So JKR briefed about the interacting pictures in the wizarding world in an interview as such

Q: All the paintings we have seen at Hogwarts are of dead people. They seem to be living through their portraits. How is this so? If there was a painting of Harry’s parents, would he be able to obtain advice from them?

JKR: ... They are all of dead people; they are not as fully realised as ghosts, as you have probably noticed. The place where you see them really talk is in Dumbledore’s office, primarily; the idea is that the previous headmasters and headmistresses leave behind a faint imprint of themselves. They leave their aura, almost, in the office and they can give some counsel to the present occupant, but it is not like being a ghost. They repeat catchphrases, almost. The portrait of Sirius’ mother is not a very 3D personality; she is not very fully realised. She repeats catchphrases that she had when she was alive. If Harry had a portrait of his parents it would not help him a great deal. ...

Now, my question is, why is the picture in the Muggle Prime Minister's office able to interact? How can a wizard's imprint be left in a muggle office?

  • In the same way the portrait in Hermione's purse worked? Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 8:41
  • Hermione took that photograph from House of Black where the imprint of Serious's grandfather was bound to be. Are you saying that picture was brought from somewhere else and then fixed there? Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 8:43
  • Maybe. I don't remember the portrait you're talking about, so I can't be more specific. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 8:44
  • Its in the Half Blood Prince. First chapter is totally about the muggle prime minister. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 8:45
  • As it is not explained in the book, my guess is that the portrait in the PM office is a special communication device, and may work different from the Headmaster portraits, as it is placed there for a different purpose.
    – TimSparrow
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 9:45

2 Answers 2


The Downing Street portrait behaved perfectly normally.

There's nothing in the quoted JKR extract which contradicts this portrait's behaviour, as far as I can see. The portrait is able to interact with living people and hold a basic conversation, without being a true reflection of its subject's character and personality. The same is true of the Fat Lady, Sir Cadogan, Phineas Nigellus Black and the other portraits we see depicted in the books.

Rowling's further writings on portraits show that the portraits of the Hogwarts headmasters do have more character and depth to them than others. This is because they are given personal training and guidance by their subjects whilst they are alive. Think of portraits as being like robots - the more you train and programme them the more lifelike they'll be and the more they'll be able to accomplish. That doesn't mean that portraits which don't receive this kind of attention can't function on a basic level. And, let's face it, all this particular portrait had to do was keep an eye on the Prime Minister and occasionally announce the Minister of Magic. It was hardly brain surgery.


Some special wizards have portraits in different buildings, the wizards can move from one portrait to other. The portrait in the muggle prime minister office is usually still and quiet unless a message needs to be send. The prime offices speaks to the portrait and ask to see the minister of magic, the portrait transfer the message. This was done to maintain an open communication between the muggle office and the minister of magic.

  • 1
    The portrait in the muggle prime minister office is usually still and quiet unless a message needs to be send. - this is incorrect, just so you know. It's explicitly stated that the Muggle Prime Minister sees the portrait moving around, such as scratching his nose and walking right out of the frame. It's in the first chapter of The Half-Blood Prince :)
    – Mithical
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 12:36
  • what i got from JKR's statement is that, interacting pictures are nothing else but an imprint of a wizard and it can be created in the place where they lived/worked for quite long. that's why everyone of the moving & talking pictures are at those people's home/workplace. Like Phineas Nigellus Black has one at Hogwarts (his workplace) and his home. Similarly Dilys Derwent has one portrait at Hogwarts (her workplace 1) and another at St. Mungos (her 2nd workplace). So interacting pictures can be created only where you have a special bond. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 12:59

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