Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Memory and the Past

By J.K. Rowling

Memory and the Past

[Aunt Petunia] was looking at Harry as she had never looked at him before. And all of a sudden, for the very first time in his life, Harry fully appreciated that Aunt Petunia was his mother's sister. He could not have said why this hit him so powerfully at this moment. All he knew was that he was not the only person in the room who had an inkling of what Lord Voldemort being back might mean. Aunt Petunia had never in her life looked at him like that before. Her large, pale eyes (so unlike her sister's) were not narrowed in dislike or anger, they were wide and fearful. The furious pretense that Aunt Petunia had maintained all Harry's life – that there was no magic and no world other than the world she inhabited with Uncle Vernon – seemed to have fallen away. (2.194)

In our character analyses of Professors Snape and Dumbledore, we've mentioned that one of the projects of Book 5 is to make the characters seem more human and fleshed out. Well, Aunt Petunia gets this treatment, too: she's still a bigot, and she still treats Harry like dirt, but here, for the first time, J.K. Rowling reminds us that she grew up with Lily Potter. She had a witch sister who taught her something about the wizarding world. No matter how much Aunt Petunia tries to deny the effect that this experience has had on her, she still has been influenced by her sister's life – and her tragic, premature death.

[Harry] did not now why it had been such a shock; he had seen pictures of his parents before, after all, and he had met Wormtail ... but to have them sprung on him like that, when he was least expecting it ... no one would like that, he thought angrily ...

And then, to see them surrounded by all those other happy faces ... Benjy Fenwick, who had been found in bits, and Gideon Prewett, who had died like a hero, and the Longbottoms, who had been tortured into madness ... all waving happily out of the photograph forever more, not knowing that they were doomed. (9.267-268)

As Harry gets older, the cost of war with Voldemort becomes more and more apparent. As he looks at these photographs of the first generation of the Order of the Phoenix, he starts to realize what an enormous human cost the war has had, beyond the deaths of his own parents. And of course, Harry starts to wonder who among the new generation of the Order of the Phoenix will be next. Not only does this picture album increase our sense of sorrow over the deaths Voldemort has caused, but it also ratchets up the suspense for future books. We know that J.K. Rowling is willing and able to kill off her characters, and she has warned us with this picture album that Voldemort brings death. So – which characters whom we know and love will she take away from us?

"You survived when you were just a baby," [Cho] said quietly.

"Yeah, well," said Harry wearily, moving towards the door, "I dunno why nor, does anyone else, so it's nothing to be proud of."

"Oh, don't go!" said Cho, sounding tearful again. "I'm really sorry to get all upset like this ... I didn't mean to ..."

She hiccuped again. She was very pretty even when her eyes were red and puffy. Harry felt thoroughly miserable. He'd have been so pleased with just a "Merry Christmas."

"I know it must be horrible for you," she said, mopping her eyes on her sleeve again. "Me mentioning Cedric, when you saw him die ... I suppose you just want to forget about it?"

Harry did not say anything to this; it was quite true, but he felt heartless saying it. (21.135-140)

This dialogue is just one (among many) that demonstrates exactly how doomed a relationship between Harry and Cho would be: Harry was there when Cho's ex-boyfriend died less than a year ago! That's way too much baggage for teenage dating to handle. Why does J.K. Rowling decide to continue on with the Cho/Harry romance at all? What does their romance add to the plot of Book 5? How would Book 5 be different without Harry's relationship problems?

"Well, it's nothing to be ashamed of!" said Mrs. Longbottom angrily. "You should be proud, Neville, proud! They didn't give their health and their sanity so their only son would be ashamed of them, you know!"

"I'm not ashamed," said Neville, very faintly, still looking anywhere but at Harry and the others. Ron was now standing on tiptoe to look over at the inhabitants of the two beds.

"Well, you've got a funny way of showing it!" said Mrs. Longbottom. "My son and his wife," she said, turning haughtily to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, "were tortured into insanity by You-Know-Who's followers."

Hermione and Ginny both clapped their hands over their mouths. Ron stopped craning his neck to catch a glimpse of Neville's parents and looked mortified.

"They were Aurors, you know, and very well respected within the wizarding community," Mrs. Longbottom went on. "Highly gifted, the pair of them." (23.200-204)

We spend so much of the series focusing on Harry's personal struggles that it can sometimes be difficult to remember that Voldemort has destroyed many, many lives. It's not always all about Harry – something that Harry slowly comes to learn over Book 5. Meeting Neville in the Spell Damage ward on Christmas shakes Harry out of his own self-centered pain (at least, for a little while). Neville may not be the Chosen One of prophecy, but he still shares Harry's courage and devotion to those he cares about. He's a hero just as much as Harry is, as his showdown with Bellatrix Lestrange, the woman who tortured his parents to insanity, at the end of Book 5 proves.

[Mr. Weasley] and all the other Weasleys froze on the threshold, gazing at the scene in front of them, which was also suspended in mid-action, both Sirius and Snape looking towards the door with their wands pointing into each other's faces and Harry immobile between them, a hand stretched out to each, trying to force them apart.

"Merlin's beard," said Mr. Weasley, the smile sliding off his face, "what's going on here?" (24.60-61)

We're a little troubled by the Hogwarts House sorting system, since it divides kids against each other based on their essential personalities from age eleven onwards. For proof of the long-term damage that these House rivalries can do, we need look no further than Sirius and Snape's ongoing feud. They're both well into adulthood and fighting on the same side of the war against Voldemort, but they're still willing to curse each other at a moment's notice. It takes Harry, the actual teenager in this situation, to break the two of them apart until the Weasleys can come home – a totally inappropriate role reversal.

"D'you think you managed to get all the signs [to identify a werewolf]?" said James in tones of mock concern.

"Think I did," said Lupin seriously, as they joined the crowd thronging around the front door eager to get out into the sunlit grounds. "One: he's sitting on my chair. Two: he's wearing my clothes. Three: his name's Remus Lupin."

Wormtail was the only one who didn't laugh.

"I got the snout shape, the pupils of the eyes and the tufted tail," he said anxiously, "but I couldn't think what else —"

"How thick are you, Wormtail?" said James impatiently. "You run round with a werewolf once a month —" (28.195-199)


It's interesting to observe the group dynamics of the Marauders knowing what happened to all of them a few years down the line. Here, we can see that Peter Pettigrew (a.k.a. Wormtail) is the least secure of the group. And when he asks for reassurance, he gets put down immediately by James. Wormtail clearly hangs around with James, Remus, and Sirius, but they don't take him seriously or respect him at all. It's this deep lack of respect that makes Wormtail turn on the Potters – and it's also this same lack of respect from Sirius that drives Kreacher to Bellatrix Lestrange. This problem of respect seems to be at the heart of a number of the betrayals in the Harry Potter series: Rowling warns us of what might happen if we don't treat our friends kindly!

Lupin had pulled out a book and was reading. Sirius stared around at the students milling over the grass, looking rather haughty and bored, but very handsomely so. James was still playing with the Snitch, letting it zoom further and further away, almost escaping but almost grabbed at the last second. Wormtail was watching him with his mouth open. Every time James made a particularly difficult catch, Wormtail gasped and applauded. After five minutes of this, Harry wondered why James didn't tell Wormtail to get a grip on himself, but James seemed to be enjoying the attention. (28.207)

So, now we see what Wormtail's big contribution to his Hogwarts friend circle was: a complete willingness to flatter his much more powerful friends. Presumably, this early training in flattery of stronger people helped him a lot when he turned to Voldemort. But it really doesn't speak well of James that he liked this flattery so much. What sense do you get of James and Sirius from Professor Snape's memory? How does this memory change your perception of Sirius in Book 5?

"LEAVE HIM ALONE!" Lily shouted. She had her own wand out now. James and Sirius eyed it warily.

"Ah, Evans, don't make me hex you," said James earnestly.

"Take the curse off him, then!"

James sighed deeply, then turned to Snape and muttered the counter-currse.

"There you go," he said, as Snape struggled to his feet. "You're lucky Evans was here, Snivellus —"

"I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!"

Lily blinked. (28.251-257)

What do you think of this sudden pivot from Professor Snape? Why does he suddenly turn on Lily in this memory of childhood bullying? Why does she become the target of his rage instead of, say, James and Sirius? How does seeing Professor Snape's worst memory enrich your perception of his character?

[Harry] felt as though the memory of it was eating him from inside. He had been so sure his parents were wonderful people that he had never had the slightest difficulty in disbelieving the aspersions Snape cast on his father's character. Hadn't people like Hagrid and Sirius told Harry how wonderful his father had been? (Yeah, well, look what Sirius was like himself, said a nagging voice inside Harry's head ... he was as bad, wasn't he?) (29.27)

We've said before, in relation to Dumbledore, that Harry is getting to the age where he starts to challenge the authority of the adults around him. As he is growing into an adult himself, he is learning the flaws and weak points of people he had previously always admired. And thanks to Professor Snape's Pensieve, even Harry's idealized impressions of his dead parents get shaken in Book 5. By the end of the novel, has any of Harry's trust in authority been restored? Who or what does he still have faith in?

"How come she married him?" Harry asked miserably. "She hated him!"

"Nah, she didn't," said Sirius.

"She started going out with him in seventh year," said Lupin.

"Once James had deflated his head a bit," said Sirius.

"And stopped hexing people just for the fun of it," said Lupin. (29.208-212)

This whole business of Professor Snape's worst memory really drives home how tragic Harry's situation is. He knows so little information about his parents that one memory – Snape's worst memory, a memory of James and Lily at their worst – seems more real and tangible to Harry than the vague protests of James's best friends.