The Child Foretold:
Well, this is another one which is neither here nor there. My own earlier conclusions on the subject were not confirmed in DHs. But, as with the issues related to the werewolf caper, what Rowling finally told us on the issue was sufficiently unconvincing that I am not prepared to rewrite the essay to reflect her proposal. I reject her proposal. Indeed, I go farther. I think that if what she finally gave us was what she always intended, then she was intending to scam us from the beginning.
And I am not convinced of that, either. I think she just monumentally fumbled the ball.
Consequently, this essay is accessed from this page of the collection rather than the one a level up where the essays listed have all been reworked to, at least mostly, account for the material finally given us in DHs.
That material is certainly mentioned in passing in this one, however.
In her website update of May 2005, JK Rowling answered a FAQ poll question regarding the significance of Neville Longbottom being the other candidate for the “Child Foretold” (essentially none). She also finally gave us some kind of explanation for what she was playing at when she hung her whole tale on so dubious a hook as a Prophesy.
It was a bit of a relief to have it clearly confirmed that she was indeed re-playing Macbeth, and that the Prophesy was always intended to be self-fulfilling. Although, in fact “self-fulfilling” is hardly even needed as a determinator where it comes to Prophesies in literature. In accordance with the sort of canned irony typically deployed in the use of Prophecies in literature just about all Prophesies are self-fulfilling.
But it is clear that in the Potterverse there are Powers (or entities at least) which meddle in the affairs of men. Or those of wizards, anyway. Otherwise we would not be stuck having to deal with the fallout from a Prophesy.
And, whatever these meddlesome Powers may be, it is all too clear that they are not on the side of the Light, however much we may try to convince ourselves this is the case. Considering what “Light” magic actually is, i.e., domesticated magic, we would be fools to ever assume they were. There is nothing domesticated about a Prophecy.
Prophecies are always extremely bad news. They offer a pernicious and gaudy temptation to take unwise action — which invariably brings disaster down upon the heads of those foolish enough not to resist.
As has obviously happened in this instance. The Department of Mysteries was on the right track when they adopted a manner of dealing with the records of such pronouncements very much in the style of disposing of toxic waste. It is assuredly no friendly entity which torments mortals with Prophecies.
What is more: the bloody things aren’t even true! Can anyone really suppose that more than a fraction of all the hundreds — indeed, thousands — of “genuine” Prophesies recorded in the archives of the DoM ever came to pass, once the record was successfully suppressed and there was no one who knew enough to try to do something about it? I don’t.
And Albus Dumbledore points this out to us.
If the bulk of the Prophecies made never come to pass unless people are told of them, HOW can they be regarded as “true” Prophecies?
They are a snare and a delusion.
And, they are generated by spontaneous bursts of Wild magic. Which is to say, Dark magic.
Think about it. What are the hallmarks of Dark magic?
Forceful rather than controlled. Check.
Chaotic. Check and double-check.
The Dark Arts are: according to Professor Snape; “Many, varied, ever-changing, eternal. ...unfixed, mutating, indestructible.”
Right. We are the Dark Arts. Deceptions ’R’ Us.
Sure sounds like Prophecies to me.
And, yet, all of that being the case; the entities responsible for the pernicious things occasionally send in a ringer, just to keep us all hopping. There was nothing bogus about Trelawney’s second Prophecy, was there?
But, still, if confronted with one of the things, you would be a unmitigated fool to count on that sort of thing.
What’s more, back before HBP came out, I had originally thought that if Dumbledore hadn’t been so quickly tipped off about the eavesdropper — who had gotten away — he’d have tried to suppress the first Trelawney Prophecy, as well, in accordance with all established policy.
I also believed that once he knew that at least part of it had already escaped, he felt did not have that luxury.
But, I seriously doubted that he ever in the ensuing 16 years let slip any more of its content than the part he realized that the eavesdropper had already heard. Or not until he shared it with us all at the end of OotP.
After HBP I was forced to rethink that particular reading of the situation.
In the first place; it seemed almost guaranteed to be wrong. With the publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ms Rowling handed a us a glaring contradiction which offered us a whole new range of possibilities. None of them very reassuring possibilities, either. Except to the die-hard Snape apologists. There was a great deal of cause for rejoicing in that quarter.
Back with the release of Order of the Phoenix we had finally been given a couple of pieces of information which threw some of our earlier speculations — or at least my earlier speculations — off by a generous margin.
The most obvious of these was related to the Trelawney Prophesy itself. Not so much in the text of it — although it does matter, even if not as much as first appears (since it has since been demonstrated to be completely bas-ackward and a lie besides), but about the time that the Prophesy must have been made. The prophesy was worded in a manner to strongly imply that it was made before the child it foretold was born.
In fact, there is strong indication that it could have been made quite some time before the promised child was born, for Dumbledore claims that his meeting with Trelawney took place on a “cold, wet night” which certainly does not sound to me as if the meeting is likely to have taken place at all close to the end of July — which was the date specified for the child’s birth.
Or was it?
This was our first big snag. Despite Rowling’s determination to stick her fingers in her ears and warble “La-la-la!” the bloody text of the Prophecy is not anything like as straightforward as she pretends it is. Given that we were led to believe that it was the impending date of the foretold child’s birth that was the only real identifying factor for the whole business, we suddenly were handed another wrinkle to have to iron out.
Because you would not necessarily be able to determine an estimated date from what that Prophecy has to say about it, not even if you do know when it was made.
And we don’t. There are at least three, and anything up to five, different interpretations of possible dates folded into the description of “as the 7th month dies”. And there is no indication to determine which interpretation is the right one without additional outside information.
In the first place; as is fitting for spontaneous bursts of Dark magic, Prophesies are notoriously opaque in their language. To the point that you generally can only figure them out after they have come to pass, and you finally have the opportunity to reason them out backward, with 20/20 hindsight. And this one seemed to be no exception.
(ETA: actually it is. Wait for it.)
For that matter Rowling didn’t even have the decency to demonstrate to us that it had played out as predicted. Which was probably unavoidable, since it didn’t. Even boneheaded Harry managed to figure out that much, and said so.
By all the established tropes of the use of Prophecy in literature (not mythology, which is something else again, myths are created to serve gods, not plots) if there had been any way that the date of the child’s birth could have been accurately projected ahead of time then it must have been because either there was something about the circumstances under which the Prophecy was made which would have made the timing less ambiguous than the actual wording of it suggests, or the deciding factor pertaining to the event was a piece of outside information, known to the hearers, but not mentioned in the text of the pronouncement itself. And we were not given any such piece of information.
Or, we were supposed to assume that Albus just hit upon the correct date by sheer dumb luck. Which, downstream of DHs clearly appears to be the case. Everything in DHs seems to be dumbed down to the point of offering the least resistance to the author’s determination to spit the last segment of the tale out without having to stop and properly explain anything.
We thought we were dealing with a 3000-piece puzzle here. It turns out to have been replaced by a 300-piece one at the last minute.
Still, in any attempt to establish some kind of verisimilitude, in order for the date in the Prophecy to play out unambiguously as referring to the end of July there must have appeared to be something about the pronouncement which would allow for no confusion or counter suggestion.
And as it was presented to us that simply was not the case.
Or, given that we were originally told in PoA that Voldemort did not make up his mind to kill the Potters’ child until over a year after the child was born, and anything up to two years after the time that the Prophecy may have been made, it is possible that something was known, or later revealed to Dumbledore — and to Dumbledore alone — which made the context clear to him, even only in retrospect. And that Voldemort only figured it out later. Or he got help.
Which would also be entirely according to tradition.
(ETA: all of this reasoning was contradicted in DHs, btw, without any alternate explanation. Rowling must really think her readers are idiots.)
Such additional information would need to be of a sort that Lord Voldemort had no initial access to, and probably which had only been worked out by outside means. Given that the target date as the Prophesy was actually worded was “as the 7th month dies”, on the surface it would have been far too easy to confuse whether this referred to the 7th month of the calendar year, or the 7th month after the Prophesy was made — unless this pronouncement was made in January 1980 and, consequently, was going to be applicable to the month of July — regardless of either interpretation.
And for that matter, even from the vantage point of January 1980 the issue of the 7th month = July is still not a done-deal. Regardless of either of those interpretations. Because “the 7th month” could STILL have referred to something else altogether.
It could have referred to the name of the month.
Yes, unfortunately, July is not the only possible interpretation of “the 7th month”. Not even the only obvious interpretation, particularly considering that the month name “September” literally translates out to “seventh month.”
In a society which clearly makes heavy use of dog-Latin on an everyday basis, this definition throws a major wild card into the mix, making us wonder how Dumbledore could possibly be so confident that the Prophecy referred to Harry, or to Neville, or to the month of July.
It also has been pointed out to me that the reference to the 7th month could, within very traditional parameters, also refer to a child born two months premature (“MacDuff was from his mother’s womb, untimely ripp’d”), or even one merely born a socially embarrassing 7 months into a marriage.
And, while Rowling herself may feel perfectly secure in her knowledge that she was referring to July. None of her characters could have had that certainty.
But, as to the timing of when the Prophecy was actually made; that “cold, wet night” which Dumbledore remembers still doesn’t sound much like July. Or any time during the summer.
I have to admit that it doesn’t really sound much like January, either. In fact, what it sounds most like to me is Halloween.
Right about when the child it foretells was conceived.
Or maybe some days afterward.
I never until the Spring of 2006 gave much consideration to the theory — which was definitely already out there — that the Prophecy might have been made at the time of the child’s conception. But the more you look at it the more likely it seems. That would probably be the time that the Prophecy demons might be most active and ready to do mischief. Particularly considering what time of year we are talking about. In most folklore, certainly British folklore, the barriers between the seen and unseen worlds are at their thinest around Halloween.
And in quasi-support of that theory, we have Trelawney’s statement as to just when she started teaching at Hogwarts. Professor Trelawney’s class was the very first one where we actually saw Umbridge making a nuisance of herself with her clipboard. And she was doing that before the end of September. Ergo: Trelawney’s statement made in September of 1995 was that she had — at that specific date — been working at Hogwarts for “almost 16 years”. Not 16 years. “almost” 16 years.
Snape, by contrast had been teaching at Hogwarts for 14 years that term. So Trelawney had been teaching for more than one full year before Snape joined the Hogwarts staff. But not for two full years. And we know she didn’t start teaching before she gave that Prophecy.
And in peripheral quasi-canon, if we’re really supposed to accept Regulus Black’s death date as actually being in 1979 then Rowling has nailed it down solidly for us. There is no way that I believe that Tom would be borrowing a disposable Elf to hide his Horcrux before he knew of the Prophecy.
However, I do not accept the Tapestry dates as given for either Regulus Black’s birth or death dates.
Even if I do think the Prophecy was made around Halloween.
So, okay, why was Dumbledore at the Hog’s Head in the first place?
Consider: it was a job interview. The probability is that such an interview would be held during a term break to fill a vacant position. But we do not know that this was the case. It may not have been.
If a position fell vacant suddenly, and a candidate, learning this, contacted Dumbledore, he might schedule an interview at any time during the year. And he could have met them for an interview by simply taking a walk into Hogsmeade any evening after dinner in the Great Hall. He is already in a habit of doing that from time to time. If Sybill had a source of information that tipped her off that the position had just come vacant, she might have nipped in with her application well before the next term break.
For that matter, Albus tells us that he was considering allowing the class to lapse. That actually sounds as if it may have fallen vacant at the end of the previous year and he had not been able to fill it.
We already have another precedent for new staff being hired on after the Academic year has commenced. Minerva McGonagall stated, with her characteristically hairsplitting accuracy, that she will have been teaching at Hogwarts for “39 years this December.” Or, in other words, that she had started in January, 1957.
There are only three term breaks during Hogwarts’s academic year. There is the long summer break, which would normally be the most reasonable time to fill a position; but that would throw the “7th month” projection into serious confusion, and if Sybill had started at the end of the summer break there would have been no “almost” in her statement of how long she had been at the school.
The 7th month after such an interview, if it took place in July or August, would be February or March, throwing the matter into enough of a quagmire of uncertainty as just what the target date was as to make it uncertain that anybody would be able to come to any sort of a conclusion on it without outside assistance.
There is also a break between the spring and summer terms, loosely referred to as the “Easter” break, this break must shift around year by year to accommodate Easter, which has a range of possible dates which spreads over the space of a lunar month. This break would be sometime in March/April, dividing the stretch from January to June roughly into two 3-month terms. The 7th month from this point would land around Halloween, which would also miss the literally so-named “seventh month” by a reasonable enough margin to make the projection too uncertain to really be able to call it accurately, and also lands us nowhere near July.
And, finally, there is the Christmas break at the end of December, extending into the first week or so of January. The 7th month from this point would coincide with the 7th month of the year, offering at least the possibility of getting a fix on a projected date at the end of July without a lot of additional ambiguity.
IF one ignores the “September” maybe-clue. Which they probably couldn’t afford to.
But from Halloween, right in the middle of the long Autumn term, the 7th month falls at the end of May.
If the Prophecy was made, either after Halloween, or in January, everyone involved had time to prepare for the event of that birth, even if they could not be certain just when that birth would fall. (Unless everybody involved is a lot less effective than we had been given to believe. Or at least not until DHs came out, and everyone was suddenly a moron.) And even if “July” was only a lucky guess and the Prophesy was delivered on an unseasonably cold and rainy night at the end of June, there was still time to set some powerful protective measures in motion. Yet there is very little overt indication that this was done.
In fact, despite the fact that Albus at least supposedly knew of their potential danger since well before the kid was born, according to Cornelius Fudge, the Potters were not credited with being aware that Voldemort was even after them, and did not go into hiding until about a week before their deaths, which was anything up to two years after the Prophecy had been made. And, unfortunately, we are forced to have to seriously consider the matter with this statement in mind, since both Hagrid and Minerva McGonagall were present when Fudge made that statement, and they did not correct him.
Rowling has implied in interviews and on her website that the Potters may have been in some form of hiding for quite some time before Mr Fudge claims they were; that in fact they were ready to bolt into hiding at the time of Harry’s birth. Conversely, she has also tried to claim that they went “into hiding” as soon as Lily announced her pregnancy. And in DHs finally officially gave us strong indication that they had been living “in hiding” since at least Harry’s first birthday, and only went under the Fidelius Charm the week before Voldemort finally caught them. Frankly, it is easiest to believe that Ms Rowling simply cannot keep track of the background details of her own story. But, clearly Fudge didn’t know everything.
The fact that the Potters, according to Lily’s letter to Sirius, were living quietly, but nevertheless still interacting with other wizarding residents in Godric’s Hollow, such as Bathilda Bagshott, sounds rather as though the Potters had removed to Godric’s Hollow to a house that had been provided for them. Possibly one protected by a number of spells such as those on The Weasleys’ Aunt Muriel’s house, that of the Tonks’, or of #12 before they had added the protection of the Fidelius charm. For it does not sound as if Bathilda had known James from childhood, which would have been the case had the house been his parents’.
So how much did the Potters know regarding the Prophecy? Given that Albus hasn’t even informed Trelawney that she once spouted a Prophecy concerning the fall of the Dark Lord in his hearing, I’m not convinced that either the Potters or the Longbottoms were ever informed that Voldemort might specifically intend to target their children. He had already presumably tried to kill all of them three times, wasn’t that enough to make them wary already?
On the other hand, Albus does tell Harry that he and Harry are the only people who know the full text of the Prophecy, but not that they are the only people who have ever known it. It’s possible that he had filled them in. Uncharacteristic, but possible.
On her web site, and in the joint interview of July 2005 Rowling specifically told us (in response to the question of whether Harry has a godmother) that Harry’s christening (early in August of 1980) was a hurried, secretive affair in which Sirius was named his sole godparent, and that the Potters were half afraid that they would need to go into hiding at any moment. Yet according to PoA, the news that they were the subject of Voldemort’s personal attentions did not come until 15 months afterward.
Which, if everyone was all on the same page, is inexplicable.
Nor does the addition of the memory of Severus Snape meeting Albus on a windy hilltop at a time of year which is clearly some time after Halloween to report the Potters’ danger and to plead for Lily’s life clarify the matter. Indeed it only confuses it farther. The Occam’s Razor special here is that Albus merely told no one of this meeting.
The most immediate reading of these contradictory statements is that Rowling made some blunders. Not fatal ones, perhaps, but ones that are highly inconvenient to subsequent analysis. This information may have been all very well for Dramatic Tension, but, if true, it suggests yet another in a lengthening string of weaknesses regarding Dumbledore’s ability to effectively plan ahead for emergencies. And I’m not convinced that Rowling intended that, although in the wake of DHs it has become a valid possibility.
More recently, however, I wondered whether the blunders were not Rowling’s but Albus’s. And the evidence for that reading was beginning to mount up. Even more so once the LiveJournalist known as Swythyv (aka as my “fellow traveler”) had reported another message from the subconscious. I thought she might be on to something.
First, however: the evidence was also mounting up to suggest that Rowling absolutely did intend for us to notice Trelawney’s sweeping contradiction of Albus Dumbledore’s recounting of the events pertaining to his hearing the Prophecy at the Hog’s Head that we were suddenly handed in the chapter entitled ‘The Seer Overheard’ of Half-Blood Prince. This particular contradiction is of overwhelming importance to matters which are pivotal to anybody trying to work out a comprehensive theory of the series’s backstory, what trajectory the story arc was likely to take from this point on, or of the continuing role of former Professor Snape.
According to the story we were given at the end of OotP, Dumbledore states — in no uncertain terms — that the eavesdropper who was discovered part-way through the Prophecy, was thrown from the building, and never heard the rest of it. We were left to assume that Dumbledore was informed of this very quickly afterwards. (Particularly given that the barman of the Hog’s Head both now, and at the time of the Prophecy was made was, in fact, Albus Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth — as had been confirmed by Rowling in the Edinburgh Book Festival interview, August 2004.)
Consequently, Albus would have been forced to consider, from the first, the likelihood that any information which was overheard might eventually make its way to Voldemort. He could not assume that the Dark Lord would not discover that a Prophecy concerning himself had been made. Particularly considering the general clientele of the Hog’s Head, which had been a Death Eaters’ dive since before there officially were Death Eaters.
After the fact, one is forced to wonder how he could be so certain that only one part of the Prophecy had actually been overheard, given that it can’t have taken more than a minute to make that Prophecy. There just isn’t that much to it. But, if there had been a scuffle as the eavesdropper was discovered and ejected, the timing of the disturbance might have accounted for that.
Well, that interpretation, like a great deal else, had now been violently Levicorpused by the contradicting version of the events of that evening which was told to Harry by Sybill Trelawney shortly before the run-up to the climax of HBP.
According to Dumbledore in OotP, the first part of the Prophecy was overheard, the eavesdropper ejected, and that, consequently, Voldemort only ever was told the first part of the Prophecy. And, all of the cloak-and-dagger nonsense of OotP over the bloody Prophecy record is a fairly clear indication that, yes indeed, Voldemort was only aware of the first part of the Prophecy, and he wanted very much to hear the rest.
Moreover, we were shown Dumbledore’s Pensieve memory of Trelawney actually giving the Prophecy. She went into her trance and delivered the Prophecy in one burst, without breaks or interruptions. The memory was a true memory, showing none of the sorry, cut-and-paste evidence of tampering that the first version of Slughorn’s memory displays in the course of HBP. Indeed we watched Dumbledore extract that memory himself, immediately before replaying it. He did not mess with it.
Unless, of course, Albus had cropped it and there was something additional stated after the portion we heard, but we have no reason to believe that he did.
An additional point: it had also been clear from as early as PoA that Trelawney has no self-awareness of what she is doing or what is going on around her when she is in the grip of a Prophecy. What we saw was what she said.
And yet her version of the events of that evening is considerably different from Dumbledore’s. She states that she had started to feel a little odd, presumably from not having eaten, and immediately afterward there was a commotion at the door, and then the door flew open to reveal the barman — and Severus Snape.
But... she would not have become aware of her surroundings to the point of registering the commotion at the door until *after* she had completed delivering the Prophecy. If Severus Snape is still at the door after Sybill has finished giving the Prophecy, and was actually able to stand there making excuses about coming up the wrong staircase when it was over, how can Albus state so confidently that Snape only heard the first part? And, yet, it is clear from later events that Voldemort was only told that first part.
What is more: it is clear from this testimony that Albus and Aberforth had Snape in their custody, and let him get away.
Without Obliviating a critical couple of minutes from his memory.
It isn’t like Albus won’t permit someone to do that.
He didn’t make the slightest attempt to stop Shacklebolt from Obliviating Marrietta Edgecombe when it suited him. And that issue wasn’t nearly as critical as this was! Certainly not in view of the established Ministry policy of suppressing Prophecies. They’ve been doing it for centuries.
And if Sybill is telling the truth — and we have no reason to suppose she isn’t — then the responsibility for the outcome sits squarely at Albus’s door. Aberforth did not come across someone listening at a keyhole, throw them out of his pub on his own authority, and tell his brother about it later. Whatever he did was done with Albus’s approval.
So what gives?
Well, downstream of DHs we know damned well that Albus is a liar. And I don’t think he was nearly as dismissive of Prophecies in 1979 or ’80 as he was claiming to be in ’95.
Sybill also claims that Snape himself was looking for a job at the school at the time that her own interview took place. This is despite the fact that we’ve been told, twice now, that he only began teaching in September 1981, nearly two years after the Prophecy may have been made.
On this issue, at least, it is entirely possible that Sybil’s information may be faulty. She really is not a particularly credible witness, and the fact that Snape joined the staff later may be what convinces her that he was already looking for a job then.
But we cannot count on this. In fact, we can no longer count on anything we have been told concerning the circumstances under which the Trelawney Prophecy was made. Because Rowling (and presumably Albus) was messing with our heads.
I do not write fanfic. I interpret the material that Rowling has given us, and develop theories from it. As a theorist, I have to pick and choose what I am going to draw my conclusions from, out of all of what Rowling has given us to work with, as well as my understanding of the workings of human behavior and natural and social “law”. And it is my duty to justify wherein I accept or I reject what Rowling has handed me to work with, when what she gives me is contradictory.
Far too much of what Rowling gives us in DHs is too blatantly contradictory for me to accept that book as a valid conclusion to the series as the series had been set up.
Ergo: I keep reverting to how the series stood at the end of HBP and reasoning from there. It still made sense from there. Mostly.
With this in mind, I am forced to have to accept Trelawney’s version of this event over Albus’s. Even if only because the purpose of the Trelawney>Harry conversation is that Rowling was so clearly determined to convey the information that Snape was indeed the eavesdropper and the DE who informed Voldemort of the incomplete Prophecy.
And, unless the events pertaining to the Prophecy fell out the way that Trelawney claims that they did, there would have been no opportunity for HER to be able to identify that eavesdropper at all.
Which opens a whole other can of worms, and introducing the conclusion that, unlikely as it seemed at the time, Dumbledore must have deliberately misrepresented the events when he “told Harry everything” the year before. In fact, Albus had told Harry nothing of the sort.
And, even in the wake of DHs it is still fairly evident that Dumbledore seldom flat-out lies. Or, not without good reason.
He has, however, been shown to do so to protect Harry, and in the very same book, too. He flat-out lied to Fudge, admitting to Fudge that HE had formed the DA, and that Marrietta had ratted out what had been intended to be the very first meeting.
Well, see it once in this series and you are almost guaranteed to see it again.
It is now clear, after the fact, that Rowling’s whole purpose of the “grand contradiction” of the disparity between Albus and Trelawny’s accounts of the night of the Prophecy was to serve as yet another hint that yes, Albus Dumbledore lies when he feels it is necessary.
And, right off the top, he had excellent reason to lie to Harry. What he told Harry was almost certain to be the same story that Snape had told Tom. Albus had a great deal invested in keeping those stories straight.
I also believe that Albus would lie to protect one of his own agents, if he felt it was necessary. We watched him do it for Harry. And at the time he “told Harry everything” Albus was absolutely convinced that Snape was one of his own agents as well. For that matter, Albus’s story is also calibrated to protect Trelawney, who never had any idea of the danger she was in. The revelation that she not only knows the identity of Voldemort’s informant, but was aware of the circumstances under which he came by his information can do no one involved any kind of good.
We also have not heard from everyone who was involved in that incident. Neither Snape nor Aberforth were ever directly heard from, on it, although I think that we can take for granted that their “public” versions of the matter would have supported Albus’s. But the public version of the proceedings is clearly not the full, or even the most accurate one. Which opens up a couple of other possibilities.
For example: maybe the reason Trelawney is convinced that Snape was job-hunting at the same time she was is because after Albus finished his interview with her, he made a point of having a few words privately with Snape. It is certainly no great stretch of the imagination to suppose as much.
For that matter Albus may have simply brushed the intrusion off by telling Sybill that Snape had also wished to speak to him about a job, in order to deflect further questions. And Snape may have told Voldemort that he had excused himself when caught listening at the door by claiming that he was waiting to speak to Dumbledore about a job after Dumbledore finished with his other interview, but had been tossed out of the Hog’s Head anyway.
(Which would have been witnessed by anyone in the place, if Voldemort decided to investigate Snape’s claim.)
But I really did think that I was onto something here, and that Rowling had meant the contradiction to be there. Because there was already independent suggestion that there is something very fishy about these contradictory accounts elsewhere in HBP. At Spinners’ End, in fact.
At first glance it appeared that Rowling had forced Snape to be just a little bit careless in his accounting of past events regarding the reasons for and the results of his tardiness in his appearance at the graveyard in Little Hangleton. In his attempt to score off Bellatrix and her grand gesture of sending herself off to Azkaban, he states that by his delay in responding to the summons, he had maintained his cover as Voldemort’s spy at Hogwarts, and had been able to deliver sixteen years’ worth of information on Dumbledore’s activities.
In GoF Voldemort had just returned from an absence of fourteen years.
Even at the point that Snape is telling the sisters about it in his own sitting room, a full year later. Voldemort had only disappeared close to fifteen years earlier.
...Y’know, I have never believed the claim that Dumbledore’s trust in Snape was based on no more than the 8 weeks or so that Snape was teaching at the school before Voldemort’s defeat at Godric’s Hollow. In fact, that was the primary stumbling block that kept me sitting on the fence regarding Snape’s underlying loyalties even after OotP.
Ergo: Snape had to have been in close enough contact with Dumbledore to be able to claim to be making retroactive reports of Albus’s (since discovered) activities for the better part of two years before Voldemort’s defeat at Godric’s Hollow.
Since, in short, right about the time that Trelawney may have made her Prophecy.
Or, in other words he was able to report that he had also managed to worm his way into Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix, in the interim. And to learn about its past activities. Which probably was no material advantage at all, but was a gaudy detail to enhance his own potential value as a spy.
Which opens some interesting but ultimately unprofitable lines of inquiry.
The following has been hosed by DHs, but frankly what Rowling gave us in return wasn’t a fair trade for it. Unless you are a die-hard Snape-hater, I think my version makes a potentially better story.
So, to proceed:
Point: by the time of the Trelawney Prophecy, Voldemort had been “on the rise” for something close to 20 years.
Point: by the time the Prophecy was made Albus Dumbledore had been aware for more than those 20 years that his own course of inaction as pertained to young Tom Riddle had contributed substantially to the rise of “Lord Voldemort”. And while Albus was better than the average wizard at avoiding direct personal responsibility, he is not immune to shame. He may feel he needs to try to put this right.
Point: at the time of the Prophecy, Dumbledore may not yet know about the Horcruxes (or does he? This is a question for a different essay, I think). But he certainly knows that the former Tom Riddle has been dealing for decades in something exceedingly Dark which has profoundly changed him from a normal, if powerful, human wizard to something which can barely be classified as human at all. There are not a lot of ways of achieving even limited immortality. And from the name Riddle publicly adopted as early as his return from his first exile it is an open suggestion that immortality is his main goal, and that, if he has made any real progress in this direction, he will be very difficult to remove.
And I don’t think that we can take Albus at his word when he claims that he knew nothing about Voldemort and his Horcruxes until Harry handed him the neutralized Diary. I suspect that the list of methods that would render a wizard deathless is every bit as short as the list of monsters that are stone-turners. And Albus clearly knows about Horcruxes. Slughorn states quite clearly in the critical memory, taken back in ’42 or ’43, that Albus was particularly fierce upon the subject. Which had already been banned at Hogwarts — and that was Albus’s doing. That statement was made on Dippett’s watch, more than a dozen years before Albus became Headmaster.
Nevertheless: it may have been only Voldemort’s failure to die when he was physically destroyed at Godric’s Hollow which finally convinced Albus that Voldemort must, indeed, have created a Horcrux (or that there was more than one of them). And that it was only the examination of the Riddle Diary some years later which absolutely confirmed his suspicion that Riddle had created more than one of them. He may have already suspected that Riddle had created a Horcrux from the Locket, the Ring, and/or the Cup, even if he didn’t know which one the Horcrux was. But he hadn’t known about the Diary. And if Tom would make a Horcrux out of that, he would certainly make more than one of them.
So just where is Albus coming from when Trelawney spouted a Prophecy in his hearing?
Keep in mind that we also get a certain amount of suggestion in canon that the war had recently taken a turn for the worse. The Ministry may have implemented its shoot-to-kill policy about that time, and that must have been in response to something. Albus Dumbledore can hardly have been in favor of this development, for it sets a bad precedent. The policy may have been approved by the Wizengamot, over his objections, in reaction to some sudden escalation or advantage being displayed by the enemy.
Point: this maybe-Prophecy of Trelawney’s is probably the most hopeful development that Dumbledore’s seen in years. It’s completely chaotic, and it would mean going directly counter to Ministry policy to do anything about it. But it’s been given to him and he can deploy it if he chooses, by this point in the war he’ll do that, in a good enough cause.
Point: he knows most of Riddle’s weaknesses, but he also knows Riddle’s wariness. If he allowed Riddle to learn of this Prophecy in its entirety, there is a good chance that Tom will resist the temptation to do anything about it.
So far, I suspect that my reasoning won’t get a whole lot of argument. There is ample support in the series, to suggest that the above is at least a viable, even if not necessarily the correct interpretation of the situation by the time the Trelawney Prophecy was made.
The fact is that to deliberately permit any fraction of the Prophecy to be circulated was in direct violation of Ministry Policy, but we have already seen that in some matters, such as the creation of unauthorized portkeys, Albus considers himself wiser than the Ministry. This may be another one of those cases. Particularly factoring in the possibility of Dumbledore’s own shame and the his need to make amends, in his own eyes, if nothing else. He may even welcome the prospect of accepting the ruin that the Prophecy will almost certainly bring down upon himself if it also will take out Tom.
And as Swythyv had just pointed out to me, Albus and his subordinates may have felt that they had the right to risk meddling with the Prophecy, because they believed that it was about them.
Prophecies are phrased in order to offer the broadest interpretation possible. Swythyv goes farther, she has dubbed this sort of Prophecy-speak as “bafflegab,” and points out that when one is speaking in bafflegab, things are phrased so that what are really multiple clauses are deliberately conflated to sound like a single clause, what appears to be a single meaning often is really referring to more than one thing, and just about everything can be turned around to refer to something else altogether. Often its direct opposite.
So let’s take another look at that Prophecy, shall we?
“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... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...”
Okay. There is a strong suggestion in there that the Prophecy is talking about someone who has not yet been born. But there is nothing in there to say that it isn’t talking about the circumstances of the birth of someone who is already alive. Especially to someone who may not have studied divination, but is old enough to know something about Prophecies and their bafflegab.
There were two people who were revealed to Albus to have been approaching that door that night as the Prophecy was being made. Snape and Aberforth.
There is no rational starting point or arcane calendar that would put Snape’s January 9 birthday at the end of a “7th month”. So unless Snape was a 7th month preemie, or his mother was two months pregnant with him when she married, it doesn’t seem likely that the “born as the 7th month dies” bit could refer to him.
We don’t know Aberforth’s birthday, although it seems likely to me that it may have been in the autumn. We don’t know Albus’s birthday either, for that matter. But either of them could have been born at the end of July, as Harry was. In fact, all the more reason for Albus to be assuming that the Prophecy referred to himself, if he was.
So okay, let’s set that aside for the moment and take a look at the other qualifications listed.
“Born to those who have thrice defied him.” Well, hey, no shortage of candidates there. The wretched thing could also be referring to group defiance there. Not to a single person who has defied him thrice, but to “those” who have done so. Any Ministry wonk would probably qualify on that head. Albus, and his brother, and his little Phoenixes, too (assuming the Order even existed yet, which I tend to doubt), certainly would.
For that matter, Albus has been thwarting Tom ever since he met him. And he and his agents certainly have made a career of it.
And here they all are together, people who have set themselves to oppose Riddle. Defiant ones. What is more, Albus knows that he himself is the only wizard that Tom is inclined to fear.
About now, allow me to point out that the whole business of the Potters being “thrice defiant” has been glitchy and unclear from the beginning of the series. We were never told or shown even one notable act of defiance on the part of either Lily OR James until the night Tom killed them.
Rowling has spackled this particular gap over with the psuedo-explanation that defiance means escaping being killed by the Dark Lord or his DEs. Which really comes across as completely bogus upon any attempt at closer examination. I doubt that is a definition of the term that you will find in any dictionary. But it is what we are stuck with having to work from, and it is every bit as unsatisfactory as the concept of trying to oppose Dark wizards without a clear definition of what Dark magic is.
By that definition Harry “defied” Voldemort as a baby, and I am not sure that is an accurate statement from any point of view. He has actively refused to cooperate, on stage, multiple times over the course of the series, so those would certainly all qualify as acts of defiance, but not the escape when he was a baby.
And as for any power the Dark Lord knows not, the Dumbledore brothers (and Snape) between them certainly had that. Particularly if Albus was right and the Power to vanquish/the Power he Knows Not really is no more than the ability to form human attachments (it wasn’t). Just about everyone in the whole Potterverse except Tom has that power.
It is clear that the Prophecy applies to Harry now because Tom made it apply to Harry (or made it look like it did). But from the vantage point of when the thing was made, it could have applied to just about anyone who had ever disagreed with Tom. Including little Billy Stubbs or Mrs Cole.
And Tom had already marked Severus.
Around this time, and if one attempts to focus on the matter from the point of view of someone who was convinced the Prophecy refers to the three wizards who were actually there when it was made, it almost begins to look as if there may have been yet other reasons for why it seems to have been considered necessary for Snape to be the one who murdered Albus. But I wouldn’t count on it. We are dealing with bafflegab, after all.
And at that point none of them considered that the Prophecy might refer to a child.
Prophecies and hubris traditionally go hand in hand.
I am beginning to suspect that the decision Albus made concerning that Prophecy constitutes Dumbledore’s third great blunder.
His first was letting himself be carried away with Gellert Grindelwald and his grandiose plans to rule the world. (From the letter that Rita published, it sounds like he thought he should be in charge of the project, too.) It’s hard to say just how seriously Albus actually took that plan at the time. It really was the kind of thing that could have gone no farther than a lot of foolish talk. It must have been a nasty shock to discover that Gellert was completely serious about it.
His second, of course, was his mishandling the matter of Tom Riddle from the time he first encountered Riddle as a boy. The business over Tom was a salutary lesson that not getting involved could do every bit as much damage as leaping in to take charge.
I don’t think anyone will call either of those readings much to question. The following possibility, however, is still open to rather a lot of argument:
Because I am still more than half convinced that the first known action that Severus Snape took on behalf of Albus Dumbledore was to report the first half, and ONLY the first half of the Trelawney Prophecy to Lord Voldemort. There are just too many internal and external contradictions in DHs for me to buy that what we got in that book was what Rowling had always intended to give us.
At the very least, let me repeat; Dumbledore knows the prophecy was overheard, knows who overheard it; he and Aberforth had the youngster in their custody, and they let him go without Obliviating the information from him, despite the fact that he knows that Ministry policy regarding Prophecies is to suppress them. And also in spite of the fact that we have already seen Albus permit an inconvenient witness to be Obliviated in his own office to keep sensitive information from getting out. Marietta Edgecombe could have contradicted his cover-up had he not permitted it.
In short: at the very least, he deliberately let that Prophecy escape.
For that matter, we can absolutely take that reading as a given. Because Albus then went out of his way to be sure that Tom got word of that Prophecy’s existence, even if that unprepossessing youngster listening at the door wasn’t one of Tom’s own. I would say that the very next morning he waltzed into the Ministry, like a “good citizen” and oh-so-virtuously handed them a record of that Prophecy.
Oh, he may not have known about Tom’s man Rookwood in the DoM, but he knew that the probability that a bonafide Prophecy record labeled with something like “The Fall of the Dark Lord” would have somebody talking about it. Even if they didn’t know what was actually in it.
And no, we’ll never know what the original label said, it was replaced after the DoM had convinced itself that the Prophecy had come to pass. But it definitely was identified as having to do with the Dark Lord, and almost certainly with his eventual downfall.
Oh Albus knew, all right. He didn’t just let it escape. He deliberately put that Prophecy in circulation.
Dumbledore was offered a gaudy temptation by the Prophecy demons for the possibility of an “easy fix” to the problem of the former Tom Riddle. And even though he knew that Prophecies are a snare and a delusion, he’d been sitting in the middle of this conflict with Riddle for over 20 years and the whole situation has only gotten progressively worse. He took the bait in hopes of soon having it all over.
He must have thought that it would spook Riddle into doing something silly, so they could take him down quickly.
He should have known better than that. If you mess with them, Prophecies always play out, but never the way you expect them to.
In short; he did the easy thing instead of the right thing, which would have been to make sure Snape forgot what he heard, ignore the bloody Prophecy, and hunt out the damned Horcruxes himself. Or form an Order to do that without any stupid “Chosen One” booga-booga to confuse the issue.
He may not have intended to create a “chosen one” by turning loose that Prophecy. He probably thought he already had one.
Or was one.
But, even if he hadn’t ever studied Divination, he had to know that those were the risks.
And he took them anyway, thinking he was clever enough to turn it to his purpose.
And he soon found out just how wrong he was.
And by then it was too late.
The Prophecy in the Context of the War
And, since I am rejecting DHs, let us now all step back to the days of HBP when the character of Albus Dumbledore had not yet been deconstructed for us and we could still interpret him as being well-intentioned, even if wrong.
To have deliberately attempted to create a “Chosen One” from an innocent child is a pragmatic, cold-blooded, and most “unworthy” decision. That’s the kind of decision that you would expect from someone like Bartemius Crouch Sr or Rufus Scrimgeour. Not from the Albus Dumbledore we thought we knew.
And it’s the kind of cold-blooded decision that would needed a far more cold-blooded follow-through than he gave it. HBP-era Dumbledore was a painfully detached character, but he wasn’t altogether cold-blooded. He didn’t truly understand other people’s feelings, but he had a streak of sentimentality a yard wide, himself. I don’t think he was just cynically preaching to the masses.
A Crouch or a Scrimgeour would have deliberately created a Chosen One and regard the brat as a tool, training him as soon as he was old enough to be trained and throwing him at the enemy at the first opportunity.
That’s not Albus’s style. He didn’t intend to bring a child into the equation. It was Tom who did that. And then Albus compounded the error by getting *attached* to the child. Harry completely won Albus’s heart by blundering into the Labyrinth to try to save the Stone from Voldemort.
The big bombshell at the end of OotP is that Albus had to finally admit that he makes emotional mistakes. And turning loose that Prophecy looks hell of a lot like a major one. That wasn’t “his” kind of a decision at all, and he succumbed to it in a moment of weakness.
And he trapped himself by it every bit as surely as he trapped Riddle. And, for that matter, Harry. And knows it.
You do not need a “super-special mystic hero” to solve the problem of a handful of Horcruxes. You need a handful of trusted volunteers who you have taken into your confidence. Volunteers who realize that they may be on a suicide mission and are willing to take the risk.
In fact, and stepping outside my own theory here; the fact that every single bloody one of the Horcruxes was disarmed by a different person proves that the Potterverse never needed a “chosen one” to do it. Or not until Tom put the Harrycrux into play. And that was Albus’s fault.
Albus was able to disarm one of the accursed things, himself. He might have fared better if he hadn’t tried to disarm it alone. Someone else might have been capable of doing the same thing, particularly under his direction. And he wouldn’t have lacked for volunteers. Even wet-behind-the-ears Regulus Black was willing to have a go at it, and he was on the other side!
Albus didn’t need a Harry Potter. He needed to have a bit more confidence in the allies he already had. And he was handed 10 years that he might have been rooting the damned things out while Harry was off at the Dursleys. He had to have known that there was at least one of the bloody things, or he wouldn’t have been claiming that Voldemort wasn’t really gone. And he didn’t do it.
Having had all of his eggs put into one basket by Tom, he felt he was committed to protecting his investment in Harry Potter, and only to protecting his investment in Harry Potter. Which he did to the exclusion of trying to do an end run around Riddle while Riddle was distracted. Or even to try find and neutralize the bloody Horcruxes while Riddle was out of commission.
The original gamble eventually paid off, but the change in direction seems to have thrown Albus into a quandary, and the follow-through was completely lame. Albus was not performing up to his usual standard. Or maybe the problem was that Albus was performing down to his usual standard. For a more profoundly self-deluded and inefficient old codger you could not have asked for. I don’t know if Albus finally even realized that his whole plan was based upon the reading that the Prophecy had ultimately promised that Harry Potter would solve the problem of Tom Riddle, and taking it on faith.
And the Prophecy was a complete and utter lie.
And the cost was astronomically high. If Albus hadn’t been so bound and determined to wrap his whole plan in a cloak of secrecy, and to work independent of everyone else, the fall of the Ministry could have probably been avoided.
And by HBP Albus’s time had run out, and he accepted it; he is not the anointed one. The progress of the war had reached the point that Snape can do more inside the DEs than out on the periphery, and, besides; with his own death warrant out, introducing an unacceptable level of uncertainly into the equation, Albus needed to assign Harry his mission a year early.
And if Harry takes it up, Albus cannot continue to protect his investment from inside the school. If Harry isn’t there, he cannot protect Harry Potter on the hunt for the Horcruxes from his position as Headmaster of Hogwarts.
He loves that job. But it is now an impediment. It’s time to go.
With Voldemort demanding his death, he is going to have to step aside and finally trust his followers. We had already watched Dumbledore stage-manage two elaborate scams to distract Voldemort from Harry in this series. One inside the school, and one outside it. And Harry, with no active role of his own in either one, managed to mess with both of them. With fatal consequences for somebody. Both times.
I thought Albus may have learned his lesson by that time. And if he was as smart as we’d been told he was, he also knew that he could not micro-manage the hunt for the Horcruxes. Particularly given that he had nothing of substance to contribute to it. Even the sea cave adventure was too little, too late.
I suspected that the Order would be running another scam in year 7 to distract Voldemort from Harry, and that this time, Harry had his own vitally important mission to keep him busy and out of it. In fact, Harry had been assigned the single mission which was least likely to draw him into Voldemort’s direct path.
I was sure that Albus almost certainly had made sure that Harry will get some of the info that he was still missing. We knew that Harry is still missing vital info that he needs in order to complete his task. But what Albus was able to provide was pitifully little.
Well, no such luck. I am completely disgusted by the direction Rowling chose to take the final book in the series. You may not be able to satisfy all the readers in a series of this length and complexity, but you ought to at least make an attempt to keep the story interesting. Having your so-called hero sitting cluelessly in a tent is not interesting.
Yes, the young hero of a coming-of-age quest has to go the last stage of his “Hero’s Journey” on his own, but he is allowed to get help for a considerable distance along the way. And even though the “wise old wizard” was now off the board and his direct advice is inaccessible, hints and clues will still be permissible for quite some time still. They won’t all be coming as a legacy from Albus. But some of them probably would.
(ETA: instead we just got an overdue infodump in just about every chapter.)
So let’s look at the other side of this equation. Which is to say Tom and his rise to power.
Rowling effectively Levicorpused her entire readership with the revelations of HBP. After HBP I suspected that we might still be looking at a lot of things upside-down. After DHs, I came to the conclusion that Rowing wasn’t even aware that she’d done it.
Which brings me to a point wherein Rowling appears to have expended a great deal of effort on misdirection and you finally have to ask whether this is giving her way too much credit. Throughout the first five books of the series we were repeatedly given the impression that Voldemort’s public message was one which had formerly gathered at least some degree of open public support. Despite the fact that this claim made no real sense at all. It still doesn’t. Tom’s activities never were presented as having been an acknowledged civil war. And any attempt to claim that this was the case after HBP directly contradicts Fudge’s statement in HBP that according to the Ministry, Voldemort was a terrorist leader that they have been trying to catch for nearly 30 years.
I put a great deal of effort into the previous versions of this collection trying to hammer out a progression that would resolve this fundamental contradiction, and it turns out that I need not have bothered.
Once that we had been given the official Riddle backstory it was clear that there was never any point in time that Tom and his stated aims had EVER been publicly supported. Nor did he even care!
If Tom Riddle had ever wanted political power in the Wizarding World, he should have kept up his “virtuous orphan” act and accepted Slughorn’s offer to pull some strings for him at the Ministry. He probably would have been Minister for Magic by the time the Marauders started Hogwarts!
Instead, he and his band of lost “roaring boys” were simply a nasty little gang of violent hooligans, right from the get-go. Terrorizing people was the whole point. He wasn’t in this for gain, or influence, or to advance the cause of pureblood supremacy. This is the kind of mind that pours boiling water into an anthill just to watch the bugs suffer and die, and scurry about in a panic and trample each other trying to get out of the way of the stream. There is no long-term future “goal” involved. His policy is violence for its own sake. His only goal is to make everybody in the world afraid of him.
At least on Riddle’s part.
Some of his followers probably thought that there was some glorious future “purpose” to it, or that they were somehow striking a blow for pureblooded wizarding superiority. But Riddle wasn’t under any such delusions. That was all just empty rhetoric to him. Whatever works.
And except for the totally delusional ones, most of his followers probably eventually figured out that they were risking their liberty and their position within society to no purpose. Only Bellatrix and her immediate associates were willing to go looking for him once he was safely off the game board. And I think that either Lucius Malfoy or somebody else inside the DEs was not uninvolved in seeing to it that she got shut down before she got her mission off the ground.
And Voldemort’s reign of terror began, not in 1970, as we had all previously been led to believe, but possibly all the way back around 1957. And certainly not much after about 1963.
Voldemort and his Death Eaters were a fact of wizarding life for nearly 20 years before he was defeated at Godric’s Hollow. And next to nothing that Rowling has to say on the subject in the first five books quite squares with the “new, improved” version of events in HBP. To her, I think they never really became more than some amorphous scary threat looming on the horizon, which she wasn’t even interested in. We’ve got to do a lot of retrofitting to drag these puppies back into something that fits the parameters that she’s given us to work within after she turned it all upside-down.
But I think we’re up for the challenge.
Tom’s rise probably started out rather slowly, and in stages. First there was a period where no one really connected what was going on as an organized campaign. This was the period that he was recruiting his core followers. There were undoubtedly a few deaths during the early years of his “rise”, and there were a lot more “mysterious disappearances” that might have pointed in his direction if anyone had known what direction to look, but with probably absolutely nothing about them that anyone could prove he was responsible for. (I suggest that an investigation of the lake in that sea cave would resolve the mystery of some of those disappearances.)
Then there must have been a stage where not only did the wizarding public know they were under attack by an organized terrorist group, but that everyone knew the name of the group and the name of its Leader. You have to recognize that when anyone in the series says; “You-know-who” whoever they are talking to does know who. I suspect that this phase of the Dark Lord’s first rise may have started when he adopted the Dark mark as his signature. It would have been hard for the Ministry to have ignored that. That’s when they joined the fun and started trying to catch him.
The violence would have taken a while to escalate. But within a decade or so of this kind of thing, confidence in the Ministry was beginning to be steadily eroded. To which, under the direction of Barty Crouch Sr, and people of his stamp, it ultimately responded by making itself over in Voldemort’s image and preying on its own constituency in order to be seen to be “doing something” about the situation.
Riddle was probably hugging himself with glee at that development. He had effectively colonized the Ministry as his publicity department, and they were earnestly teaching the whole wizarding world to be afraid of him.
And then finally after some incident or group of incidents, Tom finally managed to do something that rendered himself unmentionable.
This has never been adequately explained in canon — apart from the assumption that all wizards are dithering idiots. We know that there was no tell-tale on the speaking of his bogus title in the course of the first war. It wasn’t until he had the resources of the entire Ministry at his command in the 2nd war that he was able to institute that. And in the first war, the Ministry of Magic would have never done that.
Mind you, such theories, that the speaking of someone’s name makes him able to hear you, have long been used in other stories by other writers. It’s a fairly classic fantasy trope. And the magical technology for doing such a thing was clumsily retrofitted into DHs. But the first war was not conducted under the conditions that arose in DHs. So we need some other explanation for the ww’s squeamishness about speaking the name of their enemy.
Which is not beyond our capabilities. We already know that every marked DE carried his own link to his Master. And nobody knew just who the DEs were. Several fanfic authors have already adopted the trope that to speak of Lord Voldemort in the presence of someone wearing the Dark mark would enable him to be eavesdrop on the conversation. I think this suits the requirements admirably, although it would have been a hassle and a half for Tom to be able to get any clear information out of the conflicting babble. It would also explain the DEs own reference to their Master as “the Dark Lord”, which would not set off the connection when there was no information to be relayed.
When you stop and think about it, something like this would have made information gathering fairly easy for the DEs. Particularly for Tom’s moles in the Ministry. Even though it does make Albus come across as a fool, and an ignorant fool at that, for insisting on calling Tom by his (bogus) title. Which I doubt is what Rowling intended.
Barty Crouch Sr would have kept the existence of the Dark mark highly classified information if he and his Aurors were aware of it. But eventually it must have got out that somehow the terrorists were picking up information from people who were engaging in indiscreet talk about the leader.
Once that secret was out, I think Tom would have been perfectly capable of using it for his own purposes by making some kind of a semi-public announcement that; yes, he could hear you. Mwahhahahah!
Sent a letter to the Prophet, did he?
And then Trelawney makes her damn Prophecy, and it spooks him enough that he finally takes the gloves off, and steps up his agenda.
Prior to that point he undoubtedly thought that he had unlimited time and could work all sides of his game plan at a steady pace until he had everyone right where he wanted them, with the Ministry in total disarray, wizarding Seclusion in tatters, and anarchy over all. And it was working.
But with a Prophecy in play he must have no longer felt he had that kind of time; and he may have prematurely launched a peremptory strike upon the wizarding world in general, before he had managed to soften the Ministry up enough for it to collapse with one definitive stroke (assuming that had ever been his intention which is looking less and less likely). This mistake resulted in a long, bloody, loosing struggle in which for all that he steadily lost ground and resources, the growing terror and uncertainly that his followers’ actions, and the Ministry’s reactions, were sowing gave the wizarding public the exact opposite impression. The worst of the horror of “Voldemort’s first rise”; the events that left the wizarding world unwilling to speak his name even after he was presumed dead; was probably almost completely contained in that final two years, following a build-up of nearly 20 years of growing anxiety, uncertainty and all British wizardry’s loss of faith in the Ministry’s ability to protect them.
Snape’s report of the Prophecy would have also been the point at which Tom started distributing his Horcruxes to key followers for safekeeping.
Between OotP and HBP it was obvious that we had been given a strong hint to there being something of importance regarding the matter of Regulus Black. It was clear that Rowling had a number of reasons for inserting the passage informing us of his life and death into the House of Black chapter of OotP.
At the time, since our reading of Voldemort’s rise had not yet been summarily up-ended by the official Riddle backstory, the claim about how when Voldemort finally “revealed himself” many of his own followers were appalled to discover exactly what they had signed up for appeared to be the purpose of the whole insertion. The illustration of the sad story of foolish young Regulus Black was the “apparent” point of that whole passage. It had since become abundantly clear that while we may have heard the end of Regulus Black, we had not heard the last of Regulus Black.
And the “real” story turns out to not match up to what we were told in OotP in any of its particulars. Well, yes, Reggie did actually become a DE. But he didn’t exactly get cold feet over anything he was asked to do (since he was still in school there wasn’t a lot that he could have been asked to do), and Voldemort had never “revealed his true goals”, never ordered Reggie’s death, and Reggie never eluded his fellow DEs for a few days before they caught up to him and killed him.
Instead he went off and suicided in a Cave in revenge over an attempt to murder the family House Elf.
After it had also been made perfectly clear that the Elf could have gotten him out of there, unharmed. Well, perhaps just not permanently harmed. The Elf had survived anyway.
I had also thought, back then, that what that passage had also handed us, among other key matters, was a major clue to a turning point of Voldemort’s first rise, along with, incidentally, the true reason that Snape may have abandoned him. Complete with an approximate date.
Well, as of February, 2006 we thought we had learned differently. At that date, JK Rowling donated a sketch of part of the Black family tapestry to a charity auction in which it states that Regulus Black, did not die in 1980 as stated in OotP. He died in 1979. I couldn’t make it work. Regulus Black’s death was stated in canon as “15 years earlier” from the vantage point of August 1995. i.e., some time in 1980. After the Prophecy had been turned loose. Back when Riddle had been in the process of hiding them. A death date in 1979 no longer played.
As of DHs and Rowling’s endorsement of the Lexicon’s 1960 birth date for the Marauder cohort, 1980 is also back in play. Consequently The Tapestry dates are so completely out of whack that they need to be dismissed altogether. Or at least those for Reggie and his cousins do. Rowling simply wasted all of our time by turning loose faulty data.
So, yes indeed. It was the Dark Lord’s knowledge of there being a Prophecy out there with his name on it that gave Reggie the opportunity to steal one of his Horcruxes.
And if we could have accepted the Tapestry dates, we would have had a better handle on when the prophecy was made.
But we can’t.
Still, every reading over the whole story arc, even as presented in DHs — with the single exception of the meeting on the windy hilltop in the chapter of ‘The Prince’s Tale’ — immediately reads a whole lot more smoothly once you start reasoning from the standpoint that Snape was already Dumbledore’s agent by the time the Prophecy entered the fray, and that he had knowingly passed the partial Prophecy to Tom on Albus’s behalf rather than Albus’s unwitting tool. Even Albus comes across looking better under this interpretation. Even though we cannot determine any known actions on Snape’s part which were clearly on Dumbledore’s behalf before that date.
(Is Rowling aware that her rendition now depicts an Albus who is willing to sit the whole war out and do *nothing* against Tom, until Snape begged him to intervene on Lily’s behalf? He certainly never tells Snape that he is already trying to protect the Potters.)
From this starting point, the remorse/forgiveness scenario which Snape and Dumbledore cooked up together to claim took place at the time of Snape’s date of hire at Hogwarts would be a fabrication. It’s a cover story that they both held by.
And this is the version of the story that Voldemort was told as well. Consequently, you would never have got any of the three of them to admit to anything else.
I am beginning to think that the whole “Snape-the-Snoop” component of the story may be an equally mendacious tale. Another one that they both held by and that Aberforth would back them up on. That possibility is explored in the companion article ‘“Loyaulte Me Lie.”’
Another “likely story” is the claim that Snape was looking for a job at the time the Prophecy was made. This may have been an early cover story’s excuse for why Snape had claimed he was there in the first place, or it may be a figment of Trelawney’s imagination. Such a fabrication may have also planted the idea that Voldemort ought to send Snape to spy on Dumbledore inside Hogwarts, later (I now think that spying on Dumbledore was the least of Voldemort’s intentions when he finally sent Snape into Hogwarts). Dumbledore “knew” Snape was supposedly looking for a job, because the barman who threw Snape out “would have told him so”.
By 1981, Voldemort probably thought that Dumbledore might not yet realize that Snape was a Death Eater who had reported what he heard, but he knew that he couldn’t count on it. In fact it was probably Voldemort who suggested that Snape play the remorse card as a double-bluff when he went to get himself hired at the school, just in case the barman’s report had made Dumbledore suspicious.
Voldemort, after all, knew Dumbledore’s apparent weaknesses almost as well as Dumbledore knew Tom Riddle’s real ones.
Our information regarding the Prophecy, however, comes to us many years afterward, and from someone for whom the matter had been already considered, reconsidered and examined in light of subsequent events. Very distressing subsequent events.
There must have been a point at which Albus finally realized that Tom might leap to the conclusion that the Prophecy referred to a child.
Probably not long after he had turned it loose. Albus was allegedly a very clever man, after all. And he is not usually so impulsive as to turn something like that loose the night it takes place.
Which he must have done, in order for the story to hold up to any investigation of just when Snape had been publicly thrown out of the tavern.
I thought that it was Dumbledore’s search for the possible parents of that unfortunate child which brought the Longbottoms, the Potters — and their closest friends — into the Order of the Phoenix. For that matter I thought that was the reason he founded the Order of the Phoenix. Because there certainly isn’t any other convincing reason for why the local High School principal should have his own private intelligence unit, or a vigilante force which is separate from the legitimate government.
At the time the Prophecy was made, there may have been any number of families with members that belonged to groups that had “defied” the Dark Lord, or who had escaped the “attentions” of Voldemort the required three times, and some of them may have been expecting children. Given how small wizarding population of Britain is, however, it is not improbable that it had all boiled down to either the Potters’ or the Longbottoms’ child from the beginning.
Although perhaps one needs to remember that more than one of the other members of the original Order was murdered “with his family”.
But Dumbledore could not have known that initially. He is the Headmaster of Hogwarts and has access to the quill that records all magical births. But it does not record projected births. And in the event that there might be a choice of candidates, you would expect Dumbledore to try to locate them. All of them. Which is exactly what I think happened. Particularly since the actual date of the child’s birth was still up in the air.
I think he started casting about for any member of any group which had ever been known to have actively interfered with the DEs activities. Never mind doing it three times. Anyone known to have done it at all.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, apart from Ministry employees, particularly Aurors, it was a fairly short list. Wizards, in the main, do not seem to be a particularly courageous lot. Even if a quarter of them were once Gryffindors.
Not against the prospect of a group of faceless terrorists, anyway.
But, James Potter and Sirius Black were on that list.
From this point, however, just about everyone’s behavior becomes positively inexplicable. The whole backstory succumbs to a raging case of idiot plot syndrome. And the information in DHs only compounds it.
You would have thought that Albus Dumbledore’s counsel to any couples at risk would have been not to leave the matter to chance, endangering all their lives by remaining out in the open where Voldemort could find them. It would have made sense for them all to have gone into hiding until the birth of their children (the Prophecy referred to the child as “he” and either child, after all, might have been a girl), emerging later if the birth date fell short or overshot the date which appeared to be foretold. The couple whose son was born at the crucial time could have remained hidden.
Unfortunately, assuming the Prophecy was a bit of Halloween “trick or treat” at that point the uncertainty of just what date Tom might decide the Prophecy referred to was so thoroughly up in the air that such an evasion would have been difficult to anticipate.
For that matter, once it was decided that either the Potters’ or the Longbottoms’ child was the most obvious candidate, given the uncertainty of just which child was referred to, or exactly when the projected birth date was, the Longbottoms ought to have gone into hiding as well as the Potters, only returning once Voldemort had fallen. It would seem that with Dumbledore’s advance knowledge of the Prophecy in its entirety, the protection of either child would not had been left to chance. Every possible action would have been taken to ensure the child’s survival. From the outset.
And it should have been workable, because another piece of information we got in Phoenix was an up close and personal demonstration of just how the Fidelius Charm operates. It was quite different from what Rowling had led us to expect in PoA. Indeed, she has changed the description of the way this charm is said to operate every time she had decided to deploy it. To the point that I am not sure that I believe any of them. I don’t think she knows how it’s supposed to work, and just keeps making things up.
In the OotP version, Harry is escorted to the very doorstep of #12 Grimmauld Place by members of the Order. But he is unable to even see the house until he reads its address as written out in Dumbledore, the Secret Keeper’s, own hand. (Rendering Yaxley’s hitching a ride there with the trio from the Ministry a questionable device for forcing the trio to embark on the endless camping trip. The three of them together ought to have been able to overpower him alone, on their own territory.)
Once the secret has been shared, however, those who have been let in on it may come and go independently without further assistance, although they cannot pass the secret of its location on to others. Hermione, who already knows the secret, even returns to Grimmauld Place for Christmas by way of the Knight Bus, which can find the street, even if not the house.
What is more, there is nothing to keep the people in the house from leaving at will, although they do so at their own risk. The Longbottoms could have protected their home and their child’s whereabouts, even while continuing to risk their own lives in their daily jobs. And so could the Potters.
Unlike Frank and Alice Longbottom who were both qualified and working Aurors, actively engaged in the conflict (or Frank was anyway. Alice may have taken extended maternity leave), James Potter, as we have been told by Rowling in her early interviews, had inherited enough wealth to not need a steady job. Rowling has never managed to convince me that there was any reason why James Potter in particular should have been targeted by the DEs at such an early age, let alone Lily, but it is more likely to have been his open opposition to the Dark Arts, and, perhaps more to the point, his choice of a best friend which had painted the target on his back.
In fact, his choice of the Black family’s black sheep as a Best Friend may have contributed no small part to that target. And Sirius would have also been on the list of “defiant ones” in his own right, rather than just being included in the group because of that inseparable friendship with James.
In retrospect; leaving the matter until the last minute, with not only the Potters, but Black as well, and even Pettigrew, all scurrying into hiding at the same time (and possibly Lupin, in addition, for all we’ve been told) only would have made them all the more conspicuous. Is this any way to run a resistance organization?
But, no. Not only is the entire wizarding world apparently expected to hunker down and endure the war for another couple of decades until the “child foretold” grows up to settle the problem for them, but the families who have given birth to the two most likely candidates for being this child are turned loose to raise these highly significant children out in the open where anyone can get at them.
Right up to the point that Voldemort all but sends everyone a letter of intent before anybody, particularly Dumbledore, does anything about it!
Honestly. On the surface of it that’s fecklessness on a level that you would expect from Hagrid!
Which, on anything but idiot planet, would be a strong indication that something else was going on, or that by this point Albus really was desperately acting out of character, trying his very best to be a cold-blooded, pragmatic war leader, in hopes of creating a Chosen One who would grow up to solve their problem, since they hadn’t been able to make Tom do something foolish enough to catch him by, before the child was born.
One was inclined to expect better of Albus. And, indeed, he may have still been convinced that the Prophecy referred to either himself, Aberforth, or Snape. In that case, protecting the children was a separate responsibility. One that he was willing to delegate to other people.
And he was also acting in character by not telling people what the Order’s underlying purpose was even about. There is no evidence anywhere in canon that anyone in the original Order of the Phoenix (apart from possibly Aberforth) was aware that a Prophecy had even been made. In fact, in HBP Albus specifically denies anyone’s having known its content. Or, at least, its full content.
Although by OotP the Order must have been filled in enough to know that they were standing guard on a Prophecy record.
It begins to look very much as though if protection had been the primary intention, the Potters could have been living a reasonably comfortable life. House-bound, yes, or at least confined to their own property, if they really wanted to be safe, but their friends would have been free to visit, and they themselves could get out to other protected locations, like Order meetings, by way of secure floo connections or even portkey or Apparation. The Order had little reason to be watching for Ministry tampering the first time round. The Potters could have been living like that since well before Harry was born. It might have been inconvenient, but it would certainly have been doable. And very few people would even have realized that something unusual was going on.
In DHs, Rowling appears to have abruptly decided to adopt this template. From Lily's letter, she and James (and Harry) have clearly been living in seclusion for some months, despite the fact that they supposedly only went under the Fidelius charm the last week before they were killed. Presumably the house in Godric’s Hollow had other protections in place already. Presumably any member of the Order knew where they were, along with various other people that they trusted.
For that matter; given that it has been demonstrated that letting additional people in on a Secret does not compromise the security of the Secret, (to the point that it is now unclear how a Secret Keeper ever manages to release the information back into public domain) we have fairly clear canon evidence that this ought to have been the way it was set up once the Potters finally took the step of going into hiding. Sirius Black had no expectations of difficulty finding them at Godric’s Hollow, for Pettigrew would have “let him in” on the secret.
But then, neither did Hagrid when Dumbledore sent him to collect Harry. Nor did Dumbledore have any problem knowing where to send Hagrid, despite the fact that Dumbledore was not the Potter’s Secret Keeper himself, and believed that the Secret Keeper was Sirius Black, not Pettigrew. Obviously Pettigrew had not let either of them in on the Secret. Unless he did it in writing, and they did not recognize his script, thinking it to be Black’s. (Which would actually make sense. Cast the charm, then send everyone in the Order a letter. Sign it with Sirius's name.)
Ergo; Something is extremely screwy about the way the Potters’ Fidelius worked. Or, rather, didn’t work.
Peter probably did reveal the Potters’ location to Sirius. Although Sirius could not have led anyone else to where the Potters were. However, without further information, this does not explain how Dumbledore could send Hagrid to Godric’s Hollow without knowing about the fact that Peter was the Secret Keeper and not Sirius. Clearly either something went badly awry in the Potters’ setup of the Charm itself causing it to be broken rather than shared, and the Potters had cast the charm all by themselves and botched it. Downstream of DHs they certainly come across as incompetent enough to have done that. Or Voldemort managed to do an end run around the charm by stealing the information from Pettigrew’s mind, which broke the charm, rather than sharing it.
Or Rowling flubbed the execution of the whole issue. Which is the explanation that gets my vote.
And whatever the Potters gained by remaining out in the open — if they did remain out in the open — for those crucial, dangerous, two years has yet to be explained by anyone.
But, then, maybe we should all try to cut the old man some slack.
Everything that has ever been observed regarding Prophesies strongly suggests that the best thing you can do when one of the pestiferous things occurs is to suppress the information and make every effort to forget it. The LAST thing it is safe to do is to set up any extraordinary situation, or to take any desperate measure designed to affect or avert the outcome. That, after all, was Voldemort’s mistake.
Clearly Dumbledore was misguided enough to try to have it both ways. He turned a part of the damned thing loose, but then he chose to try to follow his own standard procedure by doing the very least he could get away with in addressing the issue of wrangling with a Prophecy that had managed to escape.
However, he couldn’t quite get away with doing absolutely nothing.
And he did found the Order of the Phoenix.
Oh. Hadn’t you realized? Forget whatever Rowling has to say on the subject. She’s supposedly been working on this series for something like 17 years, and she hasn’t come up with a viable explanation for why Albus, with a 24/7 day job for 10 months of the year up in Scotland, should have had his own little elite Order at all, yet. (She can’t even keep track of what her major supporting characters were doing between the final battle and the epilogue.)
What would at least be marginally believable is to propose that the original Order of the Phoenix was formed by Dumbledore, as a direct response to his hearing that Prophecy, and that the core membership was composed of all of the people he could find who were known to have “defied” the Dark Lord. Kind of like a survivors’ support group.
Not that he formed it all out of nothing. What I think Albus already had was an informal group of confederates who had been “defying” the Dark Lord for yonks. He could have been collecting them ever since Tom first returned to the ww. Or longer. He’d been using them as one of his own standard information sources. But I don’t think it was a formal “Order”, or that it had ever engaged in general recruiting.
But once Albus realized that Tom would probably go looking for a child; that he couldn’t count on Tom concentrating on him, he felt he had to do something. So he started looking for unaffiliated people who were known to have messed with the DEs, invited them into his little organization, along with whatever friends and family members were willing to get involved, so they could be watched over, and gave it a fancy name. The Order of the Phoenix.
After all, he had endangered these people and their families more than they had been already by his own action in putting out the word of the existence of this Prophecy, he needed to do something towards helping them protect themselves.
Besides, he desperately needed to know who Tom might conclude the foretold child was.
And I don’t think that he was limiting it to people who had messed with DEs any requisite three times, by then. Even once was quite enough. I doubt that Moody and the Longbottoms were the only Aurors in the group. Or the only Ministry employees, either. And, given the situation between Sirius Black and his family, and the fact that he and James Potter were practically joined at the hip, it is practically a no-brainer to conclude that that precious pair had managed to interfere with DEs at some point between leaving school in ’78 and say, late ’79 or early ’80.
Given the typical opacity of bafflegab, it isn’t absolutely certain whether the parents of the foretold child had to “defy” the Dark Lord three times by the time the Prophecy was made, or before the child was born, or merely that they had to defy the Dark Lord three times, period, or be a part of a group who had defied him three times. But working from the premise that the defiance would have preceded the Prophecy, it would have at least given Dumbledore somewhere to start looking. I contend that the core group of the original Order was made up of all his former associates and all the new people that Dumbledore could locate who were known to have actively messed with the DEs by the time the Prophecy was made.
But if I am right about the timing of the matter, what the Prophecy actually did was to goose Albus into founding the Order — giving the Prophecy a whole pool of potential candidates! And Tom a nice, big, easily visible target. Who had, collectively, already messed with his plans at least three times.
Albus cannot have been happy about that little bit of irony, either. Although I suspect he couldn’t really see any way to not do it.
I mean, it’s not like we’ve ever really seen the Order of the Phoenix perform any unique function have we? In OotP it had one, since it was trying to do something that the Ministry wouldn’t admit needed doing. But back in the day it had just been duplicating the Ministry’s efforts while its Leader was stuck off at Hogwarts and unable to give it much time, or to actually use it for anything. What was the point of it? It’s a resistance group that cannot find what they are trying to resist. And it doesn’t seem to have been around over the whole course of the first war.
Well, Mad-Eye Moody virtually comes right out and tells us as much, doesn’t he? That vintage photograph was of the “original” Order. And the Potters and the Longbottoms were already a part of it.
In that photograph, which would seem to have been taken very early in the Order’s history, no infants were in sight, and Harry certainly noticed no indications of any pregnancies. Ergo: the photograph had to have been taken either at some point after Harry and Neville were born, and they were off asleep in a cot somewhere out of the picture, or between June ’78 when the Marauders and Lily finished school, and say maybe 3–4 months or so before Harry and Neville’s births in mid-’80. If the Prophecy was made between Halloween ’79 and the beginning of January ’80, and the Order formed over the next month, neither pregnancy might be “showing” yet in robes at the Order’s founding.
If that Prophecy had been properly squelched according to Ministry regulations I think there would BE no Order of the Phoenix.
And the issue would still be wide open, because the damned things sometimes manage to play out even when no one takes the bait. Although in this case it is hard to see any way in which one could make it play out without Tom’s active cooperation. And he wouldn’t give that without knowing about it.
Since you also have to factor in the time that James and whoever else was messing with the DEs three times, that could push the plausible start date a bit later, but by no very great amount. The Marauders had only had since June of ’78 to be out in public getting in the DEs way, after all.
And if this is the original Order, then the Order itself was quite a late development during the final years of Voldemort’s first rise. For it couldn’t have been founded before the Potters were out of school if they were original members. The Trelawney Prophecy would make a convenient hook for a wide-ranging change in plans on both sides of the conflict, and the founding of an Order dedicated to opposing Voldemort certainly fits the profile.
Particularly if Voldemort had suddenly stepped up his agenda and was being even more active than before.
And we don’t know of any other such event that would fit the bill.
But I am most inclined to read the situation as that it was only after Dumbledore had founded his Order, and a couple of months later was told that two of the families in it were each expecting a baby at the end of July, that he finally drew a straight line between two points and concluded that Tom would be sure to decide that the “7th month” of the Prophecy referred to July and not, as one might have reasonably expected, to September. Or, if the Prophecy had been made at Halloween, to the end of May.
This was information that Voldemort did not have ready access to, and he probably was deliberately kept from having access to. Which may contribute to the fact that it took Voldemort more than a year to get onto the same page over who the apparent child of prophecy was. He may have been expecting the child to be born at the end of September (or May). And when no child meeting the criterion was, had to start looking elsewhere. It took some time for him to get onto the right page, since this was something that he would have had to investigate alone. He would not have wanted his followers to know that a Prophecy existed which related to his downfall. Indeed the only follower who knew the existence of the Prophecy was Severus Snape.
For that matter, it plays very well to suspect that one of the reasons he finally sent Snape into Hogwarts at all was because Snape did know about the Prophecy, and one of the first orders Snape was given was to get a look at the enrollment list and copy out the names of all the children born in the year after the Prophecy was made, so Tom would know for certain that he hadn’t missed any. And Snape couldn’t very well get out of doing it. You would think that he might have left off the Potters’ name — but perhaps he didn’t dare to do that for fear of it being found out and his cover blown.
Which pushed Albus into an even more untenable position for having turned the damned thing loose in the first place.
According to the Ministry, the first Voldemort war officially lasted from sometime in the mid-’60s to 1981. Since we have some indication that Riddle and his followers were already up to their tricks when he returned from his first exile at some point between 1957 and 1963, it evidently took the Ministry a few years to wake up and smell the mayhem and realize that it was a deliberate campaign against them.
My basis for this conclusion: Cornelius Fudge’s statement to the Muggle PM in the summer of ’96, that they had been trying to catch this terrorist leader for nearly 30 years. Fudge is not a hairsplitter like Minerva unless it benefits him. He did not subtract the 13+ years that Voldemort was out of action from the total.
I do suspect that the most violent stage of the first war was the final 2 years, after Voldemort learned about the Prophecy related to his downfall. We have some hints of this, mostly from Sirius Black, but nothing really solid. I also suspect that upon his unmasking in the atrium of the MoM at the end of OotP, he launched a level of activity which is, if anything, even more violent than his activities at the time of his fall. Basis for this conclusion: the statement in Trelawney’s 2nd prophecy that the Dark Lord would rise “more terrible than before”.
In its original iteration, the Order appears to have been a support group, devoted to mutual protection and mutual assistance. It had always gathered information, but now it was set up specifically for the purpose of monitoring the situation and filtering information on the progress of Voldemort’s and the Death Eaters’ activity. The young hotheads also joined the Ministry Aurors when the Ministry was willing to bring in volunteer spear-carriers. Which is why — given what we now know of Wormtail’s activities — the Order’s casualty rate was so appallingly high. Somebody already wanted all of these people dead.
And this also explains why Alastor Moody thought it would be such a fine thing to show Harry that vintage photograph of his first protectors. For, once Voldemort was defeated, the surviving Order knew that they had indeed, been the famous Harry Potter’s first protectors.
From Albus’s perspective, the group existed expressly for the purpose of protecting those two small children. At least until the real subject of the Prophecy had settled the Dark Lord problem. And right up to Halloween of 1981, he may have still thought that subject to be himself.
And while we are on the issue of Dumbledore and the Order: Isn’t it is about time we stopped and seriously asked ourselves; “What did you do in the War, Albus?” and applied a industrial strength reality check to the answer.
Fifty million fans CAN be wrong, you know. Easily.
From the day that “Lord Voldemort” raised his ugly head, (which is now revealed to have been all the way back at some time before JFK was shot) Albus Dumbledore’s primary occupation was as the Headmaster of a School.
His primary duties were to the School. Not, except in an advisory manner, to the war effort. It was years before most people in the WW had even realized they needed a war effort. And nobody ever suggested closing the school because there was a war on.
As Headmaster, Dumbledore’s duties were to keep the children entrusted to his care safe. To keep them informed of what was happening outside the School property. To convince them that there was a danger abroad in the Wizarding World. To teach them to defend themselves — and to not run silly risks. To try to make them understand why the Dark Lord’s agenda was a Bad Thing. To let them know what the Ministry was doing to protect them. And to lose as few as possible to the other side.
He was NOT actively engaged in the “war effort”, such as it was. Not in any official, Ministry-authorized capacity. He already had a day job, thank you very much. A very demanding one. And if he was already Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot by that time as well, the Ministry, in a very real sense, worked for him. Not the other way around. And he mostly left them alone to get on with it.
He was already allegedly considered one of the greatest wizards of modern times. That chocolate frog card has been circulating since some time in the ’60s, and even if some of the puffery written on it is misleading, given his offices as Chief Warlock and Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederacy of Wizards, it was probably nothing less than the truth. The Ministry would have eventually had to run any legislation they were proposing past him and his colleagues on the Wizengamot. They would have called him in as an adviser whenever they ran into something in his known fields of expertise, which seem to have been in Alchemy and perhaps more importantly, the use of blood in magical procedures. Dumbledore may have also had some input concerning this “Lord Voldemort’s” background and possible skills or actions. Although I doubt it. Albus seems unaccountably reluctant to reveal any of Tom’s secrets. I can’t imagine why not.
I also think it fairly self-evident that he and his brother Aberforth, at the Hog’s Head had been engaged in collecting and processing whatever information they could regarding the Death Eaters, and relaying what seemed appropriate to the Ministry from day one. But that was not his primary, day-to-day job.
By all indications, Dumbledore was out on the periphery of the actual “war” (which wasn’t what we would call a war, it certainly wasn’t military). He would have been convening the Wizengamot, consulted by the Ministry, quoted in the Prophet, possibly passing along any useful information or insights that he might have come across, but he was not out leading troops and he was not out fighting battles.
Unless the battle came to Hogwarts itself. And, realistically, what are the odds? Despite the eternal determination of the young to consider themselves the center of the universe, Lord Voldemort wasn’t drawing in his hand-picked followers and ultimately anointing himself the rising Dark Lord solely in order to take over a Castle full of teenagers who represented perhaps 15% of the population, even if he did have a personal attachment to the place. If he really feared Dumbledore, it would have been a simple enough matter to keep Dumbledore’s actions monitored and to leave him strictly alone. And I am not convinced yet that the reason Tom feared Dumbledore wasn’t more because of what Dumbledore knew about Tom Riddle, than anything to do with his politics, his philosophy, or even his power as a wizard.
Until Sybill Trelawney single-handedly upped the ante by spouting a Prophesy in Albus Dumbledore’s hearing.
And that of an eavesdropping Severus Snape.
Oh, yes, and Aberforth, the barman.
Therefore; the Order of the Phoenix. Which could work more closely with the Ministry on a day-to-day basis than Dumbledore was at liberty to do himself. And who, moreover, would not be adding to the Ministry’s already heavy burden of responsibility. These were not the shock troops of a guerilla movement against Voldemort, these were information gatherers, lookouts and the guardians of two small children. (Not particularly active guards, either, if Lily’s letter from August of ’81 is to be taken as representative. They seem to have seen no one from the Order in recent weeks but Pettigrew, unless Bathilda was also a member, back then.)
A suggestion from a correspondent was that one of the functions of the Order may have been to play decoy, diverting attention from the children. It is certainly possible. It’s what they did over the whole course of OotP after all. But I am not going to explore the idea any further than that.
Dumbledore created the Order, and the core of the group was made up of exactly those people on the short list who were collectively known to have “defied” Voldemort the requisite three times (or more). It was a citizen’s participation group in many ways. They all had an interest in guarding each other’s backs. The Order’s ranks were further filled out by a number of Dumbledore’s trusted personal associates, and people who owed him something. Finally, there were various friends and family of the inner “core” members on a voluntary basis, including the close friends of the two young couples whose anticipated children were (unwittingly) placed most at risk.
Voldemort’s first rise was closing on its 18th–24th year by the time Harry and Neville were born. The Ministry, preoccupied with the (now open) war effort itself, couldn’t spare the resources to effectively deal with the threat to these children on the evidence of something as dodgy as a maybe-Prophecy by a self-pronounced barfly of a seer with no track record whatsoever. This was one responsibility that they would have been all too willing to contract out to Dumbledore. Who, if he was already the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot may have effectively been their boss in the first place.
Plus, given the Ministry’s official policy on Prophecies and the routine suppression of Prophecy records, it is just as likely that they had the Ministry known about it, they would have flatly refused to take any sort of action based upon such a source.
And in the Final Reckoning…
And in the end, thanks to James Potter’s lack of cooperation over the matter of a Secret Keeper, it all went pear-shaped and Albus was left with a 15-month-old “Child of Prophecy”. Of Tom’s making.
And there was nothing he could do about it but suck it up and deal with the situation. Which wouldn’t have existed if he’d either Obliviated Snape, or told him to keep his mouth shut.
And what did the whole Prophecy gambit accomplish?
I can tell you right up front what it didn’t accomplish. It didn’t create a super-special mystic hero who was uniquely qualified to settle the ww’s Dark Lord problem.
Yes that’s right. Harry was neither uniquely qualified to destroy Horcruxes, nor to vanquish Voldemort himself. And, apart from disarming the Diary, he didn’t end up actually doing either one. Five other people settled the rest of the Horcruxes, and Tom got tricked into killing himself.
Twice. And if you count the Harrycrux, three times.
All the Prophecy gambit did was to create the Harrycrux.
Which was nothing but an unnecessary complication. The Harrycrux was absolutely not a part of the solution.
And it never would have existed if Albus had been half as good at walking the walk as he was at talking the talk. So, you ask me; whose side are Prophecies on?
Which, if it was intentional, if it was a deliberate slap across the readers’ faces, was just about the only remotely clever thing in DHs, and Rowling managed to subvert the genre after all. Unfortunately, I haven’t enough confidence in Rowling’s skills, intentions, or caliber of mind to count upon it having been deliberate, and not merely a case of cutting the ground out from under her own feet.
And, all too soon, Albus was back to his old tricks again, willing to delay matters, and delay matters, and to keep delaying matters, and to allow Tom to make the next move.
Since OotP, we have had enough information to speculate that it is in fact the Wizengamot which appoints the Minister for Magic. And the Wizengamot is a body of only some 50 prominent wizards and witches, many of whom already hold upper-level Ministry offices.
In short, it is a convocation of “insiders” and Dumbledore has been one of the leaders of this caucus for a long time. As recently as 1990 the most recent proposal (at least the 4th) to make Albus Dumbledore the Minister of Magic was made, and Dumbledore still didn’t want the job. Hogwarts was quite enough responsibility for him, thank you very much. Particularly considering that his protégé, or maybe his project, Harry Potter, was due to arrive at the school in something under a year.
I have always contended that this proposal probably had next to nothing to do with his activities during VoldWar I. And, indeed, he tells us in passing that he was being offered the post even while his erstwhile friend Gellert Grindelwald was rising to power at the other end of Europe. By 1990 he had probably already been effectively ruling British wizardry for nearly thirty years, if not longer.
And it was only after Voldemort’s return in 1994 that the hastily reassembled Order of the Phoenix was repurposed into a “Secret Society” to supposedly keep watch on Voldemort’s suspected activities. I believe that its real objective was to foster a gaudy distraction which purported to be “protecting” the Prophecy record. This pose was a complete red herring specifically designed to flush Voldemort out of hiding.
So he could be witnessed, and his return no longer denied by the Ministry.
In short, it was a scam.
And that monumental detour in the Order’s purpose was solely because Dumbledore believed that someone needed to do it and the Ministry wasn’t willing to believe that it was a job that needed to be done. Once that particular complication had been taken care of, the Order could go back to its original function as the Harry Potter escort service and protection agency. And from the glimpses of it that we got in HBP and afterwards, to some extent, it had.
With a difference. Harry Potter was no longer an infant unaware of what is going on around him. And by the end of his 6th year he has been set to a quest of his own upon which he will not be likely to lead them. Indeed, the Order had effectively outlived its purpose.
Although it did indeed respond at his (or rather, Neville’s) call for the final confrontation.
The ongoing contest between Albus Dumbledore and Tom Riddle passed into a new phase at the end of OotP, however. For with his decision to share the content of the full Trelawney Prophecy with Harry while Harry’s mind was still unshielded, Albus may have effectively chosen to share it with Tom Riddle as well. And it is made reasonably evident in the opening chapter of DHs that Riddle is indeed aware of the content of the Prophecy, and there is no available 3rd party who could have told him that.
Much of Albus’s remorse at the end of Phoenix may be due to the knowledge that had he taken Harry into his confidence on this matter earlier, there is certainly a good chance that Sirius Black would still be alive. But I am not convinced that Albus gave a damn about Sirius Black. (Who probably reminded him way too much of Gellert Grindelwald.)
However; had he taken Harry into his confidence, Voldemort would still probably have been in hiding and the Ministry would still be denying his return. (Which might have been a mercy, if there were any way of ensuring that matters would continue that way.) It is difficult to see just how the knowledge of the full content of the Prophesy could materially further Voldemort’s aims, when he had already caused the relevant portions of it to engage by his own actions more than a decade earlier. But when you think of all the resources expended by both sides over a piece of information that could make no significant difference to either one, it all seems an appalling waste.
Which is what forces me to the conclusion that the whole business over the Prophesy record in book five was indeed another snare and a delusion designed to draw Voldemort into the Department of Mysteries where he could be witnessed by a large number of people at once and his return no longer denied. It was another piece of orchestrated misdirection on the part of Dumbledore and his followers à la the Philosopher’s Stone in PS/SS. In fact it was practically the very same orchestrated misdirection. I’m surprised that Voldemort was insecure enough to be deceived by the same ploy a second time.
The scam served two purposes. First; once again to distract Voldemort from planning and executing any more effective actions toward rebuilding his own neglected organization, and, second; by keeping a look-out for Voldemort’s agents and deflecting them, in order to make it necessary for him to come himself.
After all, given the protective enchantments which the Ministry routinely places on Prophecy records, there was no need for anyone to “protect” it further. In fact, it might have been worthwhile to leave it completely unguarded and see how just many followers Voldemort would lose to the inevitable ensuing magically-induced dementia before he caught on and realized that just sending in redshirts to retrieve it was doing his organization more harm than good.
No, I think the round the clock guards that Dumbledore had posted were there to raise the alarm and call in the witnesses when Voldemort finally showed up.
Or, they should have been. Which makes you worry a bit about what happened to Dumbledore’s guards by the time Harry and his friends showed up. There were no Order guards on the scene by then, and they clearly had not gotten a chance to send an alarm out, since it was Snape who ended up relaying the alert from Hogwarts.
And the DoM was harboring close to a dozen Death Eaters that night, with official Ministry wonks like McNair to give them access.
Sturgis Podmore landed in Azkaban from his stint at sentry duty, and Arthur Weasley was bitten by a snake. Who was on duty the night Harry made his raid? And what has become of them?
Or had Albus and Company already moved on to Plan B?
DHs already counter-indicates much of the following. But by this time you know what I think of DHs. I am leaving my speculations in place.
To wit, the sequence at Spinner’s End wherein Severus Snape is engaged in spinning a plausible web of truths, half-truths, innuendo and outright lies for the edification of the Black sisters.
It should be pointed out that however many new concepts he might have tossed to Bellatrix Lestrange concerning his own actions, or the Dark Lord’s past actions or everyone’s past beliefs when firmly refuting her accusations against himself, he raises no questions, and makes no comment, whatsoever, which might cause either of the sisters to question their own reading of the situation as it then stood.
He claims to already know Voldemort’s latest plan, blandly agrees to, and confirms, everything that they think they know concerning it, and offers no new or conflicting information which might cause them to have second thoughts about their interpretation of matters. And I doubt that the ladies really have figured out all of the background material correctly.
In particular, Snape confirms their belief that much of Voldemort’s anger with Lucius Malfoy is because of his having failed to retrieve the Prophecy from the DoM the month before, and that because of this failure, Voldemort never had a chance to hear the full Prophecy.
Well, I’m sure that Voldemort is extremely angry with Lucius over the failure of that mission. That failure cost Voldemort big time in much more serious areas than just the opportunity to hear a Prophecy. It lost him nearly a quarter of his troops. And even that wasn’t the worst of Malfoy’s failures.
For example; I am willing to bet that he is a whole lot angrier over Lucius having managed to get his Diary destroyed than he was about failing to retrieve the Prophecy record.
And Malfoy has now managed to get himself captured and taken off the board as soon as the Prophecy raid went pear-shaped, where Tom cannot readily get at him.
I’d say that’s what had Tom throwing tantrums all over Britain and demanding that Fudge get out of his way.
Given what we’ve seen and been told about the actions of Lucius Malfoy in his Master’s absence, I think that once Voldemort learned about those, he would have been quite ready to dispense with Lucius, and his little dog, too. At the earliest convenience.
But he couldn’t. Not right at that moment, because he still needed Malfoy for the sake of his influence on Fudge. However, the minute Malfoy put a foot wrong, he was for it. Malfoy must have realized that.
And if Bellatrix doesn’t realize that, Snape certainly isn’t going to be the one to tell her! We can’t determine how much Narcissa has figured out. But she isn’t talking, either. Nor is Pettigrew.
By now I am about 85–90% certain that, despite Rowling’s apparent decision to suddenly soft-pedal and scale back the whole issue of the mental connection between Harry and Voldemort in HBP, after making such a big honking deal of it in OotP; if that connection between Harry and Voldemort really did go both ways, then Voldemort was almost certainly in Harry’s head throughout most of the Lost Prophecy chapter. After all, that’s exactly what Tom Riddle would have done.
And Dumbledore may very well have suspected as much because the version of the circumstances under which he heard the Prophecy that he told Harry was absolutely NOT the way that it actually took place. It was the “official version” which had already been fed to Voldemort.
It was also calculated to conceal Dumbledore’s knowledge of Snape’s participation in the matter. And the manner in which he presented the information was further calculated to conceal everything but the bare wording of the Prophecy itself. He not only did not tell Harry “everything,” as he claimed, he told him the very least he could get away with.
I pointed out at an earlier point in this article that Dumbledore seldom flat-out lies. But I think he may have had compelling reason to do so when it came time to fill Harry in on the full text of that Prophecy. It was absolutely essential for Voldemort NOT to learn that Snape may have been in a position to hear the whole thing. Even if he didn’t, in fact, do so.
Consider: Riddle had already figured out that if he could suppress his own emotions he could waltz in and out of Potter’s head almost at will. He’d been doing it at least throughout the past two school terms, and probably longer. Dumbledore claims that he had seen a shadow of Riddle looking out through Harry’s eyes off and on throughout the year (this might not be too difficult since Tom has red eyes these days), and this was while he was deliberately avoiding Harry. I suspect this is another piece of information that Dumbledore shared with Snape, so Snape could take the necessary protective measures when trying to teach the boy Occlumency, which may explain exactly why Snape was off-loading certain memories to an external storage device before the Occlumency lessons commenced. It wasn’t to keep the memories stored there from Harry, it was to keep them from Voldemort.
Or that Snape was implying to Voldemort — in case he was present — that he was protecting sensitive information from Potter. (He still didn’t need to make such a performance of it. And there is no telling whether the memories he was usually off-loading were the same ones that he later left out for Harry to find.)
By the opening of the Lost Prophecy chapter, Voldemort had just suffered a major setback.
His long-planned gambit of luring Potter to the Department of Mysteries where he could be intercepted by the DEs and the Prophesy record recovered has been routed. His secret return is publicly outed. Half of the Azkaban escapees have been disabled and recaptured. He has also now lost Malfoy, Nott (who, was injured in the fracas) Crabbe, Avery, and McNair and most of their resources are now going to be more difficult to tap. The Prophesy record is destroyed. And Potter has escaped him again. He also ran into something totally unexpected when he tried to take possession of the boy. He barely made it out of the Ministry himself, and with only one of his followers.
The mission was a shambles. He has lost eleven of his followers (20-25% of his manpower, which is a significant loss) at least two of those losses are ones positioned highly enough that he will be hard put to replace them. And he has just come off the worst in a duel with Albus Dumbledore. He only just got out before the Ministry forces closed in and captured him. And he has failed to kill Potter for the 3rd time. (I’m not sure he was aware of the Diary revenant’s attempt to do so.)
And yet he knows that he can still get into Potter’s head without the kid being aware of him, and Potter is bound to be given some sort of debriefing by Albus Dumbledore — and fairly soon, too. To that point in the series, Voldemort consistently displayed at least a 90% accuracy rating at anticipating his opponents’ actions. He had also had a long time to observe Dumbledore’s characteristic behavior.
Potter is still an unknown factor. But Riddle knows Dumbledore, and knows the old hypocrite pretty well. He can expect with some degree of confidence that Dumbledore will give the boy some kind of an explanation. Soon.
Well, what would you do if you were Voldemort?
You know there is going to be a counseling session between your enemies in which information will be exchanged. You know that you can successfully (and literally) “infiltrate” the enemy. In his position what would you have done? The conclusion is practically a no-brainer.
Keep in mind that the information that Rowling always gave us in interviews was calibrated to not reveal anything that took place in the upcoming books. And it was sometimes deliberately oversimplified and misleading through being based on only what the characters knew at a given point in the series. (And sometimes she flat-out either lied, or changed her mind and did something else entirely.)
In Tom’s place wouldn’t you immediately tell Bellatrix that you are NOT to be disturbed, and reestablish contact with Harry’s mind? That monumental rage that Harry went into as soon as Dumbledore truthfully, but unwisely claimed to know how he was feeling, would have drawn him like a beacon. And his own fury probably contributed to it as well.
For that matter Voldemort may have made it to the meeting place before Albus did. In support of this possibility, I cite that sudden surge of anger that “came out of nowhere” while Harry was waiting in Dumbledore’s office for Dumbledore to return. Up to that point Harry is wallowing in guilt and grief at the realization that he had been wrong, wrong, wrong, and that Sirius’s death was largely his fault. (Albus really did understand how he felt, you know.) Suddenly in the middle of this, a wave of anger overtakes him and sets the tone of his responses for the whole first part of the interview until Dumbledore manages to distract him with information about — surprise, surprise — the Prophecy.
Now, Harry’s own anger was probably there just below the surface. Anger is one of the classic stages in a grief cycle. But I expect that it got some sudden reinforcement from outside which brought it forward prematurely.
We are expected to believe that Harry is sharp enough to understand a good deal of his own part in the debacle, and I think that if he had been left alone he would have been in the grief & guilt stage for some while longer. Once he had been prematurely pushed into the anger stage, he was barely able to contain himself for much of the rest of the interview. I propose that this may have been because he was having to juggle not only his own anger, but Voldemort’s as well.
I also suspect that discovering the full content of the Prophesy hasn’t told Voldemort much that he hadn’t deduced already.
Canon Voldemort was set up as being “brilliant”, after all.
I agree he doesn’t act it (particularly not in DHs. Nobody is brilliant there), but Rowling is really not that experienced a writer. She’s still on her first story, and it’s showing major signs of having gotten away from her. And I suspect that the fact that her stories are being marketed to children may be leading her into the pitfall of oversimplifying elements that are not simple.
The portion of the Prophecy that Voldemort already knew makes it clear that there is allegedly an “anointed one” who has the power to “vanquish” him. That already gave him, a pretty strong hint that he was probably dealing with an either/or situation, and always had been.
The only new piece of solid information that he got out of Dumbledore’s replay from the Pensieve was that he, himself, was the one who “marked” Harry as his equal. The rest was, to him, a lot of nebulous booga-booga about “power the Dark Lord knows not”, which he, assuming that this is just Albus’s old Power of Love™ theme again, summarily dismissed, and an even stronger confirmation that, yup, it’s an either/or situation all right, with the added tidbit that neither of them would be able to have a “proper” life until the either/or was resolved.
None of which would have mattered a hill of beans against Voldemort’s overall plans anyway. He had always intended to kill Harry Potter.
The full content of the Prophecy didn’t change that in the least. It only added the carrot to the stick. Now, once he kills Potter, he will not only remove the only one who can “vanquish” him, he will gain the means to “truly live” as well. (Eternity and a pair of skates! Woo-hoo!) Which, as I’ve stated in the Changeling hypothesis, almost certainly means something other than the way Tom interpreted it.
Particularly given that it didn’t actually work out that way At All.
And when he’d got what he’d come for he skipped out, leaving Harry and Dumbledore to conclude their discussion in peace.
Small wonder that Albus “rather expected” that Tom would have closed off the connection from his end. He’d got what he’d come for.
If nothing else is clear. It seems plain to me that the Trelawney Prophecy was always the equivalent of a rogue bludger on the pitch and we would be stuck having to dodge it right up to the final showdown in Book 7. And I think we can take it for granted that by the end of HBP the former Tom Riddle knew every word of it.
And much good it did him.
Particularly since the bafflegab reversed the terms on everyone. It wasn’t that neither could live while the other survived. Neither of them could die so long as both survived — in Harry.
And, as Albus, sadder but wiser, pointed out to Harry, once he finished giving him the official Riddle backstory in HBP, it’s all a load of old pants anyway. Prophecies are usually no more than what you chose to make of them.
And even the “real” ones aren’t really True!
And he was absolutely right. But I think even Albus managed to miss the point.
For all that the Power of Love™ that Albus was so convinced was the answer to this particular Riddle, and for all that he was so willing to ascribe that power to Harry, even at the end of the series, we still haven’t really seen a lot of evidence of it, have we?
Certainly no more than we’ve seen in Malfoy, trying to protect his family. Or in Neville to defend his. Or the Weasleys. Or Fleur. Or Tonks.
The “power” of basic human attachment just isn’t all that thin on the ground, is it?
In, fact, Harry seems to share this particular quality with everyone else in the Potterverse except Lord Voldemort.
And we don’t even know for certain that the power of human attachment is even “the power” that the Prophecy refers to (it’s not!); however much Albus seems to be convinced that this is the case. I am not convinced that this is the case. (And I was right.)
I was willing to accept that it could be. (But it sure didn’t look like it in the event.)
But even if it had been; in amongst all of the portentous twaddle and claptrap that we’d been handed in that fool Prophecy; for all of that precious booga-booga over “The one with the power...”; “But he shall have power the Dark Lord knows not.” it never quite manages to come right out and tell us that — for all that Harry may be the one that the Dark Lord marked as his equal — that Harry is the ONLY one with the power “to vanquish the Dark Lord”, does it?
No. It doesn’t.
And, in the end, he didn’t even do it.
Our Tom managed to vanquish himself.
And Tom didn’t even have that particular “power”.