There are many things that Albus Dumbledore does in the Harry Potter series that have left us stroking our beards and wishing we had a spell to tell us exactly what he was thinking.
Why, for example, didn’t he tell Harry in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that he knew that Draco would attempt to kill him? It might have been handy, too, if Harry had known of Dumbledore’s friendship with Grindelwald. Given that for most of Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore knew that he was dying, why didn’t he just tell Harry that he was a horcrux or that Snape was in love with Lily?
Of course, there are a multitude of reasons for why Dumbledore didn’t share these facts – the biggest being that, despite his incredible mind, he was fallible like the rest of us. Still, it’s intriguing to wonder what might have happened had Dumbledore divulged some secrets. In fact, if we had a Time-Turner wouldn’t it be fun to go back and see what might have occurred if Dumbledore had shared more details with Harry? For example: what if Dumbledore had told Harry from the beginning that he was the Chosen One?
Naturally, given that at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Harry didn’t even know that he was from the wizarding world, it might have been information overload for an 11-year-old to be told not only could he use magic but that he was also at the centre of a prophecy in which either he or the darkest wizard of all time would have to die in order for either of them to survive.
However, by the end of that first book, Harry had faced and, at least for that moment, defeated Voldemort. Lying in the hospital wing after his confrontation, he is visited by Dumbledore, who, when quizzed, is unable to tell Harry why Voldemort tried to kill him in the first place. “When you are ready,” Dumbledore says, “you will know.”
Imagine, though, that in that moment, Dumbledore – the only person with knowledge of the true prophecy – had shared that information with Harry. Well, it would have changed everything.
It’s not unfair to say that Harry has a hero complex. If you take Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, instead of really trying to alert the Order about his visions of Sirius at the Department of Mysteries, he takes the word of a miserable house-elf and heads to London, putting him, his friends and the Order at risk. If Harry had already known about the prophecy, his eagerness to help may have been tempered. In fact, it could have ultimately saved Sirius.
With that knowledge, Harry might actually have focused on learning Occlumency, too. While his connection to Voldemort saved Arthur Weasley’s life, it also put numerous people at risk, Harry included. It might also have saved a lot of angst in Order of the Phoenix as Dumbledore wouldn’t have had to give Harry the cold shoulder for a year.
Indeed, with the foresight that he would one day have to vanquish Voldemort or perish himself, you can’t help but wonder whether Harry might have held on to a smidgen of self-preservation. Instead of descending into the Chamber of Secrets, he might have known not to get involved. Likewise with the Triwizard Tournament – while Harry couldn’t have prevented his name being entered, surely an awareness of the prophecy could have meant that he failed all the tasks (perhaps on purpose). It could have stopped Voldemort’s full return and given Harry more time to really train himself for the final battle.
Indeed, the knowledge that he is the Chosen One doesn’t mean that during the Battle of Hogwarts Harry balks at the brave and distressing decision he makes to sacrifice himself for his friends and the rest of the wizarding world. However, if he had just been given more time, it could have prevented the battle in totality.
Nevertheless, all of this is subject to the idea that the notion of being the Chosen One doesn’t affect Harry’s wellbeing. Snape always called him arrogant, and there’s every chance that knowledge of the prophecy could have gestated inside Harry, giving him an inflamed sense of importance. Who knows what an enlarged ego could have done to Harry Potter. It’s likely he may have turned out like Gilderoy Lockhart, leaning into his celebrity. Such a profile would make it easy for the Ministry of Magic to use Harry as their pawn, and when Voldemort ultimately returned (which, no matter the order of events, would have happened), it’s debatable whether the wizarding world would have had the capacity to fight him off. Certainly, there would have been no Dumbledore’s Army. Likewise, would Harry have the humility to face Voldemort and sacrifice himself if, for his entire adolescence, he was told how important he was?
In choosing not to tell Harry about just how significant he is in the battle against Voldemort, Dumbledore makes a wider decision, one that helps Harry become the man he needs to be in order to overcome the difficult choices he has to make to save the wizarding world. And while it’s easy to see how Dumbledore’s omission of the truth incurred additional trauma upon the Boy Who Lived, it’s also clear that Harry had to experience the things he did in order to fully realise what was at stake.
'Can you forgive me?', Dumbledore asks Harry in the ‘Kings Cross’ chapter in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. 'Can you forgive me for not trusting you? [...] I only feared that you would fail as I had failed.'
While he is talking about withholding the knowledge of the Deathly Hallows, it could easily apply to the prophecy, too. Dumbledore’s knowledge about the Chosen One didn’t stop Voldemort from killing Harry’s parents, nor the wrongful incarceration of Sirius Black. He didn’t stop Voldemort’s reign of terror, either. Instead, a baby boy, protected by his mother’s love, did it. It took Harry not knowing to get him to a position where knowing wouldn’t set him on the wrong path. Most likely, Dumbledore knew that all along.