I noticed this in another question:

Sybill Trelawney's 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 . . ."

Order of the Phoenix - Page 841 - US Hardcover

Is there any indication as to which three times the Potters had defied Voldemort?

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    Can we protect this question from spam answers?
    – TheAsh
    Mar 4, 2019 at 21:14

8 Answers 8


There is no direct canon evidence of 3 cases, but this is what JKR had to say:

From "PotterCast Interviews J.K. Rowling, part one." PotterCast #130, 17 December 2007.

MA: What about the three times-- The thrice-defying of Voldemort?

JKR: Of James and Lily?

MA: Of Neville's parents. Well, James and Lily, too.

JKR: It depends how you take defying, doesn't it. I mean, if you're counting, which I do, anytime you arrested one of his henchmen, anytime you escaped him, anytime you thwarted him, that's what he's looking for. And both couples qualified because they were both fighting.
Also, James and Lily turned him down, that was established in "Philosopher's Stone". He wanted them, and they wouldn't come over, so that's one strike against them before they were even out of their teens.

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    Hasn't it been mentioned before that JKR has said she is bad with math? And here she says she counts. Almost scary.
    – Xantec
    Mar 20, 2012 at 20:13
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    So it's only a need to be 'atleast thrice'?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Mar 20, 2012 at 22:33
  • So if Harry was the first to defy him four times (per Dumbledore at some point), how did his henchmen get arrested? I think she's waaaay too liberal with that interpretation.
    – Kevin
    Mar 21, 2012 at 16:32
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    Now I also wonder how Voldemort invites potential recruits. Send them an owl telling them they're up for an interview and a potential job offer?
    – skytreader
    Sep 19, 2014 at 19:26
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    Why on earth would Voldemort invite Lily? She's muggleborn
    – alexgbelov
    Jan 16, 2018 at 1:32

When Dumbledore tells Harry about the prophecy in Order of the Phoenix (chapter The lost prophecy), he says:

Sybill’s prophecy could have applied to two wizard boys, both born at the end of July that year, both of whom had parents in the Order of the Phoenix, both sets of parents having narrowly escaped Voldemort three times. One, of course, was you. The other was Neville Longbottom.

So in Dumbledore’s interpretation (and his guesses, as we know, are usually good), defying Voldemort means not to get killed when he personally goes after you. A bit later, he hints at what he would consider such near misses:

(…) he did not kill you, as he intended, but gave you powers, and a future, which have fitted you to escape him not once, but four times so far – something that neither your parents, nor Neville’s parents, ever achieved.

I think we can safely assume that he is thinking of the encounters with Quirrell, in the graveyard of Little Hangleton and at the Ministry. The fourth occurrence may either be when one-year-old Harry survived the Killing Curse (although he didn’t contribute to that outcome himself), or when Harry met young Tom Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets (although that wasn’t the “true” Voldemort).

What exactly the twice three situations were in which Harry’s parents and Neville’s parents narrowly escaped Voldemort, isn’t detailed anywhere.

  • Good find, should become the accepted answer imho. Oct 6, 2016 at 16:50
  • Also don't forget in the Chamber of Secrets, where he killed the copy Tom Riddle in his Diary.
    – Nzall
    Oct 19, 2016 at 12:55
  1. Harry & Neville's parents openly defied Voldemort's request to join him (#1)
  2. The Longbottoms & Potters were involved in the founding of the Order of the Phoenix (#2)
  3. We know both families took part in attacks against Voldemort's henchmen during the Wizarding War (#3)

Part of the prophecy involved being born in the last days of July; the amount of babies born at the end of July, with 'power he knows not of'; he took it to be a powerful family, and that narrows things greatly; there isn't that many wizards to begin with.

Oh, about 600 [children at Hogwarts] sounds right. Let’s say three thousand [wizards/witches in Britain] ~JKR 2005 Interveiw

Add in the critiera of a baby born on the last few days of July, into a family with a history of anti-Voldemort activity, and it'd be a very rare birth.

While there were many who 'defied' him by fighting against him in the Wizarding War, or turning him down, not many would have 'thrice' (he appeared to have killed most people who got in his way). He looked to more specific, direct and public examples of defiance; probalby the ones that embarassed him the most?

The founding of the OOTP was a very significant (and embarassing) action of 'defiance' in Voldemort's mind; the very fact he chose between two boys who's parents were founders, says volumes. A lot of wizards might have fought in the Wizard Wars, and turned him down at a time, but of the ones who founded the OOTP AND had a child AND it was at the right time, was only two couples.

The Longbottoms and the Potters.

  1. They joined the Order of the Phoenix.

  2. They turned down Voldemort's offer.

(Longbottoms) Both Alice and Frank took up jobs as an Auror.

  1. They got married. You must remember that Voldemort is a blood purist (kinda hard to forget) and that, while James Potter was a Pureblood, Lily Potter née Evans was a Muggle-Born (also hard to forget). This may be one of the reasons Voldemort chose the Potters instead of the Longbottoms, who were both Purebloods.
  1. They refused to join the Death Eaters.

  2. They worked actively against Voldemort.

  3. Lily sacrificed herself and destroyed Voldemort to save her baby.

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    (3) didn't happen until after Harry was born ("born to those who had thrice defied him"), and Voldemort chose Harry before then.
    – Kevin
    Mar 21, 2012 at 15:11
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    @Kevin the wording of the prophecy Pureferret quoted is "to those who have defied him", which is a tense choice that would include defiance after Harry was born (unless the quote in the question is wrong, and it really was "had").
    – Beofett
    Mar 21, 2012 at 16:05
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    @beofett Even so, that would mean they should have defied him thrice at the time of the prophecy, which wouldn't count their death
    – Kevin
    Mar 21, 2012 at 16:28
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    It would be the protective charm that she cast on harry that in the end rebounded Voldermort's spell that was the defying act.
    – Chad
    Mar 21, 2012 at 17:00
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    @Chad I thought lily sacrificing herself was the protective "charm", not one specifically cast. That aside, he already had chosen them at that point, making Kevin's point still valid. The way I interpret it was that at the time of the prophecy, there were already 3.
    – Chris
    Mar 23, 2012 at 3:07

I don't believe that the "thrice defied him" refers to Voldemort. At every point in the prophecy where Voldie is mentioned, he is referred to as "The Dark Lord" so it makes little to no sense that this one time he is mentioned as "him."

I think that in this specific case, the "him" is actually a deifying pronoun.

The "him" in this case is referring to Death.

That would make more sense as the Potters are the decedents of the Peverells. The three Peverell brothers defied Death which resulted in the creation of the deathly hallows which Harry himself is the owner of one.

So this line in the prophecy specifically refers to a decedent of the Peverell family; thus making him distinctly different in the prophecy than Neville Longbottom.

  • Great conjecture, can you back this up with anything else?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Oct 6, 2016 at 14:58
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    What do you think the his in the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal refers to, then?
    – chirlu
    Oct 6, 2016 at 15:57
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    It is a very interesting theory, but I don't think it's true. The most problematic quote from the prophecy is and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives. How can Death die? Did Harry "vanquish" Death? Why can't Harry live while Death survives (i.e. still exists)? There are theories which consider Harry, Voldemort, and maybe Snape as the modern equivalents of the Peverell brothers, and regard part of the HP saga as a modern version of the Tale of the Three Brothers, but I don't see how we could say that the prophecy actually refers to Death.
    – A. Darwin
    Oct 6, 2016 at 17:57
  • I still think the prophecy is talking about Harry as the one who will vanquish the Dark Lord, The only line I am trying to say is misinterpreted is the one that says, "Born to those who thrice defied him." The reason for my opinion is because of the instrumental role of the deathly hallows in the fulfillment of the prophecy & the people involved in it. Also since the Peverell brothers are mentioned and JKR never does talk about what the three times James and Lily defied Voldemort, we can only speculate on that while this is written clearly. Also no idea about the "one cannot live" line Oct 9, 2016 at 7:18
  • They turned down Voldemort's request to be Death Eaters
  • They joined the Order of the Phoenix
  • They died to save Harry Potter
  1. They refused to join the Death Eaters

  2. They joined the Order of the Phoenix

  3. I guess that when joining the Order of the Phoenix, there are times you face Voldemort and get away with a portkey? Or being a freaking Potter? I mean, come on, with everything the Marauders pulled off, they might as well have pranked Voldyshorts! And I'm sure Frank and Alice were asked but they obviously refused and joined the Order.

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