If when the prophecy was made it didn't directly refer to Harry Potter (it could have been Harry or Neville) why is it only Voldemort and Harry can retrieve it, but not Neville?

It only became about Harry after the fact when Voldemort heard part of it and decided it meant Harry.

  • 2
    I believe that before Voldemort acted, either toddler could have retrieved it. But, once Voldy made his decision, that locked in one kid. If he had decided for Neville, that would have locked him in and Harry would be denied. There is a passage in the books from Dumbledore to that effect, that his choice was the deciding factor. Bellatrix or one of the usual HP experts will be along shortly to confirm that.
    – JohnP
    Jan 9, 2019 at 20:15

3 Answers 3


It was already labeled as being about Harry.

The prophecy was already labeled as being about the Dark Lord and Harry, though there was a question mark by Harry’s name, because the prophecy wasn’t specific when it was made.

“He stepped forwards. Not as tall as Ron, he had to crane his neck to read the yellowish label affixed to the shelf right beneath the dusty glass ball. In spidery writing was written a date of some sixteen years previously, and below that:  

S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D.
Dark Lord
and (?)Harry Potter

Harry stared at it.

‘What is it?’ Ron asked, sounding unnerved. ‘What’s your name doing down here?”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 34 (The Department of Mysteries)

Though the prophecy didn’t specifically mention Harry, the label seems to have been changed to include Harry at some point, which was because the Dark Lord had tried to kill Harry.

“The odd thing, Harry,’ he said softly, ‘is that it may not have meant you at all. 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.’

‘But then … but then, why was it my name on the prophecy and not Neville’s?’

‘The official record was re-labelled after Voldemort’s attack on you as a child,’ said Dumbledore. ‘It seemed plain to the keeper of the Hall of Prophecy that Voldemort could only have tried to kill you because he knew you to be the one to whom Sybill was referring.”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 37 (The Lost Prophecy)

Prophecies are only retrievable by those they’re about, which is likely determined to the magic controlling this by who’s on their labels, and that prophecy was labeled as about Harry.

“Why?’ Malfoy sounded incredulously delighted. ‘Because the only people who are permitted to retrieve a prophecy from the Department of Mysteries, Potter, are those about whom it was made, as the Dark Lord discovered when he attempted to use others to steal it for him.”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 35 (The Department of Mysteries)

The prophecy was marked as about Harry at that point, so therefore Neville wouldn’t have been able to retrieve it. Once the Dark Lord singled out Harry as the greater risk, the prophecy became about Harry and was labeled as such.

book: Why did Voldemort pick Harry and not Neville?

JK Rowling replies -> Dumbledore explains this in 'Order of the Phoenix'. Voldemort identified more with the half-blood boy and therefore decided he must be the greater risk.
- World Book Day Chat (March 4, 2004)

The prophecy stopped possibly being about Neville once the Dark Lord decided that it was about Harry.


The issue here is that it is rather hard to provide a definitive answer because much about prophecies is left unexplained in the books. Most importantly, we are not told when, how, and by whom, the prophecies are "uploaded" into the Hall of Prophecy, nor are we told when, how, and by whom, the protections are placed on the prophecies.

There are essentially two possibilities: 1) It is an automatic magical process. 2) It is a manual process.

Manual Process

If it's a manual process then whoever is performing the process presumably chooses who will have the ability to retrieve it. In that case there are a number of possibilities. When the prophecy was first made, the second person it referred to was unknown so it would have been impossible to include him in the "allowed list". Once Harry and Neville were born, it is possible that the guy added both of them or it is possible that he added neither of them since he still did not know who was referred to.

Once Voldemort attacked Harry, it is possible that he added Harry under the assumption that Harry must be the one whom the prophecy referred to if Voldemort attacked him. Indeed, this is what Dumbledore in Chapter Thirty Seven of Order of the Phoenix said happened to the label on the prophecy:

“The official record was relabeled after Voldemort’s attack on you as a child,” said Dumbledore. “It seemed plain to the keeper of the Hall of Prophecy that Voldemort could only have tried to kill you because he knew you to be the one to whom Sibyll was referring.”

Automatic Process

If it's an automatic process there are still multiple possibilities. The automatic magic could likewise not have known who the second person was at the time of the prophecy. It is possible that it automatically added Harry and Neville when they were born, or it is possible that it added Harry after Voldemort attacked him.

We Don't Know

In either case, it is possible that Neville was added and it is possible that Neville was not added. It is also possible that even after Voldemort attacked Harry, the prophecy still could have referred to Neville. The fact that Voldemort attacked Harry doesn't mean that he couldn't also attack Neville (especially if, as Dumbledore claims1, there are many prophecies that have never been fulfilled). However, Dumbledore in Chapter Thirty Seven of Order of the Phoenix seems to have thought that once Voldemort attacked Harry the prophecy was necessarily referring to Harry:

“Then — it might not be me?” said Harry.

“I am afraid,” said Dumbledore slowly, looking as though every word cost him a great effort, “that there is no doubt that it is you.”

“But you said — Neville was born at the end of July too — and his mum and dad —”

“You are forgetting the next part of the prophecy, the final identifying feature of the boy who could vanquish Voldemort... Voldemort himself would ‘mark him as his equal.’ And so he did, Harry. He chose you, not Neville. He gave you the scar that has proved both blessing and curse.”

“But he might have chosen wrong!” said Harry. “He might have marked the wrong person!”

“He chose the boy he thought most likely to be a danger to him,” said Dumbledore.

As I pointed out above, this is not necessarily a compelling argument. It is possible that the person or process in charge of protecting the prophecies did not agree that it was certainly referring to Harry.

Since Neville never attempted to retrieve the prophecy, we actually don't know what would have happened had he tried. For all we know he was able to retrieve it.

1. As he stated in Chapter Twenty Three of Half-Blood Prince:

"If Voldemort had never heard of the prophecy, would it have been fulfilled? Would it have meant anything? Of course not! Do you think every prophecy in the Hall of Prophecy has been fulfilled?"


Actually Neville couldn't retrieve it as Prophecies can only be retrieved by about whom they are made, and therefore as Neville's name wasn't on the Prophecy, its highly likely that the Ministry put a spell on it, so that only those who are named can retrieve it, because if you read the book, Broderick Bode tried to retrieve it, but he couldn't, so its likely that there's a spell which means only those who are named on the Prophecy can grab it, making it either Harry or Voldemort who can grab it.

  • 4
    All of this is already mentioned in Bellatrix's existing answer.
    – F1Krazy
    Jan 10, 2019 at 13:01

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