Talons and Tea Leaves
Chapter 6 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Talons and Tea Leaves
The next morning, Malfoy entertains the Slytherin table by imitating Harry's reaction to the Dementors. The Weasley Twins remark that Draco was less brave when the Dementors were near his compartment.
Ron notices that Hermione's class schedule lists Arithmancy, Muggle Studies, and Divination, all at nine o'clock. When Ron teasingly asks if she is going to be in all three classes at the same time, Hermione cryptically replies that it is all worked out with Professor McGonagall.
Harry and Ron have trouble finding the Divination classroom that is atop the North Tower. Sir Cadogan, an inept Knight in a portrait, clatters through several paintings, leading them to a room with a trapdoor in the ceiling. A nameplate reads "Sybill Trelawney, Divination Teacher." The trap door opens, and a silvery ladder descends. Harry and the others clamber up. With great drama and fortuneteller's tricks, Professor Trelawney proclaims that Divination is a difficult subject, one that cannot be learned from books. Hermione seems skeptical. Today's lesson is reading tea leaves, and Trelawney sees a dog shape in Harry's cup that she identifies as the Grim, a death omen. She predicts someone will die, leaving Harry a bit worried; it is the third time a dog shape has appeared to him recently.
Harry and the entire class are so disturbed by Trelawney's prediction that during Transfiguration class, they seem unimpressed when Professor McGonagall transforms herself into a cat to demonstrate how Animagi change shape. Somewhat nettled, Professor McGonagall, who appears to have little respect for Divination or its teacher's abilities, explains that it is an imprecise branch of magical study. Every year Professor Trelawney predicts some student's imminent demise and none have ever died. McGonagall carefully stops short of denigrating Professor Trelawney.
At lunch, Hermione comments that she is quite unimpressed by Divination, proclaiming it a woolly and almost useless subject, particularly compared with her Arithmancy class. Ron is amazed, as she has been with them all morning and wonders how she could also have Arithmancy.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione head to Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures class. Hagrid is dismayed that no one has been able to open their textbook — the secret is to stroke it, whereupon it becomes quiescent. In a paddock in the Forbidden Forest are Hippogriffs, magical creatures with a horse's hindquarters, and the wings, talons, and head of a bird. Harry is volunteered to be the first to approach them. He steps up to Buckbeak and, acting as Hagrid instructed, is accepted. Hagrid convinces him to climb onto Buckbeak, whereupon Buckbeak takes him for a quick flight around the Forest and back to the paddock. The students lose their fear and address the Hippogriffs properly; Malfoy, however, insults Buckbeak, and the angry Hippogriff slashes his arm with its talons. Hagrid carries Malfoy to the hospital wing as the class disperses in disarray.
When Hagrid does not appear at dinner, the Trio visit him. Hagrid has been drinking heavily, and is morosely convinced he will be sacked. Harry, Ron, and Hermione insist that Professor Dumbledore would not do that, and they are witnesses that Malfoy behaved improperly. Hermione tells Hagrid he has had enough to drink. Hagrid sobers himself by soaking his head in the rain barrel and, suddenly realizing Harry is outside the castle after dark, soundly berates them.
Once again, Harry sees a canine image when Professor Trelawney identifies a shape in the tea leaves as a Grim; this is the first time that it is actually named and specifically identified as a death omen. This, along with Ron's description of the Grim that his uncle saw shortly before he died, further supports Harry's growing suspicion that he is seeing a true death symbol. Coupled with the ever-present Dementors, this omen causes Harry to grow anxious and fearful for his own safety.
The fakery employed by Professor Trelawney in her Divination course probably appalls many readers. Cultivating the mystical, misty atmosphere in her classroom, and carefully constructing her "predictions" to be vague, clearly reflects the fortune-telling tactics employed by Muggle "mediums". It is particularly curious that Trelawney's classroom seems less designed to teach Divination techniques, than it is a venue to showcase her fortune-telling methods. It is hardly surprising then that she would interpret soggy, clumped tea leaves in a cup as a Grim sign, conveniently planting the idea into her students' susceptible minds that this image fits her annual prediction that somebody at Hogwarts will die. Trelawney seems to be held in less than great esteem by other Hogwarts teachers. Although she carefully avoids speaking ill about another teacher, Professor McGonagall clearly appears to believe that Trelawney's brand of Divination is useless. We can see that Professor Dumbledore, despite his eccentricities, is very level-headed and knows what is transpiring in the school; he almost certainly shares McGonagall's opinion regarding the validity of Trelawney's teachings. Given this, one should wonder exactly why she is kept on.
The reader should pay attention to Trelawney's prediction offered to Lavender Brown: "That thing you are dreading. It is going to happen on Friday the sixteenth of October." The author's efficiency, and the precision of this statement, would lead us to believe that there will actually be something that occurs on that date. We note in passing that the action of this book is apparently meant to be taking place in 1993 and 1994; in one of the writer's endemic minor calendar confusions, October 16, 1993 is a Saturday. Another prediction she makes at the beginning of the lesson is to tell Neville to take a blue cup after he breaks his first pink one. When Neville does break the pink cup it leaves many of the class believing in her Seer qualities; however, one suspects she has deliberately chosen Neville to hand the cups out because of his diffidence. This sort of selection of the least confident participant, coupled with an assurance that said participant will mess up, often results in the participant failing as predicted.
Also, Hermione has the same classes as Harry and Ron, but her timetable indicates she is taking many more subjects than they are, including ones taught at the same time. She remains evasive whenever Harry and Ron query her about her heavy class load, cryptically responding that it has all been arranged with Professor McGonagall. There is as yet no explanation as to how Hermione is managing this, though there is probably some magical means behind it.
Hagrid, who was recently exonerated fifty years after being falsely accused of releasing the monster from the Chamber of Secrets, soon finds his new-found confidence and self-esteem severely shaken by the incident involving Draco Malfoy and Buckbeak. We, and the Trio, clearly see that Draco deliberately provoked the attack, insulting Buckbeak when Hagrid had expressly warned against it. Hagrid, however, who either failed to hear Draco's insult or simply lacks confidence, feels he alone is responsible for what happened.
Malfoy's character is further highlighted when he uses the Dementor incident to mock Harry, even as the Twins inform Harry that Draco is also terrified by them. Draco's mocking and bullying, occurring as it does only when Draco is protected either by distance or Crabbe and Goyle, his tame thugs, is to be expected from the cowardly bully personality that the author has crafted for him.
Readers should also pay close attention to Professor McGonagall's class lecture and demonstration.
- Why is this chapter called "Talons and Tea Leaves"? What does that represent?
- What is seen in Harry's tea leaves and what does it signify? Has Harry seen it before?
- What does Trelawney predict and how do the students react to it?
- What does McGonagall have to say about Trelawney's prediction?
- What is Hermione's opinion about Divination? Explain.
- Why does Buckbeak attack Draco Malfoy?
- How does Hagrid react after the Malfoy/Buckbeak incident? Is his behavior justified or not?
- Why might Hermione be so evasive about her class schedule? How can she be taking classes that are scheduled at the same time?
- What effect might Hermione's heavy class load eventually have on her? How can she cope?
- What might Dumbledore think about Trelawney's abilities? Why would he have hired Trelawney as the Divination teacher?
The partial reason for Trelawney's tenure is learned later in the story. During Harry's Divination exam, Trelawney lapses into a trance and makes a bona fide prophecy. Professor Dumbledore remarks to Harry later that this is her second genuine prophecy, and suggests that she might merit a raise because of it. Her first, we learn some time later, concerned Harry and Voldemort. Dumbledore witnessed it as he was interviewing Trelawney for the Divination position, just as he was about to refuse her the job. Instead, he hired her, despite being soundly unimpressed by her Divination skills, on the basis of that prophecy. He later refuses to allow her to leave the school, apparently fearing for her welfare should Voldemort, who badly wants to know the prophecy, discover she was its source.
We later learn that Divination is an examined subject, as an OWL exam is offered in that course. Though, given what Trelawney is teaching, one must wonder exactly what is being examined. Professor Dumbledore, in describing Trelawney's interview, says that he was strongly considering not offering Divination as a course at Hogwarts following his discussions with Trelawney; this would indicate that Dumbledore shares Professor McGonagall's feelings about the subject, at least as Trelawney teaches it.
Also, Trelawney's annual prediction that a student at Hogwarts will die does come true in the next book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, though even in that instance it is in no way a true prophecy. It is actually only a timely coincidence, and the author may be using it here to foreshadow an upcoming tragedy.
Over the course of this year, we will see a very clear polarization in the students, between those like Harry, Hermione, and Ron who see Divination as nonsense, and those like Lavender and Parvati who believe in it unreservedly. Lavender and Parvati are not stupid; however, they do seem to be gullible, and for whatever reason, they remain unable to see through Trelawney's indirections and deceits. We believe that the author may be using Divination as a way to highlight that the ability to do magic does not automatically include the ability to see through trickery like Trelawney's, or by extension, like Voldemort's.
Professor McGonagall's class educates us about the Animagus transformation. According to Hermione, there are only seven registered Animagi, indicating it must be an extremely difficult feat to learn. Though it is unknown if there are unregistered Animagi, most readers, unlike Hermione, understand that it is possible to be outside the law in small ways. Even after learning that Animagi are legally required to be registered, we should consider if there might be others than just the known registered ones. There are indeed several unregistered Animagi, three that will appear in this story, including Sirius Black, and one other who first appears in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. How many others there might be, remains unknown.
As noted, Hermione is somehow taking more classes than humanly possible. Unknown to the other students, she has secretly arranged with Professor McGonagall to use a Time-Turner, a device that allows her to return in time to attend classes taught at the same hour. However, Hermione soon realizes she may have taken on a heavier burden than even she can possibly manage and is beginning to realize her own limitations. Throughout the book, Hermione will steadily become more stressed by her heavy schedule, at one point actually punching Malfoy in anger. Disgusted by Trelawney's Divination class, she drops it mid-year, and later drops Muggle Studies, leaving her with a humanly-possible workload. At school's end, she returns the Time-Turner to McGonagall, who sends it, we are led to believe, back to the Ministry. An errant jinx of Neville's strikes a cabinet which Harry recognizes as containing Time-Turners during the battle at the Ministry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In conversation in the following book, we learn that all known Time-Turners were destroyed, which gives Harry, Hermione, and Ron an excuse for not taking Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures course.
There are a number of places in this book where the question of how Hermione is able to attend so many classes is raised, and dismissed. This is such a pervasive question that, in retrospect, one wonders how Hermione is able to keep the secret of the Time-Turner from us for sixteen chapters (it is given to her in the previous chapter, and revealed in chapter 21). It may reward the reader to note the fortuitous timing of distractions of one sort and another that occur around the times when the question should have been raised. The author does an extremely good job of arranging events to prevent the reader questioning things like the way Hermione keeps appearing and disappearing in one place and another, by putting another, apparently more important event adjacent to the occurrence. This is a vital part of this author's exemplary skill in the set-up and pay-off; in this case, we don't recognize the set-up, because of the distractions, until the pay-off, when, with the reveal of the Time-Turner, we suddenly realize what was going on. This pattern will recur multiple times though the series.
Despite his size and strength, as well as his bravery in facing various monsters, Hagrid is curiously insecure. It will take a long time for him to recover from the incident with Draco and Buckbeak, and he struggles throughout the book to prove Buckbeak's innocence. Meanwhile, Malfoy, who deliberately provoked Buckbeak, shows no remorse for the damage he inflicts on those he considers inferior, or over allowing an innocent creature to be condemned.
- This is our first exposure to Divination and the low esteem in which it is held, probably justifiably. Professor Umbridge's apparent vendetta against Divination and Trelawney, and Trelawney's mid-year replacement by Firenze, will be a plot point in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
- This is also our first introduction to the operation of the Time-Turner, though it is not yet identified to us. The Time-turner will remain behind the scenes until it is exposed by Hermione, at Professor Dumbledore's request, in chapter 21 of this book. It will not be used again, though the author does, we believe out of necessity, destroy the entire world's stock of Time-turners in a later book.