Snape’s Worst Memory
chapter twenty-eight of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Umbridge becomes headmistress, and interrogates Harry as to the whereabouts of Dumbledore and Sirius, but is interrupted as Fred and George launch their fireworks. Harry then goes to Occlumency, but when Snape rushes out dives into his Pensieve – and watches as James Potter torments Snape while Lily protests. Soon, though, Snape discovers Harry, and kicks him out of his office.
It had just occurred to Harry what Mad-Eye would say if he ever heard that Harry had drunk anything offered by a known enemy…. He raised the cup to his lips again and pretended to take a sip, though keeping his mouth tightly closed. Umbridge’s smile widened.
(by Drew Graham)
Filch and Umbridge were standing, apparently transfixed with horror, halfway down the stairs…. Filch… dashed to a nearby cupboard, pulled out a broom, and began swatting at the fireworks in midair….
Harry had seen enough. Laughing, he ducked down low, ran to a door he knew was concealed behind a tapestry a little way along the corridor and slipped through it to find Fred and George hiding just behind it, listening to Umbridge’s and Filch’s yells and quaking with suppressed mirth.
(by Leela Starsky)
“Very well, very well – Potter,” said Snape, “we shall resume this lesson tomorrow evening instead.”
Harry stopped in front of the desk and gazed down at his fifteen-year-old father.
(by Marta T)
With another shock of excitement, Harry saw Sirius give James the thumbs-up…. He was very good-looking; his dark hair fell into his eyes with a sort of casual elegance neither James’s nor Harry’s could ever have achieved, and a girl sitting behind him was eyeing him hopefully, though he didn’t seem to have noticed.
And two seats along from this girl – Harry’s stomach gave another pleasurable squirm – was Remus Lupin.
Harry looked around and glimpsed Snape a short way away, moving between the tables toward the doors into the entrance hall, still absorbed in his own examination paper.
Sirius’s head turned. He had become very still, like a dog that has scented a rabbit.
“Excellent,” he said softly. “Snivellus.”
(by Jenny Dolfen)
“Leave him ALONE!”
James and Sirius looked around…. it was one of the girls from the lake edge…. Harry’s mother…
(by Tealin Raintree)
“Leave him alone,” Lily repeated. She was looking at James with every sign of great dislike. “What’s he done to you?”
“Well,” said James, appearing to deliberate the point, “it’s more the fact that he exists, if you know what I mean…”
“You think you’re funny,” she said coldly. “But you’re just an arrogant, bullying toerag, Potter. Leave him alone.”
“I will if you go out with me, Evans,” said James quickly. “Go on… Go out with me, and I’ll never lay a wand on old Snivelly again.”
There was another flash of light, and Snape was once again hanging upside down in the air. “Who wants to see me take off Snivelly’s pants?”
But whether James really did take off Snape’s pants, Harry never found out. A hand had closed tight over his upper arm, closed with a pincerlike grip. Wincing, Harry looked around to see who had hold of him, and saw, with a thrill of horror, a fully grown, adult-sized Snape standing right beside him, white with rage.
(by Becky Roberts)
It was scary: Snape’s lips were shaking, his face was white, his teeth were bared….
“You will not repeat what you saw to anybody!” Snape bellowed.
about the chapter
Prior to the release of this book, the ‘Harry Potter for Grown-Ups’ message boards were circulating a list of “Top Things we Won’t Hear in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” Many of the additions were hilarious, and it included memorable quotes like Molly asking, “Good grief, Harry, must you always spend so much time here?”; Draco Malfoy ordering, “Crabbe, you follow me. Goyle, stay here,” or Ron admitting, “I read it in Hogwarts, a History.” But one of my favorite inclusions on the list was a quote from Hermione, where she said, “Screw it, let’s party.” It’s one of my favorites, of course, because once Umbridge took over Hogwarts and Fred and George launched their rockets, this quote became the only one of the fifty I saved that we sort of did hear in Phoenix, when Hermione decided not to do her homework as she was feeling a bit “rebellious.” Just goes to show – you never know.
Something You May Not Have Noticed
One of the more interesting aspects of Umbridge’s having to chase around fireworks all day is the fact that it seems she really isn’t a very powerful witch. We will see her do a N.E.W.T.-level bit of magic later on, but when it comes to these fireworks… can you really imagine McGonagall or Flitwick having any trouble at all getting rid of the things if they wanted to? Perhaps there’s more than one reason Umbridge isn’t teaching any magic in her classes. I’m not convinced she could pull it off.
The Wizarding World
Not like Harry needed another example of the blatant corruption in the Ministry, but it’s fascinating that when Umbridge is interrogating Harry, she admits that she knows Harry was talking to “the criminal Black” when she almost caught Sirius in the Gryffindor common room fire. Say what? After all, Sirius was imprisoned for killing Harry’s parents, yet she clearly didn’t stop for a moment to think about the fact that Sirius is clearly not trying to kill Harry. Her perspective doesn’t make any sense at all, but that’s Umbridge: anyone who isn’t for her is against her, so Sirius and Harry are in the same (albeit illogical) boat. Or rather, Sirius and Harry have both shown up the Ministry of Magic, one by escaping Azkaban and the other by claiming Voldemort’s return, so both need to be punished – regardless of the law.
The Power of Magic
Pensieves are fascinating magic, and the type of device that makes my head all but explode with questions and curiosities. It seems, for example, that when placing a memory into a pensieve that you have the option of either retaining a copy in your head or giving away the only copy you have – but then, if you view the memory again, do you now have a new memory of watching your memory?
Far more interesting from the standpoint of this chapter, though, is the omniscience that Harry seems able to achieve in Snape’s memory. For one thing, he can see things behind Snape’s back – how can Snape have a memory of things he never saw himself? Is his brain just interpolating based on what he does know is there? And for another, Harry seems perfectly able to hear conversations that would have been out of Snape’s earshot; after all, Snape may have been able to hear some of the Marauders’ conversation, but it’s highly doubtful he heard every word. Rowling actually addressed a question related to this in an interview:
(Question: “Do the memories stored in a Pensieve reflect reality or the views of the person they belong to?”)
Rowling: “It’s reality…. What you remember is accurate in the Pensieve.”
(“So there are things in there that you haven’t noticed personally, but you can go and see yourself?”)
“Yes, and that’s the magic of the Pensieve, that’s what brings it alive. Otherwise it really would just be like a diary, wouldn’t it? Confined to what you remember. But the Pensieve recreates a moment for you, so you could go into your own memory and relive things that you didn’t notice the time. It’s somewhere in your head, which I’m sure it is, in all of our brains. I’m sure if you could access it, things that you don’t know you remember are all in there somewhere.”
I have to be honest and say that this quote doesn’t make much sense to me. Think of the *power* that would exist in being able to go back and view any moment in your life from multiple angles, with the benefit of an unbiased perspective – if everyone could do it, it’s hard for me to imagine the world wouldn’t be radically different. For example, why isn’t Umbridge handing out detentions for things students are doing behind her back? It would give anybody the ability to be a Big Brother at any time they want, and it just doesn’t make sense. I actually think that, given the evidence in the books, Rowling is wrong about what’s in the pensieve, and it *has* to be limited by your experience. Snape *must* have simply been able to hear every word the Marauders said. Nothing else makes sense.
Of course this is interesting too, because if what we’re getting is Snape’s perspective of these events – rather than, as Rowling says, an unbiased view of them – it also calls into question how accurately the memory reflects James’s actual behavior. Snape viewed him as a bully, so is that the only reason he comes across as one? That’s almost certainly not Rowling’s intention. So perhaps what’s most logical is that the Pensieve is simply replaying what Snape could see and hear, exactly as he saw and heard it (so relatively unbiased, but still from a singular perspective), and interpolating the information around it (say, the things happening behind him) based on his expectations. For example, if Harry tried to read Lupin’s book, perhaps it would be the book Snape thought he was reading rather than his actual book. But it’s hard to say… it’s all very murky no matter what explanation we use.
The Boy Who Lived
Harry’s experience in Snape’s memory is an interesting one. When he first drops in, his first thought is to seek out his father; and he’s so absorbed in watching James, Sirius, Lupin, and Wormtail that he doesn’t even think to look for his mother. Yet after watching the events unfold, he realizes how arrogant James really was – and without even thinking about it, is left relating much more to Snape and his mother than to James. Dumbledore has mentioned before that James’s and Snape’s relationship was similar to Harry’s relationship to Malfoy; except he didn’t mention that in Harry’s case, the roles are reversed, as Malfoy (like James) is almost always the aggressor. The experience really turns Harry’s world upside down, but it also points to a flaw in Snape’s character – after all, the reason Snape hates Harry is his similarity to his father, yet Harry comes out of the memory relating much more to Snape. Here’s betting Snape would never, in a million years, guess that Harry would have had that reaction.
Something to Remember
Mentioning that she knew Harry and Sirius were friends wasn’t Umbridge’s only arrogant slip-up. She’s also full of herself enough to brag to Harry that her fireplace is the only one in Hogwarts not being monitored by the Ministry of Magic. Of course, she doesn’t stop to consider what Harry might make of this information.
The Final Word
“[Dolores Umbridge] is one of those people, and they do exist in real life, who will always side with the established order. As far as she is concerned authority cannot be wrong so she doesn’t question it, and I would go as far as to say that whatever happened and whoever took over at the Ministry, Umbridge would be there, she likes power. So she is going to side with the people who give her the authority. “–J.K. Rowling, July 2005