The Prophecy Problem

trelawneyPerhaps the most interesting issue raised by the afore-mentioned Red Hen article, Loyaulte Me Lie, is the apparently conflicting accounts we have of the night the fateful prophecy was delivered in a room above the Hog’s Head by Sybill Trelawney. I’ll state the problem, answer part of it, and leave the rest to you all in the comments. Have fun figuring this one out.

In Order, we are told by Dumbledore that the one who overheard the prophecy was apprehended only two lines into the prophecy and thrown from the building.

In Half-Blood Prince, Trelawney tells Harry that her interview with Dumbledore was “rudely interrupted by Severus Snape.” She goes on to explain that “there was a commotion outside the door and it flew open, and there was that rather uncouth barman standing with Snape….”

The problems with the two accounts are as follows:

  • Trelawney is not aware of anything that is going on around her when she has a real prophecy.
  • Snape was obviously still outside the door, then, at the end of the prophecy.

Or, as Joyce states the problem:

Question: if Snape was discovered halfway through the Prophecy and thrown from the building as Albus claims, how would Sybill have known that he was the person listening at the door?

Question: if Sybill — who is unaware of her surroundings while in the grip of a Prophecy — did not actually see or hear an eavesdropper, how could she even know that there was one?

Question: if the eavesdropper was discovered and ejected halfway through the Prophecy, how did Snape happen to still be standing outside the door after it was finished so Sybill could identify him?

Question: if Snape-the-Snoop was still at the door after the Prophecy was finished, how can Albus say so confidently that he only heard the first part of it?

I’ll admit it looks really suspicious, but I’m going to take a shot at answering it. We can fairly easily reconstruct the scene this way:

The prophecy begins, Snape is listening. Two lines in, Aberforth (the bartender), discovers Snape and pulls him from the door, so he can no longer hear the words being spoken. The prophecy ends, Trelawney comes to, and Snape is trying to get away from Aberforth, causing a commotion. The door swings open, revealing Snape, and he is ejected from the building having only heard the first part.

So we can at least harmonize that part of the account. What we still have trouble with is this: If Dumbledore knew it was Snape and saw Snape (which he must have when the door flew open), what could Snape have possibly said to Dumbledore to convince him he wasn’t snooping, especially when it is supposedly Albus’s own brother Aberforth who caught him? Even if Albus trusted Snape at the time, it is hard to imagine he would have not become exceedingly suspicious to find him listening at keyholes.

So the problem remains. The events of that night are a bit funny, and there’s some ‘splainin’ to do. Ideas?

Update (7/02): Couldn’t sleep last night, and I did more thinking.  Here’s what I came up with:

But then we have to ask ourselves: What, exactly, could Albus have done?  Detain him?  Throw him in Azkaban for snooping?  An accomplished Occlumens like Snape could certainly pull off a lie.  “I heard a strange/threatening voice.  I thought someone was in danger.”

If we can harmonize both accounts (which I think we can), and both are truthful (even if not the whole story), I’m not really sure that Dumbledore could have prevented Snape from getting away and getting to Voldemort.

So, I think the problem can be answered, even if it still smells a little fishy overall.  There may be much more to it than my harmonization of the accounts.  But then, there may not.

4 thoughts on “The Prophecy Problem

  1. That was my own interpretation of events. Albus knows exactly how much Snape heard because Snape later told him (that’s simple enough). And duh, Albus knew Snape was snooping, but even in the non-wizarding world, listening at keyholes rarely ends with a fine, much less jailtime.

    But just because Snape was snooping doesn’t mean he was necessarily going to run off to Voldemort with the info – perhaps Dumbledore didn’t know that Snape was a Death Eater (he wasn’t omniscient, after all… he didn’t know that Quirrell was being possessed by Voldemort, for one.) And it’s not like either Snape or Dumbledore knew a true prophecy was going to be made — so the snooping wasn’t especially suspicious — the interpretation Trelawny put on it, that Snape was trying to get some interview pointers by eavesdropping, is not wholly unreasonable. It’s not like Snape was expecting that he’d get info useful for Voldemort when Dumbledore was interviewing someone for the Divination teaching post.

  2. I kind of just figured that Trelawney didn’t actually witness any of the incident with Snape, but had been told about it later by Dumbledore and adopted the story. She seems like the type anyway.

    I like your theory about how Dumbledore and Snape worked together to trick Voldie into fulfilling the prophecy.

  3. Travis, I agree with most of what you say here. It takes a few moments to apprehend someone – especially if there is a scuffle – and a good few moments more to take them downstairs and eject them from the building. I don’t find it at all implausible that Snape was interrupted two lines into the prophecy, yet was still in the corridor when it concluded.

    However I also don’t have a problem with what follows. You say “what could Snape have possibly said to Dumbledore to convince him he wasn’t snooping”, to which the answer is that he didn’t need to say anything and its crucial to what follows that he didn’t convince Dumbledore of anything (at that point). The incident ocurred before Snape’s approach to Dumbledore to (arguably) join DDs side, so at the time when the prophecy was overheard, DD was well aware that he was being snooped on by one of LVs henchmen. Snape could not deny it (and in fact had little reason to, since as meep remarks, listening at keyholes is not punishable by law).

    In fact it was because DD was well aware that Snape could be counted on to have immediately reported all he’d heard to LV, that he couselled the Potters to go into hiding at Godric’s Hollow. Had Snape being playing the double-agent game at the time of the prophecy, then LV would have had the benefit of the element of surprise – the Potters would have had no reason to suppose he would come after them (at least, no more than any other couple who had thrice defied him) – and there would have been no need for secret keepers etc.

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