The Prologue

Avalanches can begin with a pebble, and revolutions aren't always started by people with noble intentions.

Take Percy Weasley, for instance. He's a selfish, power-crazed twerp with the warmth and humanity of a snake. However, it was his decision to run for office as the Minister for Magic that led to the Great Portrait Rebellion of Hogwarts, Phineas Nigellus finding true love so many years after his death, and the marriage of two former members of the Order of the Phoenix.

I'm fairly certain he never intended any of that to happen.

You see, Percy decided that his chances of becoming Minister would be improved if he could find some subtle and tasteful way of pointing out that most of his family had been involved in the fight against Voldemort, allowing him to emphasise his membership of a Family of Heroes whilst handily glossing over the inconvenient fact that he had done nothing more dangerous during the War than quarrel with his mother. So he announced that he was commissioning a Wizarding Portrait of the Order at War.

He carefully explained to the Daily Prophet how the commission had nothing to do with his running for Minister, and everything to do with recognising the sacrifices that others had made for the cause of freedom. This sacrifice was, according to the editorial (with a very tasteful black border) currently being frittered away by the present incumbent of the Ministry and wasn't it time for a change?

Only his mother believed the article.

He got in, in case anyone is interested, but that's not the point.

The point is that dear old Percy was lumbered with actually going ahead with the commission, and having to find the money to pay for it. He'd fondly imagined that he'd be able to use Ministry funds, but a couple of the brighter Muggleborns had introduced something called Financial Controls which meant that the Minister could no longer use Ministry funds as their own private purse.

It was a bitter blow to find that a centuries-old tradition of graft and corruption had been overturned by the simple requirement that all requisitions should be counter-signed by the Head of the Financial Department.

That would be me, you see, Hermione Granger, and I'm sea-green incorruptible. Not to mention, bloody pissed-off to find that little wanker using my reputation to build his political career.

Unkind Persons, peering over my shoulder whilst I write this, suggest that this has more than a little to do with the fact that I hadn't thought of using it myself in a bid for power but that's rubbish. The Minister thinks he's got the power, but it's the one that wields the cheque book that really runs the Wizarding World, and without having to be nice to voters either.

I'm not a people-pleaser, you see. I can't be doing with all that chit-chat about their spouses, and their families, and what they did at the weekend. If I wanted to know about children, I'd have some of my own, and who wants to talk about the weather anyway? You look out of the window; you can tell it's raining, so you take an umbrella. Occasionally, the sun is shining, but you take a brolly anyway, because we all know what the weather's like here. It's not rocket science. It doesn't need a ten-minute conversation.

(Unkind Persons and I agree on the bit about the weather, though I'm sure he blenched at the thought of having children.)

So, no, I didn't want to be Minister for Magic. I'm quite happy being the Power behind the Throne, because if I don't want some Ministerial project to happen, it doesn't. 'I'm sorry Minister, but the Budget won't stretch that far this year. Not unless you cut down on your own personal expenses," is usually sufficient to put a stop to most things. Then you give them assurances that you'll try and find the money next year, which makes them feel like they've achieved something, and by the time the next Budget cycle comes round they'll have a new bee in their bonnet.

If you ask me you can learn all you need to know about handling politicians by reading books on how to deal with fractious toddlers.

Percy invited me to his office, on his first day on the job. He wanted me to call him Percy, as if we were friends. It was all part of his new inclusive governmental style, which pretty much looked to me like someone who was going to get others to do his thinking for him and him taking the credit. Not that that was any different from preceding Ministers, but at least I didn't have to pretend to like them.

Needless to say, I called him Minister throughout our Little Chat.

"Just a few things I need to get sorted out," he said, and then attempted to slip the costs of the Portrait through as a late addition to the Agenda: Item 43 (Miscellaneous): Ancillary expenses.

He'd made two elementary mistakes there. Firstly, it was a nice round sum, which was odd in itself: miscellaneous expenses rarely add up to whole galleons, and when they do, it's a sign someone's been fiddling the figures. And if you're trying to slip something past me, never put it on the end of the list. Slip it into the middle, preferably after a small but disallowable expense, which I would deduct after much argument, and hope I'm sufficiently distracted not to notice the next item.

Not that that would work either, but at least you're making an effort.

"Minister," I said. "The last item on the Agenda. I'm sure you're aware the Ministry can't pay your personal expenses."

"Oh, they're not personal expenses," he said, thinking on his feet. "They're Ministry expenses."

As if I was going to take his word for that. "In relation to what, Minister?"

Percy thought long and hard before replying, assessing which answer was likely to get him what he wanted. In the end, he decided on the truth. "The portrait of the Order of the Phoenix."

"I understood you were paying for that personally. As a mark of respect. I'm sure that's what you said in your interview."

"You know how unreliable those reporters can be," he said confidingly. "It was a misunderstanding. I was misquoted. What I said was taken out of context." Percy's brow was unruffled by any sense of wrongdoing.

"And where do you intend to hang the Portrait, Minister. If it were to hang on the wall of your office, for instance, I can see that there's an argument that it should come out of Ministry funds, but if it's for your own personal enjoyment, well, that's another matter."

There was no way it was going on the wall of his office; Percy wouldn't fancy being harangued by the Members of the Order on a daily basis. You didn't have to be a genius to realise that none of his brothers would treat him with the respect that he thought he deserved, and it would be tricky to conduct any business with Fred or George blowing raspberries at him. And that's assuming that would be the worst that they would do.

Percy had rather over-estimated my vanity. He thought I'd be so pleased at the thought of being immortalised for posterity that I'd turn a blind eye to the misappropriation.

He was wrong.

It's not as if people need reminding about what I did. I can guarantee that anyone I meet for the first time will ask one of three questions. What is Harry Potter like? Was Voldemort really as frightening as people say? Did you and Ron ever snog?

I used to tell them the truth: that Harry was normal really, if a bit impulsive, that Voldemort was every bit as frightening and more, and no, never, not ever, ever. But they didn't want to hear that; it wasn't juicy enough. So it was either tell them lurid tales, or just look serious and say it's too painful to talk about.

Of course, now they've abandoned the Snogging Ron question in favour of asking about Unkind Persons and either sighing about how romantic it all is, or enquiring just how good he is in bed, according to taste. As if I'm going to answer!

(Bloody good.)

So, there was Percy, temporarily worsted, and faced with an enormous bill for a Portrait he didn't want, couldn't afford, and didn't even have room to hang. You have to give him credit though; he managed to extricate himself from his difficulties with great skill. More slippery than a greased pig, that one.

The Portrait was to be paid for by way of public subscription, so that the whole Wizarding World could feel that they'd participated in an act of commemoration, and the picture was to be hung at Hogwarts to inspire future generations.

And by way of petty revenge, he left all the arrangements to me. It was a relief in many ways: at least we'd get something tasteful.

Of course, it was never going to be easy, not when you consider several of the members were dead, Harry hated having his picture taken, and then there was the Headmaster to consider.

It wasn't going to be easy, but I was sure I'd be able to sort it out. After all, I'd got Ron through his Newts, how hard could it be to persuade people who hated each other to sit for a portrait?

There was only one possible choice to paint the picture: Rylestone. He, as he was quick to point out to everyone, was a genius and the greatest living Wizarding Portraitist. It wasn't much of a claim, as he was practically the only living Wizarding Portraitist, and certainly the only professional.

Rumour had it that he'd begun his own self-portrait several years ago, so that his genius would not be lost to the world, but he hadn't cast the final spells to 'wake' the painting: the world was only big enough for one Rylestone.

He may be a genius, but no one was buying his pictures. Times had changed, and fashions with them, and few Pureblood families wanted (or could afford) a full-length Wizarding portrait these days. The problem was convincing people to pay top galleon for a portrait, when a photograph would do as well. Who cared that a Portrait had a mind and personality of its own, or that it almost had a life independent of the Subject, when it cost twenty times as much as a photo?

And photos don't shout abuse at you; they just wave and smile. If you ask me it's not just the price that's the problem. The truth is no one wants their mementoes to argue with them. Grandma is a lot easier to like with her mouth shut, and not criticising the standard of your house keeping spells.

Rylestone existed on a thin diet of Ministry commissions, miniatures, and the occasional family group from one of the older families that somehow managed to salvage their wealth from the confiscations that followed the fall of Voldemort.

I knew his assistant, Sarah Shackleton, from Hogwarts. She'd been a couple of years ahead of me, and had been Head Girl in her time. No one could understand why she'd decided to throw away a glittering Ministry career to become an Artist's apprentice, but she seemed happy enough. She'd succeeded in getting him organised, which was no small feat, and even managed to turn a small profit.

She said Rylsetone hated Ministry commissions: grey men, in grey robes, with grey personalities, is what he called them. Painting a Ministry portrait was so depressing, that he would spend several days afterwards lying on his sofa, sipping weak tea, and nibbling at dry biscuits, until his spirits lifted enough to be able to face another commission. Sarah said he'd tried shoving interesting props into the paintings, but all that did was emphasise the greyness. Lately, he'd taken to allowing her to do the figures, before he finished off the faces, but it only slightly diminished the tedium. As far as he was concerned, painting robes could be technically demanding with all the interest of the play of light across the folds, but the faces of Ministry officials had no personality and no style.

Rylestone would often complain that the modern Wizarding World was almost entirely devoid of characters, and wonder how he was ever to match the great Masters, if he had to work with dross. So he greeted the news of the commission with tears in his eyes. No one could accuse any of us of being dull and grey.

Of course it wouldn't be the first time that he ended up with tears in his eyes.

No one wanted to have their portrait painted, and certainly not as a group.

Time had done nothing to dull Harry's hatred of Snape, and no amount of persuasion would convince him that he had been involved in a cunning plot with Dumbledore that had meant he was forced to kill him, but had remained loyal to the Order throughout the last years of the War. Despite being instrumental in the downfall of Voldemort, Snape was still regarded with deep suspicion and hostility by some elements of the Wizarding World – which he said only made it easier for him to maintain discipline at Hogwarts - and only owed his position as Headmaster to the fact that the previous Minister for Magic would hire Voldemort himself if it meant annoying Harry.

Percy wouldn't have minded removing him from his job, but was too sensible – and too scared – to do so in his first term.

So, Harry didn't want to be in the picture with Snape, and Snape didn't want to be in a picture with Potter or Sirius. Sirius was dead and so couldn't be consulted, but would no doubt start complaining about the company he was keeping from the very first moment he was brought to life. Only Minerva and Albus didn't raise any objections to the idea, and that was because they were dead.

Things were not looking good when I got involved. It was a bit like jackstraws: you had to know what order to pull the sticks out.

Harry and Remus agreed to do it, because they wanted to talk to Sirius again, even if that did mean hanging round with the Traitor. The Twins, Ron and Arthur agreed to do it, because Molly wanted it.

Which just left Snape. Who said, and I quote, "I'd rather poke my eyes out with the blunt end of a wand, than subject my Portrait Self to a second in the same frame with Black."

So Sarah shrugged, as I told her to, and pointed out that if he was happy to be omitted from the portrait, one to be hung in his own school, that that was his business. He got the point almost immediately. He may have hated Sirius Black, but he would put up with him rather than be left out of the limelight. He did insist on having the full width of the canvas between them though, which seemed like a perfectly sensible suggestion.

In the end Rylestone settled for a domestic scene round the kitchen table, with Molly pouring tea for us all. Sirius was slouched in his seat to the extreme left, with Harry, Ron and Remus grouped round him, then me, then Arthur and the boys, and at the other end of the table another group of Molly, Minerva, Albus and Snape all looking serious as they sipped at their tea.

Percy hadn't been happy with the idea at first, and it had taken some time to persuade him that this cosy scene brought out the humanity of the participants more than some grandiloquent scene on the battlefield, and emphasised the bravery of the Weasley family in particular.

So, with the Minister happy, and the painting completed, the stage was set for the Unveiling of the Portrait at Hogwarts.

That was when the trouble really started.