The Inifinite Possibilites of the Pensieve

by Jenni Coxon

“A shallow stone basin lay there, with odd carvings around the edge; runes and symbols that Harry did not recognise. The silvery light was coming from the basin’s contents, which were like nothing Harry had ever seen before. He could not tell whether the substance was liquid or gas. It was a bright, whitish silver, and it was moving ceaselessly; the surface of it became ruffled like water beneath wind, and then, like clouds, separated and swirled smoothly. It looked like light made liquid – or wind made solid…” 
(US paperback GoF, pg. 583)

And we all know what happens next – Harry, with his infernal curiosity (not a sin though!), is instantly attracted to it and plunges into Dumbledore’s thoughts, conveniently enabling him to gain invaluable information about Death Eaters and so forth. The above passage is the Pensieve’s introduction to the reader, notably belonging to Dumbledore, whom is also the owner of many other objects (perhaps historical and/or powerful) including The Mirror of Erised, Gryffindor’s Sword, and the Sorting Hat, and who’s to say what on earth all those ‘spindly silver instruments’ in his office do.

My first thought was how stupid Harry was to explore another magical object he had no idea about, completely ignoring one of Mr Weasley’s previous warnings – ‘Never trust anything if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.’ Despite this, Harry found out information to his advantage, although perhaps not to his liking, on both occasions, once as already mentioned above, and the other – information about his father…

And here lies the riddle – the brain of the Pensieve (as it were) is … in the mind of the beholder: in the first instance, Dumbledore, and the second – Snape. In thePhilosopher’s Stone, Dumbledore warns Harry – “it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” I wonder how much potential truth in the magical world that Dumbledore’s statement could hold. In both instances, Snape and Dumbledore have to come to Harry and remove him from their respective ‘thoughts.’ Harry does not try to exit either thoughts himself – and how would he? He surely could not have just jumped up and down or waved his wand around, but then perhaps we will never know. It may be, perhaps, that only the person whom the thoughts belong to can bring a person out of them. This leads me to the question – could Harry have got lost in the thoughts? In the Order of the Phoenix, Harry was lucky enough to see his late parents, and although he didn’t like what he saw, I could bet that Harry would have stayed to watch for hours on end to see them, not dissimilar to how he sat and watched them in the Mirror of Erised.

But what happened to Harry’s physical body when he entered the thoughts? Would his body just be stationary in the room, bending over the Pensieve, or does his body enter physically, leaving no trace of his existence in the real world? Or even more surreal, do the thoughts come to life around Harry as he watches, in a similar but more complex way to how Bertha Jorkins was summoned out of the Pensieve by Dumbledore. I believe it must be assumed that something must be visible to the outsider however, otherwise how would Dumbledore and Snape have known Harry was invading their thoughts… unless a greater issue comes into play.

When Harry entered the thoughts of Dumbledore and Snape, were they were aware of his presence in their minds? We know that the Pensieve works by a person ‘extracting’ their thoughts, but it is not clear whether or not the thoughts are effectively removed from their minds following the extraction, or perhaps they simply fade a little. According to Dumbledore, the Pensieve is merely to help him see connections and patterns between events, so surely the thoughts would not be completely deleted from his mind as he did so. Which, is why I believe that it may be possible for someone to know that their thoughts are being invaded. This could then perhaps explain how both Dumbledore and Snape pulled Harry back into reality and precisely the right time – and consequently prevented Harry from seeing anymore than they wanted him to.

Another question I asked myself was – why was Dumbledore allowing Snape to use the Pensieve? I guess this answer could actually be quite simple. If Snape really is spying for the Order, then he could be placing his thoughts in the Pensieve after he has done some of his ‘top secret work,’ and Dumbledore would be able to analyse his situations or conversations and perhaps learn more from them than Snape himself did, in that way that only Dumbledore can.

This also leads to yet another issue: the Pensieve is worth an unbelievable price. The Prophecy is now only in existence, in essence, within the Pensieve. Not to mention all the other important thoughts and facts Dumbledore must have entered into it – it would be worth gold to Voldemort…if only he knew about it….or does he already? The Pensieve, I believe, will therefore become an increasingly important object in the forthcoming books.

The runes and symbols on the ‘stone basin’ suggest to me that it is most likely to be a very old magical artefact, and also that it is very rare, again similar to other objects Dumbledore holds in his possession. Of course, there could be thousands of them in existence, but Harry has ‘never seen anything like it before,’ and did not recognise the runes, and Dumbedore shares it with someone else, suggesting there can’t be many available for use. Notably, however, Hermione did not comment about the Pensieve in GoF when Harry told her and Ron what he had seen – she may or may not know anything in particular about it. But it is a shame Harry does not ‘shelve his pride’ more often, and either ask Hermione about it (if the runes are ancient she should be able to read them too) or else use his own brain in a more Hermione-ish way and look the object up in the library himself.

So…back to its age – if it really is as ancient as I believe – think of the potential of the object! It could hold the key to so many answers. Wizards before Dumbledore probably used it – what if the knowledge of how to vanquish Voldemort lay within it? I strongly believe that Dumbledore already has all the knowledge that Harry needs to defeat the Dark Lord – but where did he get the information from? The Pensieve. Perhaps, when Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald in 1945, a similar prophecy was made about those two – history often repeats itself. Even more important (to me anyway) the Pensieve could hold invaluable secrets about other magical objects and theories, such as the veil and death. Dumbledore could hold many of the magical world’s most inner secrets within his very office!

So why, I ask, when Harry entered the Pensieve, did he enter those particular thoughts? It is presumed that the thoughts that Harry got to see were the most recent ones that had been used, but was it possible that Dumbledore and Snape purposefully wanted Harry to access them? I do not believe Dumbledore would have left the cabinet open, he does not have a careless nature by any means. By letting Harry see the court trials, he enabled Harry to be aware of the dangers he was in – from Karkaroff, and perhaps the Lestranges in the future, and maybe even Ludo Bagman (although he was acquitted). I back this up by asking: why was Dumbledore going through those particular thoughts at that time? Okay, so Crouch was missing, but why attend the court trials? It seemed fairly obvious from the scene in the forest where Crouch Sr. goes missing that Karkaroff has nothing to do with his disappearance, and why would he? Unless Dumbledore had already guessed that it had something to do with Barty Crouch Jr….

Going over to “Snape’s Worst Memory”, why on earth was this the memory that Harry encountered when he entered his thoughts? My only guess is that Snape wanted to show Harry what a bully his father had been, to make him feel bad. Otherwise, if the basis that the memory most recently accessed was the one that Harry also saw is true – then why was Snape going through that memory? It doesn’t make sense. Snape was extracting thoughts when Harry entered his room, and I find it impossible to believe that they were about his childhood days, unless Snape was just reminding himself of why he is supposed to hate Harry so much. So, either Snape set up the memory for Harry to see (he knows how stupidly curious Harry is) or, this just happened to be the memory that Harry accessed.

If it is just what happened, I don’t believe it is a coincidence. Why didn’t Harry come across one of Dumbledore’s memories where the Potter’s were in love, caring for each other, rather than shouting and destroying Harry’s vision of them as parents? This again shows how powerful the Pensieve may potentially be (did it really perceive what it thought Harry should see?), and also the question of how Dumbledore and Snape managed to set up particular thoughts/memories for Harry to access in the first place.

The conclusion that I come to, therefore, is none. The Pensieve has infinite possibilities, and I have probably explored a minute few of them! The Pensieve is powerful, no doubt, probably very old, and somehow it must hold many more answers. So far, a lot must be assumed to make any conclusions about the object. I keep my fingers crossed that Harry will come across it again, and his curiosity will reign, again! In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed my editorial that was about as conclusive as one of Firenze’s Divination lessons, (but hopefully not as boring as one of Professor Binns’ lectures) and that you now also could do with a Pensieve to put some of you swirling memories into.