Snape’s Worst Memory…or Not

by Sarah Mohipp

Did the memory Harry watched in Dumbledore’s Pensieve truly belong to Professor Snape? I think there is room for doubt.

Because Harry saw Snape putting thoughts into the Pensieve, he made the assumption that this memory was one of them. As Harry follows both Snape and the Marauders in the memory, he expresses anxiety that Snape will move out of range and he will lose sight of his father and his friends. Later, when Snape catches Harry inside the Pensieve, we are left in no doubt that the memory is genuine and very distressing for Snape.

The reader naturally goes along with Harry’s point of view. However, this has led us astray before — for example, when Harry assumed that his scar was hurting because of Snape’s gaze and the real cause turned out to be underneath Professor Quirrell’s turban.

When Harry first used the Pensieve in GoF, he saw things exactly as Professor Dumbledore saw them. This meant the entire trial scene exactly as Dumbledore saw it — he was not able to see things extra to that experience, such as events outside the court room. Yet, in “Snape’s Worst Memory,” Harry was seeing things not in Snape’s line of vision. He was able to see the Marauders even when they were exiting the exam room behind Snape, and could hear their conversations outside long before Sirius spotted Snape under the tree.

How is this possible? It seems likely that we are seeing someone else’s memory of the events that day. I would hazard a guess that this person was not a teacher, else they would have intervened. It is not Sirius or Lupin as they would have mentioned it later on when Harry contacted them through the fire in Umbridge’s office. The person would also have to be close to Dumbledore, as he would have let them borrow his Pensieve to store the memory.

Is it possible that the memory belongs to James? This is one theory I favour, because it would help explain Snape’s reaction. In the past we have seen him in a temper, but we had not seen such a violent loss of self control up until now. In fact, he usually remains cool and collected even when he is at his most insulting. However, in this scene he loses control totally, physically grabbing Harry and throwing things at him. This isn’t acceptable and can get a teacher into serious trouble in the wizarding world. (We can see this from the reaction of Kingsley Shacklebolt and others when Umbridge shakes a DA member who seems to have forgotten her previous confession.)

Could Snape’s extreme reaction be a result of seeing the events of that day through his bully’s eyes? He would have watched from another person’s perspective, listening to the Marauders discuss him, and looking at his teenage self struggling on the ground. Re-living the events through James’ eyes may have been what finally sent him over the edge.

Another possibility is that this memory belongs to one of the future Death Eaters. We know from the remaining Marauders that Snape was unpopular in school. As he exits the exam room he is alone, and when the Marauders start on him, most of the students join in laughing. Yet later on, we learn that Snape joins a crowd of people who all become Death Eaters later in life. Where did this sudden popularity come from? It may be that fighting with Gryffindor’s star Quidditch player, and publicly insulting Lily Evans as a mudblood brought him to the attention of the “cool kids” in Slytherin, or someone from another House who later turned bad.

This raises some interesting possibilities. Was there someone who had Dumbledore’s trust and then later became a Death Eater? The list of students who attended Hogwarts with Snape is long: Narcissa and Bellatrix Black, the Lestrange brothers, Lucius Malfoy, Ludo Bagman, etc. It would be interesting to find out which one of them may have had ties to Dumbledore, and/or a reason to use his Pensieve.

My other ideas rest on the Pensieve itself. In one scene, we see different recollections swirling around and merging with each other, to which Dumbledore responds “I could have come to that conclusion myself.” It may be that a Pensieve is able to take various memories of an event, and combine them into a whole picture, and the recollections of the exam day came from many people who may have used it in the past: Snape, James, Lily, etc. If that is the case, it may have some very interesting stories to tell about our favourite characters.

Are we even sure that the Pensieve has always belonged to Dumbledore? I’ve assumed above that the person who owns the memory would need to be close to Dumbledore in order to borrow the Pensieve from him. However, it would be interesting if, like the Invisibility Cloak, it is another item belonging to Harry’s parents that will pass to him at the right time. Or perhaps it belonged to a Death Eater at one time, and holds other information that could be useful to the Order of the Phoenix.

Whoever the Pensieve and its contents belong to, it seems likely that it will pop up again soon in future books. Like the Invisibility Cloak it is one magical item that it too useful to remain unused for long — especially as the war amongst wizard-kind starts in earnest.