It can’t be easy growing up in the shadow of a famous ancestor, especially when you’ve chosen the same career. Poor Sybill is always going to be compared to her lauded forebear, the Seer Cassandra Trelawney, and she’s all too aware of it.
Although she fervently believes in her own skill, there’s a part of her that must know the truth: she’s not as naturally talented as she professes to be.
Fascinatingly, although she has actually inherited the second sight from her great-great grandmother, she simply isn’t aware of it. She has no recollection of her trances that result in monumental predictions, and dismisses anyone who repeats her own foretellings. Incredibly, she doesn’t have any idea that she made the prophecy that sealed Harry’s fate.
On the surface, many of her day-to-day predictions are completely random and have little resonance, but if you dig a little deeper they do tend to come true, just in a slightly roundabout way. The problem with Sybill is that she doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of her gifts, which leads her to misinterpret the things she sees or reads in tea leaves.
Perhaps that’s why she feels the need to create such an eccentric persona for herself; one thing’s for sure, she certainly likes to make an impression.
She has a carefully crafted image, with her oversized magnifying glasses, wild hair and fondness for shiny shawls layered over her thin frame. She might imagine herself to be a mysterious, all-seeing Diviner but the overall look is rather more reminiscent of a ‘large, glittering insect’, as Harry imagined her – no one is going to forget her in a hurry! She’s pretty terrifying at first glance.
Her quirky style doesn’t stop there either; her claustrophobic tower-top loft is an extension of herself, with vast draperies and fragrant vapours, giving off an otherworldly aura.
Therein lies the problem with Sybill: she tries too hard. Her skill isn’t respected enough to speak for itself so she does her best to portray what she fancies a true Diviner should be. The result is often a little bit bonkers.
Harry’s first class under her tutelage is more of a performance than a lesson and it’s clear from the start that she delights in shock value. Her horrified pronouncement that Harry would meet his end in the not-too-distant future becomes even more interesting when Professor McGonagall reveals that it’s not an unusual occurrence.
It’s unclear whether Sybill truly believes that Harry is doomed – it’s more likely to be a calculating move on her part to ensure she has the attention and respect of her new class.
She’s also hilarious.
'By the way, my dear,’ she shot suddenly at Parvati Patil, ‘beware a red-haired man.’
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
She’s either in tune with some wavelength we don’t fully comprehend or has a secret, excellent sense of humour.
That’s what’s so entertaining about Sybill Trelawney: she comes across almost ethereal as though she’s fluttering on the edges of reality, but she can be sharp, funny and calculating. Yet she’s very defensive and over-sensitive about the sincerity of her talents; she’s so flustered and upset by Umbridge’s interrogation that she turns to the cooking sherry. It’s hard not to feel sorry for her when she’s throwing out increasingly wild and random ‘predictions’ in order to prove her worth. She seems to show her true self when she feels under threat, especially if her gift is under scrutiny. Her dreamy, gentle manner is quickly replaced by a much harsher one and she becomes abrupt and accusatory.
Her relationship with her students is similar; Sybill only really warms to those who show the appropriate amount of admiration and respect for both herself and her subject, and she takes an immediate dislike to logical Hermione. Instead she favours Lavender and Parvati who positively fawn over her, and she blossoms under their attention.
It all comes back to her desire to be recognised. Although she may seem oblivious to what’s going on around her, too busy wrapped up in her tea-leaves and tarot cards, she must be aware of her reputation among staff and students.
Widely thought to be a fraud, Sybill is often met with sarcasm and disbelief from other teachers who find her either unsettling or irritating, and she doesn’t seem to have any real friends. She doesn’t seem too bothered. In fact, she considers herself far superior to her unenlightened colleagues. Perhaps that’s why she keeps herself closeted away in her tower, rarely descending the ladder to dine with others – she’s the ultimate loner by choice.
Not that she minds. Sybill finds comfort in her gift and is often carrying her cards or muttering ominous predictions under her breath when she does deign to venture out into the castle.
Despite her spiky edges there’s something fragile and childlike about the Divination professor, seen especially that time when Umbridge gleefully tried to chuck her out of the castle. Her terror and utter despair made her more relatable than she’s ever been, and her love of Hogwarts couldn’t be clearer.
And when the castle was breached, she didn’t hide away in her tower: she got stuck in, hurling crystal balls at Death Eaters with surprising ferocity.
She’s a mass of contradictions and although she may not be the most popular Hogwarts resident, she has to be given recognition for one thing at least: she’s the only teacher who’s managed to send Hermione storming out of a classroom.
Each month Pottermore will try to defend the more… questionable characters from the Harry Potter stories. Come back next month when we make the case for Argus Filch.