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Why couldn't Harry see Thestrals at the end of Goblet of Fire after the senseless and shocking death of Cedric Diggory?

At the end of Goblet of Fire, the carriages still appeared horseless to Harry:

Hermione turned away, smiling at the horseless carriages which were now trundling towards them up the drive, as Krum, looking surprised, but gratified, signed a fragment of parchment for Ron.

Goblet of Fire - Page 629 - British Hardcover - Adult Edition

At the beginning of Order of the Phoenix, Harry sees the Thestrals for the first time:

Here stood the hundred or so horseless stagecoaches that always took the students above first year up to the castle. Harry glanced quickly at them, turned away to keep a lookout for Ron and Hermione, then did a double-take.

The coaches were no longer horseless. There were creatures standing between the carriage shafts.

Order of the Phoenix - Page 178 - British Hardcover - Adult Edition

We know that only those who have seen death can see Thestrals:

‘Don’ worry, it won’ hurt yeh,’ said Hagrid patiently. ‘Righ’, now, who can tell me why some o’ yeh can see ’em an’ some can’t?

Hermione raised her hand.

‘Go on then,’ said Hagrid, beaming at her.

‘The only people who can see Thestrals,’ she said, ‘are people who have seen death.’

‘Tha’s exactly right,’ said Hagrid solemnly [...]

Order of the Phoenix - Page 394 - British Hardcover - Adult Edition

A month went by between Cedric's death and the end of the spring term -- is this enough time for Harry to have truly internalized Cedric's death? Goblet of Fire indicates that Harry was in shock following Cedric's murder, but was able to relate the story of Cedric's death to Mr. and Mrs. Diggory.

When he looked back, even a month later, Harry found he had few memories of the following days. It was as though he had been through too much to take in any more. The recollections he did have were very painful. The worst, perhaps, was the meeting with the Diggorys that took place the following morning.

[...]

‘He suffered very little, then,’ she said, when Harry had told her how Cedric had died.'

Goblet of Fire - Page 621 - British Hardcover - Adult Edition

So, then, why couldn't Harry see Thestrals at the end of Goblet of Fire?

  • 3
    Forgot the Phlebotinum. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 25 '11 at 1:47
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    Why couldn't Harry see the thestrals the whole time? He witnessed his mothers death when he was 1. – OghmaOsiris Dec 25 '11 at 1:49
  • @DVK - Yes, there is that. :) – Slytherincess Dec 25 '11 at 15:05
  • 19
    @OghmaOsiris -- JKR explained that Harry was too young at the time of Lily's death to understand what it meant and to internalize it. He was a baby and therefore had no concept of life or death. – Slytherincess Dec 25 '11 at 15:07
  • 4
    But Harry killed quirrell so he should have seen them way sooner – Samster Nov 6 '17 at 6:07

10 Answers 10

72

This one was answered (or one might say waved away), a long time back by JKR. She said that the death has to sink in for somebody to see the Thestrals.

From an interview with Stephen Fry in 2003:

Stephen Fry: […] Harry saw his parents die, so why hasn't he been able to see the Thestrals before?

JK Rowling: At the end of Goblet of Fire, we sent Harry home more depressed than he had ever been leaving Hogwarts. Now I knew that the Thestrals were coming and I can prove that because they are in the book that I produced for Comic Relief, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, these unlucky black winged horses.

However, if Harry had seen them then and we hadn't explained them then, I thought that would be rather a cheat on the reader in that Harry suddenly sees these monsters but we don't go anywhere with them, so to explain to myself I said that you had to have seen the death and allowed it to sink in a little bit before slowly these creatures became solid in front of you, so that's how I am going to sneak past that one.

Transcripts are available on MuggleNet and Accio Quote.

  • 27
    Oh, that's interesting. Because according to that comment, and a check of canon confirms it, Harry didn't actually see Cedric die: A blast of green light blazed through Harry’s eyelids, and he heard something heavy fall to the ground beside him; the pain in his scar reached such a pitch that he retched, and then it diminished; terrified of what he was about to see, he opened his stinging eyes. (GoF Pg 553 Brit Hardcover) Hmm, perhaps the real questions should be Why COULD Harry See the Thestrals After Cedric's Death? – Slytherincess Dec 25 '11 at 15:14
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    I forgot to say . . . wouldn't a month be enough time for Cedric's death to have sunk in, enough for Harry to see the Thestrals? I could understand if it were only days later, but a month . . . ? Something for me to contemplate. Interesting link here: fictionalley.org/authors/emeric_switch/AIODT01.html – Slytherincess Dec 25 '11 at 15:19
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    @Slytherincess It's not about "seeing someone die", it's about being affected by death in a severe way. Just like real life, we go about our business without giving such things a thought, but when someone close to us dies (e.g. our parents), it changes you. That change is what allows you to see the Thestrals. – Django Reinhardt May 15 '13 at 11:33
  • @DjangoReinhardt - Seeing and internalizing the death of another human being are the two criteria required in order to be able to see Thestrals. So, yes, seeing the death is important and a factor in Thestral lore. Also, the death does not have to be that of a loved one or someone a person is close to. Harry and Cedric weren't close, for example. How someone internalizes the loss of another person depends a lot on the circumstances of the death. – Slytherincess May 16 '13 at 0:54
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    He may not have seen the moment of death of Digory but he did drag his corpse back to school and watched as Mr. Diggory wept over his child. That's pretty darn close to 'seeing death'. She is saying he did not have that same experience w/ his parents. – NKCampbell Jul 6 '16 at 0:01
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Let me quote J. K. Rowling's answer from her old website at http://web.archive.org/web/20110623034324/http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq_view.cfm?id=21

Why could Harry see the Thestrals 'Order of the Phoenix'? Shouldn't he have been able to see them much earlier, because he saw his parents/Quirrell/Cedric die?

I’ve been asked this a lot. Harry didn’t see his parents die. He was in his cot at the time (he was just over a year old) and, as I say in ‘Philosopher’s Stone’, all he saw was a flash of green light. He didn’t see Quirrell’s death, either. Harry had passed out before Quirrell died and was only told about it by Dumbledore in the last chapter.

He did, however, witness the murder of Cedric, and it is this that makes him able to see the Thestrals at last. Why couldn’t he see the Thestrals on his trip back to the train station? Well, I didn’t want to start a new mystery, which would not be resolved for a long time, at the very end of the fourth book. I decided, therefore, that until Harry is over the first shock, and really feels what death means (ie, when he fully appreciates that Cedric is gone forever and that he can never come back, which takes time, whatever age you are) he would not be able to see the Thestrals. After two months away from school during which he has dwelled endlessly on his memories of the murder and had nightmares about it, the Thestrals have taken shape and form and he can see them quite clearly.

5

J.K. Rowling answers this question during an interview, explaining it as follows:

Q: In the fifth book, Harry can see the Thestrals. Can you?

A: Yes, I can, definitely. That is a really good question, because it enables me to clear up a point. The letters that I’ve had about the Thestrals! Everyone has said to me that Harry saw people die before could see the Thestrals. Just to clear this up once and for all, this was not a mistake. I would be the first to say that I have made mistakes in the books, but this was not a mistake. I really thought this one through. Harry did not see his parents die. He was one year old and in a cot at the time. Although you never see that scene, I wrote it and then cut it. He didn’t see it; he was too young to appreciate it. When you find out about the Thestrals, you find that you can see them only when you really understand death in a broader sense, when you really know what it means. Someone said that Harry saw Quirrell die, but that is not true. He was unconscious when Quirrell died, in Philosopher’s Stone. He did not know until he came around that Quirrell had died when Voldemort left his body. Then you have Cedric. With Cedric, fair point. Harry had just seen Cedric die when he got back into the carriages to go back to Hogsmeade station. I thought about that at the end of Goblet, because I have known from the word go what was drawing the carriages. From Chamber of Secrets, in which there are carriages drawn by invisible things, I have known what was there. I decided that it would be an odd thing to do right at the end of a book. Anyone who has suffered a bereavement knows that there is the immediate shock but that it takes a little while to appreciate fully that you will never see that person again. Until that had happened, I did not think that Harry could see the Thestrals. That means that when he goes back, he saw these spooky things. It set the tone for Phoenix, which is a much darker book.

2

First of all the Second year Harry took a car into Hogwarts, not the Horseless carriages.

Second of all Quirrell may or may not have died in the first book. Don't get me wrong, I think he did (now) but for whatever reason after reading the book and watching the movie I always thought he was locked up somewhere. However if you read http://www.mugglenet.com/editorials/editorials/edit-greg.shtml it explains my thoughts a little better but I don't entirely agree either. Dumbledore was the one who alluded to Quirrell being dead but with a possibility that he might not be because it wasn't said out right and Harry never saw the dead body. He'd blacked out while they dealt with the removal of both of them. So maybe he didn't process it then either, or it didn't really affect him in any real way.

Third if Harry didn't see Cedric's death then he shouldn't have seen the Thestrals until after Sirius died. That one cannot be denied even though I hadn't understood for a long time that the mirror was taking Sirius's dead body into it rather than his very much alive one. I always thought there could be a Greek myth moment and get him back by somehow going after him. Now I get that couldn't happen. At all.

  • Side note: Only in the movies Sirius is killed and then falls through the curtain. I'm pretty sure in the books he's backing up while dueling Bellatrix and then steps through the curtain by mistake. It says Harry keeps expecting him to walk back through the curtain at first. – childcat15 Oct 29 '13 at 10:42
  • @childcat15 In the book Sirius is hit by a spell from Bellatrix and falls through the curtain (just as in the movie it seems, though I haven't seen that recently enough to recall). Harry expecting him to walk out is a combination of him not wanting to admit Sirius is dead, not thinking Sirius could be killed, and not really understanding what the archway/curtain is. – Anthony Grist Oct 29 '13 at 12:45
  • @AnthonyGrist Sirius was hit by a spell and fell through the curtain. He had a shocked look on his face as he fell but was not yet dead before passing through. – Mr.Mindor Jul 8 '14 at 15:06
  • @Mr.Mindor Uh, yes? Not sure why that comment is directed at me. – Anthony Grist Jul 8 '14 at 15:08
  • I don’t think this addresses the question. – Alex Jun 19 at 2:21
2

In regards to Quirell's death, I think the difference between Cedric and Quirell is that Harry mourned the loss of Cedric whereas he does not do so for Quirell. Therefore I think an aspect that has to do with seeing the Thestrals is greif. That would explain why he couldn't see them from the get go; Harry -although he had seen his mother die before his eyes as a baby- did not know his parents. He did not get the chance to take in that grief; his infant brain couldn't process what happened properly. He knew they were dead but did not mourn them. So I think the requirement to see the thestrals is:-

  • You need to see the person die.
  • But you also need to feel grief for that death.
  • And obviously as JK Rowling herself said, it needs to sink in. Perhaps to the point where one is able to carry out a normal day; to have fully recovered from that loss.
2

Harry didn’t emotionally understand the death yet.

The J.K. Rowling Pottermore writing on Thestrals explains more clearly what is necessary to be able to see Thestrals. Though it’s been somewhat covered in interviews with J.K. Rowling, this writing goes into a little bit more detail and states why Harry couldn’t see them returning home after Cedric’s death - he hadn’t emotionally understood death yet.

Being able to see Thestrals is a sign that the beholder has witnessed death, and gained an emotional understanding of what death means. It is unsurprising that it took a long time for their significance to be properly understood, because the precise moment when such knowledge dawns varies greatly from person to person. Harry Potter was unable to see Thestrals for years after his mother was killed in front of him, because he was barely out of babyhood when the murder happened, and he had been unable to comprehend his own loss. Even after the death of Cedric Diggory, weeks elapsed before the full import of death’s finality was borne upon him. Only at this point did the Thestrals that pull the carriages from Hogsmeade Station to Hogwarts castle become visible to him. On the other hand, Luna Lovegood, who lost her own mother when she was young, saw Thestrals very soon afterwards because she is intuitive, spiritual and unafraid of the afterlife.
Thestrals (Pottermore)

This writing also explains there’s no set time frame for people to begin seeing Thestrals - it varies heavily between individuals. Harry hadn’t processed Cedric’s death by the time he was leaving Hogwarts at the end of his fourth year, but by the time he returns to Hogwarts for his fifth year, he understood the “import” of it and was able to see the Thestrals. In contrast, Luna saw Thestrals much quicker after her mother died.

While it’s not outright stated, it seems to be implied that the death witnessed would have to be one that would need to be emotionally processed, meaning one that the person would have to feel some amount of grief for.

0

The criteria to see a thestral are to witness a death and internalise it. Someone on here was making the argument that Harry didn't actually witness Cedric's death because his eyes were closed. I want to talk about that for a second. First of all, it takes more than eyes to see sometimes, and to witness and to see are not intrinsically connected. Harry witnessed Cedric's death merely by being present, he was there when he died and was directly affected by it. It took the summer, being away from Hogwarts, being away from magic, before Harry could internalise the event and allow himself to see the thestrals. And as for Sirius, in the books the spell Bellatrix used was described only as a jet of light, with no indication of what spell it was that caused him to fall through the archway/veil but in the movie, she used Avada Kedavra.

0

Only those who have seen death can see Thestrals, but it's not stated that everybody who has seen death can see them. I would argue that lots of people would be able to see them if this were the case (even if you just limit it to human death). It has to be a deeply affecting death. For Harry, his parents' death couldn't affect him in the "requisite" way, because he was too young, but it has such an affect on his life and outlook that there's no way most deaths could affect him enough. That's why it took a while for Cedric's death to affect him enough, and he was right there (without getting into the definition of "seeing" death). Facing a major death before your brain has developed enough to be cognitively capable of an adult interaction with death--not the way most kids lose, say, their grandparents, in relative agreement with the so-called natural order, but rather, losing a sibling or parent--changes your ability to develop that very capability. It also changes your psychological ability to contextualize death. (Source: all my own opinion, obviously, but formed by my dad's death when I was 15; he was my best friend; I'm 35 now and have been through a ton of therapy.)

Oh, and I know Rowling herself has already weighed in on this question and explained it differently. But, eh, sometimes writers are wrong about their own characters.

I know this is an old-ish question. I couldn't help answering. ^.^

-1

When I was younger, I used to ponder over this sort of thing particularly with seeing Threstrals after seeing death on camera. I feel as though the Threstrals appear when one has fully accepted that they witness the death of a person, and that that person is forever gone.

  • I downvoted because I don't think this post adds an answer to the question over what we have already said. – b_jonas Aug 5 '15 at 14:00
-1

Clearly, merely witnessing a death can't be the exact cause for seeing thestrals, because Harry doesn't see thestrals at the end of his fourth year and does at the beginning of his fifth year and didn't see any death in between. Many have suggested that one can only see them when one comes to accept the death. This is a difficult claim to make because we would need to assume four things that we don't already know: 1. Accepting death is the cause for seeing thestrals 2. Harry didn't accept Cedric's death before the summer 3. Harry accepted Cedric's death before the summer ended 4. There is an exact moment at which one is considered to have accepted death; it isn't a gradual process like we might have expected None of these four things can be proved so I would like to suggest a brand new answer. A person can only see a thestral once he has had nightmares about a death he or she witnessed. This explains why Harry didn't see them because of his mother's death; he didn't know when he saw it that it was death so his nightmares weren't about her death. We know for a fact that Harry didn't have nightmares until the summer because he takes a Sleeping Potion for dreamless sleep at the end of the fourth book after Voldemort's return. We know for a fact that he had nightmares over the summer because Dudley teases him about them in the beginning of the fourth book. Unlike coming to terms with death, a nightmare can be pinpointed to a specific time and is more likely to be the cause of being able to see thestrals. This could potentially alter the way we think of thestrals and their magic.

  • 1
    While an interesting theory, I believe that Rowling has said otherwise. – Adamant Sep 18 '16 at 2:08

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