Essay: Prophecy

by Josie Kearns, January 2010.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives….” (OP37)

Oh, the bloody prophecy. Few passages in the Harry Potter series have caused as much consternation and hand-wringing among readers as the words Sybill Trelawney uttered unknowingly to Albus Dumbledore that snowy night, months before the baby she referred to was to be born. In the years leading up to the releases of the sixth and seventh books, this passage was dissected tirelessly by fans, looking for clues as to what was coming in the series, and (unaided by J.K. Rowling, who posted to her website that she “worded the prophecy extremely carefully and that is all I have to say on the subject!”) posing all sorts of twisted, backwards theories as to what it might really mean.

Then, one book later, we got an indication that the prophecy might be even more interesting than we thought – for while Dumbledore had previously told Harry that the Death Eater who overheard the prophecy in the Hog’s Head “was detected only a short way into the prophecy and thrown from the building,” Harry heard a rather different story from Trelawney:

‘Yes, there was a commotion outside the door and it flew open, and there was that rather uncouth barman standing with Snape, who was waffling about having come the wrong way up the stairs, although I’m afraid that I myself rather thought he had been apprehended eavesdropping on my interview with Dumbledore….” (HBP25)

It’s been well established that Trelawney is not aware of herself or her surroundings while making a true prophecy. So how could it be that Snape was ejected from the building mid-prophecy if Trelawney was aware of his presence? Was he actually there to hear the end of the prophecy, too? Let more backbending theories commence!

In the end, of course, both the interpretation of the prophecy and the way in which it was overheard were fairly straightforward. Snape did not, in fact, overhear the whole thing (which I confess I still can’t really make sense of), and the prophecy did not, for example, mean that ‘The Other’ was, say, Neville Longbottom, as I saw suggested in more than one place (“for either must die at the hands of Neville Longbottom for neither can live while Neville Longbottom survives….”). Rather, the aspect of the prophecy that was interesting, from the story’s perspective, was the part that Lord Voldemort heard, and how he interpreted it. He heard that a baby was being born who had the “power to vanquish” him; he sought to kill Harry Potter as a result; and when that failed (er, several times), he attempted to seek out the rest of the prophecy. The entire plot of the books hinges on this singular paragraph, and the ways in which it is interpreted by both Voldemort and Dumbledore.

Upon closer inspection, though, I think there’s something else that’s interesting about the prophecy, too. And it has to do with the Department of Mysteries, and the way we’ve seen that it seems to work. Let’s take a closer look at what we know of the elusive Hall of Prophecy.

The first time we hear of the Department of Mysteries is in Goblet of Fire, when Arthur Weasley is telling Harry who the various Ministry employees are that are walking by their tent at the Quidditch World Cup:

“…That’s Bode and Croaker… they’re Unspeakables…
“They’re what?”
“From the Department of Mysteries, top secret, no idea what they get up to….” (GF7)

It’s clear that nobody knows what happens in the Department of Mysteries, as its employees are barred from discussing their work with outsiders. Indeed, in the newspaper clippings that reference Harry’s trip to the Department, we see that very existence of the Hall of Prophecy is in fact highly classified, too:

Rumors continue to fly about the mysterious recent disturbance at the Ministry of Magic, during which He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was sighted once more.
“We’re not allowed to talk about it, don’t ask me anything” said one agitated Obliviator, who refused to give his name as he left the Ministry last night.
Nevertheless, highly placed sources within the Ministry have confirmed that the disturbance centered on the fabled Hall of Prophecy.
Though Ministry spokeswizards have hitherto refused even to confirm the existence of such a place, a growing number of the Wizarding community believe that the Death Eaters now serving sentences in Azkaban for trespass and attempted theft were attempting to steal a prophecy. (HBP3)

Now, of course we know that the Hall of Prophecy really exists – and that the Unspeakables had quite a cleanup job on their hands when Dumbledore’s Army was through with it! But there’s another interesting thing here, because we aren’t the only ones who know of the Hall. Albus Dumbledore, for one, makes it quite clear that he was fully aware of the Hall’s existence long before Harry even considered traveling to the place, confidently mentioning to Harry that “the thing that smashed was merely the record of the prophecy kept by the Department of Mysteries” (OP37). He not only knows it exists, but also seems to know how it works.

How would Dumbledore know such a thing? Aside from the fact that Dumbledore simply seems to know everything, there is also a logical reason for his knowledge, and it’s a reason that’s easy to forget when we only see Dumbledore at Hogwarts: he’s the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot (OP5). The Wizengamot, of course, is both the primary legislative body and the highest court in the British wizarding government. In other words, Dumbledore is on a very short list of the most important political figures in the country, and he’s quite possibly (if not probably) the second most important government figure after the Minister of Magic – something like a Vice President or Chancellor of the Exchequer. It’s not a stretch to suggest that he would be privy to confidential information as a result of that post. And based on what he tells Harry, it seems that that confidential information most likely includes knowledge emanating from the Department of Mysteries.

I had never really considered it before, but it does make sense – after all, the Unspeakables have to report to somebody, right? Certainly they aren’t just in there developing knowledge, only to hold onto it themselves without passing it along? No, it’s almost certain that, like everyone else in the Ministry of Magic, they report their findings to the higher-ups in the government. Which means Albus Dumbledore isn’t the only person who has access to that information.

Cornelius Fudge knows all about it, too.

Hold that thought.

Another assumption I’ve tended to make about the Hall of Prophecy is that the keepers of the Hall aren’t able to actually listen to the prophecies they’re tending to; after all, the Death Eaters tell Harry that the only way Voldemort can hear the prophecy about himself is if either he or Harry personally retrieves it. If anybody else were to try, they – like Bode – would be fried by the magical protections surrounding the spheres (OP25). But a closer look reveals that this isn’t quite true, either. Consider this quote from Dumbledore:

“The thing that smashed was merely the record of the prophecy kept by the Department of Mysteries…. The official record was re-labeled after Voldemort’s attack on you as a child,” said Dumbledore. “It seemed plain to the keeper of the Hall of Prophecy that Voldemort could only have tried to kill you because he knew you to be the one to whom Sybill was referring.” (OP37)

In other words, while Bode and his fellow Unspeakables aren’t able to pick up the prophecies, they are able to listen to their contents. How else would they be able to label them appropriately? And if you think about it, this system makes logical sense: the Ministry wouldn’t want prophecies to make their way out the door, for lots of reasons (aside from the fact that they won’t even confirm the records exist, that information in the wrong hands could be outrageously dangerous), but the employees would need to be able to hear their contents – after all, if you can’t hear what the prophecies say, why keep the records in the first place?

It also seems clear that the Unspeakables who manage the Hall of Prophecy do, in fact, listen to what the prophecies say, and probably on a routine basis. Most likely they listen to each one as it is created, and then perhaps flag some for follow-up, or organize their contents in some way to allow further study. But there has to be somebody in there who’s staying on top of each prophecy, given the way they reacted to this particular version, labeling and then later re-labeling it as some of the prophecy’s predictions came to fruition.

(As a side note, the sheer number of prophecies is fairly astonishing. The description of the Hall – 97-plus rows, each too long to see from one end to the other, and so high the shelves “tower” over you as you walk by – indicates at least a couple hundred thousand of the things. For one thing, the prophecies have to be automatically generated – there’s no way you’d collect that many if wizards had to volunteer their records of them to the Ministry (for the Hall they don’t know exists…). But also, have there really been that many Seers? Or is this just recording every prediction made in Divination classes, too? Do you suppose somewhere in row 98 there’s a record of R.B.W. saying to H.J.P. that “there’s going to be loads of fog tonight?” Or perhaps a dozen or so prophecies in a row of various centaurs stating, “Mars is bright tonight.” But I digress.)

So sometime in the winter of 1980, while Voldemort is as powerful as he’s ever been and the entire Wizarding World is living in fear of his name, a prophecy appears on the shelves. The keeper of the Hall sees the label – S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D. (I suspect these are generated automatically, much like the quill at Hogwarts that records the names of witches and wizards as they are born) – and while he may or may not recognize Dumbledore’s initials, he almost certainly wouldn’t recognize Trelawney’s. Still, if Dumbledore is involved this isn’t happening in a Hogwarts classroom, so the contents might be rather interesting. So, mildly intrigued, he listens to the prophecy.

And hears the secret to the downfall of Lord Voldemort.

Luckily, this Unspeakable is smart enough (or perhaps required by the code of his work) not to spread the news around to his co-workers. Otherwise Rookwood – who also works in the Department of Mysteries – could have reported the whole thing to Voldemort. But you can bet that when information this important crosses the Unspeakable’s path, there is one person he is expected to report it to.

And so a top secret memo crosses the desk of the Minister of Magic.

Now, the Ministry doesn’t seem to have taken any action as a result of this prophecy. To be fair, this wouldn’t be the first time a prophecy with potentially huge ramifications for the Wizarding World crossed the Minister’s desk; perhaps it’s even a fairly routine occurrence. And everyone involved would certainly know the danger of putting too much stock in what the prophecy says; the things don’t always come true, after all.

But when Voldemort attacks Harry Potter, a very interesting chain of events is kicked off. We know from Rowling’s website that a new Minister of Magic, Millicent Bagnold, took over the office in 1980 – at the peak of Voldemort’s power. It’s probably a safe assumption that the removal of the former Minister from office had something to do with the fact that Voldemort’s power was essentially running unchecked. And so while we don’t know much about Millicent Bagnold, I think one thing we do know is that she was likely chosen for the office partially because it was believed she would be able to deal with Voldemort; as Dumbledore would later say about Scrimgeour, she was likely a Minister who “wouldn’t underestimate” the Dark Lord’s powers.

Which is important, because while this particular Dark Lord is widely believed dead, the senior officials at the Ministry of Magic are well aware that no body was found at Godric’s Hollow. And they would also have Dumbledore’s word that “the Dark Lord will return, and Harry Potter will be in terrible danger when he does.” After watching Voldemort’s powers for eleven years, Millicent Bagnold wouldn’t be willing to take any chances. She absolutely must have had a file assembled with critical top-secret information about Lord Voldemort, and set it aside just in case the day of the Dark Lord’s return ever arose.

And then, ten years later, Cornelius Fudge became the Minister of Magic. And as a young Minister who did anything Dumbledore said, I’d bet anything he read that file. Included in the file? The text of a prophecy that was made one cold winter night in the Hog’s Head Inn, about the Dark Lord, and a baby named Harry Potter.

It’s interesting, now, to look back at Fudge’s actions (and later, Scrimgeour’s) from the perspective of a Minister of Magic who knew factually of Harry’s importance to the wizarding world. In Order of the Phoenix, of course, Fudge would have convinced himself in his paranoia that the prophecy had already been fulfilled, and that Dumbledore’s assertion that Voldemort would one day return was simply a scare tactic. But look at the Ministry’s other interactions with Harry:

 – In Prisoner of Azkaban, Fudge throws the full might of the Ministry – including Aurors and dementors – behind protecting a single person, thirteen-year-old Harry Potter, from Sirius Black.

 – In Half-Blood Prince, Rufus Scrimgeour unsuccessfully tries to convince Harry to work with the Ministry in fighting Voldemort.

 – In Deathly Hallows, Scrimgeour is tough on Harry at first, but then chooses to die at the hands of the Death Eaters rather than betray Harry’s whereabouts.

While Scrimgeour’s attempts to get Harry on the Ministry’s side were clearly politically motivated, at least in part, I think there’s also another, more personal common thread running these interactions.

Both Cornelius Fudge and Rufus Scrimgeour lived through Voldemort’s first reign of terror as Ministry employees. Neither was especially high up at the time, but they worked in offices (Fudge in Magical Catastrophes and Scrimgeour in the Auror office) where they would have been constantly exposed to the atrocities committed by Voldemort and his Death Eaters. They also would both have been exposed to information – and seen even more once they took office as Minister of Magic and read the files on Voldemort – even more terrible than the things the general Wizarding public would have known. And there’s no way anybody could go through an experience like that untouched.

At their cores, behind the political charades, Fudge and Scrimgeour are people, too. And in their interactions with Harry, if we look deep down, we see their humanity come through. It may not be obvious to the wizarding public why Fudge would go to such expense to protect Harry from Azkaban escapee Sirius Black; and it may be surprising to most to hear that Scrimgeour chose to die rather than betray Harry’s whereabouts to the Death Eaters. But I think these simple actions betray the fact that deep down, both Fudge and Scrimgeour care about their people and their world, and while both clearly love power, both also are willing to do whatever it takes to protect the boy that a little prophecy once claimed would be the one with the power to vanquish Voldemort. Both, above all, place their hope for the future in Harry Potter. And there is little in this world more powerful than that.

Of course, there’s plenty more about the Hall of Prophecy to be explored. It’s hard to say, though, in what other ways the existence of the Hall might play out without ever really hearing much of the other 200,000 or so prophecies that are in there. And for many questions – such as why the prophecy-record-balls are different sizes, or why some are brightly lit and others “burnt out” – we can do little more than hazard an intelligent guess (though my money’s on the burnt out prophecies being those that were never fulfilled).

On the other hand, if we have further questions, there are plenty of people we could consult – after all, the entire Order of the Phoenix knows about the top-secret Hall of Prophecy, too. Dumbledore, it seems, doesn’t set store by the rules of his security clearance any more than he does the rules of the Portkey Office.

I wonder what the rest of the Wizengamot would make of that information?


35 Responses to “Essay: Prophecy”

  1. Perhaps Aberforth discovered Snape halfway through the prophecy and they quietly argued, forcing Snape to miss the rest of the prophecy, but when Aberforth tried to drag Snape away, Trelawney had finished speaking and became aware of the noise in the hall? That’s the only explanation I can think of – that something took Snape’s attention away from the rest of the prophecy but was not apparent to anyone in the room.

    also, I think Cornelius Fudge may have been slightly motivated by guilt – maybe he felt bad that the ministry knew about the prophecy but did nothing to try to protect those who were suspected to be a part of it. Therefore he tries to make up for it by protecting Harry and giving him what he needs, example in PoA.

  2. Heather basically covered my only explanation – that being “detected” by Aberforth would distract him from hearing the rest of the prophecy, but the actual prophecy isn’t that long, so Trelawney could still come out of it and hear something on the stairs before Snape’s being thrown out.
    And it’s funny, but I always forget that he’s chief warlock of the Wizengamot, and all the other various titles he holds. Or more like, I just never thought about their implications. Thinking of him as possibly the second most powerful political figure certainly makes Fudge’s fear of Dumbledore seems a little more reasonable (I mean, if the Chief Warlock was anyone but Dumbledore, wouldn’t you be worried?).

    “Both, above all, place their hope for the future in Harry Potter. And there is little in this world more powerful than that.” All of a suddenly I must begrudgingly increase my respect for these men.

  3. I was always under the impression that Snape heard the first part of the prophecy (through “as the seventh month dies”) and, being so sure that he had to pass the information on to the Dark Lord, heard the pause (maybe it was a long one? No one knows how long those ellipses last . . . ) and started to leave and wasn’t as covert as he could have been and, Aberforth being the astute brother-of-Albus and knowing why he was there and that there should be privacy, started looking into it and maybe dragged him back upstairs or stopped him halfway down which Trelawney would have heard, etc., etc.

    I really appreciate the time and thought put into this essay, Josie. I love that even though we have seven very long books, we still have all this room to speculate. And I appreciate your speculation on Fudge and Scrimgeour’s actions based on their (probable) knowledge of the prophecy.

  4. Great essay. :) Thanks for posting it.

    I reasoned the same as Heather regarding how Snape managed to miss the second half of the prophecy, but was still there when Trelawney came out of her trance.

  5. I was thinking that maybe Snape did hear the entire prophecy but Dumbledore Obliviated him of everything but the first couple lines?

  6. Nice essay. Looking forward to the rest of the week!

  7. Love your site! I always believed that to be an unspeakable you must sign some type of document… like Dumbledore’s Army did and like Hermione did they are bound not to speak of there work and would be jinxed before they could relay anything at all. Including who made the prophecy and who heard it. Just a thought! I’m looking forward to the rest of the week. Happy Anniversary!

  8. “the things don’t always come true” -aren’t prophecies in fiction meant to be actual visions of the future, divinely inspired (hence the trance Trelawney falls into), if they don’t come true then they’re only predictions (like weather forecasts) – are there prophecies in other books that “don’t come true”?

    the Hall may contain prophecies from hundreds of years past – I took dim or burnt out prophecies simply to be old ones – the high number of prophecies may also be another “math issue” of Jo’s

    and to be honest, I wish the prophecy hadn’t been in the story at all – it diminishes (or even destroys) Harry’s normal-ness in favor of making him this prophesied hero, you can’t have it both ways

  9. MartinTenbones, my reference for theorizing that the “burnt-out” prophecies might be unfulfilled ones comes from when Dumbledore is talking about Harry’s destiny in HBP23:

    “If Voldemort had never heard of the prophecy, would it have been fulfilled? Would it have meant anything? Of course not! Ho you think every prophecy in the Hall of Prophecy has been fulfilled?”

    Though I like the idea of burnt-out prophecies simply being that old, too, I hadn’t thought of that.

    As far as Harry being abnormal, I always took the point to be that Harry wanted nothing more than to be normal, but never had the opportunity. He was a true hero because he had the opportunities to save the wizarding world thrust upon him, and chose to act on them because he felt obligated to do so (as opposed to one seeking attention or power). A ordinary kid in extraordinary circumstances, if you will… does that make sense?

  10. Aren’t all the prophecies ordered in chronogical order? So as time goes on more shelves are made and the room expands for them? I’d say the burnt-out ones are non-fulfilled.

  11. Why was Snape listening in the first place? There’s no way he could have known Trelawney would prophesy anything.
    Was he merely sent to spy on Dumbledore, when he accidentally stumbled upon the prophecy?

  12. I’d bet on the spying on Dumbledore part. I also was thinking along the lines of Elizo. It seems to me that most of the prophecy’s are self-fulfilling. If Voldemort hadn’t attacked Harry or Nevile for that matter. Nothing would have happen. The war would have just continued. Though this is obviously not always true. As we see in the prophecy during PoA. Wormtail would have gotten away and gone back to Voldemort no matter what happened. If they (the trio) hadn’t found him and start the sequence where everything is reveled, he would have just left. But they did, and Harry then didn’t let them kill Wormtail. Which is good because he was saved later by that one attack of mercy. Though still bad because it could have been better for Harry if Sirius was free.

    At least there’s fanfiction for those ideas.

  13. “In other words, while Bode and his fellow Unspeakables aren’t able to pick up the prophecies, they are able to listen to their contents”

    Dumbledore said the keeper of the hall of prophecies relabled it. Not just any unspeakable..

  14. Mei, Obliviate would not have done much, considering Voldemort’s aptitude in breaking memory charms. I agree with the theory that Snape was kept from hearing the prophecy before being thrown from the building.

  15. I don’t think there is necessarily a problem in how Rowling wrote Snape overhearing the prophecy. It was only a short paragraph and the part Snape didn’t hear was half way through. Why couldn’t Aberforth have discovered Snape mid-prophecy, and then, while explaining to Aberforth he had gotten lost, Trelawney finished the prophecy. Then, Aberforth comes in and tells them Snape was eavesdropping.
    As for the number of prophecies, maybe they go back hundreds or thousands of years. If the burnt out ones are in fact the unfulfilled (seems logical to me), it doesn’t appear that they clear out the Hall of Prophecies at any point, so they would just accumulate.
    Lastly, maybe the size of prophecies has to do with the length of the prophecy.
    Thanks for all your work and essays, Josie. I’m a big fan.

  16. Great essay, Josie! I’m not too sure how I feel about the idea of Scrimgeour already knowing about the prophecy, though. In HBP chapter 16, he’s talking to Harry and it really seems like he’s trying to find out from Harry if he IS the Chosen One. He even asks Harry at one point, “So you’re not the Chosen One?” I suppose this could be Scrimgeour ACTING like he doesn’t know, in order to find out if HARRY knows about it. But I don’t see much point in that, especially if his main goal is just to get Harry to agree to be a mascot. What does it matter if Harry knows or not?

  17. Not that this discredits your theory, Josie, but do you remember in HBP when Dumbledore said to Harry “There are only two people in the whole world who know the full contents of the prophecy made about you and Lord Voldemort and they are both standing in this smelly, spidery broom shed.” It is perfectly possible that Dumbledore was not counting the Unspeakables who labeled relabeled it, especially as he is the one who told us they relabeled it, because they aren’t really relevant. But, it seems odd that Dumbledore would say this if he knew Fudge, Scrimgeour and maybe others knew it too.

  18. The “burnt-out” prophecies may be fulfilled (thus no longer of any value), while the others are still pending. It seems to be in the nature of many prophecies (at least 50 percent of the two prophecies we know) that you never can say they are “unfulfilled forever”, only they “still did not come true, but their state may change to ‘fulfilled’ at any time”. Even if Voldemort and all his Horcruxes had been destroyed by a meteoric impact smashing all Britain, and Harry had nothing to do with this, The Prophecy could still have been misunderstood and could really refer to some other person called “Dark Lord” (in some distant place and/or far in the future) being vanquished by somebody who was born “as the seventh month died” in – which year did Trelawney say?

    I never fully realized this until now, but the prophecy was really worded very carefully to not contradict free will and the “choices matter” theme of the series.

    like Bode – would be fried by the magical protections surrounding the spheres (OP25).

    Why does everybody expect only the worst from The Ministry? (Rhetorical question, don’t answer.) The DOM isn’t interested in hurting people who touch a prophecy accidentally. IMO the prophecies are not protected by a jinx, it’s a kind of unbreakable shield charme that just rejects everybody who is not concerned by the prophecy. Mr. Bode was imperioed by somebody who didn’t know that he demanded something impossible. So poor Mr. Bode had to take the prophecy, but he couldn’t touch it, but being under the imperius curse, he had to touch it, but it was impossible, but he had to try again anyway, never being able to think of anything else – no wonder he became catatonic. If he “only” had been driven mad by a known kind of spell, he would probably have been easier to cure.

    I really appreciate the time and thought you put into your essays, Josie, but in this case I have politely to disagree. If the keepers of the Hall were able to listen to the prophecies, why didn’t Voldemort force one of them to listen to The Prophecy and tell him what he had heard. With Bode he still didn’t know that this would have been the right way to do the job, but why didn’t Rookwood advice Voldemort to do it this way, or find somebody who had already listened to the prophecy? Maybe Rookwood didn’t know all the secrets, because he was only an Unspeakable, but not a keeper of the Hall and couldn’t listen to the prophecies himself?

    There seems to be a much simpler explanation, how the Ministers for Magic could know (the first part of) the Prophecy. Dumbledore reported these first lines to Millicent Bagnold, then Minister for Magic, because there was no sense in keeping this secret, at least when Dumledore learned that Voldemort knew already through Snape. But Dumbledore still told the truth in this broom shed, when he said: “There are only two people in the whole world who know the full contents of the prophecy”.

    If Dumbledore is not, besides his other duties, also the Keeper of the Hall of Prophecies (now this would explain how he knows), he may also have told the Keeper this first part of The Prophecy to make him change the label when Voldemort had attacked Harry (and the Keeper may have told the Minister for Magic). And just in case he wouldn’t live long enough himself, Dumbledore may also have asked the Keeper and/or the Minister for Magic to make the full contents of the prophecy available to Harry when Harry came of age.

    after all, if you can’t hear what the prophecies say, why keep the records in the first place?

    Well, the records may simply be kept because it’s impossible to touch and remove them. The question should be: why take records in the first place? (Sorry, this seems to become an essay on its own.)

    The only seer we know doesn’t remember her own prophecies. It was never implied that this is specifically Trelawney’s failure, it may be true for all (human) seers. Also, despite the label “SPT to A.P.W.B.D” I didn’t get the impression that Trelawney made her prophecies to Dumbledore or Harry, it just happend that they were present when Trelawney fell into trance. In case a prophecy is made while nobody is present and the seer wouldn’t remeber, it seems to be good practice to have an automagical process to record prophecies and label the record with the names (or initials) of seer, witness (if any) and persons named in the prophecy (if any), so that the persons concerned by the prophecy may be able to listen to it.

    Opposed to other parts of the DOM, the Hall of Prophecies didn’t look as if there was any research performed, and the prophecies can not be taken elsewhere. Since the Hall isn’t a place where you would like to work, the only work ever done there is probably to look for new records labeled with no witness, find the persons named in the prophecy (if any, and if you don’t prefer to avoid these persons) and make them listen to the record. This may have been how rumours about the Hall of Prophecies were spread. If the prophecy doesn’t name any recognizable persons, it is probably so vague that it wouldn’t help much if the Unspeakables could listen, they would still not know what it’s all about.

    Automagically taking records may also be a precaution against witnesses who would try to take advantage of their unique knowledge. If the Keeper of the Hall finds an unknown prophecy labeled with initials of witnesses, such witnesses should expect to be asked why they didn’t report this prophecy, and this may be the reason why Dumbledore had to report at least “something”.

    It doesn’t seem to make much sense that only persons named in the prophecy should be able to listen to the record, when random witnesses may already have listened and have to report to the ministry. But when have government decisions concerning pivacy protection ever been reasonable? Also, we don’t know the limitations of magic. There may be no fail-safe way to limit access if it is not defined by something in the prophecy.

    Response to comments:

    Why was Snape listening in the first place? There’s no way he could have known Trelawney would prophesy anything. Was he merely sent to spy on Dumbledore, when he accidentally stumbled upon the prophecy? (Ragmar Dorkins said this on May 12, 2010 at 9:39 pm)

    Trelawney explained this in HBP 25, but nobody payed attention, because we all were so excited about Snape having overheard the prophecy: he himself was seeking a job at the time, and no doubt hoped to pick up tips. Snape had applied for the DADA teacher’s position (probably sent by Voldemort to spy on Dumbledore) and was at the Hog’s Head because he waited for his own job interview, probably right after Trelawney’s (why should Dumbldore go there twice?). This was probably Snape’s first application and he had no idea how a job interview would be. So he couldn’t expect to hear somthing valuable for Voldemort, but he hoped to hear something valuable for himself.

    I was thinking that maybe Snape did hear the entire prophecy but Dumbledore obliviated him of everything but the first couple lines? (Mei said this on January 31, 2010 at 4:30 pm)

    Why would Dumbledore do this? Did he already suspect that Snape spied for Voldemort? If so, why wouldn’t he obliviate the whole prophecy from Snape’s memory? Big conspiracy to let Voldemort only hear the first lines?

    Mei, Obliviate would not have done much, considering Voldemort’s aptitude in breaking memory charms. (JPM said this on September 18, 2010 at 9:00 pm)

    It doesn’t matter anyway, because Dumbledore didn’t obliviate Snape, but suppose he did: How would Voldemort know that an attempt to break a supposed memory charme would be worth the effort, if he didn’t already know that Snape should know something valuable he couldn’t tell? Do you assume that Voldemort practised his skills regularly on random minions? This doesn’t seem likely considering that the spy could become worthless.

  19. Hieronymous, thanks for your comments. Holy goodness. I do still disagree with your thinking on the record-keeping, because of something I think you overlooked: the fact that the existence of the Hall of Prophecy is a closely-guarded secret unacknowledged by the Unspeakables. I just don’t see any purpose for the Department of Mysteries to take the records if they can’t listen to them. What would it accomplish, given that the people concerned by them (the only ones allowed to touch a prophecy) aren’t allowed to know that the records exist?

    Also, supposing the Minister for Magic was told by Dumbledore of the Prophecy regarding Harry (which I’m skeptical of, why did he form the Order of the Phoenix if he wasn’t trying to protect the Potters separately from the Ministry?), why would the Minister have then told it to the Unspeakables? There’s no valid reason for them to know it. The information is way to important to spread around just for the sake of getting a label correct.

    You’re right, of course, that if the Unspeakables are able to listen to the prophecies, the entire plot falls apart because Voldemort could have heard it another way. So I guess it’s really just a matter of making a choice about where we prefer the ends don’t meet. ;) It’s clear, regardless, that Rowling either didn’t think the Hall of Prophecy all the way through or that she conveniently ignored the parts that would have disrupted her plot. After all, why enchant records to only be lift-able by the people they concern at all, given that those people aren’t allowed to know the records exist in the first place?

  20. Josie, parents of muggleborns are allowed to know about magic, although this is technically breaking the international statute of secrecy. So I think, if the options are to loose a potentially valuable prophecy because nobody can listen to it, or to let somebody who can listen to the prophecy know about the very secret Hall of Prophecies, the choice would probably be to let them know and ask them to keep the secret. Obviously not all of them did keep the secret. Would it be more plausible to assume that the rumours about a hall full of propecies had been spread by Unspeakables?

    Of course it was not necessary to let all Unspeakables know about The Prophecy just to get the label corrected (so they didn’t know). One person with a quill would be sufficient, and it was not even necessary to let this person know why the label should be changed. But if Albus Dumbledore, the Minister for Magic and the Keeper of the Hall of Prophecies (who decided to change the label) are more than two different persons, then all three knew (or Dumbledore lied about this).

    why did he form the Order of the Phoenix if he wasn’t trying to protect the Potters separately from the Ministry?

    Dumbledore formed the Order of the Phoenix because the Ministry was undermined by Death Eaters or persons under the imperius course. But why shouldn’t he tell the Minstry what
    a) Voldemort knows anyway
    b) Voldemort knows that Dumbledore also knows this
    c) Voldemort would assume that Dumbledore told it to the Ministry anyway, even if Voldemort had no spy at the Ministry who could report this.
    Could Dumbledore get any advantage from Voldemort believing that the Ministry knew about the first part of The Prophecy while they actually didn’t know?

  21. Okay, I feel I could embarrass myself in the wake of the brainpower above, but something that Hieronymus said has cause to blast this entire theory to smitherins.

    “There are only two people in the whole world who know the full contents of the prophecy”.

    Now there is always the possibility that Dumbledore is wrong, but as you, Josie has said countless times, how many times is Dumbledore actually wrong. Which brings us to the second toubling quote.

    “It seemed plain to the keeper of the Hall of Prophecy that Voldemort could only have tried to kill you because he knew you to be the one to whom Sybill was referring.”

    If both of these quotes were to hold true, then the only possible explanation is that Dumbledore is the keeper of the Hall of Prophecy!!!!

    Of course this means that Dumbledore has an ENORMOUS amount on his plate. Headmaster of Hogwarts, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, founder of the Order of the Phoenix, and now Keeper of the Hall of Prophecy’s.

    Next thing that troubles me is Dumbledore having something to do with the Department of Mysteries, because to my knowledge he was never an Unspeakable: indeed there is nothing Harry notices about it in The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore.

    But then how does this account for Dumbledore’s acute knowledge of the workings of the Department of Mysteries. Notice how not only does he understand the Hall of Prophecy, the veil (I think) but he also knows about what is behind the locked door of love!!! He even tells Harry…

    “There is a room in the Department of Mysteries that remains locked at all times”

    Only a true Unspeakable could know that! This is also what I think contributes to Dumbledore’s expertise on the subject of love compared to Voldemort, for instance.

    Now next is the privacy of the Department. I believe that there is NO spell, enchantment, jinx, hex or curse stopping Unspeakables from talking about what they do for work. May i offer two pieces of evidence.

    First, when Harry enters Voldemort’s mind during book 5, he sees Rookwood, a former Unspeakable, telling Voldemort how he can retrieve the prophecy, something which involves the Department of Mysteries. If there was something stopping him from saying that, it didn’t work :P Secondly, the fact that Dumbledore is able to tell Harry about the locked room in the Department.

    Now if there is nothing holding Unspeakables back, then why don’t they tell anyone?? How did Dumbledore manage to become an Unspeakable?? Why did the separate ministers do what they did to protect Harry?? We can only speculate…

    Please feel free to pick holes in my argument, I look forward to some feedback.

  22. Lewis, your two quotes are definitely a direct contradiction. I’d never quite thought about it that way before. You’re right that the solution is for Dumbledore to be keeper of the Hall, but while we never get anything that directly contradicts this, I think it’s pretty clearly not what was intended. Frustrating for an essay-writer, somebody always has a quote showing that you’re wrong! :-D

    In terms of Dumbledore being an Unspeakable, I do disagree with you there. He was the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, which would make him the second most important person in government after the Minister. The top government officials wouldn’t know everything that happens in the Dept of Mysteries, I wouldn’t think, but they would have to have *some* awareness of it so that the Unspeakables have some oversight. Certainly enough awareness to have a basic understanding of how the Hall of Prophecy works, as well as the fact that the Love room exists.

    There are a lot of inconsistencies here that it’s hard to make heads or tails of….

  23. Ok, my only problem is this…

    You imply in your essay that the ministers, (or for that matter the Chief Warlock) would only become aware a particular goings on in the Department of Mysteries IF it were of utmost importance for the officials to know. (A prophecy about the Dark Lord could well be occasion fo this).

    If Dumbledore is just the Keeper of the Hall, then what sorts of top priorities would make the Love room and the Veil neccessary information. (Also I’m not sure that Dumbledore ever mentions the Veil, so don’t quote me on that)

    Secondly, if Rookwood and Bode are unable to hear the Prophecy and listen to it, then it is safe to assume that only the Keeper of the Hall can listen to it, besides the subjects of the prophecy (and maybe the witness and the seer, but not sure). If Dumbledore is telling the truth that only he and Harry know the full contents of the prophecy, then he never actually alerted the Ministers of its existence (unless say, Millicent Bagnold had a different Keeper in her time, but I think Dumbledore would know)

    Finally, another inconsistency…

    Dumbledore actually seems to dislike the whole future telling idea, or at least the subject of Divination. I think he says something to Harry along the lines that he wasn’t planning on contuining Divination as a subject, that he was only interwiewing Trelawney out of politeness. Also in Half Blood Prince, he implies that the only reason that both Firenze and Trelawney have jobs is because they are both in danger if they leave.

    Why would he have such a closed mind to such things if he was Keeper of the Hall in which thousands of evidence towards Divination exist???

  24. Great essay!!!
    though i disagree with you at one point:
    “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives….” (OP37)

    You explanation-“for either must die at the hands of Neville Longbottom for neither can live while Neville Longbottom survives….”

    you say this but to me it sounds as if you are speaking of voldy & harry by ‘neither’.
    it should be-
    “and voldemort must die at the hand of the person neville for neither voldy nor neville will live while neville or voldy survives…”

  25. ud, there are about a hundred different ways to read it; the one I described was merely one I had seen written about several years back. :)

  26. Why is it assumed that anyone in the Hall of Prophecies has to have heard the prophecy to have labeled it? Could it not be that prophecy globes are created and (possibly) labeled in the same way that magical children are “listed” in school records, i.e. magically?

    When the prophecy is created and labeled “S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D”, someone in charge of cataloging them may have said “Hey, I recognize those initials”, and simply asked Dumbledore to verify a prophecy took place in his presence, without needing Dumbledore to divulge the actual contents of the prophecy. (Or maybe Dumbledore came in and said he had been witness to a prophecy at such and such a time on such and such a day and labeled it then, with the prophecy having already been magically created and sitting on a shelf.)

    Then after the death of the Potters, it could have been relabeled, without anyone other than Dumbledore (at that time) having heard the prophecy.

    Regardless of which interpretation makes the most sense, I think we’re putting more thought into this than Jo ever did. =P

  27. The reason we think about this so is to try and rid ourselves of the nagging questions that just don’t make sense. With a logical explanation, no matter how out there, we can sleep well at night.

    Well at least I can…

  28. While this would require a massive bit of magic, I’d like to put forth an idea that would reconcile the two quotes (that only Dumbledore and Harry know the full content and that there is a keeper for the hall of prophecy). Said “keeper” could be a spell that creates the records and labels or re-labels them as events unfold, rather like a search engine using a magical analogue of algorithms to make the connections necessary to do such a task. Thus, the only two “people” who know the full content would be Harry and Dumbledore.

    With this system, they would only need Unspeakables to monitor changes and additions to the Hall, and if necessary, possibly bring in either the witness(es) to testify as to what they heard (with no need of telling them about the Hall itself in that case) or bringing in the actual subject to have them review the record in full. In the case of the latter, the subject’s memory of being brought in can always be erased and/or modified to get rid of the knowledge of the Hall. Granted, memory charms can, at least, be partially broken, or simply wear out after a time, but these partial recollections could also explain the rumors about the Hall.

    As to the amount of prophecies, we know that Ollivander’s has been making wands “since 382 BC”, Hogwarts itself has been around for “ten centuries”, and I’d imagine the Ministry of Magic (or something similar) has probably existed about that long as well. Also, we don’t know for sure that they don’t have records of all Seers from all over the world. One would figure it would be specific to the jurisdiction of the Ministry (or foreign counterpart) in question but it’s not explicitly stated.

    Still with just British Seers, a couple thousand years is a lot of time to accumulate them. If Sybil isn’t much of a Seer, as all evidence says, but is still managing one a decade, with the extended lives of witches and wizards, that amounts to, what, twelve to fifteen, give or take? Plus, the two we know of are just that, just the two we know of. She could fall into a trance every other evening, adding to the Hall prophecies with labels that start out: “S.P.T. to H.E.B.O.C.S.” (That’s “half empty bottle of cooking sherry” if you were wondering.)

  29. Would be a good idea Lesharo, but “Keeper” is a very strange name for a bit of magic.

  30. Wow. That’s a very good argument. The part about Neville being ‘the other’ is clever, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. Unless you count neville killing nagini. Part of the prophecy that always really annoys me is the fact that every seems to assume that it *must* be Harry to kill Voldemort. It doesn’t. If Harry had been properly killed by voldemort then the prophecy would have been fulfilled, “either must die…” however, nowhere in the prophecy does it say that Harry is the only person who can kill voldemort. It only says that a boy born at the end of July to parents who had thrice defied voldemort would have the ability to kill voldemort, and a power he knows not (love) but many people possess this power and could have killed voldemort. Ergo Harry had a lot of responsibility placed on him todo a job that someone else could have done. I keep trying to persuade my friend this, but she never seems to get it. :P sorry if this doesn’t make sense, I can do the logical thinking part, but I’m not the best when it comes to essays.

  31. “She could fall into a trance every other evening, adding to the Hall prophecies with labels that start out: “S.P.T. to H.E.B.O.C.S.” (That’s “half empty bottle of cooking sherry” if you were wondering.)”

    I love this!

    I’ve always thought that Dumbledore told the Keeper of Prophecies to relabel it. In this case there could be thousands of “(?)” prophecies and we’ll never know who they were about. But you’re right, Josie, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to secretly store prophecies and never listen to them or track their validity in any way. Still, even if they are heard by Unspeakables and reported, like Pen-umbra said, I have a hard time believing Scrimgoer is aware of the prophecy, given his comments to Harry about being the chosen one. I’d think that if he had listened to (or read a memo about) the prophecy, he’d have a better idea of what Dumbledore had told Harry.

    Going along with the idea that Dumbledore wasn’t lying when he said that only 2 people know the contents of the prophecy… perhaps he knows for certain that the previous Keeper of Prophecies died sometime in the last 15 years, and that the current Keeper hasn’t had access or time to dig into the archive? Who knows…

    Love this essay though, Josie! Such great ideas!

  32. @ophy: You are right. In the end, everybody could have killed Voldemort. Ironically the only thing Harry had to do himself to achieve these end, because nobody else could have done it for him, was – to die or at least attempt to die.

  33. Is it possible that the ministers knew of the prophecy, but not its “full contents?” maybe they (like voldemort) knew only the first half . . . ?

  34. I love these essays Josie! They’re adding so much to my appreciation of the books.

    Just a quick thought on the “only two people know the full contents of the prophecy” thing. To me it seems perfectly possible that the Keeper who relabeled the prophecy about Harry (after listening to it) could have died in the 16+ years since. A new Keeper wouldn’t necessarily then proceed to listen to every single prophecy in the hall.

  35. Great essay and good discussion.
    I like the Keeper-spell idea, but I also like the idea of Dumbles being an Unspeakable. Ooh! Maybe he invented the current version of the spell! That would be something! After all, he might have researched the Power of Love or something. Then, cos he’s known as a genius, they ask him to update the spell to record the prophecies….
    As for Severus… He was their for the interview, but I bet he thought it wa a good opportunity to spy as well! Abe caught him, they argued, the prophecy ended and Albus and Trelawney were told….etc, etc.

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