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Here's The One Thing I've Never Understood About Harry Potter

It's been 20 years, and I'm finally speaking out on this issue.

HELLO. My name's Ellie and I'm obsessed with Harry Potter to the point that it's actually a bit ridiculous.

I pride myself on my Harry Potter knowledge. When a friend or colleague has a question about Harry Potter, they come to me for the answer. I am, to be honest, an insufferable know-it-all.

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But I just finished my millionth* reread of the entire series and I am truly ashamed to say that there's one element of Harry Potter that I JUST. DON'T. UNDERSTAND.

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*Probably not actually the millionth, because I'm only 23 and that would be logistically impossible, but close enough.


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I understand that we're supposed to accept the portraits move, but my issue begins with the fact that the subjects of the portraits are able to move between pictures.

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I accept this because I understand that it's fiction and magic and I need to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy it but also I'm a real Hermione Granger at heart and I need to understand the logic behind these things.

Basically: I have questions.

So, we're accepting that the subjects of Hogwarts' portraits are able to move into other portraits. But what on earth does that look like from their point of view?

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Are we assuming that when they look to the side, their landscape suddenly ends and becomes a completely different landscape? This is the only possible explanation I can come up with, but it feels weird and very unmagical, so if you or J.K. Rowling (who I'm sure is reading this) have an answer for me I'd be grateful.

And what's to stop the people in the portraits just leaving their frame empty for good, and completely moving into another landscape they like better?

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Are they magically bound to their painting – like, can they only leave for a specific amount of time? Or is it like how real-life 3D humans have houses, and it would be frowned upon for them to just barge into someone else's?

When the Fat Lady's portrait gets slashed in Prisoner of Azkaban, she runs to another portrait for safety, but what if she hadn't? Would she have died? Or been injured?

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Would she have had to go to a painting of a hospital to be fixed? IS THERE A PORTRAIT HOSPITAL WING? And did she just chill in a different painting while Filch patched up her canvas?

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I think you can agree these are the important questions.

Then, when we get to Order of the Phoenix, we learn that not only can the subjects of the portraits move between pictures, but they can move between portraits of THEMSELVES in DIFFERENT BUILDINGS.

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I have so many questions about this that I'm going to have to put them in a list, otherwise I'll explode.

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– Does this mean that, no matter how many portraits are painted of a person, they can only show up in one portrait at a time?

– And, if so, does that mean the majority of their portraits are left empty for the majority of the time?

– If they have multiple portraits, does the subject see the background of their other portrait when they look to their side instead of the landscape of the painting next to theirs?

– Can the headmasters of Hogwarts, for example, move between Hogwarts paintings as well as moving between their own portraits? HOW?

– How long does it take for the subject of a portrait to move between two paintings that are hundreds of miles apart? Is it instantaneous?

– Why have I thought so much about this?

– Will I rest until I have answers?

We all know that after a Hogwarts headteacher dies, they have a portrait placed on the wall of their former office. But how ~exactly~ does this work?

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If you can communicate with someone via a portrait even after they're dead, why doesn't everyone just paint portraits of their loved ones? Is it a case of them ~choosing~ that life, like ghosts?

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I feel like Harry would've been a lot more chill if he could've just painted his mum and dad and hung them on the wall.

Does the portrait have to be painted before the person dies for them to be able to move and speak within it? Or do you have to be a special ~kind~ of person for your presence to live on through a painting?

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Is that why Snape never got a painting in the Headmaster's office? (Or is it because he didn't deserve one? Don't @ me, it's just the truth.)

Look, I know what you're going to say. It's fiction! It's a children's book that is literally about a magic boy and his magic friends! Just deal with the inconsistencies!

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But everything else in this world has a well thought-out explanation behind it, so I feel like THIS MUST TOO.

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If you are J.K. Rowling and you have answers to any or all of these questions, please help me. I need to know. Thank you.

  1. What do you think about this incredibly important issue?

    What do you think about this incredibly important issue?

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What do you think about this incredibly important issue?
    vote votes
    You have uncovered a huge problem with the Harry Potter series and I, too, need answers immediately.
    vote votes
    You are missing a very obvious explanation that I will tell you about, nicely and in extreme detail, in the comments.
    vote votes
    You need to calm down.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: According to some info on Pottermore dot com, portraits are only reflections of their subjects' dominant personality traits, and their ability to interact with people outside of the portrait depends on their magical skill.

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The heads of Hogwarts have their portraits painted years in advance, and will (if they wish) visit the painting in storage to teach it their mannerisms/impart wisdom/share memories to make the portrait more ~lifelike~.


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