Text 7: Snape's worst memory
Order of the Phoenix, p. 564 - 572
He took a great gulp of breath, and plunged his face into the surface of Snape's thoughts. At once, the floor of the office lurched, tipping Harry head-first into the Pensieve
He was falling through cold blackness, spinning furiously as he went, and then -
He was standing in the Great Hall, but the four house tables were gone. Instead, there were more than a hundred of smaller tables, all facing the same way, at each of which sat a student, head bent low, scribbling on a roll of parchment. The only sound was the scratching of quills and the occasional rustle as somebody adjusted their parchment. It was clearly exam time.
Sunshine was streaming through the high windows on to the bent heads, which shone chestnut and copper and gold in the bright light. Harry looked around carefully. Snape had to be here somewhere
this was his memory
And there he was, at a table right behind Harry. Harry stared. Snape-the-teenager had a stringy, pallid look about him, like a plant kept in the dark. His hair was lank and greasy and was flopping onto the table, his hooked nose barely half an inch from the surface of the parchment as he scribbled. Harry moved around behind Snape and read the heading of the examination paper: DEFENCE AGAINST THE DARK ARTS - ORDINARY WIZARDING LEVEL.
So Snape had to be fifteen or sixteen, around Harry's own age. His hand was flying across the parchment; he had written at least a foot more than his closest neighbours, and yet his writing was minuscule and cramped.
'Five more minutes!'
The voice made Harry jump. Turning, he saw the top of Professor Flitwick's head moving between the desks a short distance away. Professor Flitwick was walking past a boy with untidy black hair
very untidy black hair
Harry moved so quickly that, had he been solid, he would have knocked desks flying. Instead he seemed to slide, dreamlike, across two aisles and up a third. The back of the black-haired boy's head drew nearer and
he was straightening up now, putting down his quill, pulling his roll of parchment towards him so as to reread what he had written
Harry stopped in front of the desk and gazed down at his fifteen-year-old father.
Excitement exploded in the pit of his stomach: it was as though he was looking at himself but with deliberate mistakes. James's eyes were hazel, his nose was slightly longer than Harry's and there was no scar on his forehead, but they had the same thin face, same mouth, same eyebrows; James's hair stood up at the back exactly as Harry's did, his hands could have been Harry's and Harry could tell that, when James stood up, they would be within an inch of each other in height.
James yawned hugely and rumpled up his hair, making it even messier than it had been. Then, with a glance towards Professor Flitwick, he turned in his seat and grinned at a boy sitting four seats behind him.
With another chock of excitement, Harry saw Sirius give James the thumbs-up. Sirius was lounging in his chair at his ease, tilting it back on two legs. 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. He looked rather pale and peaky (was the full moon approaching?) and was absorbed in the exam: as he reread his answers, he scratched his chin with the end of his quill, frowning slightly.
So that meant Wormtail would have to be around here somewhere, too
and sure enough, Harry spotted him within seconds: a small, mousy-haired boy with a pointed nose. Wormtail looked anxious; he was chewing his fingernails, staring down at his paper, scuffing the ground with his toes. Every now and then he glanced hopefully at his neighbour's paper. Harry stared at Wormtail for a moment, then back at James, who was now doodling on a bit of scrap parchment. He had drawn a Snitch and was now tracing the letters 'L.E.' What did they stand for?
'Quills down please!' squeaked Professor Flitwick. 'That means you too, Stebbins! Please remain seated while I collect your parchment! Accio!'
Over a hundred rolls of parchment zoomed into the air and into Professor Flitwick's outstretched arms, knocking him backwards off his feet. Several people laughed. A couple of students at the front desks got up, took hold of Professor Flitwick beneath the elbows and lifted him back onto his feet.
thank you,' panted Professor Flitwick. 'Very well, everybody, you're free to go!'
Harry looked down at his father, who had hastily crossed out the 'L.E.' he had been embellishing, jumped to his feet, stuffed his quill and the exam paper into his bag, which he slung over his back, and stood waiting for Sirius to join him.
Harry looked around and glimpsed Snape a short way away, moving between the tables towards the doors of the Entrance Hall, still absorbed in his own exam paper. Round-shouldered, yet angular, he walked in a twitchy manner, that recalled a spider, and his oily hair was jumping about his face.
A gang of chattering girls separated Snape from James, Sirius and Lupin, and by planting himself in their midst, Harry managed to keep Snape in sight while straining his ears to catch the voices of James and his friends.
'Did you like question ten, Moony?' asked Sirius, as they emerged into the Entrance Hall.
'Loved it,' said Lupin briskly. 'Give five signs that identify the werewolf. Excellent question.'
'D'you think you managed to get all the signs?' said James in tones of mock concern.
'Think I did,' said Lupin seriously, as they joined the crowd thronging around the front doors eager to get out into the sunlit grounds. 'One: he's sitting on my chair. Two: he's wearing my clothes. Three: his name's Remus Lupin.'
Wormtail was the only one who didn't laugh.
'I got the snout shape, the pupils of the eyes and the tufted tail,' he said anxiously, 'but I couldn't think what else -'
'How thick are you, Wormtail?' said James impatiently. 'You run around with a werewolf once a month -'
'Keep your voice down,' implored Lupin.
Harry looked anxiously behind him again. Snape remained close by, still buried in his exam questions - but this was Snape's memory and Harry was sure that if Snape chose to wander of in a different direction once outside in the grounds, he, Harry, would not be able to follow James any further. To his intense relief, however, when James and his three friends strode off down the lawn towards the lake, Snape followed, still poring over the exam paper and apparently with no fixed idea of where he was going. By keeping a little ahead of him, Harry managed to maintain a close watch on James and the others.
'Well, I thought that paper was a piece of cake,' he heard Sirius say. 'I'll be surprised if I don't get "Outstanding" on it at least.'
'Me too,' said James. He put his hand in his pocket and took out a struggling Golden Snitch.
'Where'd you get that?'
'Nicked it,' James said casually. He started playing with the Snitch, allowing it to fly as much as a foot away before seizing it again; his reflexes were excellent. Wormtail watched him in awe.
They stopped in the shade of the very same beech tree on the edge of the lake where Harry, Ron and Hermione had once spent a Sunday finishing their homework, and threw themselves down on the grass. Harry looked over his shoulder yet again and saw, to his delight, that Snape had settled himself on the grass in the dense shadow of a clump of bushes. He was as deeply immersed in the OWL paper as ever, which left Harry free to sit down on the grass between the beech and the bushes and watch the foursome under the tree. The sunlight was dazzling on the smooth surface of the lake, on the bank of which the group of laughing girls who had just left the Great Hall were sitting, with their shoes and socks off, cooling their feet in the water.
Lupin had pulled out a book and was reading. Sirius stared around at the students milling over the grass, looking rather haughty and bored, but very handsomely so. James was still playing with the Snitch, letting it zoom further and further away, almost escaping but always grabbed it at the last second. Wormtail was watching him with his mouth open. Every time James made a particularly difficult catch, Wormtail gasped and applauded. After five minutes of this, Harry wondered why James didn't tell Wormtail to get a grip on himself, but James seemed to be enjoying the attention. Harry noticed that his father had a habit of rumpling up his hair as though to keep it from getting too tidy, and he also kept looking over at the girls by the water's edge.
'Put that away, will you,' said Sirius finally, as James made a fine catch and Wormtail let out a cheer, 'before Wormtail wets himself with excitement.'
Wormtail turned slightly pink, but James grinned.
'If it bothers you,' he said, stuffing the Snitch back in his pocket.
Harry had the distinct impression that Sirius was the only one for whom James would have stopped showing off.
'I'm bored' said Sirius. 'Wish it was full moon.'
'You might,' said Lupin darkly from behind his book. 'We've still got Transfiguration, if you're bored you could test me. Here
' and he held out his book.
But Sirius snorted. 'I don't need to look at that rubbish, I know it all.'
'This'll liven you up, Padfoot,' said James quietly. 'Look who it is
Sirius's head turned. He became very still, like a dog that has scented a rabbit.
'Excellent,' he said softly. 'Snivellus.'
Harry turned to see what Sirius was looking at.
Snape was on his feet again, and was stowing the OWL paper in his bag. As he left the shadows of the bushes and set off across the grass, Sirius and James stood up.
Lupin and Wormtail remained sitting: Lupin was still staring down at his book, though his eyes were not moving and a faint frown line had appeared between his eyebrows; Wormtail was looking from Sirius and James to Snape with a look of avid anticipation on his face.
'All right Snivellus?' said James loudly.
Snape reacted so fast it was as though he had been expecting an attack: dropping his bag, he plunged his hand inside his robes and his wand was halfway into the air when James shouted, 'Expelliarmus!'
Snape's wand flew twelve feet into the air and fell with a little thud in the grass behind him. Sirius let out a bark of laughter.
'Impedimenta!' he said, pointing his wand at Snape, who was knocked off his feet halfway through a dive towards his own fallen wand.
Students all around had turned to watch. Some of them had got to their feet and were edging nearer. Some looked apprehensive, others entertained.
Snape lay panting on the ground. James and Sirius advanced on him, wands raised, James glancing over his shoulder at the girls at the water's edge as he went. Wormtail was on his feet now, watching hungrily, edging around Lupin to get a clearer view.
'How'd the exam go, Snivelly?' said James.
'I was watching him, his nose was touching the parchment,' said Sirius viciously. 'There'll be great grease marks all over it, they won't be able to read a word.'
Several people watching laughed; Snape was clearly unpopular.
Wormtail sniggered shrilly. Snape was trying to get up, but the jinx was still operating on him; he was struggling, as though bound by invisible ropes.
'You - wait,' he panted, staring up at James with an expression of purest loathing, 'you - wait!'
'Wait for what?' said Sirius coolly. 'What're you going to do, Snivelly, wipe your nose on us?'
Snape let out a scream of mixed swear words and hexes, but with his wand ten feet away nothing happened.
'Wash out your mouth,' said James coldly. 'Scourgify!'
Pink soap bubbles streamed from Snape's mouth at once; the froth was covering his lips, making him gag, choking him -
'Leave him ALONE!'
James and Sirius looked round. James's free hand immediately jumped to his hair.
It was one of the girls from the lake edge. She had thick, dark red hair that fell to her shoulders, and startlingly green almond-shaped eyes - Harry's eyes.
'All right, Evans?' said James, and the tone of his voice was suddenly pleasant, deeper, more mature.
'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
Many of the surrounding students laughed, Sirius and Wormtail included, but Lupin, still apparently intent on his book, didn't, and nor did Lily.
'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.'
Behind him, the Impediment Jinx was wearing off. Snape was beginning to inch towards his fallen wand, spitting out soapsuds as he crawled.
'I wouldn't go out with you if it was a choice between you and the giant squid,' said Lily.
'Bad luck, Prongs,' said Sirius briskly, and turned back to Snape. 'OI!'
But too late; Snape had directed his wand straight at James; there was a flash of light and a gash appeared on the side of James's face, spattering his robes with blood. James whirled about: a second flash of light later, Snape was hanging upside-down in the air, his robes falling over his head to reveal skinny, pallid legs and a pair of greying underpants.
Many people in the small crowd cheered; Sirius, James and Wormtail roared with laughter.
Lily, whose furious expression had twitched for an instant as though she was going to smile, said, 'Let him down!'
'Certainly,' said James and he jerked his wand upwards; Snape fell into a crumpled heap on the ground. Disentangling himself from his robes he got quickly to his feet, wand up, but Sirius said, 'Petrificus Totalus!' and Snape kneeled over again, rigid as a board.
'LEAVE HIM ALONE!' Lily shouted. She had her own wand out now. James and Sirius eyed it warily.
'Ah, Evans, don't make me hex you,' said James earnestly.
'Take the curse off him, then!'
James sighed deeply, then turned to Snape and muttered the counter-curse.
'There you go,' he said, as Snape struggled to his feet. 'You're lucky Evans was here, Snivellus -'
'I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!'
'Fine,' she said coolly. 'I won't bother in the future. And I'd wash your pants if I were you, Snivellus.'
'Apologise to Evans!' James roared at Snape, his wand pointed threateningly at him.
'I don't want you to make him apologise,' Lily shouted, rounding on James. 'You're as bad as he is.'
'What?' yelped James. 'I'd NEVER call you a - you-know-what!'
'Messing up your hair because you think it looks cool to look like you've just got off your broomstick, showing off with that stupid Snitch, walking down corridors and hexing anyone who annoys you just because you can - I'm surprised your broomstick can get off the ground with that fat head on it. You make me SICK.'
She turned on her heel and hurried away.
'Evans!' James shouted after her. 'Hey, EVANS!'
But she didn't look back.
'What is it with her?' said James, trying and failing to look as though this was a throwaway question of no real importance to him.
'Reading between the lines, I'd say she thinks you're a bit conceited, mate,' said Sirius.
'Right,' said James, who looked furious now, 'right -'
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 pincer-like grip. Wincing, Harry looked round 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.
Harry felt himself rising into the air; the summer's day evaporated around him; he was floating upwards through icy blackness, Snape's hand still tight upon his upper arm. Then, with a swooping feeling as though he had turned head-over-heels in midair, his feet hit the stone floor of Snape's dungeon and he was standing again beside the Pensieve on Snape's desk in the shadowy, present-day Potion master's study.