Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to the wonderful J.K. Rowling. Not me. At all.

Spoilers through the entire series. Yep, right up to the last chapters of Deathly Hallows.

Much love to the lovely Ika-chan (Hikagi)for the beta of this hulking monolith...and I will forever after know that my convoluted plots are not nearly as convoluted as the one's she thinks I'm employing and also the wonderful dizilla for her thoughtful comments (and laughter at PoMo wizard art!) and encouragement amidst a killer work schedule. Thank you both! 3

The Delusionist

sciathan file

She taps the end of her wand on the canvas, muttering a well-worn incantation and replaying a borrowed memory in her head. Sitting perched like a willowy bird, she flicks her wand, swishing the trailing sleeves of splotched robes of sky blue and pursing her lips. Currently, she just manages a look of extreme concentration, but normally her eyebrows are almost unnaturally high, giving her a look of either perpetual surprise or half-hearted skepticism.

From somewhere behind her, a loud yawn emanates and is patently ignored. An eclectic mix of voices feels the need to comment upon it and yet, even this racket doesn't register in her mind at times.

The minutes pass slowly and the artist continues to work at her broad easel.

A sneeze echoes and is followed by a mixture of polite "Bless you, dear!"s and scoffs at having been disturbed. She remains focused, however, perhaps clicking her tongue when she pulls off a particularly deft piece of wand work.

She is creating a permanent imprint. A moving memory. Concentration, she knows, is the first required element.

More than this, she requires surprisingly little: A few galleons, a silvery wisp of personality, and the correct inflection on very few words with the correct flick of a very thin wrist. Then she goes to work, conjuring a memento mori or an intentional doppelganger.

Hundreds of voices in the background gibber and ramble on - some question, some declaim, some are sullen and silent. One snores…rather too pointedly to be asleep in actuality.

They mix, holding conversations amongst their two dimensional selves, speaking of where they are going and occasionally making social calls to other frames. One is bound for the mansion of some long undiluted line ("Purebloods, the lot of them" it says imperiously), one is going somewhere it is very much unable to specify ("The corner of the kitchen, I believe, by the green. Yes…hmmm…the green seems correct."), another to a rather obscure place – she thinks it was somewhere near Albania, but does not speak Gobbledegook and therefore can't confirm it - sometimes they go to locations so secret she doesn't know what lies at the other end of her own spell.

The destination, however, is not her concern at all.

She is merely concerned with imagining the blue of the eyes, the precise angles of the nose, the finely boned cheeks, the way the hair falls. How it all moves…the tapping of her wand on the flat golem, shaping it into a smooth representation of the figure it will come to stand for.

But apart from the act of creation, she enjoys figuratively meeting many people in the course of her job…even if she meets them only as framed portraits. She has met some very formidable individuals – both great figures of wizarding institutions and the run of the mill Uncle Alosforth who forever went about spouting details of his great spelling victory of '35…when he was in his fifth year of grammar school (the very crowning achievement of his life, he assured her continually). During the various interviews that her job requires, she has even met He Who Is Spoken of With Reverence (a rather unfortunate moniker awarded to the former Boy Who Lived by a batty old Daily Prophet journalist when he realized "Boy Who Lived" was a bit anachronistic) twice during the period following the Second War.

However, she doesn't like to think of that time period. There had been so many requests for the last imprints of various people's loved ones who were war casualties that she slept very rarely for months and could not keep the voices of her now famous subjects from following her into her dreams. Voices and canvas after stark white canvas stacked and lining all the walls of the grubby room remained in her mind.

She stops herself suddenly. Such things are best not thought of.

Another great achoo! erupts, followed by a "Now, really!" It is enough to bring forth a small smile and bring her back to the task at hand.

Drawing back to look at what she has done, she cocks her head to the side, draws back her wand and whispers another incantation, humming as the portrait blinks its eyes and looks up at her.

A sycophantic plump lady somewhere behind her leans on her frame and squints her beady eyes to see the new face before saying, rather saccharinely, "A true masterpiece, you have there. Wonderful. Simply outdone yourself, you have."

This has been her fourth portrait in the woman's presence and her fourth "absolutely visually stunning masterpiece" and therefore the artist finds such praise of little interest and focuses her attentions on her work at hand. She is perpetually interested in what the first action a new portrait will take in its painted afterlife.

It might ask a question, as most of them do (she won't pretend she hasn't encountered any eccentric individuals in her work), or it might simply growl at her…she even recalls one that had just screamed and then proceeded to whistle like a teapot.

The man she has just painted looks up at her in something like annoyance and growls, "Tell them not to use a permanent sticking charm on me…when I've outworn my welcome I'll probably be just as happy to get out as they will to be rid of me."

She smiles in a complacent, almost watery sort of way.

"You can tell them yourself, you know."

The man in her newest portrait looks a bit thoughtful before smirking and saying, "I hope I eventually make it to a nice Muggle household…imagine moving just as they aren't looking straight at you."

He laughs raucously.

She nods and prepares to send the portrait to its new home – all the while imagining some garden variety Muggles being disturbed by the rather scruffy-looking man – while thinking that she really does enjoy the eccentric ones the most.

-------------------------------------

He frowned.

Having just heard the news by way of Remus, he had rushed over, only to find that - little to his surprise - the flat was entirely empty.

The stupid prat…thinking any of them – besides Remus, really, who had always had an unfortunate penchant for rubbish like rules and requests – were actually going to obey his wishes to be alone. Sirius, he hoped, would know far better.

Looking around the table, he understood that, ostensibly, he did. A note, written in his usual untidy scrawl, read simply, "Prongs" as if he had started, decided upon its futility, and set the piece of parchment down between the stacks of assorted objects that perpetually crowded his table (including a picture of the current Anti-Werewolf Ministry Crusader whose photo he had charmed to regularly break out into pus filled boils that spelled out a vulgarity across his forehead. Due to the horror that was wreaked on the wizard's face, the photo's occupant barely had time to look disapprovingly at some Muggle motorcycle magazines).

Picking the note up in an attempt to see if something else was written on the other side, he immediately felt a lurching sensation accompanied by a strong desire to liberally hex Sirius Black the next time he met up with him. Which, as he had left a rather inconvenient portkey for him to find, was likely to be a good deal sooner than James had originally expected.

He ended up falling painfully on his backside in some field overlooking the coast. It was sunset and the dying rays were staining the grass a surreal orange tint…not that, in his current predicament, he had any great appreciation of the scenery. Presumably (although he would in no way put it past Sirius), he was still in Britain.

From behind him, he heard a rather amused voice quip, "I see you've gotten my note, Prongs."

James picked himself up, dusted off of his robes, and spun around to meet him while replying, "I don't think I had a choice in the matter, to be honest, Padfoot."

His friend, seated on the back of his motorcycle with his feet resting carelessly on the handlebars, broke into a crooked grin and lackadaisically replied, "You know, you really should learn to listen to Remus."

James finished straightening out his robes and, when he was properly clean, he planted one hand on his hip in a gesture of nonchalant annoyance.

"Of all people, Padfoot, I think you are by far the least qualified to give me that advice."

Sirius waved the remark away.

"Besides, Sirius," he continued on in the same mock censorious tone, although now tinged with a marked degree of seriousness, "You really think I was going to leave you alone?"

Pointing to the note in his best friend's hand he remarked, "Obviously not. You've always been a bit of a meddling prat ….But, as to that matter, I assure you James, I'm not too broken up about it."

"You're going, then?"

"Not to the funeral," there was the beginning of a growl in his voice. "The bloody git only deserves so much from me."

This was an argument that James did not participate in, although he knew that, when all was said and done, Sirius knew he agreed with him on the vast majority of the points.

"I mean…" his friend pulled himself up from the motorcycle and trailed off.

James knew that Sirius was in one of his moods and it was best to wait them out with the minimum of hexing and bellowing that such emotional states required.

"…He's only my father after all."

This he muttered under his breath as if it were some sort of dirty secret.

"All that established," James said, leaning against the trunk of a nearby tree and keeping his tone light, "When do you want to go?"

Sirius looked thoughtful for a moment. Rather, it was more a blend of disgusted as well as thoughtful, but James knew that pure thoughtfulness was too much to ask of him at the moment. Maturity of this sort was a minor miracle in and of itself when it came to dealing with the blacker part of the Black family...not that he blamed Sirius in the least.

"I'm going to have to go to the Portrait Unveiling – that will, at the very least, put my mother in high form as all of her dear, dear friends will be gathered to see the gold she's poured into getting the best likeness of dear old dad that as possible. That should," after all these years the bitterness in his voice had not lost its cold edge, "be amusing."

About as amusing as cleaning bedpans by hand back at Hogwarts in detention by the sound of it.

James considered this information for a moment.

Thinking out loud, Sirius went on, "And dealing with a portrait's disappointment and threats aren't likely to be as bad as dealing with the person in the flesh – although there is mother to consider. But, as far as I know, no artist has made it so that portraits can throw hexes at you."

James nodded, hoping vehemently that the Black gold hadn't funded that sort of research.

"Accurate though such behavior may be to the subject," Sirius finished pensively, gazing somewhere over James' head.

"Very well," James responded very carefully, affecting a bored tone, "When is it?"

Without even having to look, he imagined the skeptical expression on his best friend's face.

"I'm going as well, you know…have to pay my respects to him – really for being so insufferable and giving us infinitely more time to…"

"Plot?" Sirius finished for him, the bitterness leeching out of his voice more than a bit and transforming into nostalgic amusement. "And I'm more than happy to have tossed myself out if only for that one prank we pulled on Filch with that enchanted fanged frisbee."

There was a dancing note of pride in his voice.

James grinned.

Sirius looked increasingly like he was plotting something himself for a moment.

"Prongs," he stated, imminent mischief coloring the entire nickname, "You think Moony knows any hexes that work particularly well on portraits?"

James chuckled and flicked a stray strand of hair behind his ear, "Sending your father off in style?"

"Only fair," he said, grin growing ever broader.

"I think we should think of something to fend off your mum, instead."

"The Bat Boogey jinx would probably suit her. Thinks being a Black makes one too dignified for things like that. All being a Black is good for is having some bats stuffed up your-"

"-Nose." Finished James with a rather wicked smile on his features.

They both laughed and had a fair bit of fun at the expense of others.

Sirius, in fact, did a startlingly accurate impression of his mother with creatures pouring from her nostrils, which seamlessly turned into a mocking caricature of the sycophantic Black family house elf hysterically shrieking "Mistress! Mistress!"

They both ended up laughing into the cool shade of evening, anticipating the Portrait Unveiling and the inevitable return to the frigid atmosphere of Grimmauld Place even more for the trouble they were bound to leave behind them.

XXX

After the day his father's portrait had unexpectedly received a burnt hole in its left corner to contrast its chilly reception of his eldest son, Sirius never dreamed that he would see the old man's arrogant face curling his lip in disgust at him again. In fact, since the day James had accompanied him to the Unveiling, he hadn't set foot in the grimy gloom of Grimmauld Place.

It needed, he decided cheerlessly - whilst looking around at the doxy-laden curtains and the long rows of his dear relatives with equally revolted looks on their painted faces he had left at fifteen - more than cleaning. The place should, by all rights, merely be burnt down and the ground sown with salt.

In the front entry hall, his father stared at him furiously with a set of eyes that precisely would have matched his own if not for the cold aloofness that sat behind them. Behind him, his mother screamed insults and still, even in her painted afterlife, valued the family "honor" more highly than her son.

Sirius, however, was grimly satisfied to learn that his mother had only used a permanent sticking charm on herself – a selfishness that was thoroughly in keeping with the woman Sirius had known in life…every Black for himself, as it had always been – but quite useful for making his new house a little less…black in the long run.

Raising his wand, he blew away half of the painted history of his family with one word, basking in its reflected glow. Canvas and paint swirled together with dust and his mother's howling; an ear he was sure belonged to his great Uncle – a man who had made sport of Muggles with a vicious crup that had taken a bite out of Sirius' ankle when he was six – floated by. A disembodied mouth was screaming just as loud (if not, impossibly, louder) as his mother – Great Aunt Alcyone always was one for hysterics – until he gave it a satisfying blast with his wand.

He raised it again and bellowed the incantation while the illustrated remnants of the Black family gallery screamed like the bloody cowards they were and ran at mad dashes across the frames.

As he took care of other disembodied parts that blinked, moaned, and shrieked at him, he thought back to his father's Unveiling and thought that, especially after a particularly nasty curse impacted his wand arm (courtesy of dear old mum), James would have enjoyed this rather cathartic cleansing of his old home.

But James had also known that, if there had existed a spell that removed a lineage from his blood, Sirius would have used it (probably to the delight of his parents, ironically). But, years later, as no such spell existed, Sirius tried to satisfy himself by blasting the pictorial effigies of that blood to oblivion. But some stains reach more deeply than the threads of canvas.

However, their portraits were the best recompense that Sirius could manage, imitations of the real travesties of human beings though they were.

In all, he had finally found a charm that worked on portraits – incineration by Incendio!

As the scraps faded and fell defeated to the soiled carpet – blissfully voiceless, with the shrill exception of his mother - he thought back to an afternoon when he and James had laughed and planned to pay their respects to his late father.

With a flick of his wand, the portrait fragments leapt into the air and subsequently disappeared.

Sirius had finally implemented the plan that they had made that day…With a thoroughness even Remus couldn't fault and James might certainly have admired.

It, he thought decidedly, had been a golden day. Sirius had tried to honor it in his own particular way.

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There are many stories about wizard portraits.

She has heard tales and legends about painters who managed to brush Xanadu into existence by the mere tip of their wands and artists who brought into being the most ugly and uncouth people imaginable. One, she remembers, painted only a white background and merely imagined a person behind it…it burbled and laughed and snickered all without a face in sight. The artist proclaimed it to be a revolution in the portraiture world. Most people merely shook their heads and wondered if he'd found himself on the wrong end of a Confundus Charm.

Some stories, however, she stores away and tries not to contemplate too deeply.

The Daily Prophet had printed one article many years ago that she keeps in a thick envelope in a drawer with her paints.

It describes a wizard who had wasted away in front of a portrait of his dead wife.

In her mind's eye, exactly as if she were about to paint it, she imagines the picture on that article. It showed the witch who had painted the portrait - an entire nest of peacock feathers and owl feathers and something that looked suspiciously like a dungbomb haphazardly decorating her head. Her face was angular and, when she was in the tiny frame of the newspaper, she twitched at odd intervals…every few seconds an eyebrow would be sticking up at an odd angle…then an odd grimace would develop and a vein would seem to throb. Periodically the woman in the picture would reach up and scratch her cheek in an apparent gesture of contemplation…or maybe she merely itched.

Perhaps the picture's charm had been botched and was slowly going bad.

"Really," the little witch was quoted as saying, "He was perfectly happy with the likeness…elated, even. Kept going on about how it was so life-like, like she was never gone a minute from his life and all. Jabbered on with thanks and praise for about an hour and then tacked on several galleons to the original price. Nice bloke…strange, yes…right odd bloke…but seemed nice."

The witch in the picture would then begin to rock side to side at odd intervals, giving off the impression that the witch in the picture was incredibly nervous.

The article then went on to give details telling that after the shopkeeper who employed the man in Diagon Alley failed to receive the customary owl announcing his absence after two weeks, the man's employer thought he would mount an expedition to his employee's home.

He had found him - rather, what remained of him - sitting in the an overstuffed chair beneath the wall where his wife's portrait hung, his head stiffly gazing up at the likeness from pearly white eyes. When he entered, all he could see of the portrait's occupant was the hem of her cloak.

But she could certainly be heard.

She was giving horrible shrill sobs just beyond the frame's edge and, when prompted by family members, all she could shriek was "I told him, I did! I told him again and again and again and he just kept looking up and asking me about this and that and – oh! I told him! I told him to eat! I told him!"

The last line of the article was finished off by saying that the next of kin had ordered a portrait of the woman's husband, to be placed next to hers.

The story had always made her wonder what it was like to be a portrait.

"To think that anyone could be so mistaken as to think that he would deserve a place here!"

Her green robe whipped up the stairs as if it had been charmed to have a life of its own.

"Willful negligence! Usurpation! And those are the very lightest of that man's crimes….we all know what he was capable…and -" there was a grim, no nonsense feel of finality "-what he did."

They walked up the pockmarked staircase – missing chunks of the marble banisters still standing testament to the carnage which had taken place here only weeks before. The two women at the head of the crowd made an odd pair: a little woman with a large package under one arm who looked like she wanted to do nothing more than blend into the wall and a woman, heading a great group of the remaining professors at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, whose black hair was streaked with grey and was looking at her visitor with an increasingly stern expression.

The little woman was bowing in a spastic manner, apologizing and repeating, "I know that someone here told me to create it, Professor."

"Who?" McGonagall cried testily, charging around the corner. "That is an affront to everything that this institution is supposed to represent!"

"He was a headmaster, Professor," the little woman continued shakily, "I had already been sent the materials prior to the order being placed, as is customary. When I did receive the order, I thought it was simply according to contr-"

"Yes," she spat with such revulsion that it was amazing that bile didn't materialize with each of her words, "A Headmaster appointed by You-Know-Who after the post was vacated rather conveniently by Albus and oh!" She trained a severe look on the blue-robed witch beside her before hastily turning to the gargoyle that stood (now perfectly straight) at the door to her office and, as she spit out the password, the statue jumped aside as if facing mortal peril. With great efficacy she went up the staircase that it revealed. "Did I mention that it was also this said headmaster that so conveniently removed – murdered, that is - Albus from his place!"

The train of professors followed at some distance behind the witch shouldering the offending portrait as they entered the office. They were all very much aware that even though Minerva McGonagall's temper was slow, it was famously potent and they were all more than happy to leave the artist in the line of fire.

"Sit," McGonagall unceremoniously ordered her visitor when she herself had taken her place behind the headmistress's desk, "Have a biscuit."

She shoved the tin at her visitor, who extracted a biscuit from it more out of fear than anything else.

Behind her, the portraits of Hogwarts' past headmasters stayed snoozing in their frames, including this very witch's latest creation – a man slumbering behind half moon glasses directly behind McGonagall's chair. He looked suspiciously like he was listening and waiting for someone rather than sleeping. She didn't so much as dare glance at the portrait that resided in parcel paper beside her whom someone – although obviously not anyone in this room – had told her to bring to the school personally.

Moodily, she took a bite out of the biscuit and found that it was, unfortunately, a bit on the stale side.

The spiteful silence was interrupted only by a rather pompous clearing of someone's throat…that was, curiously, emanating from someone placed considerably higher than any of the individuals in the room.

She looked up to find a single alert face amidst the sleepers.

With great irritation, McGonagall turned to the wall and said bluntly, "What is it, Phineas?"

A plump witch near the top of the wall gave a small "tut tut, manners" while still trying to look as if she were dozing gracefully. Meanwhile, the rather arrogant looking man who had initially spoken up looked vaguely affronted for a moment at such treatment.

"Mr. Potter would like me to tell you," his angular face looked all the more sullen for having to do something that was decidedly against his wishes to someone who did not respect his sacrifice, "That he will be here any moment with an explanation."

McGonagall's eyebrows rose.

"An explanation of what, Phineas?"

The portrait muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "impertinence!" and, puffing himself up importantly, he replied indignantly, "He certainly didn't tell me. He was just running off when I told him she had gotten here."

He stabbed one dictatorial finger at the blue-robed witch.

The artist's eyes widened, high eyebrows arching to give her a look of unparalleled shock. When the portrait nodded in condemning affirmation she nearly choked on a piece of her biscuit. A rather flustered Flitwick rushed to her and thumped her on the back while Phineas continued to mumble something about the level of rudeness that was so pervasive these days. In the uproar she hardly had time to marvel at the fact that she would shortly meet the most famous wizard of the age.

"Well," McGonagall stated testily, "Someone ought to go wait for Potter to get here and then let him in so we can clear this mess up!"

Professor Flitwick immediately leaped up and brushed by the others and down the staircase with surprising speed. The expressions of the others assembled turned vaguely sour at opportunities missed.

The assembled company sat inside (in rather miserable company) for some minutes. If she had dared in the face of the stern headmistress, the artist might have grimaced. However, she passed the time by chewing silently on her bottom lip in what she hoped was a thoroughly unobtrusive manner.

McGonagall continued to drum her fingers impatiently upon the expansive surface of the desk until there was a sound of feet plodding up the staircase.

A young man – one whose face was instantly recognizable from the intense media coverage he had been receiving for the past few years – came in, breathing rather heavily and panting as he explained, "Sorry, Professor-" a deep breath "-I had to Apparate into Hogsmeade - " another heaving breath "-ran all the way here - " In a flurry of sky blue robes, the short witch stood up and gestured for him to take her chair "- my fault, Professor - " he panted, crumpling into it.

"What, Potter, can you possibly be talking about?"

Taking a deep breath and controlling his breathing (and taking a glass of water kindly conjured up by Professor Sprout) at last, he said, "The portrait. Snape's portrait."

For a moment, Minerva McGonagall was completely aghast.

She sputtered, "Potter! I thought you of all people having seen…such an atrocity would understand."

He seemed to have caught his breath, because he stared down McGonagall in a way the little artist only wished she could emulate.

"Professor, I asked her to paint it."

Flitwick let out a squeak and Minerva McGonagall gave Harry a look that she reserved for particularly idiotic Slytherin students and, once, for Severus Snape himself, just before he had launched himself out of a window and abandoned his post.

"Severus Snape," she said, with a sneer, "murdered Albus Dumbledore and I, for one, will not have his portrait in this office next to his victim, Potter. My decision in final."

Harry looked at her for a moment before saying, quietly, "Professor Snape was Dumbledore's man through and through."

This comment, from Harry Potter of all people, sent ripples of indignation and confusion through the assembled professors. McGonagall's eyebrows arched in surprise.

"You'll need to support that assertion, I think," her eyes narrowed again and her voice had a cold tinge to it.

"Snape was never Voldemort's, Professor, he was always a spy for us. There just hasn't been time to explain that to anyone but Voldemort…you were, erm, busy…fighting Death Eaters and all, at the time."

There was a ringing silence interrupted only by the soft whirring of some silvery instruments left over from Dumbledore's tenure in the office.

"And," she probed carefully, "How do you know this, Potter?"

Almost imperceptibly, his eyes flicked over to the cabinet where he knew that Dumbledore's Pensieve was housed. Looking up again, Harry met his former instructor's harsh gaze steadily before answering her in a soft voice.

"I saw him die. He left me his last thoughts."

Behind the headmistress, a number of the portraits were throwing off their elaborate display of feigning sleep and sitting up with peaked interest. The portrait of Dumbledore, in particular, was to be seen slyly looking over his half moon spectacles every now and then. He seemed to be trying to catch Harry's eyes.

"I - " for a moment, in the collective gaze of his old instructors he faltered, perhaps thinking about what he was going to say next, "I don't think I should necessarily show them to you…"

Professor Sprout kindly put in, "But, Potter, if it would help us exonerate him - "

He looked up.

"They were private enough to be kept hidden to all but Dumbledore until the last moment of his life. But, suffice it to say, Snape was the bravest man that I know. Dumbledore trusted him with his life. That's good enough for me."

McGonagall did not seem to quite know what to do with this information.

"Potter," she began, "Are you suggesting that he didn't kill Dumbledore?"

"No, Minerva," came a voice from the wall, "He is suggesting that Severus did it on my orders."

All eyes turned toward the direction of the portrait of one of the men under discussion.

"And why, pray tell, Albus, did you never tell me this yourself!" Her voice was rising now, leaving the annoyance she felt behind and going well on its way towards indignant anger.

"Would you, Minerva, have believed a simple slip of parchment with my image on it? Especially one that had spent so much time near the wand of someone you considered to be the greatest traitor to our entire cause?"

Dumbledore's voice was light and achingly familiar. He might have been commenting on the day's weather.

McGonagall frowned savagely, "The thought might have crossed my mind."

"I am," Dumbledore continued mildly, his blue eyes twinkling even on the canvas, "Nothing more than a portrait, after all. But, Harry speaks the truth and I offer my corroboration. Severus did nothing but give a dying man his last wish – some dignity."

She looked back to find Harry nodding.

"Hogwarts was his home, Professor," stated Harry at a length. "It is only fitting that his portrait hang here…as one of its headmasters."

The idea, Harry knew, would take everyone who had known Severus Snape a very long time to become accustomed to. Never pleasant (and very much the greasy git Sirius had always described him as), he had played his role to a tee. On orders.

For his mother…

Although, at the moment, Harry did not feel quite qualified to shock them all still further with Snape's real motives.

Harry Potter gestured to the blue-robed witch and, rather timidly (although certainly more assured that, now that Harry was here, she would endure no more punishment by biscuit), she came and began carefully unwrapping the package she had carried with her, revealing the greasy haired likeness of the late Severus Snape. The likeness glared at her acidly, causing her to blanch slightly and look away.

"But, Potter," McGonagall tried once more, "I don't understand what motivated Snape to act like that."

After a moment, Harry Potter grinned and said, "You'll have to ask Professor Snape, I suppose."

She looked almost offended, although she could not immediately object.

Having unwrapped the entire portrait, the little witch was now levitating it in the air at wand point and muttering a permanent sticking incantation so that there could be no further discussion about the matter. All the while, Snape's absolutely disdainful gaze swept across the assembled party, pausing at Harry more than once, his expression turning even more impossibly sour as he did.

However, a barely perceptible smile might have cross his face once he was securely placed on the wall.

Seeing that the task was now done, McGonagall looked like she would rather eat wasps than to physically ask the portrait anything but questions of the most pedestrian nature. Even a civil greeting might be miraculous. She looked back at the portrait and both regarded the other with deeply ingrained mutual dislike.

Nothing would change yet, Harry felt assured. It would take time to convince the world of Snape's unlikely heroism…a lot of time.

Harry Potter rose to leave, followed closely by the artisan witch (who very evidently did not wish to be in the office one moment longer than was necessary). However, pausing at the door he looked back on the portrait of the former potions master.

"Professor Snape," he said with a grin and without any hint of insincerity inherent in either voice or demeanor, "Thank you."

"Touching, Potter," he sneered, "I wonder how I've finally come to be so debased as to receive your…gratitude."

Harry Potter left the grounds of Hogwarts thinking that it was a very good likeness indeed.

-------------------------------------

Putting the finishing touches on a portrait of a man and his wife – whispering something that made a very vivid shade of pink of the woman's hair suddenly diffuse to a muted, sunny yellow as a man with slightly graying hair looked on calmly – she remembers the very first portrait she painted.

She had, out of pure curiosity, painted herself.

Smiling, the artist wonders if that particular experiment is to blame for her current obsessive curiosity regarding a portrait's first words.

Her own had been, "I believe you've lowered my eyebrows considerably. Not altogether unattractive…but certainly not very accurate."

To this day, barring the screaming teakettle man, it is still one of the more eccentric responses she has received.

She looks over where it now hangs – quietly and unassertively in the corner, deep in conversation with a piece of enchanted abstraction whose cubes and stripes all are speaking in different pitches – and thinks back on her conversation with herself.

"How does it feel?" She had asked.

Her own likeness had blinked back at her before answering, "Like parchment."

She had asked her miniature self a number of questions and anecdotes that only she and the abstract portrait an old admirer had given her (because that was the only object she had told) could possibly know. Her portrait self followed all of the cues and laughed and exclaimed and generally relayed all of the pertinent facts with all the correct excesses as if she were looking in a mirror.

Nodding, the artist had decided that she had plied her trade well.

Then a thought had occurred to her.

She thought of a lanky Slytherin boy with a horrid precision crew cut who had bullied her during the course of at least four years at Hogwarts. Her blood began to boil at the mere thought of one particular stunt he had pulled involving a Body Bind jinx and a drunken house elf.

"What do you think of Ferrier Espantoso?"

The portrait had played with a sleeve on her robe thoughtfully before pronouncing, "He's an imbecile!" with a fair degree of venom.

In response, she had frowned, causing her framed self to look a touch worried.

"Anything else?" She had queried. Her doppelganger began to squirm uncomfortably under her own gaze.

"I suppose he should make me angry. Nasty piece of work with the house elf, you know?"

But there had been no real rage, no visceral bitterness perpetuated by an intense schoolgirl grudge. She looked angry, perhaps, but there had always been something lacking.

Her portrait self had performed well. The script it followed was wonderful and detailed. The memories and the gestures all played out seamlessly before her.

Even then she had been aware that the portrait was her in image. It was her and yet not her.

She gazes at Not-Her - as she fondly calls her portrait self now - looking contemplative. Not even the bright flash of turquoise nor the pig's nose that sprout on the portrait in front of her draws her attention.

Not-Her and I.

Her lips dip into a frown.

-------------------------------------

The second time she met He Who Is Spoken of With Reverence, (she chortled when she thought this because it was a truly ridiculous thing and every time it had been used in the Prophet – even flippantly – Harry Potter had reportedly scowled very deeply and gave over to muttering something unsavory sounding under his breath) she came at wholly his request…for what she understood to be business purposes.

He had heavily indicated in his letter that such a meeting should be as private as possible and that she should meet him at a certain square.

She Apparated in with a small pop! and found her client waiting for her, leaning on the peeling decorative wrought iron of one of the fences.

Politely, she made her introductions, just in case he might have forgotten…sometimes they did.

He flicked a wayward strand of hair from his forehead in what seemed to be a nervous gesture and said, "Sorry for the vague directions, but there are very few people who can get into the place we're going."

Not knowing what to say to such a thing, she lamely replied, "Sounds….interesting. As long as you can get in."

He gestured for her to follow and strolled towards the gap between two buildings labeled "11" and "13." She realized, without fathoming why she should be certain of it at all, that they were bound for number 12.

"Well, there aren't many people who can still get in here. Most of them are -" he hesitated for a moment before saying simply, "gone."

It was understood anyways. "Gone" was a good enough explanation for the interlude after the Second War when everyone was still a bit raw from the…gone-ness. It seemed Harry Potter had more right to the euphemism than many others.

"The only people who can see it now are myself, a few close friends, and a handful of Death Eaters."

At the last two words, the artist froze and looked at him questioningly. If he wasn't the person who had defeated Voldemort and his Death Eaters himself, she might merely have Disapparated at the mention of the word (she was, admittedly, no Gryffindor). Evidently realizing that he had said something vaguely worrisome he hurried to say, "The Death Eaters are in Azkaban, of course…the ones that survived at any rate. And, there's," He looked over his shoulder at where she thought the door must be, "well, security…but, don't mind that when we get to it. It'll be over in a moment."

She nodded uncertainly.

A moment later, she found herself in front of the door with a shiny brass plate saying "12" that seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Giving it a quick once over, the little witch followed the Potter boy into the entrance hall.

She almost turned around and left when a voice boomed out "Severus Snape?" and a horrible figure of someone she knew only from a portrait rose up, grotesque in its manifestation. She would have screamed if fear hadn't strangled her voice in her throat.

Her host merely walked on and remarked, rather more nonchalantly than she personally thought any such occasion warranted, "I didn't kill you. And - " he jerked his thumb back in her direction "-neither did she."

He might have muttered "And neither did Snape, really" but with all the other noise, it was difficult to know for certain.

In fact, amid the voice and the screaming of someone or something farther into the house, she had found she could do little more than cower at the entrance and wonder why on earth she had agreed to such an absurd meeting. Next time (Oh, part of her thought, however, Merlin forbid that there should be a next time!), she would arrange to have any such meetings in her own little garret, even if they werewith the most famous figure in the entire Wizarding World. And, of course, all of this was extremely dependant on her own survival of the menace and cacophony in front of her.

Distractedly she wondered (although with someone screaming such insults, she found it hard to even wonder distractedly), why someone such as Harry Potter lived in such a house.

As the figure summarily dissolved itself back into the carpet from whence it came, she found the nerve to stutter, "T-T-T-That was - "

Harry, obviously used to the dusty menace by now looked back and said, "You don't have to worry about that."

"It was - " she squeaked again.

He smiled a little sadly and ducked into a door farther down the hall, ignoring the voice behind the curtain that was spouting rather foul things.

"The last record of Alastor Moody's voice."

This bizarre sentimentality reached her from the end of the dim hallway. With a fleeting glance at the rest of her surroundings and her wand ready to fend off any other…memorials…she hurriedly followed him into the room.

He invited her to sit down and, warily, she complied.

Nervously, he smoothed out his hair and began by apologizing "Sorry for all of this, but this is one of the few places where I can go undisturbed by people for any length of time."

The artist nodded. In all of her years of reading people's faces and thoughts and crafting their expressions, something told her that there was something more to this house and his presence in it that was not at all pleasing to him. That, and he looked fairly exhausted…perhaps it was all the screaming.

"It is more than understandable, Mr. Potter."

"You're…well, you're probably wondering why I asked you here."

Thinking that question to be rather obvious, she nodded again.

"Well, you see, after seeing your previous work, I was thinking you might be able to…help me in a way."

"If…" she began carefully, observing him as if he were a specimen she might paint, "by 'help' you mean in the realm of portraiture. I must admit I'm a bit hopeless at everything else…"

Harry chuckled nervously, looking anywhere but at her. They were interrupted by a rather ancient house elf (he, like everything else in the house, behaved in a suspicious manner…every time she made even the smallest movement towards her host, its luminous eyes would look up at her with a leery grimace).

They continued in dusty silence that seemed to settle hard against the woodwork for a while, sipping from their respective cups.

With the pretense of tea gone and the cups drained, they once again found themselves inclined towards what both knew would be a difficult conversation.

Finally, Harry looked up at her and said, "I would like you to paint portraits of my parents."

Straight to the point. In fact, he looked relieved that the words were finally out.

The artist, however, frowned.

"Mr. Potter," he was staring at her rather intently, "There are…certain things necessary to create portraiture, you know."

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the house elf glare at her and tried not to flinch.

"Money," he blurted, evidently trying to sound much more confident than he felt in actuality, "really isn't an object in this case."

Her frowned deepened. The boy's face was still so young, and had that wistful hope that money was the only object, the only barrier.

"I wouldn't dream of charging you a single knut, Mr. Potter."

It was true. Most wizards – no matter how much they had lost and suffered – would take the robes off their back if it was for Harry Potter. Evidently used to such treatment, he gave a feeble protest that she tried to silence with a look. It doubtless wasn't entirely fierce (that might, indeed, have been rather beyond her), but he might merely have decided to take it as such for the sake of politeness.

But money was not a problem in this case.

"Mr. Potter," she said, hesitatingly, "What do you know about wizard portraiture?"

He blinked up at her before responding with an, "Well, erm-"

Her smile was kind, but sad.

"Have you ever wondered why, for all of our magic, we don't have any portraits of Godric Gryffindor or Salazar Slytherin…or even Merlin? Don't you think that if we could consult these figures, imprint their memories and words and hearts onto canvas, and question them about our…predicaments…today it would be extremely useful?"

He did not look thoughtful, only a bit impatient. He was at that age, however, even with all that he had been through and all that he had done. Probably because of all he had done and seen, he just wanted a straight answer.

"In every wizarding portrait, there are raw materials – memories, thoughts, and such – that create the person in the portrait." She stopped herself, thought of the Daily Prophet's article about the man and his wife's portrait and corrected herself, "Well, they make an imprint of that person…like a residue. It will speak and act and mostly reason like that person, but it never is that person."

Realization was slowly beginning to dawn on him. At any rate, something was working itself out in his brain.

"So, you need a memory in order to paint a portrait," he said, very slowly.

She nodded.

"But it is not only a matter of any memory. You need…" she paused, wondering how to phrase it, "a quality memory."

He relaxed noticeably into the stained fabric of the couch and said – relief evident in every syllable – "Well, loads of people have memories of my parents, so that's okay. I have pictures if you need them as well."

The artist brought a hand up to her mouth and put a knuckle in her mouth. Putting her hands once more in her lap, she pursed her lips and began to explain, "It is not a matter of simple casual acquaintance or just seeing something visually, I am afraid. It is an imprint, not just a likeness. I need close memories, intimate memories. Anything else is my creation…not what you want. More of a lie than anything."

If she understood something about Harry Potter, it was that he simply wanted the truth.

"I don't understand," he said, struggling, she thought, to look her in the eyes, "What you mean by a 'close memory.'"

"Memories from the individual are best," Harry was now looking down at a suspicious red tinged stain on the floor, "That is why the Hogwarts Headmasters know so much, they give me their own memories…so many I don't know what they are most of the time. But, at the very least, you need a best friend or a close family member."

Here, the artist might have asked Do you have any memories of your parents? But, as every other citizen of the Wizarding World doubtless knew, such an inquiry would be rather callous and cruel…not to mention futile.

Harry Potter was silent. He began to think over the artist's words and number off the individuals who had known Lily and James Potter at the level of intimacy required.

The only family that he had left that would have known his mother was Aunt Petunia…and he didn't want her version of his mother to hang on his wall…if she even consented to give a memory at all.

Their best friends would have been Sirius or Remus. Both gone now. Even Peter Pettigrew would have been able to contribute something to the memory of those he had betrayed…but he, as well, was dead.

The Marauders had made their final adventure.

With a pang, he thought of the fact that Snape could have at least shown his mother – and there was a record of his memories – but somehow, giving even the portrait artist those seemed to be a form of sacrilege, a betrayal of an unspoken dying wish. Those were for him alone.

Even Hagrid knew them and loved them in a way only Hagrid could…but not with Sirius' or Remus' deep intimacy.

His last thought was for Dumbledore. But, he himself now resided in a picture frame…or, more accurately, his white tomb. Hardly places to extract memories from. And even had he still been available, would he have known James or Lily Potter outside of the realm of business and danger? Would he have seen their quiet moments untouched by the war?

But whatever Dumbledore had known, it was certainly invalid now.

There was far more missing than portraits.

Very quietly, he whispered, "I don't have anyone like that who could give you something."

She considered Harry Potter for a moment and with careful finality stated, "I don't think, Mr. Potter, that from all I know of you…well, you don't need a portrait of them. You know their story, even if you do not know every gesture that accompanies it."

He thought for a brief moment about the Resurrection Stone. Not of using it again, but of what he had seen.

Harry still tried not to think of that scene in the forest…it had given him hope with a sadly tinged finality. He had left the stone. He had no need of it.

It had been a matter of choice.

Moreover, Harry knew he'd been given a gift – to speak to something not bound in a frame. To know, just for a moment. To have…finality.

He thought of Sirius' words to him then: We are part of you.

Even in the time that he had to sit and mourn in the darkness of Grimmauld Place, and even finally been allowed to sleep after the mixture of funerals and celebrations, sorrows and solemnities, he had never actually taken the time to think about those words.

The words repeated again, shifting in his mind, falling into place: We are part of you.

He looked up into the wide, surprised looking eyes of the portrait painter and said slowly, "No, I guess I don't."

Hallows, horcruxes, ghosts, and portraits, he thought to himself. He shook his head.

He stood, indicating that the interview was over and, with a wayward glance at the curtain behind which dark mutterings could still be heard, showed her to the door.

"Well," he said after a moment looking thoughtful and distant, "Erm, thanks."

She smiled and bowed.

"Thank you, Harry Potter. I hope whoever paints you gets it about right."

She left the house that shouldn't have been on Grimmauld Place and thought – not by any means for the first time - that, after all was said and done, portraits were just a clever imitation. Nothing at all like what remained painted in one's heart.

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Although she has never been near a boggart, she has no doubt of what she would see should she ever be forced to undergo such an experience: thousands and thousands of empty canvases.

Not simply portraits missing occupants, but ones that have never been painted in the first place. New, white, and glistening. Ones that needed faces, movement - the peculiar afterlife that is the life of a portrait.

She closes her eyes and sees her miniscule flat after the war and the teeming thousands of portraits waiting to be painted, each blank expanse an unwritten story.

Somewhere she knows that all of these are like tombstones…no, not exactly like, in some cases…sometimes a portrait was a substitute for a body that could never be found. He Who Still Is Not Named took away any physical trace leaving empty tombs and fragile hope that maybe, just maybe that person was still out there, as if they were just beyond a thin veil, waiting to emerge. Well, at least we have their portrait, she imagines them saying. It is almost a small consolation.

For almost two months she had no sleep. She was painting, painting, painting, painting.

One boy she had painted kept taking pictures of her afterwards. It made her uncomfortable…so she had tucked that particular canvas behind one of a rather venerable old witch who was getting increasingly annoyed by the flashes the camera produced in her dark corner.

She had painted a boy with flaming hair – so young, so painfully young – who had cracked such obscene jokes among the other two dimensional occupants of the room that even the mere memory of some of them still made her blush to the very tips of her ears in embarrassment.

And still there had been more portraits to be painted.

Behind every portrait was a story – not a whole story, but a significant and convincing chunk of one - that perhaps needed to be told. There were voices stilled without her wand to give them mouths, memories growing finite, likenesses irretrievably lost.

All the stories could be lost on empty canvas, their words lost.

Or they could be told. Told with a full range of hauntingly familiar nuance and gesture.

At the end of the war, with so many stories stifled, she wanted to give them something back, even when so much was irrevocably gone.

She gets up and walks down the hall, her imagination filling in the empty canvases that line it with her half told stories – she imagines the flashing camera illuminating the greasy head of a man with a hooked nose who scowls in response, watches as the woman who is now displaying violently green hair and her husband smile widely and gesture to a man with a barking laugh to join them in their frame, wonders if she will someday paint Harry Potter's likeness and ask it what he might have asked portraits of parents he had barely known...imagines those same parents rushing towards him, kissing his cheeks, welcoming him home…

Life continues to play out on the canvases. Stories unfold in framed fragments, almost as if the whole of it is just out of focus beyond the edge of the painted scene.

But all she can hear is the eerie sound of her own voice from the other room, quietly asking the image of a wizened old witch how she came to be here and who she might be going to.

Closing her eyes and willing the scenes in front of her to fade into the reality of white canvas, the artist muses.

A portrait, she knows, – although some might make the mistake and treat it otherwise – could never be more than canvas with a clever charm and a bit of memory.

But it was tempting to think of it as more, forgetting other, perhaps more real, stories. A portrait does, after all, have a face. A voice. A personality. All belonging to a beloved subject. A subject that is, more than likely, missed dearly.

It is as if their consciousness has lived on within a small window.

She lies down to sleep, the voices and faces unfading.

It is tempting - illusion or delusion though it is - to merely watch the fragments of life before her.

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Fin

A/N: Here it is, at last, the promised slightly insane Harry Potter fic. Yes. I've just written a good deal about portraits…why? Because they are fascinating…I mean, when someone dies you don't need them to be a ghost, you can just frame them and they're good as new! Well, that line of thought is rather…problematic. Hence ficcage.

And McGonagall is ridiculously fun to write. I was telling people to "Have a biscuit" for a while when they annoyed me…no one got it, of course…but it was fun all the same. XD

Comments are infinitely more appreciated than usual…

Hope you enjoyed!