HP post #2!
“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…
“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?