I’ve been reading the Jim Kay-illustrated edition of Sorcerer’s Stone to my cat, because I feel like that version deserves to be read aloud, and Scraps is a pretty good audience. We just finished Chapter 15 – The Forbidden Forest, and it brought something to the front of my mind that I’ve been thinking about for a while: is there free will in the Wizarding World?
This is the chapter in which Harry meets the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest—Ronan, Bane, and Firenze. Bane is furious with Firenze for interacting with Harry and saving him from Voldemort. Firenze tells Harry, “The forest is not safe at this time—especially for you.” Later, he tells the furious Bane, “This is the Potter boy. The quicker he leaves this forest, the better.” Bane responds, “What have you been telling him? … Remember, Firenze, we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens. Have we not read what is to come in the movements of the planets?”
Every other time I have read this scene, I have always assumed that this conversation revolved around the dangers Voldemort posed to forest-dwellers at the time. But perhaps the centaurs knew something else. Maybe they knew Harry was destined, one day, to die in the Forbidden Forest.
We don’t know much about the centaur brand of divination—we only see Firenze teach it during the latter half of Harry’s fifth year, since Harry gives up on the subject after his O.W.L. results come back. In their lessons with Firenze, we learn that centaurs “…watch the skies for the great tides of evil or change that are sometimes marked there,” that “…it may take years to be sure of what [they] are seeing,” and that “…even centaurs sometimes read [signs] wrongly.” Most important, perhaps, is Harry’s takeaway that, “[Firenze’s] priority did not seem to be to teach them what he knew, but rather to impress upon them that nothing, not even centaurs’ knowledge, was foolproof.”
In contrast to Professor Trelawney, who more often than not radiated confidence in her incorrect predictions, Firenze seems to represent a more grounded version of divination, which seems—in the Wizarding World—to be rooted in truth.
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