Prophecy Night: Dumbledore vs. Trelawney

by Carol Grizzard

One of the surprises we found in Half-Blood Prince (although certainly not the main shocker) was that Trelawney had an account of what happened on the night of the prophecy that didn’’t seem to fit all that well with Dumbledore’’s. I am DWTAT (Dumbledore’’s Woman Through and Through) and originally tried to explain the differences between their stories on Trelawney’’s increasingly obvious alcoholism. And I might have been able to do it if she hadn’’t been the first to place Snape there that night. Dumbledore confirmed Snape’’s identity as the spy, although he had not said so before. But a closer reading convinces me that the accounts do not contradict each other.

This matters because a number of fans have lost confidence in Dumbledore as a result of Half-Blood Prince; in that book he admitted to making (unnamed) mistakes, his trust in Snape was called into question more than ever before, and when he drank the Horcrux potion he expressed great guilt (pg. 572, “The Cave”). This has led some to question his reliability in general and suggest that he is a Dark Dumbledore who set the Potters up in order to ensure that Voldemort would mark Harry as his equal and thus set the stage for his own destruction…or is actually a Dark Lord himself.

The fact that Snape’’s identity as the eavesdropper came from Trelawney rather than Dumbledore has been seen as further evidence of his undependability. I have several random theories but no information about why the Horcrux potion affected him that way. He may have kept Snape’’s role to himself because he promised him he would or because he feared that it would increase Harry’’s negative impression of Snape to the point of not being able to accept help from him. But Dumbledore has not lied to Harry or anyone else. He has not always been candid with Harry (he withheld the knowledge of the prophecy) and he sometimes uses misdirection [he stopped Snape’’s accusations about Sirius’’ escape by saying, ““Unless you are suggesting that Harry and Hermione are able to be in two places at once, I’m afraid I don’t see any point in troubling them further”” (Azkaban, pg. 420, “Owl Post Again”)], but that’’s not the same thing.

Let’’s look at the two stories of Prophecy Night. We heard Dumbledore’’s first in Order of the Phoenix, (pp. 840-843, “The Lost Prophecy”). He describes meeting a descendant of a great Seer who wanted the Divination position at the Hog’s Head.

“I thought it common politeness to meet her. I was disappointed. It seemed to me that she had not a trace of the gift herself. I told her, courteously I hope, that I did not think she would be suitable for the post. I turned to leave.”

He then puts a memory in the Pensieve; on pg. 841 Trelawney rises out of it and gives the prophecy uninterrupted (this prophecy, like the one on Azkaban, pg. 324, “Professor Trelawney’s Prediction,” is printed with ellipses separating phrases). On pg. 843 Dumbledore says:

“I had not dreamed, when I set out to meet Sibyll Trelawney, that I would hear anything worth overhearing. My — our — one stroke of good fortune was that the eavesdropper was detected only a short way into the prophecy and thrown from the building…He heard only the first part, the part foretelling the birth of a boy in July to parents who had thrice defied Voldemort. Consequently, he could not warn his master that to attack you would be to risk transferring power to you — again marking you as his equal. So Voldemort never knew that there might be danger in attacking you, that it might be wise to wait or to learn more.”

On pp. 544-5 of Half-Blood Prince, in “The Seer Overheard”, Trelawney tells Harry:

“”I well remember my first interview with Dumbledore. He was deeply impressed, of course, deeply impressed…I must confess that, at first, I thought he seemed ill-disposed toward Divination…and I remember I was starting to feel a little odd, I had not eaten much that day…but then…but then we were rudely interrupted by Severus Snape!””

““What?”” (said Harry)

“”Yes, there was a commotion outside the door and it flew open, and there was that rather uncouth barman standing with Snape, who was waffling about having come the wrong way up the stairs, although I’m afraid that I myself rather thought he had been apprehended eavesdropping on my interview with Dumbledore — you see, he himself was seeking a job at the time, and no doubt hoped to pick up tips! Well, after that, you know, Dumbledore seemed much more disposed to give me a job…””

The key to understanding these two stories is that Snape does not overhear the prophecy at the moment he appears in the doorway to Trelawney’’s room. I think he was spying on Dumbledore in general; neither he nor Dumbledore expected Trelawney to vouchsafe a prophecy. Trelawney wasn’’t actually giving the prophecy when the scuffle occurred; she remembers talking with Dumbledore and the scuffle itself. If she were actually giving the prophecy, she would have no such memories…which means, of course, that her story of that night can’t include the prophecy at all since she can’’t remember it. We have to figure out where the prophecy belongs in her account.

Equally obviously, she hadn’’t given the prophecy before the scuffle outside. Although she told Harry that Dumbledore was “deeply impressed” with her, she knows better since she says that after the Snape incident “Dumbledore seemed much more disposed to give me a job.” Although she won’t admit it, she knows that a short time previously he was not so disposed.

Dumbledore’’s account agrees with hers: first he told her that she would not be suitable for the job, probably in their immediately pre-Snape conversation, but hearing the prophecy led him to change his mind. The prophecy, therefore, must have been given between Snape’’s waffling about having come the wrong way up the stairs (I would love to see Snape waffle) and Dumbledore’’s hiring her.

Trelawney mentioned “starting to feel a little odd” just before Snape and Aberforth burst in; I think she was starting to go into her trance and it claimed her shortly after the men appeared. Since she says nothing about their leaving, they were either still in the doorway when she began the prophecy or had only just left. It would be simpler if they were still there when Trelawney began prophesying and Dumbledore, realizing that this wasn’’t something a Death Eater should hear, signaled to his brother to take Snape away.

But Dumbledore’’s statement to Harry that “the eavesdropper was detected only a short way into the prophecy” may mean that Aberforth had already taken Snape away, but Snape, realizing that Trelawney was going into a prophetic trance, sneaked back up the stairs; Aberforth dragged him away only two sentences into the prophecy. In the Pensieve memory (Order of the Phoenix, pg. 841, quoted above) Trelawney repeats the first line of the prophecy after she’s finished; only that line is repeated in the book, but if she did say it more than once, that would give Snape time to head back upstairs. Dumbledore obviously did not put all of his memories of that night into the Pensieve; he could have stopped this one after her first recitation.

I think this is the order of events:

  1. Dumbledore interviews Trelawney and tells her that she is not suitable for the Divination job. She begins to feel strange.
  2. Snape, under orders from Voldemort to spy on Dumbledore in general, attempts to listen in on his conversation with Trelawney. Aberforth catches him, they fight, and the door to Trelawney’s room flies open. Waffling occurs.
  3. Trelawney goes into her trance and begins to give the prophecy. Snape overhears the first two sentences. Perhaps both men are still standing in the doorway or else Aberforth is taking Snape downstairs as Trelawney becomes entranced; Snape realizes something significant is happening, slips out of his grasp (he’’s probably hard to hold onto with all that greasy hair), runs back upstairs, and is caught and thrown out of the building.
  4. Trelawney comes out of her trance and Dumbledore offers her the job.