The Department of Mysteries: The Purpose of Prophecy

by Bob Sindeldecker

My colleague Brandon Ford wrote a recent article on the nature of Prophecies. He noted that Prophecies always seem to come when they are most needed, and that they appear to come from some intelligence that can see the future but cannot do much about it. This makes perfect sense, and he is surely right.

The question that occurred to me next, though, was why are certain Prophecies given to certain people? I kept wracking my agile mind, as Greggery Peccary might put it, but could not come up with the answer.

Then I received an e-mail from a fan in Sri Lanka who goes by the cryptic initials WDD. He had plenty of good ideas, mostly in disagreement with (against?) me, but he had a very original observation on the delivery of Prophecies:

And notice that Prophecies are usually given when a person to whom the prophecy relates closely is near the Seer.

Now THAT is. Simply. Brilliant! Bravo!!

I think I can narrow it down even further: Prophecies are always given to someone who can do something about them.

For example, Trelawney’s first Prophecy was given to Dumbledore, who was in a position to save Harry. Her second was given to both Ron and Harry, who were both in a position to do something about Pettigrew – not save his life necessarily, but something. Hmmm! Thank you very much for making me see that!

This also fits perfectly within and reinforces Brandon’s notion about where Prophecies come from, and why they are given. Brandon said that Prophecies are given by beings who can see the future, because they are in a place where time and space are more “flexible” (if I understand him correctly) and the beings there can look at our past and our future as an open book – or a mural or unspooled film, perhaps.

The beings in the Other place also care very much about us, enough to warn us of oncoming problems, but they cannot be too specific, whether because they cannot see our future clearly or because being too specific would ruin things. In other words, exact foreknowledge causes problems, a common theme in time travel literature.

Brandon observed that Prophecies are always given right when they need to be, as if the source knows exactly when someone needs to act. But how do they choose that someone?

It would seem that the person chosen not only has to be in a position to do something about it, but also has to be near a Seer when the Prophecy is delivered.

CONSIDER: why was Trelawney’s first Prophecy not given to one or both of Harry’s parents, or to the Longbottoms? You can say, “because it was not yet determined WHICH boy would be The One; that had to be decided by Voldemort.” But then, the Source could have given the Prophecy to both couples, through anyone who was near them at the time, right?

Wrong. It is obvious that Prophecies can only be given through a Seer – that is, someone who is able to receive them. In this, Sybil Trelawney’s mystical mumbo-jumbo would seem to be literally correct: that you must have “the Inner Eye” and be “in the Beyond.” And that is just another example of JKR’s brilliant, ironic humor.

This would also explain why Prophecies are so rare. They can only be given through a Seer, and they can only do some good if someone who can do something about them is in a position to hear it from that Seer. This much, at least, the beings in the Other place seem to know.

Looking back, it would seem the Sources chose their recipients with a nod to economy, or covering all the bases (a baseball analogy – sorry, non-Yanks). The first prophecy was given to Dumbledore, who knew both the Potters and the Longbottoms personally, and who was well aware (through his spy network) of the activities of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. He was in a position to warn and to protect both couples, and to watch the villain of the piece very closely. So it would seem the Sources chose their recipient wisely.

The second Prophecy is more intriguing. It was given near the end of term in Year 3, near the end of PoA, not to Harry alone but to bothRon and Harry. And nobody else. Why?

Well, it could have been expediency: Harry was the intended recipient and Ron just happened to be there. But I think Ron was important as well. After all, it was his rat, Scabbers, who turned out to be an even bigger rat, Pettigrew. The Source might not have known which way Harry was going to go, or even if Harry was going to be there. There might have been some possible futures in which Harry died before Peter was unmasked (Brrrrr!). Remember, Harry and Hermione used the Time Turner in this one, so that might have made the Source uncertain.

But why on Earth (or elsewhere) was Hermione excluded? After all, she has been in Trelawney’s presence plenty of times with Harry and Ron. I do not have the book in front of me, so I don’t know if she has ever been with Trelawney when only the three of them were present, but then, we are not sure it is necessary for all others to be out of the room, are we? It wouldn’t matter much if the whole class heard the Prophecy, would it?

Maybe it would.

It would seem that Prophecies must only be given to one person, or at least that person and someone the intended recipient can trust. This is not to say Hermione cannot be trusted; it is just that she was not there when That Night was about to occur.

For you see, timing also seems to be important. The sources seem to choose their times very carefully, giving the recipient just enough time to act, but not enough time to say, “oh, what the heck, I’ve got plenty of time.” In other words, they seem to give the recipient little enough time to make the Prophecy urgent, and acting on that Prophecy just as urgent. Thus they gave Dumbledore the first Prophecy sometime within a year before Harry and Neville were born – we still don’t know exactly when – and gave Harry and/or Ron the second Prophecy less than 24 hours before it was needed. Why the diffrerence in timing? Well, Dumbledore obviously needed weeks or months to prepare for the birth of The One, and he didn’t even know who it would be, though he must have had some idea since both Lily and Alice would have been pregnant. For the second Prophecy, Harry and Ron could not really do anything to stop Pettigrew, but they needed to know that “The servant shall return to his master” and all that other stuff so they would be able to deal with the aftermath. The Sources seem to have chosen wisely.

Still: why exclude Hermione?

The answer is that fine old bugaboo: the Time Turner. As Brandon so aptly put it, the wheels are in motion. If the Wheels Of Time are thought of as waterwheels slowly turning in the stream, then a Time Turner can only add turbulence to the surface – and who knows, maybe to the inky depths as well. The point is that Hermione with her Time Turner was too much of an unknown commodity, a wild variable that caused too much trouble for the Sources to include her on their revelation. If shefigured things out, there’s no telling what she might have done – at least from the Source’s point of view.

But Harry was with her when she used the Time Turner to rescue Buckbeak and Sirius, wasn’t he? Surely our Source must have Seen them together. And if the Sources are able to see the past and the future, they must know Harry is far more of a wild card than Hermione, who is by comparison the model of care and thoughtfulness.

This leads me to believe that Ron, not Harry, was the intended recipient of Trelawney’s second Prophecy. After all it was Ron’s rat who turned out to be The Servant, and Ron was the only one of the Trio who did not take a time trip. Not that Harry would not be important – he saved Buckbeak, Sirius and Pettigrew all three from death – but from the Sources’ perspective, looking into our future and seeing all the muddy ripples around the Time-Turning Harry and Hermione, they could only depend on one person, and that was Ronald Bilius Weasley.

As for spilling the beans in front of the rest of the class, I think the reason for not doing that should be obvious: quite simply, it would roil the waters and make our future even harder to see. Think about the effect of that on an entire class of impressionable 13-year olds. It would freak them out, surely. Even worse, they would all immediately start talking about it, and students less loyal to Dumbledore and more sympathetic to the Dark Lord would report it to him. Thus Lord Voldemort would learn a Prophecy, and even though it may seem to us that he could not use it, remember that you and I do not have the perspective of those in the Otherplace.

No, the Sources wanted their Prophecy to go only to its intended recipient, and maybe to someone he could trust, though that wasn’t necessary. They needed Ron; Harry was a bonus. And they needed to keep it away from all others, especially that too-smart cookie Hermione, who might have jumped the gun and made everything FUBAR (look it up).


 WDD had a few more observations, some of which were also good enough to repeat here:

And anyway, Firenze doesn’t seem too much use as a divination teacher either.

I dunno. His point of view is certainly different, but I think it will benefit certain students to learn the Centaur point of view. That could be the main reason Dumbledore brought him in – to give the students exposure to an alien (non-human) point of view.

He may also want to see which students share Umbridge’s hatred of non-humans, and that would surely come out with a Centaur in the castle.

Clever chess player, that Dumbledore.
And finally…

What could be a secret would be a VA [Voldermort’s Army] in Hogwarts, of the Slytherins [although it is practically impossible to keep a secret from Dumbledore in Hogwarts].

*GULP!* Good point. Brrrrr…