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Harry Potter: "What is it?"
Albus Dumbledore: "This? It is called a Pensieve. I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind."
— Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter discussing Dumbledore's Pensieve[src]

The Pensieve of Hogwarts was a magical instrument used by the Headteachers to view memories.[2] Professor Albus Dumbledore used it to review particular memories of Tom Riddle, among other things, and to give Harry Potter private lessons during the 1996–1997 school year.[4][5][6][7][8]

It remained in the Headmaster's office after Dumbledore's passing, so was also used after the death of Severus Snape by Harry Potter to review the memories Snape had given him.[3]

History of use[]

Early history[]


The cabinet containing the Pensieve in the Headmaster's office

Little is known about this Pensieve's origins, except that it was made of stone and carved with modified Saxon runes, putting its creation well before the founding of Hogwarts. Legend had it that the four founders of the school discovered the Pensieve half buried in the ground in the location where the school would be built. This was supposedly one of the reasons the school was located in such a remote location.[1]

A long line of revered Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts had left behind memories from their tenure and thus contributed to the creation of an invaluable library of reference for headmasters and headmistresses yet to come. Albus Dumbledore, a long-serving chief administrator of the school and by many in his time regarded as one of the most esteemed leaders the school ever had, presumably added his own experiences for the purpose of passing on his knowledge,[2] although it is known that he used it when he began collecting memories about Lord Voldemort as well.[4][5][6][7][8]

Recent history[]


"A shallow stone basin lay there, with odd carvings around the edge: runes and symbols that Harry did not recognise. The silvery light was coming from the basin’s contents, which were like nothing Harry had ever seen before. He could not tell whether the substance was liquid or gas. It was a bright, whitish silver, and it was moving ceaselessly; the surface of it became ruffled like water beneath wind, and then, like clouds, separated and swirled smoothly. It looked like light made liquid — or like wind made solid — Harry couldn’t make up his mind."
— Harry Potter viewing the Pensieve in the Headmaster's office for the first time[src]
Dumbledore Memory

Albus Dumbledore, with a memory out of his head, ready to put inside the Pensieve

A few days prior to the Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament, Harry Potter had a vision in Divination class.[9] As he had been told to report such things to Dumbledore, Harry hastened to the Headmaster's office. When he arrived, he overheard the final stages of an argument concerning the disappearance of Bartemius Crouch Snr. Upon being left alone by the adults, Harry first found the Pensieve in a private cupboard with the door ajar. There were already memories in it that Dumbledore had been reviewing prior to the arrival of Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge.[2]

Curiosity got the best of Harry, and he looked too closely at the instrument. When his nose touched the odd substance, Harry fell into the memory that was inside the Pensieve.[2] Initially confused, Harry settled in to watch a hearing for the Durmstrang Institute Headmaster, Igor Karkaroff. He was chained and bedraggled looking. In the memory, he had come from Azkaban to give up the names of his fellow Death Eaters. Of the names he listed, many fell flat, until he accused Augustus Rookwood, an Unspeakable.[2]

B4C30M1 Wizengamot trial Pensieve memory

Harry watching the trail of Barty Crouch Jnr, Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan Lestrange

The room suddenly transitioned, and Harry was watching the sentencing of Ludo Bagman, who had been unwittingly used by Rookwood. He also saw the trial of Wizengamot juror Barty Crouch's son, Barty Jnr, along with Death Eaters Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan Lestrange. They were accused and convicted of torturing Alice and Frank Longbottom into insanity, and Crouch imprisoned his son. Albus Dumbledore found Harry in this memory and got him out. Dumbledore then explained to Harry why he kept a Pensieve.[2]


"The light was coming from the Pensieve sitting on Snape's desk. The silver-white contents were ebbing and swirling within. Snape's memories... things he did not want Harry to see if he broke into Snape's defences accidentally."
— The Pensieve in 1996[src]

A few days before the Christmas holidays in 1995, Harry had a vision in which he could see, from within the snake's mind, Nagini attacking Arthur Weasley.[10] He subsequently felt Lord Voldemort well up inside him. Concerned about these new developments, Dumbledore ordered Harry to take Occlumency lessons with Severus Snape the next year.[11]

Dumbledore also allowed Snape to use the Pensieve for the duration of the lessons, most likely to provide the Potions master with a means to hide his own secrets, as well as protect Snape's own (very unpleasant) memories in case his attempts to train the boy, by repeatedly exposing Harry to Legilimency, were to backfire due to a Shield Charm.[11]

James harry Lily

Harry Potter viewing a memory of Lily arguing with James in their fifth year

While Snape was out during one of these lessons, Harry found the memories that Snape had stored. One in which he was a little boy crying in a corner, another during his Hogwarts years, and the last of Harry's father James Potter and godfather Sirius Black bullying Snape. Snape, however, was not very innocent on his own, sending back painful hexes at James.

James once publicly humiliated him, even threatening to remove his trousers. This resulted in Lily Evans (Harry's future mother) defending teenage Snape, as the two were friends. Snape then said he did not need help, calling Lily a "mudblood", a derogatory term for muggle-borns. This caused Lily to get very agitated, which led to a fall out between the two. This would later proved to be Snape's worst mistake.[12]

Once Snape found out Harry saw this, he got very angry at Harry, even throwing things at him. Snape subsequently terminated the Occlumency lessons with Harry.[12]

Albus Dumbledore: "So, Harry, you have been wondering, I am sure, what I have planned for you during these — for want of a better word — lessons."
Harry Potter: "Yes sir."
Albus Dumbledore: "Well, I have decided that it is time, now that you know what prompted Lord Voldemort to try and kill you fifteen years ago, for you to be given certain information."
Harry Potter: "You said, at the end of last term, you were going to tell me everything. Sir."
— Dumbledore informing Harry of his upcoming private lessons with him[src]

Sometime in July of that year, Dumbledore visited 4 Privet Drive to fetch Harry.[13] After doing some business along the way, the two eventually ended up at The Burrow. Before he departed, Dumbledore informed Harry that they would be having private lessons.[14]

Hbp scho deluxe

The Gaunt shack seen through Bob Ogden's memory

At the first of these, Dumbledore led Harry back into the Pensieve. Together they viewed the memory of Bob Ogden. He went to visit Morfin Gaunt as the young man had attacked a Muggle, later revealed to be Tom Riddle Snr Harry watched as the oddities of the Gaunt family were displayed before him. He recoiled at the abuse Marvolo Gaunt used against his daughter, Merope. Following Mr Ogden as he left the shack, Harry and Dumbledore returned to the Headmaster's office.[4]

A month later, they used the Pensieve to review Dumbledore's first visit with a young Tom Riddle. Harry saw the conditions in which the orphan boy grew up and heard the awful stories about his behaviour. He witnessed a demanding and cruel streak in Tom Riddle at quite a young age.[5]


"As you might have noticed, that memory has been tampered with."
— Dumbledore on the false Horace Slughorn memory[src]
Slughorn's first office 1

The false memory of Horace Slughorn

After Christmas holidays, Dumbledore called Harry down to his office.[6] They then watched two memories together, one in which Tom Riddle confronted his uncle Morfin Gaunt and later framed him for the murders of the Riddles, the other being a falsified memory of Horace Slughorn talking to Tom Riddle about Horcruxes. Dumbledore then told Harry that, to proceed, they required the real memory from Slughorn.[6]

Hepzibah Smith's memory

Hepzibah Smith (owner of both Hufflepuff's cup and Slytherin's locket) visited by Tom Riddle

After not recovering the memory from Slughorn, Harry watched two more memories, one being the memory of Hokey the house-elf. This memory foreshadowed that Helga Hufflepuff's Cup and Salazar Slytherin's Locket being made into Horcruxes.[7] Riddle pensioned the owner of the cup and locket, then absconded with them. He altered Hokey's memory and made her think she had accidently pensioned her mistress. The cup and locket were not discovered missing until quite some time had passed.

The second memory was of Tom Riddle talking to Albus Dumbledore about the Defence Against the Dark Arts teaching position. In the memory Riddle's physical appearance had drastically changed, due to his impression into the Dark Arts. Riddle had journeyed to Hogwarts with a group of his loyal followers. Dumbledore denied him the DADA position, so he later placed a jinx upon it. This memory was foreshadowing Rowena Ravenclaw's Diadem being made into a Horcrux, as well as its final hiding place.[7]


The improved and accurate memory of Horace Slughorn

When Harry had acquired the true memory of Horace Slughorn, he went to Dumbledore's office. He then saw the younger Horace Slughorn tell Tom Riddle about how to make a Horcrux and the main purpose of one. Also, he noticed the concern in Slughorn when he saw the greedy expression upon Riddle's face.[8] Due to Dumbledore's death at the end of the school year, that was Harry's last lesson with Dumbledore.

Severus Snape then became Headmaster of Hogwarts and took possession of the Pensieve, as almost all of Dumbledore's possessions were bequeathed to Hogwarts School.[15]


"The stone Pensieve lay in the cabinet where it had always been: Harry heaved it on to the desk and poured Snape’s memories into the wide basin with its runic markings around the edge. To escape into someone else’s head would be a blessed relief ... nothing that even Snape had left him could be worse than his own thoughts. The memories swirled, silver-white and strange, and without hesitating, with a feeling of reckless abandonment, as though this would assuage his torturing grief, Harry dived."
— Harry preparing to view Snape's memories in the Pensieve[src]
Harry Potter DH using Dumbledore's Pensieve

Harry using a Pensieve to view Snape's memories during the one-hour armistice

At the death of Severus Snape during the Battle of Hogwarts, he left multiple memories from his childhood to Harry. Harry captured them when they leaked out of Snape's body in a flask conjured by Hermione Granger. When they returned to the castle, Harry secretly proceeded to Dumbledore's office, where he watched Snape's memories.[3]

He saw the child Snape meeting Lily and Petunia Evans, and telling Lily that she was a witch, and how Dementors guarded the wizard prison Azkaban. He then saw Lily and Petunia's argument where Petunia called Lily a "freak," which caused Lily to be a little angry at Snape, until she met Snape's enemies, James Potter and Sirius Black. Harry then saw Snape, Lily, and the Marauders' Sorting ceremony, where Snape was Sorted into Slytherin, while Lily was Sorted into Gryffindor.[3] As the memories continued, Harry saw how Snape calling Lily a "Mudblood" ruined their relationship and Snape's path to the service of Lord Voldemort.[3]


Harry witnessing Snape'e love for his mother, Lily Potter

The rest of Snape's memories included Snape negotiating with Dumbledore and agreeing to keep Harry safe. Following this, Snape agreed to keep an eye on Professor Quirinus Quirrell and, later, told Dumbledore of Igor Karkaroff's anxiety. The last few included Snape agreeing reluctantly to kill Dumbledore, how Snape did not want Harry to die, despite the fact that Harry was a Horcrux and James Potter's son, because of his love of Lily Potter, how Snape Confunded Mundungus Fletcher into suggesting the "Seven Potters" scheme, how Snape tried to save George Weasley, but unintentionally cut off his ear, how Snape read Lily's letter to "Padfoot", and how Snape used his silver doe to lead Harry to the Sword of Gryffindor.[3]

Later usage[]

It is unknown whether or not the Pensieve was used by later Headmasters, such as Professor Minerva McGonagall or her successor.

During the 2008–2009 school year, Daniel Page, Ivy Warrington and another student used the Pensieve to watch the memories stored in Ivy's locket.[16]


The 'pensieve' is a homonym of 'pensive', which means deep/ serious thought; it is also a pun, as it acts as a sieve of thought (pensée in French).[1]

Behind the scenes[]

  • The shape of the Pensieve changed drastically from the film adaptations of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as in the former it was on some sort of runic tabletop, and in the latter it was in a bowl, as was described in the books. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, when Harry enters to the Headmaster's office, he finds the stone tabletop with the Pensieve and he removes the bowl from it and throws it in the air, where it levitates on its own.
  • Also, in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is shown inside the memory and watching from a third-person perspective. In the film adaptations of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the memories in the pensive are shown from a first-person perspective.
  • The Pensieve is Emma Watson's favourite prop from the series.[17]
  • As the Pensieve is supposed to predate the school and was also found in the spot where the school was later erected could mean that the spot on which Hogwarts stands had previously been the location of an ancient practice of magic and could also be some of the magic that is imbued into the castle and its grounds.


Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Writing by J. K. Rowling: "Pensieve" at Wizarding World
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 30 (The Pensieve)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 33 (The Prince's Tale)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 10 (The House of Gaunt)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 13 (The Secret Riddle)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 17 (A Sluggish Memory)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 20 (Lord Voldemort's Request)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 23 (Horcruxes)
  9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 29 (The Dream)
  10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 21 (The Eye of the Snake)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 24 (Occlumency)
  12. 12.0 12.1 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 28 (Snape's Worst Memory)
  13. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 3 (Will and Won't)
  14. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 4 (Horace Slughorn)
  15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 7 (The Will of Albus Dumbledore)
  16. Harry Potter: Magic Awakened
  17. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3FP-nmkFL0&feature=relmfu