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Here is Sybill Trelawney's first prophecy:

"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 ..."

The requirements for the Chosen One are then:

  1. Parents defied Voldemort 3 times
  2. Born at the end of July

With all the witches and wizards who fought against Voldemort, how is it possible that only Harry and Neville fit these qualifications?

The First Wizarding War was extremely large, and so there were at least thousands, if not millions, of wizards and witches who defied Voldemort. July is also the top month for births.

It seems that there have to have been more possible Chosen Ones.

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related, but not dupe; scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/13476/… –  Richard May 31 at 22:45
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I really don't get what the point of this question is. "It seems that there have to have been more possible Chosen Ones." No, there weren't; there were two - Harry and Neville. –  Anthony Grist May 31 at 22:56
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@AnthonyGrist - I get the drift. If there were a population of a million wizards in the UK then there should have been at least 66 children born on the 30th and 31st. There should have been dozens of potential candidates. –  Richard May 31 at 23:10
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Technically, there was a third criterion: the Chosen One is a male. Trelawney says "the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have powers the Dark Lord knows not." I know it's nitpicky, but this still throws out more than half the Chosen Candidates. –  trysis Jun 1 at 2:31
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Based on the sorting scene in Philosopher's Stone, I estimate that there were only a hundred or so students in Harry's year at Hogwarts. That suggests a British wizarding population in the tens of thousands, and on the order of one birth per day on average. So long as we presume (as Voldemort apparently did!) that the Chosen One would be British, the numbers work well enough. –  Harry Johnston Jun 1 at 2:34

3 Answers 3

up vote 24 down vote accepted

It's not explained how Voldemort knew that Harry or Neville were the "chosen one" mentioned in Trelawney's prophecy but we can make some educated guesses:

  • We know that both Harry and Neville's parents openly defied Voldemort's request to join him (Defiant act #1)
  • We know that both the Longbottoms and the Potters were involved in the founding of the Order of the Phoenix (Defiant act #2)
  • We know that both families had taken part in attacks against Voldemort's henchmen during the Wizarding War (Defiant act #3)

The prophecy implies that the chosen one will be a powerful (male) wizard with "power the Dark Lord knows not", suggesting that they will probably be born to a powerful wizarding family. That makes the number of potential candidates relatively small to begin with.

Taking all of that into account, the number of baby wizards born in the "dying days" of July (e.g. the 30th or 31st) to prominent anti-Voldemort activists would presumably be vanishingly small.

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This answer makes sense. The way I thought about it is that if someone fought in 3 battles against Voldemort/Death Eaters, it would count as the 3, but these two families defied him in 3 ways, and not just 3 occasions. –  erdekhayser May 31 at 23:51
    
@Richard, Isn't it possible that an ordinary wizard could give birth to a child "with power the Dark Lord knows not"? –  Pacerier Jun 4 at 16:27
    
@Pacerier - Magical power seems to be genetic, therefore a powerful wizard would be likely to be born to powerful parents. –  Richard Jun 4 at 16:39
    
@erdekhayser I also thought the book referred to a physical fight rather than a "defiant act". Excellent answer, Richard. –  Alfredo Hernández Dec 1 at 15:37

Your question rests on an invalid assumption.

If we take Hogwarts to be a guide, we see about 40 births per year. (Hogwarts doesn't discriminate based on wealth [the Weasleys, Tom Riddle], ability [Ron Weasley, Crabbe and Goyle], or bloodlines [Hermione Granger], and it claims to be the best school in Britain. Not even the Malfoys send their kids to foreign schools.)

Forty births that year. Even if July is a highly popular month for births, it's not going to have more than six or seven of those forty on average. Less than half of the population would have defied Voldemort in any way, even a strongly worded letter to the editor of the Daily Prophet. And since the prophecy specified a gender, that's even fewer candidates.

It's rather surprising that Voldemort had two potential Chosen Ones to choose from.

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This leaves out the possibility of homeschooled children and children who were somehow not schooled at all. Plus, as other answerers have said, Rowling was sort of bad at math. Finally, who said the Chosen One had to be British? Well, Voldemort assumed, and not many outside of Britain would have "thrice defied" him, but still. –  trysis Jun 1 at 3:30
    
if anything, the number of wizarding births in Harry's year should be below the mean because of the ongoing wizarding war at the time. In real life times of unrest tend to depress birth rates, I'd expect the wizarding world to be no different. –  The Giant of Lannister Jun 1 at 16:16
    
Homeschooling: a manager of a department the wizarding world would rather ignore manages to pay for seven kids to go to Hogwarts. Harry's cohort being small: well, Voldemort only had to search Harry's cohort and possibly the following one. Rowling being bad at math: okay, you can go home and stop discussing this because it's pointless. Just say it's inconsistent and be done. Those of us who are still talking about it are trying to come up with consistent reasoning behind it, even if the author hadn't. –  dhasenan Jun 2 at 14:11
    
@dhasenan - you're ignoring the possibility that Mr. Weasley may get a discount on school fees for being a member of the government. Either that or the family may appear poor precisely because his salary goes on school fees. –  Richard Jun 4 at 16:38

As Richard and dhasenan said above, there was rather small number of suspects:

  • Only small amount of population was wizards,
  • There was even less people, who openly and actively fought Voldemort, especially young women that were to give birth in such narrow time interval.

But there is something more, that many people don't consider or remember. Part of prophecy says that "Dark Lord will mark him as his equal", which in my opinion have big meaning. Even if there were more children, the Dark Lord kind of predestined the future by choosing Harry.

The thing is, we can never be sure if there couldn't be anyone but Harry. Prophecy don't precise it, so it could be that Harry dies permanently, then is some time appears another powerful wizard, born at the end of 7-th month in that time, whose parents was opposing Voldemort, and who after appearing reveals his past. Dark Lord could start to be afraid of him and starts thinking of him as a danger, "mark" him in some fight or event, which can be treated as acknowledging him as equal.

It also still could be Neville, but I think that after "marking" Harry Voldemort never thought of him as equal nor was afraid of him. There could something happen and change this matter, but I cannot think of anyone, maybe except Dumbledore for time being, that Voldemort could be really afraid of.

Voldemort deducted that it probably was Harry, maybe he would even try to kill Neville afterwards. But because of that fear, that someone can abolish him, endanger his "immortal" existence, kill him, he tried to kill that person in order to secure himself and get rid of possible and grave threat to his life. Because of that he marked Harry as equal, which was even mounting up for all these years.

So for me, Voldemort's choice, perception and further life significantly prepossessed on flow of things and mostly predestined the ending result. He chosen Harry to be equal to him and bound himself to him, only strengthening this "link".

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Aside from the opening paragraph, this answer doesn't really focus on "Why do only Harry and Neville fit". Yes, it's blindingly obvious that Harry is "marked" afterwards but the question at hand is how Voldemort knew which family/ies to target in the first place. –  Richard Jun 1 at 20:39
    
Title asks why Harry and Neville fit, then author of question asks: "With all the witches and wizards who fought against Voldemort, how is it possible that only Harry and Neville fit these qualifications?" ... so where do You see this "question in hand" about knowing which families should be targeted? Author of question says nothing about it, so why You criticize me? –  Kusavil Jun 1 at 23:20
    
I'm trying to help you. If you remain firmly on message then you will get more upvotes and more rep. –  Richard Jun 2 at 6:04
    
Thank you then :) What I mean is that I think they could be not the only only ones that fit prophecy, which is exactly what question asks, but even it there possibly could be someone else, Voldemorts and Harry choices and links they made predestined themselves unambiguously to be subjects of prophecy. This is why I think that unlike what You say, my answer does focus on the question. Of course I am concious that I am often mistaken in my speeches and statements, so if You still feel that I am wrong, feel free to say why, I will gladly listen to You :) –  Kusavil Jun 3 at 23:28

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