione herself favoured.
She had stumbled on the place by accident, one sunny Saturday afternoon early in her sixth year. Everyone else had gone to Hogsmeade for an adolescent orgy of candy buying and butterbeer drinking. She had decided to delve into the little-known history of the Thulian Magus, when she was distracted by a persistent and subliminally annoying series of throat-clearings and sighs. She looked up to find Madam Pince staring at her.
"Yes, Madam Pince, what is it?"
"Miss Granger, it is nearly four o'clock." Hermione stared at her blankly. The library hours were clearly posted as 9 to 12, and 1 to 5 on Saturdays. "Miss Granger," the librarian continued, "have you noticed that you are the only student here?" Hermione looked around her. The two of them were indeed alone. There were no first or second years, or even the odd upperclassman denied Hogsmeade privileges. She opened her mouth, but the librarian cut her off. "Are you writing an essay for a class?" Hermione shook her head. "Preparing a special report?" Hermione shook her head again. "Researching a topic at the request of an instructor?"
"No, Madam Pince, but I—" Hermione began, turning red.
"No, you are doing none of those things." The librarian narrowed her eyes. "You are taking up my time with your recreational reading. You could check out those books and allow me to have an occasional weekend off. Instead, you chain me to my desk on a lovely afternoon. You could be reading in your room. You could be reading outside. You could be in the Gryffindor common room." Madam Pince, rose, brushing invisible dust off her immaculate robes. "I shall speak to the Headmaster about closing the library on Hogsmeade weekends. It's absurd to keep it open for only one student, and that student not even needing it for schoolwork."
Hermione, now hot with embarrassment, had snatched up her books, and brought them to the librarian's desk, standing impatiently while the librarian flicked her wand over them, eyeing her coldly.
"Thank you," Hermione bit out, and then stalked furiously out of the library, muttering. "I thought I could at least have a moment's peace in the library! I didn't know I needed my own bloody READING ROOM!"
At the unladylike bellow of "READING ROOM," an undistinguished painting of Helga Hufflepuff Healing the Hyborian Hobbits swung open, revealing a dim hall that appeared to be lit at the end. Hermione started down it hesitantly, and then rounding the corner, saw the soaring Gothic window with a stained glass insert of the Tree of Life. She took in the deep stone window seat, the dust on all the surfaces proclaiming them long unused, and realized that she had found a piece of Hogwarts for her very own. She turned away from the window and saw a large oil painting of a girl in the Hogwarts Library. She came closer, and the girl looked up briefly and smiled, before returning to the volume on the table in front of her.
Since then, she had restricted her library stays, making a point never to be the last student there. It was an easy thing to check out the books and wait a moment for the corridor outside to be clear, before whispering the password and slipping down the hall to her secret place. She had long ago brought a few cushions to scatter on the window seat. A muttered "Lumos!" and she had her own private reading room, away from the rigidities of Madam Pince, the noise of the common room, and the imbecilities of her roommates. She decided to keep the secret even from Ron and Harry, not wanting her private study to become the Gryffindor common room annex.
Time passed, and she studied and absorbed, while the girl in the picture read companionably nearby. Silence reigned, broken only by the whisper of pages turned by a living girl, and more softly still, by the painted image.
Perhaps habit had made her careless. Not long after, Hermione decided to stay up reading one Friday night. She had been in a hurry to get away from her friends and plunge into Ars Animagi. Slipping out of the library, she waited in the shadows for the last student to leave. Anthony Goldstein and his wretched girlfriend were dawdling along, while Tony held forth, as usual.
"We prefects bear a heavy burden, Mandy," he mourned. "Professor Flitwick has confided to me that I'm definitely in the running for Head Boy next year. With great honours must come great responsibilities." Hermione rolled her eyes.Oh, Tony," Mandy condoled, squeezing his hand, "I wish I knew how to help you!" Tony looked down at her hopefully, as she leaned back against the wall.
"Well, Mandy, there is something you could do—something that would mean so much—" he broke off at the sound of quick, booted strides coming toward the library. "Cripes!" Hannah gaped at him. Tony grabbed at her, pulling her along in the other direction. "It's Snape!" he hissed. "Hurry!"
The two of them scrambled off, while Hermione dashed to the scene of Hufflepuff glory, gabbled the password and ran down the well-worn corridor. She called out "Lumos," spread her books about her, settled herself comfortably on the cushions and lost herself in the discipline of Advanced Personal Transfiguration.
She was getting along nicely, reviewing the meditation techniques necessary for visualizing one's animal alter ego. Perhaps this year, Professor McGonagall will agree to tutor me. What would I be? She imagined herself a cat. Whoops, that could cause embarrassing encounters with Crookshanks— I don't think I'm ready for that! She couldn't see herself as a dog. I'm just not a dog person. I do hope I'm not a snake or anything nasty—I don't even like the Reptile House at the Zoo. Perhaps a bird? It could make up for my lack of flying skills. Yes, I'd quite like a bird—a swallow, a robin- or something bigger? A stork, a raven, or a great black BAT!
Merlin!" she shrieked, clutching her heart.
"No, Miss Granger, not quite. What are you doing here?" Looming over her, The Great Black Bat himself fixed her with his patented glare. Hermione slid awkwardly off the window seat, dropping Ars Animagi with a thud and puff of dust. I didn't even hear him! However does he DO that? Oh, no! I forgot to close the picture behind me! Stupid, stupid, stupid!
"Studying, Professor Snape," she faltered, her voice sounding thin and girlish in the silence. He paused, and raised an eyebrow with a smirk.
"You appear to me to be simply throwing valuable Hogwarts property to the dirty floor. An interesting interpretation of studying. Do you plan to abuse the other volumes in the same way? Or will you tread on them as well? And why here? Has the Gryffindor common room been laid waste by your friends? Perhaps your dormitory has been sacked by the Goths, Vandals, Weasleys, or Potters?"
"I was just looking for a quiet corner, sir, and I found an open door—"
"It is past curfew, Miss Granger," he said coldly. "Past curfew by over half an hour, and even a Gryffindor prefect should have more respect for rules known to her for years. You have lost your house twenty points. Twenty-five," he amended, looking at Ars Animagi on the floor. "Now gather up those books as carefully as you are able and get to your dormitory immediately."
He stood over her, dark and intimidating; making no move to help her, as she hastily retrieved Ars Animagi, adding it to the pile of volumes which she gathered from the window seat. She dared a glance at Snape, who was looking curiously about the alcove. He paused in front of the picture, and his face grew stony.
"Shall we make it an even thirty points, Miss Granger, or will you GET MOVING?" he snarled, the velvety baritone strangely rough. Hermione trotted past him, arms full of tomes. She picked up speed past the picture and made a dash for Gryffindor tower, leaving an irritated Potions Master in her wake.
He turned back to the picture of the girl in the library. It was very like her. Pale, delicate face, thick red hair half pulled back and falling almost to her waist, Gryffindor tie neatly knotted at the base of the slender, long neck.
The girl looked up, did a double take, and asked, shocked, "Severus, is that you?"
Snape cleared his throat, "Hello, Lily."