In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry is having Occlumency lessons with Snape, to shield his mind from external penetration attempts, after the Arthur Weasley attack.

Before starting each lesson, Snape is extracting some of his own memories and stores them in Dumbledore's Pensieve, to avoid them being seen by Harry, in case the latter one blocks his Legilimency attacks by any means.

Snape was standing with his back to Harry, removing, as usual, certain of his thoughts and placing them carefully in Dumbledore's Pensieve.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Chapter 28 - Snape's Worst Memory

With the knowledge of all the books now, we can deduct that these precious memories most certainly contain the ones he gave to Harry in Chapter 33 - The Prince's Tale of the last book, which reveal his entire backstory.

These memories were crucial in helping him carrying over the task of protecting Harry, undetected. Had Harry seen them 2 years prior, might have changed the course of the entire story, let alone the fact that Voldemort could have easily extracted them from Harry's untrained mind, blowing the cover of Snape.

Yet, when Snape caught Harry inside the Pensieve, he did not show any signs of fear for this. He seemed rather furious that Harry had sneaked inside his own memories, "entertaining" himself:

“So,” said Snape, gripping Harry’s arm so tightly Harry’s hand was starting to feel numb. “So... been enjoying yourself, Potter?”

“N-no...” said Harry, trying to free his arm.

It was scary: Snape’s lips were shaking, his face was white, his teeth were bared.

“Amusing man, your father, wasn’t he?” said Snape, shaking Harry so hard that his glasses slipped down his nose.

“I — didn’t —”

Snape threw Harry from him with all his might. Harry fell hard onto the dungeon floor.

“You will not tell anybody what you saw!” Snape bellowed.

Shouldn't Snape be terrified of the possibility of Harry having seen his backstory and risking blowing the entire plan and his cover to Voldemort?

Someone might argue that Harry was caught while watching this specific memory, but Snape was gone for some time. On which ground did he believe that Harry had not zapped around all the contents of the Pensieve? He neither asked nor tried to confirm (with appropriate or illicit ways) this information.

  • My guess would just be based on the amount of time that has passed. Harry's never shown to have any control over the Pensieve; he knows what it does, but doesn't really know how to use it. The first time he uses it is completely by accident, and every time he's entered a memory he either has somebody else to pull him out or he has to stay until all of the memories have been shown to him. Oct 17, 2020 at 16:02
  • Correct, but this is from the perspective of Harry. Snape cannot be sure that Harry doesn’t know how to use the Pensieve and even if he did, he surely can’t rest assured that Harry did not find out how, like with so many things he came across all these years. Oct 17, 2020 at 16:05
  • Snape's opinion of Harry as inept - which, to be honest, isn't that far from the truth - is pretty firmly entrenched. Doubt he'd consider that Harry is capable of doing that. Oct 17, 2020 at 16:07
  • 1
    Well, honestly I think it's one of Rowling's many plotholes, but I also think that it could also possibly make sense if you assume Snape was being irrational. Your question sort of assumes he'd prioritize protecting their plans, but he was always super secretive and ashamed of his past, that I think it's not entirely out of character in the moment to fly into a rage and throw Harry out, and then later sort of avoid the whole thing. But also, my other thought of, he might have known from the memory order, might be a simpler explanation, though I doubt it was the author's intent.
    – Kai
    Oct 17, 2020 at 18:14
  • 2
    You shall see what I want you to see. ✋ Oct 17, 2020 at 18:49

1 Answer 1


I don't think it is justified to assume that Snape dumped everything he knew about Harry into the Pensieve.

The first possibility is that he stored there the memories that would most interfere with delivering the lesson that was about to take place, or which were the most difficult to protect from a magical attack (which could happen as a result of the lesson), and these seem to be the ones with the most emotional content.

The memories of being bullied by Harry's father were certainly the most emotionally-charged of all, so that's what he put into the Pensieve.

Another possibility is that he suspected that Harry would take the opportunity to look into the Pensieve—Dumbledore had probably warned him—and so he selected those memories in which Harry's father (and friends) were the aggressors, and deliberately left the Pensieve unguarded so that Harry could have a peek. This would have been intended to sow doubt in Harry's mind about the father that up until then he had seen as basically perfect.

For either of these reasons, Snape knows that's what Harry saw in the Pensieve because there was nothing else to see.

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