In Book 7, it's learned that one of the difficulties Snape has in getting the sword of Gryffindor to Harry is that Harry and Hermione are taking very great precautions to stay hidden, including keeping Phineas literally in the dark until Hermione slips when she says they're in the Forest of Dean while the bag with Phineas's portrait is open.

However, after the incident at Godric's Hollow, they gain a copy of Dumbledore's biography by Rita Skeeter, which has Dumbledore's portrait on the front cover. Hermione and Harry are often reading it; it's a window to them and the audience of Dumbledore's misdeeds in his early life, which is just one part of the general disillusionment inherent through the entire arc and definitely in Book 7.

If people in portraits can move between portraits of themselves, why couldn't Dumbledore have just camped out in his portrait in Harry's copy of the book? He could have gotten their whereabouts every day, maybe even where they'd be the next day, and he and Snape could have come up with any plan they wished to get the sword to Harry.

Is this just an oversight by Rowling, or is there some qualitative difference between a painted magical "portrait" and a printed magical "picture"?

  • 2
    I guess the reasoning is that the image in the book isn't actually a portrait, but is a copy of the portrait.
    – HorusKol
    Oct 20, 2011 at 5:01
  • 3
    I don't want to imagine Dumbledore moving around Google Images. Apr 5, 2013 at 20:30

1 Answer 1


It is mentioned I think in previous books, specifically The Order of The Phoenix, that the headmasters/mistresses of Hogwarts are able to go between portraits. This is evidenced by one of them going from Hogwarts to St Mungo's Hospital, and Phineas Nigellus being able to go between Hogwarts and no. 12 Grimmauld Place.

It's never mentioned about going between multiple pictures and being able to talk out of them. This is key I think, they cannot talk out of other pictures, just paintings. Hence Snape not knowing where Harry, Hermione & Ron was until Phineas Nigellus heard in the bag and was able to go from his portrait to the Headmaster's office.

  • 4
    +1. Imagine pictures in the Daily Prophet; neither Sirius nor Harry had an access to them.
    – rems
    Oct 20, 2011 at 6:43
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    I think the true difference, which you brush upon, is the difference between 'pictures' (meaning photographs and reproductions of them) such as are used in books and newsprint and 'portraits' (paintings, upon which a great deal of time and effort is spent).
    – Jeff
    Oct 20, 2011 at 13:42
  • @AlasdairCM - But would it have made a difference to the OP's question if Dumbledore could 'see' out of the portrait, did he necessarily need to talk to find out where they were?
    – going
    Oct 21, 2011 at 3:47
  • @xiaohouzi79 He may have been able to see, but he would have had to be able to talk out of his image to be able to pass on any information.
    – AlasdairCM
    Oct 25, 2011 at 10:14
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    I'm on board with the whole pictures vs. portraits idea, but pictures might be able move around. Don't have a copy of the books with me so I don't remember if it was in the books/movies, but in the first one, when Ron is explaining chocolate frog cards to Harry on the train, Dumbledore leaves and Ron says something along the lines of "You can't expect him to stick around all day". I can't think of another time we see people actually leave a photo in a newspaper, schoolbook, etc. They just cover themselves up or a minor action like that.
    – Windle
    May 11, 2012 at 14:39

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