Snape's Worst Memory
Chapter 28 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Snape's Worst Memory
Educational Decree Number Twenty-Eight makes Umbridge Headmistress, although she is unable to enter Dumbledore's office; it has magically sealed itself. 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. In the central stairwell, 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 last all afternoon, and 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 each classroom and dispose of errant fireworks. 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.
That night, Harry again dreams that he is 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, but 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—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 for the day; 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. While the fireworks only last the afternoon, we can expect that their impact will be much greater than merely a passing entertainment. With one sentence, Flitwick has stated not only that the teachers are rebelling against Umbridge, but that the method they are using to do so was actually created by Umbridge herself. By restricting what the teachers are allowed to do, she has made it far too easy for the teachers to refrain from doing anything to help her, and Flitwick's cheerfulness in the face of Umbridge's impotent rage shows as clearly as anything could that the teachers will continue to passively, and we expect sometimes actively though covertly, hinder Umbridge.
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 nominal apology in this chapter was unnecessarily harsh and reflects his bouts of immature behavior. throughout this year, the still-grieving Cho was seeking comfort and support while attempting to fill the void caused by Cedric Diggory's tragic death (in Harry Potter and the 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. He admires and loves his father, and has built him up mentally into something of a hero figure based on what he has been told of James by his friends. Now, he discovers some truths about his father, and 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, and is deeply conflicted because, despite what he has seen, he still hates Snape. 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, leaving him adrift there as well.
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.
We do not believe there is any particular significance to Educational Decree Number Twenty Eight appearing in chapter 28.
- Why does Harry become angry with Cho Chang? Was he justified and what is the result?
- Why and how do Fred and George revolt against Umbridge?
- Why do the other Hogwarts teachers do nothing to help Umbridge regain control of the school?
- Why would Snape insult Lily when she was attempting to help him?
- If Umbridge wanted to catch Harry talking to Sirius, why does she warn him that all fireplaces except for hers are being monitored?
- Why would Snape hold a grudge against Harry for something James Potter and Sirius Black did to him before Harry was born?
- Why does Harry react so strongly to what he sees in Snape's Pensieve?
Snape's behavior towards Lily, in the Pensieve memory, seems characteristic based on what we have learned of him; throughout the series, he seems to despise those not from Slytherin House, and his behaviour in the memory that Harry observes seems to match what we have seen so far. 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, but we will learn that he was desperate that she should return to him. We can guess that his angry outburst towards her in the memory was intended more for public consumption; wanting to fit in, he had adopted a pattern of Blood-status belief similar to that espoused by other members of Slytherin house. In his memory in the final book, we will learn that this public outburst was followed by an attempt at a private apology, one which Lily scornfully rejected.
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 immediately consult with to find the truth; when he first hears of Dumbledore's youthful indiscretions, he will receive conflicting stories from the hero-worshiping Elphias Doge, and the gossip-centred Auntie Muriel. Harry cannot sort out their contradictory stories, and is driven towards Muriel's version by excerpts from Rita Skeeter's muck-raking book. It will only be when he meets Dumbledore's brother Aberforth, some eight months after his initial discoveries, 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.
- The Vanishing Cabinet into which Montague was pushed is the same one which Peeves knocked over in Harry's second year, and will be seen again in the next book, where Draco is trying to repair it. Its mate is the one in Borgin & Burkes, in which Harry hid from Draco in the second book. Once he has repaired it, Draco uses it to transport Death Eaters from Borgin & Burkes into Hogwarts.
- The memory that Harry experiences in this chapter will be revisited, in context, in the final book. Harry, already having seen these events, will hang back from that memory and its painful associations, but the events following it will be of interest to him.