Snape's Worst Memory

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Chapter 28 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Snape's Worst Memory← Chapter 27 | Chapter 29 →


Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Educational Decree Number Twenty-Eight makes Umbridge Headmistress, although she is unable to enter Dumbledore's office; it has magically sealed itself off from any but the true Headmaster. For now, she must continue using her old office. Umbridge appoints an Inquisitorial Squad composed of Slytherin students, including Draco, empowered to enforce rules and deduct House points. Montague, an Inquisitorial Squad member, attempts to dock House points from Fred and George Weasley, but they force him into an old, broken Vanishing Cabinet. Hermione is aghast, but Fred says that with Dumbledore gone, they no longer care about getting in trouble. They advise Harry, Ron, and Hermione to go into lunch to avoid accusations of being involved with Phase One.

Filch takes Harry aside, saying that the "Headmistress" wants to see him. Filch exults over how things will change with Umbridge in charge, and that a new Decree will restore corporal punishment; Umbridge has obviously recruited Filch to her side. Umbridge herself is uncharacteristically sweet, offering Harry something to drink, insisting he choose something. Harry notes that she hides the tea preparation, then recalls the Mad-Eye Moody impostor the previous year, and his refusal to drink anything offered to him. Harry carefully pretends to drink the tea. When Umbridge asks where Dumbledore is, Harry says he does not know. Umbridge then asks where Sirius Black is, and Harry responds that he does not know that either. Umbridge says that she knows Sirius was talking to Harry, and she would have Harry arrested if she had any proof. She also says that all Hogwarts fireplaces are being monitored except hers.

A loud explosion interrupts. Outside, Harry sees an enormous conflagration of exploding fireworks. Harry ducks behind a tapestry and finds Fred and George, who admit they are the culprits. The fireworks cause so much mayhem that school operations are continually disrupted. The faculty purposely do nothing to help Umbridge regain control, forcing her to personally attend to each incident. At day's end, Harry sees a disheveled Professor Umbridge leaving Professor Flitwick's classroom. Flitwick tells her, "I could have got rid of the sparklers myself, of course, but I wasn't sure whether I had the authority..." and shuts the door in Umbridge's face.

Harry has another dream that he is again in the Department of Mysteries. This time he goes through a door and into a room. Inside are rows of shelves containing small, glass spheres, but before reaching one, he is awakened by an exploding firework.

The next day, Harry runs into Cho Chang in the hall as he heads for his Occlumency lesson. Cho regrets that it was her friend Marietta who exposed Dumbledore's Army, although she defends what Marietta did, saying Marietta's mother works for the Ministry of Magic. Harry angrily responds that Ron's father does also. Cho is upset that Hermione secretly jinxed the parchment, believing it a dirty trick. Harry retorts that the jinx was brilliant and any reason for betraying the D.A. is inexcusable. As tears well up in Cho's eyes, Harry sternly warns her not to start crying again. Deeply offended, Cho storms off.

Harry's Occlumency session is interrupted when Malfoy arrives with a message that Umbridge needs to see Snape – Montague has reappeared, jammed inside a toilet. Snape departs, but before Harry leaves, he notices a shimmering light reminiscent of his dream about the Ministry coming from the Pensieve. What memories has Snape been hiding? Is it something to do with his dreams about the Ministry? Looking inside, Harry sees a young James Potter and Sirius Black at Hogwarts. They are cruelly tormenting their classmate, Severus Snape, by suspending him upside down in mid-air, exposing his dingy underwear. Lily Evans intervenes and berates James and Sirius for their deplorable behavior. James offers a deal—if she goes out with him, he will never hurt Snape again—to which she angrily declines. The humiliated Snape resents Lily's help and insultingly calls her a "Mudblood". Harry is appalled by his father's bullying, but before he can consider it further, the present-day Snape yanks him from the Pensieve. Furious, Snape demands that he never reveal what he has seen to anyone, and orders him to leave.


Due to the Twin's magical pranks, school operations disintegrate into chaos; Umbridge is overwhelmed by the non-stop interruptions that she must personally attend to and is unlikely to regain control if they continue. The faculty, disliking her and resentful over Dumbledore's unwarranted dismissal, passively do nothing to assist her.

Harry and Cho Chang's relationship abruptly ends over the incident involving Marietta, although their disparate personalities, shaky circumstances, and differing expectations had derailed them almost from the beginning. Harry, inexperienced in romance, is unable to cope with Cho's extreme emotional needs and only wants an uncomplicated relationship, although his reaction to her was unnecessarily harsh and reflects his bouts of immature behavior. A still-grieving Cho was seeking comfort and support while attempting to fill the void caused by Cedric Diggory's tragic death (in Goblet of Fire). She may also have been attracted to Harry's celebrity, rather than to him. Regardless, neither could fulfill the other's needs or expectations.

Harry is deeply disturbed after viewing Snape's memory in the Pensieve. Although he admires and loves his father, he is appalled that someone could treat another person that way. He feels empathetic and understanding towards Snape due to his own experience as a victim to Dudley's gang. Seeing James and Sirius behaving as bullying tyrants who cruelly torment and demean Snape purely for their own amusement has severely shaken his belief that his father was a good person.

It should be noted, perhaps, that the sympathy Harry feels for Snape as a result of this episode does not decrease either the hatred or the mistrust Harry feels for him. It is possible that the conflict in Harry's feelings caused by his seeing Snape as a victim of his father's cruelty may resolve itself at some later point in the series, but until that resolution happens, we expect that Harry and Snape will remain rigid in their hatred of each other.


Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.


  1. Why does Harry become angry with Cho Chang? Was he justified and what is the result?
  2. Why and how do Fred and George revolt against Umbridge?
  3. Why do the other Hogwarts teachers do nothing to help Umbridge regain control of the school?
  4. Why would Snape insult Lily when she was attempting to help him?

Further Study[edit]

  1. If Umbridge wanted to catch Harry talking to Sirius, why does she warn him that all fireplaces except for hers are being monitored?
  2. Why would Snape hold a grudge against Harry for something James Potter and Sirius Black did to him before Harry was born?
  3. Why does Harry react so strongly to what he sees in Snape's Pensieve?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Snape's behavior towards Lily, in the Pensieve memory, probably seems like how he typically treated most classmates outside his own Slytherin House. However, Snape's memories in the final book reveal that he and Lily were once close friends, making his reaction to her assistance initially seem puzzling. Lily, disenchanted by his associations with future Death Eaters and his pro-pureblood beliefs, had gradually distanced herself from him, resulting in his angry outburst towards her.

Harry being forced to re-evaluate his own father actually foreshadows events in the final book. Here, we see that Harry had idolized his father, assuming from all he had been told, and his own personal beliefs, that James had been all good, with at most an admixture of mischief. In Snape's memories, he learns that his father was a bully, unfairly tormenting Snape in particular. Harry feels betrayed, as his father was not who Harry believed him to be. To resolve this disparity, Harry is compelled to speak with Sirius, so he can discover more about James' school days, and will break into Umbridge's office to do so. In the final book, Harry will learn some similarly unpleasant facts about the young Dumbledore, who he also has placed on a pedestal. Unfortunately, there will be no one he can consult with to find the truth; it will only be when he meets Dumbledore's brother Aberforth, that he learns more about Dumbledore's life.

Montague's mishap actually ends up being a fairly major plot point in the next book. The Vanishing Cabinet into which he was pushed, which is the same one which Peeves knocked over in Harry's second year, is twin to one at Borgin & Burkes which Harry had actually hidden inside earlier that same year. Because the Vanishing Cabinet is broken, Montague is trapped, though he does recognize that he is sometimes in Borgin & Burkes, sometimes in Hogwarts. Draco gathers this information from him in the Hospital Wing. Later in the series, Draco will enlist Borgin's help in repairing the cabinet, and use it to bring Death Eaters into Hogwarts to assist him with a task assigned to him by Voldemort, namely the killing of Dumbledore.