The Underground Lake #21: The Pensieve: “Snape’s Worst Memory” Revisited

by Brandon

First, I must apologize to my faithful readers. I realize it has been a while since you’ve heard from me. I have come to discover a truth that some of my more experienced colleagues know: it is very difficult to have a life and stay fresh with your material. I hope to bring something new and exciting with each editorial, and it is very hard once you’ve got 20 under your belt. Not to mention, when you’ve been gone as long as I have been, there is a pressure to come back with a vengeance with something that was worth the wait. So let’s dive right in.

Let’s rectify a few things. A faithful reader has notified me that in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it says specifically that phoenixes can disappear and reappear at will. My bad. I was wrong. I know. Shocking. Write it down cause it doesn’t happen very often… DOWN EGO! Okay, moving on.

I am still reading OotP (that is a long book, plus I am reading carefully and not breezing through). I just finished “Snape’s Worst Memory.” In my rereading of this chapter, I noticed something very interesting that makes me question my good friend, the Pensieve.

I am a Pensieve fan. I’ve loved it since it first debuted in Book Four. I love it when Dumbledore uses the Pensieve because of all the characters in the novel, he is the MOST objective. Chances are when Dumbledore tells you something, it is not skewed by his own personal prejudices and he is always the first to admit when he is wrong – unlike our friend, Snape. As you have been able to deduce from past articles, I have never been a huge Snape fan. I hate JKR’s Snape. He is just evil. I LOVE the Alan Rickman Snape because he is delectably evil like Hannibal Lector. You hate Hannibal Lector, but there’s a part of you that loves him: how cool and smart he is and how he can charm you and scare the crap out of you at the same time. That is what the Alan Rickman Snape does for me, because the JKR Snape is frankly just a despicable cad with no redeeming qualities (which I am sure is exactly what she was going for). That is why I was shocked the first time I read that chapter, “Snape’s Worst Memory.” JKR has spent over 1000 pages of literature setting up Snape as exactly what Harry thinks he is: a spiteful, bitter, hateful man.

During the Occlumency lessons, we discover that Snape had some “daddy issues” and was probably abused. I’m not saying it was okay for him to be a bastard after discovering that, but I understand. Then she drops that bomb on us: James and Sirius were big bullies and embarrassed him in front of Lily. I’m shocked. I found myself absolving Snape for all his hatred and transgressions against Harry. I was like, “It’s okay, Snape. Don’t grade Harry’s potion. James was a bastard.”

Then I began my rereads of Books One through Four. Suddenly Snape’s motivations in being mean to Harry in Books One through Four make so much more sense. Then two nights ago, I read the same chapter again and noticed something very strange that made me change everything again. I submit for your entertainment and consideration: THE PENSIEVE: SNAPE’S WORST MEMORY REVISITED.


I am now pensive about the Pensieve. What I have just realized is that it is YOUR memory, YOUR recollection of the event. This means that a person can remember a certain event one way and it isn’t really how it happened. DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND. I AM NOT SAYING SNAPE MADE IT UP OR THAT HE IS WRONG! What I am saying is that the memory is from his point of view. How is it possible that Harry inside Snape’s memory is able to eavesdrop on a conversation that Snape was too far away to hear? He has no extendable ears and every time Harry looks back at Snape, his head is buried in his test paper. How is it that the conversation that Sirius and James have makes them sound EXACTLY like Snape ALWAYS described them? What do they talk about? How smart and how cool they are. It occurred to me they sound absolutely nothing like I imagined them. The Sirius we have come to know does not seem nearly as arrogant as the one we meet in flashback. Grant it, he had 12 years in Azkaban to deflate his head, but still.

Think of it from this angle. This is the first time we have ever flashed back to Harry’s parents in their youth. Of all the people’s recollections of Harry’s parents, we are supposed to take the word of Snape? Suddenly, I don’t buy it. Let’s look at our template: Dumbledore. When we went into Dumbledore’s mind in the Pensieve, we sat next to Dumbledore and we saw the events as he remembers them. We were allowed to hear everything that Dumbledore heard. Granted, Harry never tried to leave Dumbledore, but we still see everything in the Pensieve how Dumbledore had seen it all those years ago.

As I’m writing this I just discovered something else about the Dumbledore memories: we are allowed to jump to incongruous memories, or memories that happened at completely different times in non-sequential order. Could Dumbledore, perhaps, have been standing above the Pensieve navigating Harry through the different memories? I leave you all with that one.

Back to my original point, the Snape memory follows the same template of another false memory. I am speaking, of course, about Tom Riddle’s diary. In both instances, Harry is able to roam freely in the “memory” of another person so long as he is still in sight of the person. Be warned! I am not saying Snape made it up or was manipulating Harry as Voldemort did! What I am suggesting is that the memory of the event has been colored and shaded to Snape’s own personal prejudices. Let us consider what Harry sees in the memory before the “underwear hanging”:

  1. Harry arrives in the O.W.L. testing area in front of Snape.
  2. Harry leaves Snape to look at his dad, Sirius, Lupin, and Peter.
  3. Gang of girls separate an otherwise occupied Snape from the Marauders.
  4. Snape, with no fixed idea of where he is going (JKR’s words not mine), “follows” the Marauders out by the beech tree while Snape is in the bushes a ways away.
  5. Sirius and James brag about O.W.L.s.
  6. James plays with his golden snitch (and not in a nasty way).
  7. Wormtail watches in awe.
  8. Sirius is blasé and bored, turns, sees Snape walking away.
  9. Snape reacts as though expecting an attack.
  10. Fighting ensues.

Now, let us consider this. I submit that everything that happened in the fight (as in after Sirius spots Snape) was real and exactly how it happened. I believe this because Snape was actually present and one doesn’t soon forget those sorts of things and also because Lupin and Sirius corroborated the account. Lupin and Sirius do admit to the arrogance of James and Sirius and the typicality of being fifteen. It is because of this that we feel for Snape and believe his account.

But now I don’t buy it. The reason I don’t buy it is because of James’ test paper. Snape was many rows away. How could he have seen the test paper of James? And what was James writing? Lily’s initials and a picture of a snitch. How could Snape have possibly seen that? True, James was diagonally in front of him, but he was two rows across and one row forward meaning that Snape would have to have been going out of his way to look through and around someone to see James’ paper. As it is, Harry constantly reiterates that Snape is FIXED ON HIS EXAM PAPER so he shouldn’t have seen this. Also, think of the conversation that the Marauders have after the test. What do they talk about: Lupin being a werewolf. We discover in Book Three that Snape knew that Lupin was a werewolf after Sirius set him up. Notice everything that the marauders apparently discuss are secret private things that only the Marauders would have known, and more importantly, things Snape knew that only the Marauders would know. Of all the things for them to be talking about in PUBLIC, why that? These guys learned to become Animagi in secret so as to protect their friend. You mean to tell me in a crowded hall with everyone from their grade they would choose to discuss such things out loud? I don’t buy it.

Here is my take on the whole thing. I think that Snape is guilty of the same thing we all are: putting two and two together. Remember that hindsight is 20/20. I have a quick anecdote. In sixth grade, my best friend was a guy named Stephen. I liked this girl named Tanesha, and Stephen went to church with her. Pursuant into the rules of the Gentleman’s Code, I enlisted him for some reconnaissance work. A week passed. One day I was walking down stairs and the two of them were walking upstairs. Together. When we passed, they looked at me and then looked at each other awkwardly. This was at the end of my sixth grade year. The next year, neither of them talked to me again. I discovered later that Stephen and Tanesha began dating over the summer (as much as two people in sixth grade can date; in fact, back then it was still called “going together”). I became incensed and convinced myself that the day of the awkward meeting by the steps, the two were conspiring against me. In hindsight, it makes absolute sense. Now that I look back through my own Pensieve, I see that I have no way of knowing what they were talking about before we met up at the stairs. I just put two and two together all those years ago. The thing is, that happened almost ten years ago and yet I still remember it so clearly. Or do I? The truth is, I remember meeting them at the stairs and I remember sending Stephen on the recon mission. But that is all I really remember for sure.

I say all that to say that Snape has had many years to stew about his humiliation and can have easily filled in certain blanks. I cannot conceive that he was able to hear every word they said and feed it into his memory. I think he filled in the blanks after putting two and two together. He knew Lupin was a werewolf and probably thought of Lupin as he took the DADA O.W.L. (Quick aside: why is Flitwick proctoring the DADA exam when he is the Charms teacher?). He knew because of the fight that James liked Lily, hence the initials. He obviously knew that James played Quidditch and had seen him playing with that stupid snitch and constantly mussing his hair. Add all these up and you have created a scene that makes perfect logical sense to be the prelude to the fight. I do believe that all the events during the fight really happened just because in the fight, Snape does not cast himself as lowly nice boy being tortured.

I have said all this not to condemn Snape. I believe that if we gave him Veritaserum and asked him about his worst memory that he would recite that chapter verbatim. But how much do you want to bet that if we put the four Marauders’ memory of that event in the Pensieve it would come out slightly different? My point is that I had made it a rule to always trust the Pensieve. But now that our handy cover for Book Six has arrived showing Harry and Dumbledore looking in the Pensieve, I feel it must be scrutinized. I think that you can only get out of the Pensieve what you put in colored with your own opinions. I don’t think the Pensieve is a video camera for your memories. I think of it as a bin for all of your diary entries.


So now what do we do about the Pensieve? We have all seen the new cover of HBP and, of course, realize that Dumbledore and Harry are standing in front of the Pensieve. If we look back at all of our American book covers, we realize that the covers are very important and telling to the direction of the overall story. It was the cover that made me revisit the Pensieve.

When we have Book Six in our hands, I am predicting that a lot of things will be happening with the Pensieve. I believe that Dumbledore will be taking over Harry’s Occlumency lessons. They won’t have to worry about attempted possession because Voldemort isn’t dumb enough to risk it again after he felt the searing pain last time. This means that as Harry improves, he will gain access to Dumbledore’s memories as he of course did when he attacked Snape.

I also feel that Dumbledore has learned his lesson and will be much more forthcoming with information if for no other reason than to try to teach Harry to be rational like Hermione before he resorts to his “saving people thing.”

I also foresee a few history lessons. In fact, I think the story of the Half-Blood Prince may not even be a present living character in the novel, but in fact a prince of old that Dumbledore teaches Harry about. However, I do feel that he could easily have a descendant living now. But I think that since this story element was originally part of CoS and so much of that story was about the past and not the present (because in the end the Heir of Slytherin was essentially a glorified ghost and not a present character), that we will learn about the Half-Blood Prince as a lesson to Harry. Go back to my article about the book titles. Most often, the titles themselves are revealed to us early. It is their significance that is the mystery.

That’s my two cents.


Summer is here and HBP is almost upon us. I hereby commit myself to writing FIVE new entries prior to the release of HBP. And then I have to make a request to all my fellow editorial-writing colleagues and amateur writers. We all read at different speeds and different comprehension levels. There will be those who will read HBP in a day. I prefer to savor it and take a week. However, I think there should a MuggleNet-wide editorial ban for a period of 14 days to give everyone time to read the book. After which, we can start them up again. In the spirit of competition, I would love to be the first to get an editorial about the book up, but I think it is more important that we are all on the same page. I therefore make my appeal to the powers that be as well as my faithful readers that on that fateful July day, we all take an editorial vacation and return to full power after 14 days.

The Wheels are in motion!