Towards the end of 'Order of Phoenix', it is revealed that Lord Voldemort is trying to steal the prophecy regarding him and Harry from the Ministry.

The book mentions the accessibility rules of the prophecy orbs in two places:

  • Only people the prophecy is about can lift it from the shelf
  • If anyone else tries, they go mad.

But later, we see orbs falling off the shelves as curses hit them. This means that either they aren't magically impossible to dislodge by others, or the curses break the magic if they are.

Moreover, when they break, a ghostly shadow appears and recites the prophecy.

Since Voldemort aim was to hear it once, not preserve it, why didn't he simply had the prophecy orb broken. (Even if he couldn't be there in person, there are surely other ways in the magical world to listen. Sirius's two-way mirror comes to mind. And this is the (2nd?) greatest wizard alive we're talking about. Who had for almost a whole year to try new things.)

The only answer I could come up with is that Voldemort wasn't aware what would happen if the prophecy orbs got broken. But I'm not sure about that.

Is there any canon explanation?

  • "Voldemort wasn't aware what would happen if the prophecy orbs got broken. But I'm not sure about that." - frankly, to me this sounds like the most plausible explanation Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 20:16

3 Answers 3


I think Voldemort wouldn't have trusted anyone else to know what the prophecy contained.

We know that Voldemort was a solitary figure. In Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore's memory of the orphan child Tom Riddle illustrates this:

“You’re coming with me?” asked Riddle, looking up.

“Certainly, if you —”

“I don’t need you,” said Riddle. “I’m used to doing things for myself, I go round London on my own all the time. How do you get to this Diagon Alley — sir?” he added, catching Dumbledore’s eye.

Dumbledore later explains:

“I trust that you also noticed that Tom Riddle was already highly self-sufficient, secretive, and, apparently, friendless? He did not want help or companionship on his trip to Diagon Alley. He preferred to operate alone. The adult Voldemort is the same. You will hear many of his Death Eaters claiming that they are in his confidence, that they alone are close to him, even understand him. They are deluded. Lord Voldemort has never had a friend, nor do I believe that he has ever wanted one."

The thought of sharing something as intimate as the prophecy with one of his followers would have revolted him.

I suppose it's conceivable that he could force a house elf or goblin to perform the feat, then kill the creature later; but Voldemort also seemed to be amused by (or at least drawn to) elegant solutions. He seemed to favor killing two birds with one stone, even if he had to go halfway across the world for that stone. Remember that the potion to rebuild his body simply required "the blood of an enemy". Since everyone was his enemy, as Wormtail pointed out, Voldemort could've used anyone's blood. Instead, he went to an unreasonable amount of trouble to ensure it was Harry's blood that he used. This intertwining of Voldemort's and Harry's destinies would've made Harry's retrieval of the prophecy appealing as well. If he could acquire both Harry and the prophecy at the same time, so much the better.


I think there is an explanation to your question that is completely within the spirit of canon, although you may find it to be mere semantics.

‘Only the people to whom they refer can lift [prophecies] from the shelves without suffering madness ...’

Albus Dumbledore - Order of the Phoenix - page 731 - Bloomsbury - chapter thirty-seven, The Lost Prophecy

Dumbledore tells Harry that if a person tries to lift a prophecy from the shelves in the Hall of Prophecies, they will suffer madness, and indeed Broderick Bode -- sent by Voldemort to retrieve Harry and Voldemort's prophecy -- ends up in the Spell Damage ward at St. Mungo's, where he is ultimately murdered by a cut of Devil's Snare, sent to him disguised as Flitterbloom:

A very old, stooped wizard with a hearing trumpet had shuffled to the front of the queue now. ‘I’m here to see Broderick Bode!’ he wheezed.

‘Ward forty-nine, but I’m afraid you’re wasting your time,’ said the witch dismissively. ‘He’s completely addled, you know – still thinks he’s a teapot. Next!’

Order of the Phoenix - page 430 - Bloomsbury - chapter twenty-two, St. Mungo's Hospital

That Bode was in the Spell Damage ward, as I interpret Dumbledore's explanation of retrieving prophecies, indicates that Bode actually touched the prophecy and attempted to take it for Voldemort. Subsequently, per canon, he suffered a madness of sorts (He's in the same ward as Gilderoy Lockhart.). There was at least some aspect of deliberation on Bode's part, and a deliberate attempt to steal a prophecy is different than the accidental destruction of one or more prophecies. Any exception to this would, I think, involve the Imperius curse, and here is where I see a potential plot hole. Canon's initial description of Bode suggests he may have been under the influence of the Imperius curse:

‘Morning, Arthur,’ [Bode] said in a sepulchral voice as the lift began to descend. ‘Don’t often see you down here.’

‘Urgent business, Bode,’ said Mr Weasley, who was bouncing on the balls of his feet and throwing anxious looks over at Harry.

‘Ah, yes,’ said Bode, surveying Harry unblinkingly. ‘Of course.’

Harry barely had emotion to spare for Bode, but [Bode's] unfaltering gaze did not make [Harry] feel any more comfortable.

Order of the Phoenix - page 124 - Bloomsbury - chapter seven, The Ministry of Magic

Sturgis Podmore -- and Order member and, I believe, and Unspeakable at the Department of Mysteries, was caught attempting to enter the Hall of Prophecy, arrested, and sentenced to six months in Azkaban for Trespass. This would indicate he never got to the point of touching the prophecy with deliberation or trying to remove it with deliberation. And, as an Order member, it would seem unlikely Sturgis would have voluntarily set out on an errand for Voldemort. He, too, could have been under the Imperius curse.

So, I think canon demonstrates that deliberation could be the factor that distinguishes whether a person will go mad in light of destroyed prophecies or prophecies that are removed from the shelves by someone for whom a prophecy was not made. It is also consistent with Dumbledore's well-known quote from Chamber of Secrets:

‘It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’

Albus Dumbledore - Chamber of Secrets - page 245 - Bloomsbury - chapter eighteen, Dobby's Reward

Anyhow, food for thought!

  • 2
    Nice post. Deliberation certainly seems to be a factor. But I was thinking more on the lines of why didn't Vodemort had a Death Eater go and blast it with a stunner? When the apparition starts speaking, transmit it magically. (I doubt the Dark Lord uses FaceTime!). Like I said, I think neither Voldemort nor the Death Eaters knew what would happen if the orb shattered. They were clearly more concerned with keeping it in one piece.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 12:01
  • Bode also worked in the Department of Mysteries, so I would think he would have known the consequences of removing a prophecy ball from the shelf. When I was reading the book, I took this as pretty striking evidence that he was under the Imperius Curse (or some other powerful mind control effect) at the time. The logical conclusion from this would be that it's physical contact that makes you crazy, not intent. Of course, IIRC there is no reported example of someone remotely disturbing a prophecy ball with intent, so hard to say (and my memory is fuzzy too).
    – David Z
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 12:38
  • And in fact, HP Wikia says that Bode was Imperiused by Lucius Malfoy, in a way that seems to allude to a passage from the books which is more direct than the one you quoted. Though I don't have my books, so I can't look it up, assuming this passage does exist.
    – David Z
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 12:41
  • Please read rojo's answer. His theory convinced me. Hope you approve as well.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 16:06
  • Seriously, who are you?
    – HarryJames
    Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 21:05

Voldemort may have been unaware of this possibility. Consider the following passage explaining why he needed Harry to retrieve the prophecy:

“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.”

This tells us that Voldemort was initially not aware that only the subject of a prophecy could retrieve it. This is confirmed in one of Harry's sojourns inside Voldemort's mind:

“Avery told me Bode would be able to remove it.”

“Bode could never have taken it, Master... Bode would have known he could not... Undoubtedly that is why he fought so hard against Malfoy’s Imperius Curse...”

And confirmed again by Dumbledore at the end of the book:

“And then you saw Rookwood, who worked in the Department of Mysteries before his arrest, telling Voldemort what we had known all along — that the prophecies held in the Ministry of Magic are heavily protected. Only the people to whom they refer can lift them from the shelves without suffering madness.

Given that Voldemort's knowledge of how prophecies work was clearly incomplete/inaccurate, it is reasonable to suppose that he was also not aware that you could hear a prophecy by smashing its container. Indeed it would be expected that information about things in the Department of Mysteries would be top secret and not known to many people.

And while Voldemort did later confer with Rookwood, a former employee in the Department of Mysteries, it is possible that Rookwood did not tell him that a prophecy can be heard by smashing it – either because he didn't think that's what Voldemort wanted, or because he himself might not have known either.

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