Chapter 16 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Professor Trelawney's Prediction
It is late May, and exams are looming. Harry and Ron see that Hermione has two exams scheduled for Monday morning and two for Monday afternoon. When Harry asks if there is any chance of an explanation as to how Hermione expects to sit two exams at once, Hermione cheerfully says, "No," then looks for her Ancient Runes book. Hedwig delivers a note from Hagrid: Buckbeak's appeal is 6 June, the day of their last exam, and it will be at the school. A committee Wizard and an executioner will attend, so it appears to Harry that the committee's decision is already made. Ron is dismayed over the wasted work he has done on the appeal. Draco, who lost some of his usual swagger after Slytherin's Quidditch defeat, appears to be getting it back. Worse, the tight security has made it impossible to visit Hagrid, and Harry has not yet dared to retrieve the Invisibility Cloak from the One-Eyed Witch tunnel, because of Professor Snape.
Exams begin, and they are as rough as expected. In Transfiguration, students had to transfigure a teapot into a tortoise, which most found difficult. In Charms, they were tested on Cheering Charms, the one class Hermione missed. Tuesday's Care of Magical Creatures was a simple exam; they only had to keep Flobberworms alive for one hour. Harry, Ron, and Hermione use this time to exchange a few words with Hagrid, who says Buckbeak is tired of being penned up. It will be several days before the appeal. The Potions exam goes poorly; Snape apparently gives Harry a zero. Astronomy is Tuesday at midnight, History of Magic Wednesday morning, and Herbology is Wednesday afternoon. Thursday morning is Defence Against the Dark Arts, and Professor Lupin has set them a practical test: students have to wade across a deep pool containing a Grindylow, cross a series of potholes containing Red Caps, cross a stretch of marshland while avoiding being distracted by a Hinkypunk, then climb into an armoire to battle a Boggart. Harry gets a perfect score, but Ron is distracted and led astray by the Hinkypunk. Hermione is unable to defeat the Boggart who appears as Professor McGonagall telling her she has failed every subject.
Heading back, they run into the Minister for Magic on the castle steps. Fudge says he is there for a very sad duty—witnessing the execution of a dangerous animal. Ron protests that the Hippogriff might be exonerated, but before Fudge can answer, he is joined by a testy old Wizard and a tall, strapping man carrying a large axe. Convinced the appeal is a mockery, Ron starts to say something, but Hermione drags him away to protect Mr. Weasley's job.
After lunch, Harry and Ron have their Divination exam, while Hermione has Muggle Studies. Professor Trelawney examines students individually. Harry, examined last, pretends to see a Hippogriff in the crystal ball and claims it is flying away. As Trelawney dismisses him, she suddenly enters into a trance and speaks in a strange voice: "It will happen tonight. The Dark Lord lies alone and friendless, abandoned by his followers. His servant has been chained these twelve years. Tonight, before midnight, the servant will break free and set out to rejoin his master. The Dark Lord will rise again with his servant's aid, greater and more terrible than ever before. Tonight... before midnight... the servant... will set out... to rejoin... his master..." Suddenly awakening, Trelawney is unaware of what she has just said, and chastises Harry for repeating it to her.
Uncertain if Trelawney was merely adding melodrama to the exam or experiencing a real prediction, Harry heads back to the common room. Before he can share what Trelawney predicted, Ron and Hermione tell him Hagrid sent a note: Buckbeak lost the appeal and will be executed at sunset. Hagrid orders the Trio to stay away. Harry bemoans that his Invisibility Cloak is still in the One-eyed Witch tunnel, otherwise they could visit Hagrid. However, if Snape catches Harry anywhere near there, he will be expelled. Hermione dashes off, returning shortly with the Cloak.
Donning the Invisibility Cloak, the three head to Hagrid's hut. A distraught Hagrid says Macnair, the executioner, is Lucius Malfoy's friend, but at least the end will be quick and clean. Professor Dumbledore is also coming to support Hagrid. Says Hagrid, "Great man, Dumbledore." Fetching a pitcher, Hermione discovers Scabbers hiding inside. Scabbers seems frantic to remain hidden, trying to climb back into the milk jug, even as Ron grabs him. Hagrid spots the execution committee coming and shoos Harry, Ron, and Hermione out the back door. As they head to the castle under the Invisibility Cloak, Scabbers makes another bid for freedom. As Ron tries to contain him, they hear the swish and thud of the executioner's falling axe.
Once again, Hermione's attendance at multiple classes is called into focus and promptly shunted aside by something of apparently greater importance. This is the first time that Hermione has directly refused to explain, rather than diverting the question, and thus the first time that she is admitting that there is some validity to Harry's belief that she is attending multiple classes at the same time. Even so, the message from Hagrid arrives before we are given time to think about this, and so any speculation about Hermione's apparent ability to be in two places at one time is short-circuited.
Trelawney's prediction leaves Harry stunned and confused, unsure whether what he has just heard was mere melodrama or a true prophecy. It should be remembered that Trelawney has a poor record for making accurate predictions, though her lapsing into a trance, speaking in an eerie voice, and having no memory about what she just predicted is uncharacteristic. This prophecy may be genuine. There is also no indication as to who Voldemort's servant may be, but the obvious assumption is that it is Sirius Black. Harry can only wait and let events unfold; the prediction, if real, is that events will happen before midnight, far too short a time for Harry to consult with others to try and determine its meaning.
Ron shows a surprising side to his character here, reflecting a budding maturity that has been relatively unseen until this book, though he still has far to go before reaching adulthood. Previously, he wisely counseled Harry to heed his friends' advice, rather than listen to his enemies. Upon hearing Buckbeak's fate, he vocally opposes the Ministry's actions directly to Fudge, outraged over an obvious injustice that is being inflicted on innocent victims. Only Hermione's intervention prevents him from saying more and possibly damaging his father's position within the Ministry. For once, Ron not only speaks out against something he believes is wrong, but also expresses compassion for others. Though usually showing little concern regarding matters unrelated to himself, Ron here steps outside himself, and he is certainly correct that Buckbeak's execution is a mockery, one that has been orchestrated by the malicious Mr. Malfoy purely from spite.
It is perhaps worth noting that Ron has jumped to a conclusion here. The presence of the executioner does not mean that the appeal is a foregone conclusion. Contrary to the US system in which inmates can be kept on Death Row for extended periods, the English system does not keep the condemned prisoner alive for an extended time after final appeals have been exhausted. Buckbeak has one remaining shot at an appeal, and if that fails, it is a mercy to have the execution done quickly to eliminate a long period of anticipation. It is not, strictly speaking, necessary, given the efficient Wizarding transportation network, to have all three members of the Committee arrive at the same time; the executioner could be summoned only after the appeal fails, of course. The executioner's appearance here is largely for dramatic effect, though Fudge's arrival seems somehow forced. Perhaps Fudge is supervising as a favour to Lucius Malfoy, and to the voting bloc that he seems to informally represent.
Hermione, meanwhile, has come face-to-face with her greatest fear: failing all her classes. She does, however, show courage and loyalty when she unhesitatingly retrieves Harry's Invisibility Cloak, knowing that, if caught, she could be disciplined and lose House points for helping him. She further shows her loyalty by accompanying Ron and Harry to Hagrid's hut to comfort him during this difficult time.
- What happens during Trelawney's Divination final exam? What might it mean?
- Who retrieves Harry's Invisibility Cloak and why?
- Scabbers vanished in April, and it is now early June. Why did he remain hidden in Hagrid's hut all this time? Why does he try to escape again?
- How is Trelawney's prophecy different from her usual ones?
- What might Trelawney's prediction mean?
- Who is Voldemort's servant mentioned in the prediction?
- Why was an execution party sent before the appeal had been decided? Who is behind this and why?
- What prompts Ron, who rarely has an opinion about anything unrelated to himself, to stand up to Fudge? Why does Hermione drag Ron away?
- How has Ron's character changed since we first met him?
Although Harry's fabricated prediction that Buckbeak flies safely away is wishful thinking on his part, it actually foreshadows events in the book's conclusion. It is perhaps lucky that Harry is aware that he is making this up; if he had been a little less sure of himself, he might have thought that he had a touch of the Talent.
Trelawney's strange pronouncement is a true Prophecy, and Dumbledore later tells us that it is the second genuine one that he is aware of. The first concerned Harry and Voldemort, and occurred while she was being interviewed for the Divination position by Dumbledore. It is apparently on the strength of that first prophecy that Dumbledore has kept her on staff; this second one will surely bolster that decision. Otherwise, it would seem that he shares the staff's general opinion that Divination is purest flummery, hardly deserving a place at Hogwarts.
The reader may believe that this is a true prophecy; it is certainly delivered in a convincing manner. If so, the reader will be misled by the belief that Black is the Dark Lord's servant. It is true that Black, imprisoned in Azkaban, could be said to be chained "these past twelve years", except that he has by now been free for almost a year. Despite the various bits of foreshadowing — the Sneakoscope, the revelation of the Animagus transform, Black's attack on Ron, and Crookshanks' repeated attacks on Scabbers — we are somehow unable to predict that Scabbers will be unmasked as the Animagus form of Peter Pettigrew.
The Invisibility Cloak has lain, undiscovered, in the secret passage leading from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade after Harry was forced to abandon it there in mid-April. It remained there until early June, when Hermione went to retrieve it. We know that Black was in the school on the night after the match against Ravenclaw, before the Cloak is dropped in the passage, and Harry sees him in his Animagus form the night before the Slytherin match, after it had been left. Did Black enter the school via that passage? If so, did he pass by the Cloak, and, recognizing it as once belonging to James Potter, leave it aside? Or did he use another means to get into Hogwarts? The author never clarifies this point, but it is quite possible that Black opened a boarded-up window in the Shrieking Shack, and is using the tunnel under the Whomping Willow to enter the school grounds. It would appear that this route is less dangerous for Black, in either of his forms, than the route through Honeyduke's.
- This is the first time we have seen a true Prophecy from Trelawney. We will discover that Trelawney had been hired almost entirely because of an earlier prediction, which will see in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It will turn out that this earlier prophecy drives most of the action of the entire series. When the Ministry claims power over the hiring and firing of Hogwarts teachers, and then fires Trelawney, in that same book, Professor Dumbledore acts to keep her at Hogwarts despite her dismissal. This is apparently because Voldemort is then actively seeking the full text of the original Prophecy, and Dumbledore believes that Trelawney's life is not safe if she leaves the school.
- The form which Trelawney's prophecy takes is important. Note that the start of the prophecy is repeated; thus, a person who only hears the end of the prophecy actually only hears the beginning of it. It will turn out that this pattern also appears in the only other prophecy of Trelawney's that we hear. At the time we hear that prophecy, Professor Dumbledore will state that Voldemort had only heard the beginning of the prophecy, and was desperate to find out the rest of it. We will later discover that Voldemort's informant had been present only at the end of the prophecy. This is certainly easier to believe than that he was present during the first part of the prophecy and somehow bundled off, without disturbing Trelawney and breaking her trance, or having the audience lose the gist of her speech.