Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Characters/Sybill Trelawney

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Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Character
Sybill Patricia Trelawney (UK/Canada), Sibyll Trelawney (US)
Gender Female
Hair color Unknown (hidden by shawls)
Eye color Unknown (magnified by glasses)
Related Family ancestor: famous Seer Cassandra Trelawney
Loyalty Albus Dumbledore

Overview[edit]

Sybill (or Sibyll) Patricia Trelawney is the Divination teacher at Hogwarts. She was the great-great-granddaughter of the famous Seer, Cassandra Trelawney. She wears very large glasses that makes her eyes appear several times larger than they actually are, has a soft and misty voice. She is very thin and is always draped in a finely-woven, shiny shawl.

Role in the Books[edit]

Beginner warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Prisoner of Azkaban[edit]

Harry, Ron, and Hermione choose to take Divination starting in their third year. Professor Trelawney opens with normal fortuneteller practices, vague predictions, including that Neville will break at least one teacup, that something Lavender Brown is dreading will happen on the 16th of October, and that around Easter, "one of their number will leave them... forever." Neville does in fact break two teacups while attempting to read tea leaves.

Professor Trelawney also sees the Grim, an omen of impending death, in Harry's tea leaves. The class is so upset by the revelations, that they are still visibly shaken the next period. Professor McGonagall mentions that Professor Trelawney has predicted the death of a student every year since she had been employed, and no students had yet died.

As far as the predictions go: Lavender receives news on 16 October that her pet bunny has died, and Hermione, fed up with Trelawney's babble, quits Divination just before Easter (leaving . . . forever). These events, tenuous as their connection may be, are linked back to Trelawney's earlier predictions by at least two students, Lavender and Parvati Patil, and greatly enhance Sybill's reputation in their minds, at least.

Ron and Harry, though they stay with the course, are unimpressed by the prediction side of it. Unable to read the future, they start fabricating predictions from tea leaves and, later, crystal balls.

As Harry completes his Divination exam, Professor Trelawney suddenly seems to fall into a trance, talking strangely, and utters a prediction that the Dark Lord's servant will be freed, returning to him that night. When she returns to normal seconds later, she seems unaware that anything untoward occurred.

This prediction does come true; that night, following events in the Shrieking Shack, Peter Pettigrew escapes and returns to Lord Voldemort's service. Harry later comments to Dumbledore that Trelawney seemed to have predicted that night's events, and Dumbledore remarks that he should consider giving her a raise, as that increases her number of actual prophecies to two.

Goblet of Fire[edit]

While Professor Trelawney is still teaching Divination to Harry's class, this year primarily astrology, her interaction with Harry seems to be involved primarily with setting him and Ron homework. Harry and Ron, after laboring over their star charts, fall back on the usual technique: making stuff up. Their predictions of disasters for themselves are quite successful, with Professor Trelawney even reading them out in class, but backfire when Trelawney requires them to continue for a further month of predictions. Ron bemoans the fact that they have run out of disasters.

Later in the year, Harry, bored as usual in Trelawney's class, falls asleep and "dreams" an episode with Voldemort and Pettigrew. Trelawney tries to pin some mystical interpretation on it, inquiring details of Harry's dream, but Harry refuses. It turns out that Rita Skeeter somehow receives information about this episode and publishes it.

Order of the Phoenix[edit]

Professor Trelawney again is teaching Divination to Harry's class, this year concentrating on dream interpretation. Early in the year, Dolores Umbridge is created Hogwarts High Inquisitor by Ministry edict, and appears in her classroom with a clipboard, making notes. Trelawney, rightly, sees this as an intrusion, and is most upset by it. Umbridge asks Trelawney to justify her teaching techniques and requires a prediction from her; then is apparently unimpressed with the results.

Over the course of the year, we see Trelawney becoming more and more harassed and bedraggled in appearance, because Umbridge has placed her on probation. Harry also notes that she seems to leave a certain scent of cooking sherry behind her. When Harry stands up to Umbridge by giving an interview to the Quibbler, Trelawney breaks her usual pattern of predicting horrible death for Harry, instead predicting long life, many children, and election as Minister of Magic.

Finally, Umbridge fires Trelawney, and has put her and her trunks in the Entrance Hall, when Professor Dumbledore overrides her decision to eject Trelawney from the school grounds. Dumbledore says that while, as High Inquisitor, Umbridge has the authority to dismiss his teachers, she lacks the power to force them to leave the school, and it is his wish that Trelawney remain at Hogwarts. He also has to override Trelawney in this; her wounded pride compels her to leave and seek employment elsewhere, but Dumbledore refuses to allow that.

During the Battle at the Ministry, we learn that the thing Voldemort has been seeking, and the reason he lured Harry to the Ministry, is a prophecy concerning himself and Harry. Voldemort had earlier heard the first half of the prophecy, and as a result had attempted to kill Harry as an infant, unsuccessfully. In his office after the battle, Dumbledore tells Harry that the prophecy had been made to him by Trelawney. The prophecy, made shortly before Harry's birth, had been what persuaded Dumbledore to hire Trelawney as the Divination teacher; had it not happened, Dumbledore likely would not have allowed the course to be offered at Hogwarts. Events to date had made parts of the prophecy become true, and Dumbledore allows Harry to hear the entire prophecy. Harry is greatly disturbed, as it appears that the prophecy is saying that he must either kill Voldemort or be killed by him.

Half-Blood Prince[edit]

Dumbledore apparently realizes that Harry is reluctant to discuss Trelawney's prophecy with anyone, as it seems to be impelling him to become a murderer, so he recommends that Harry tell Ron and Hermione about it. He does so, and is relieved to discover that they don't think less of him for the revelation.

Harry's interaction with Trelawney is very limited this year, as he had failed his Divination OWL so dramatically. We learn that both Trelawney and Firenze, who was hired to replace her, are now teaching Divination. Parvati Patil seems somewhat disappointed that Trelawney is teaching sixth year. Trelawney still feels affronted, and seems to feel that Firenze is stepping on her turf, because we see her walking through the halls, smelling of sherry, and trying unsuccessfully to tell her own fortune. At Horace Slughorn's Christmas party, she is morosely drunk, and in mid-March we see her demanding, unsuccessfully, that Dumbledore fire Firenze.

Summoned to Dumbledore's office, Harry finds Trelawney sprawled on the floor outside the Room of Requirement. Helping her up, he discovers that she had been using the Room of Requirement as a place to hide her sherry; this time, though, she had heard someone inside "whooping". When she had demanded to know who was there, everything had gone dark, and she had been rudely thrust back out into the corridor. Harry believes that the evident joy in the unknown person's voice indicated that Draco Malfoy had completed whatever it was that he was doing in the Room of Requirement, and he asks Trelawney to accompany him to Dumbledore's office, to tell Dumbledore what she had heard. On the way, she starts talking about the day she was hired. Harry has already heard the story from Dumbledore, and is somewhat interested to hear Trelawney's version, but when Trelawney mentions that the eavesdropper had been Severus Snape, Harry leaves her standing in the corridor and runs off to confront Dumbledore with this information.

Deathly Hallows[edit]

With Harry not attending Hogwarts, we see very little of Trelawney until the final battle. Trelawney helps her fellow professors and students during the battle that ensues at Hogwarts when Lord Voldemort and other Death Eaters attack it by throwing crystal balls down from upper landings of the staircase. A thrown crystal ball knocks out Fenrir Greyback before he can resume an attack on Lavender Brown.

Strengths[edit]

Trelawney actually does have the gift of Sight to a limited extent. Twice, over the course of some eighteen years, she has made prophecies: one has come true, and the other had partially become true at the start of the series, and is completed by the end. She does have some ability to mislead and misdirect; Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown hang on her every word.

Weaknesses[edit]

She pretends to be a better seer than she is; knowing that she is supposed to have the Sight, because of her ancestor, she plays that up for all she is worth, using the same tricks Muggle fortune-tellers use. She annoys some people but she cannot be relieved of her residence at the castle because of her real prophecies. She is very insecure, trying to preserve her position as superior to Firenze after his hiring by bad-mouthing him and his techniques. When she is threatened with dismissal, and when Firenze is taking half the Divination classes, she also tends to retreat into alcohol; in the latter half of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and throughout Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we never meet Sybill without smelling sherry.

Relationships with Other Characters[edit]

Sybill Trelawney spends most of her time in the Divination tower/classroom and she is thus alienated from the rest of the staff, though the impreciseness of her subject, knack of overexaggerating, and questionable teaching methods often draw the ire of Professor McGonagall. Her relationships with students aren't much better: she irritates Harry, Hermione, and Ron, but manages to gather a smattering of followers including Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown. She also holds resentment towards Firenze when he is appointed as a second Divination teacher.

Analysis[edit]

Overall, Trelawney likes to make big impressions, most probably because of her insecure nature. She enjoys predicting the deaths of students, one in each year, though none have died yet. She constantly predicts a gruesome death for Harry, possibly wanting the grand effect of having such a famous person die and predict it correctly.

Ironically, Trelawney's two wildest predictions turned out to be the only ones that were true. These two predictions were so wild that "even [Trelawney] wouldn't say something as far-fetched as that", according to Trelawney. These two predictions also happen to relate to Voldemort.

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as mentioned above, Dolores Umbridge sacks Sybill and orders her out of the castle; Albus Dumbledore, while not disputing her authority to dismiss teachers, does dispute her authority to force people to leave the castle. He requests, quite forcefully, that Sybill stay in the castle, and has Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick assist her in returning to her chambers. There is no reason for him to retain her in the school, except that she has twice now uttered prophecies about Harry and Voldemort, one of which has already come true, and one of which Voldemort is trying quite hard to retrieve. Presumably, Dumbledore feels there is some danger, either to the Order or to Sybill herself, if she is allowed to leave the protection of Hogwarts. Sybill remains unaware of this possibility of danger, apparently; she does not seem to be aware of having made either prophecy. Of course, Voldemort may not know of her lack of awareness, and may mean to kidnap her to retrieve the prophecy direct from the source, as it were.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

  1. How would Professor Trelawney react if she knew she had made the prophecy about Harry?
  2. What danger would she be in if others knew (i.e. Voldemort)?
  3. What does the way Trelawney treats Firenze say about her character?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

The fact that Trelawney can, even if only very occasionally, make accurate prophecies, and the revelation (in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) that there are enough prophecies made to fill what would appear a rather large warehouse, should inspire the reader to contemplation of the nature of time in the Wizarding world. We have already seen that there has been significant magical work done with time, as shown by the Time Turner Hermione had used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Time area of the Department of Mysteries shows that work in that area is continuing with some success. However, the fact that prophecies are so clearly valued would suggest that time travel, as performed by the Time-turner, is unidirectional; the time-turner can take you back in time to relive an hour or a day, but cannot take you forward to a future that has not yet happened. The value placed on prophecies, however, indicates that the Wizarding world does accept that some Seers can accurately predict events, and that it is an uncommon ability.