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Pursuant to my question here, asking why Harry couldn't see Thestrals immediately following Cedric Diggory's death, now I want to know why Harry could see Thestrals, as a re-read of canon shows that Harry actually did NOT see Cedric get killed. He had covered his face and eyes with his hands and his eyes were closed as Cedric was killed.

And then, without warning, Harry’s scar exploded with pain. It was agony such as he had never felt in all his life; his wand slipped from his fingers as he put his hands over his face; his knees buckled; he was on the ground and he could see nothing at all, his head was about to split open. From far away, above his head, he heard a high, cold voice say, ‘Kill the spare.’

A swishing noise and a second voice, which screeched the words to the night: ‘Avada Kedavra!’

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.

Goblet of Fire - Page 553 - British Hardcover

And:

‘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

According to the above passages, Harry technically did not see Cedric get killed, but witnessing a death is required for seeing Thestrals. So how is it that Harry was able to see Thestrals?

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    "people who have seen death" doesn't necessarily mean that they've actually witnessed the moment somebody died. Seeing Cedric's dead body should count as "seeing death" -- especially given the emotional impact. – Keith Thompson Jan 13 '12 at 10:18
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    @KeithThompson: Good point. After all, we've all seen hundred or thousands die on TV, but I doubt this experience is what's meant by "seeing death". – sbi Jan 13 '12 at 13:25
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    In that case, then the people surrounding them when Harry brought C's body back should have had the effect? – Möoz Feb 26 '14 at 5:03
  • @Mooz We don’t know that they couldn’t, do we? The only people we know for certain can’t see the Thestrals are Harry (until OotP), Ron, and Hermione, as well as most—but not all—of the class present at the Care of Magical Creatures lesson where they’re shown the Thestrals. There weren’t that many people who ever got to see Cedric’s body when it was brought back—it was shielded from view rather quickly, before many people really knew what was going on. If perhaps five or six people saw it and ‘got’ it, those people may well have had similar experiences to Harry, suddenly seeing the Thestrals. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 17 '15 at 10:27
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    The real question is why Harry and the rest of the class couldn't see the Thestrals after fake-Moody showed them how Avada Kedavra works in class. They saw the spider die, and they all realised full well that this was unequivocal, instantaneous death, with all that entails. Doesn't say anywhere that the death witnessed must be a human one, or that of someone you have a close bond or anything. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 18 '16 at 0:19
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The obvious answer would be that the literal act of seeing isn't necessary, rather that it's experiencing someone's death that is key.

Rowling somewhat backs this up:

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.

Source

She does refer to Harry "seeing" Cedric's death, but also explicitly says it's the act of appreciating the death that makes the difference.

Personally I think it's something that slipped through the gaps (nice catch!), but I also think it's explainable in-universe.

  • @dianod -- The books are quite explicit in using the word "seeing" death as a required part of the equation to be able to see Thestrals. Really internalising the death is a separate part of the equation, at least how I read it. :) – Slytherincess Jan 13 '12 at 5:38
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    @Slytherincess - the word "seeing" may be used as a stand-in for more generic "witness", which doesn't necessarily have to be visually processed. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 13 '12 at 8:35
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    @Slytherincess, I have a blind friend who will, as a matter of course and without a trace of irony, use expressions such as "nice to see you again". The word see has many meanings, some of which have nothing to do with eyes. – Martha Jan 13 '12 at 14:40
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    @Chad -- I understand what you're saying (although I believe the books are for all ages), but I thought the purpose of SE was to ask the questions that puzzle us? The quote from JKR telling us she deliberately decided on what feels like a plot hole to this reader is certainly a more useful answer than suggesting there is tons of subtext to the word "see." The purpose of this forum is to ask these kind of questions -- I don't think my question is silly, so I'm not sure where the "Relax, it's just a kids' book; forget about it" POV is coming from. I know what kind of books they are :) – Slytherincess Jan 13 '12 at 21:22
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    "seeing death" isn't the necessarily same as "seeing a death" - of course, it's just semantics, and JKR could just be pulling herself out of the coals using said semantics - but I never really saw this as a plot-hole, and still don't – HorusKol Jan 13 '12 at 23:58
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He mightn’t have to see the moment Cedric died to “see death”.

Harry didn’t see the moment Cedric was killed, but it’s never been said that actually seeing the person die was a requirement for being able to see Thestrals, just that the person has to “have seen death”. It’s never said that they have to see a death take place, though. Harry can be said to have seen death - he looks at Cedric’s dead body, and though he didn’t accept what he was seeing at that moment, he did recognize the body was lifeless.

“Cedric was lying spread-eagled on the ground beside him. He was dead.

For a second that contained an eternity, Harry stared into Cedric’s face, at his open grey eyes, blank and expressionless as the windows of a deserted house, at his half-open mouth, which looked slightly surprised. And then, before Harry’s mind had accepted what he was seeing, before he could feel anything but numb disbelief, he felt himself being pulled to his feet.”
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 32 (Flesh, Blood and Bone)

It’s never made clear what “seeing death” is defined as. For example, it’s never mentioned if having a loved one die and emotionally processing it but never actually having seen the dead body would be enough to see Thestrals. However, Harry was present at Cedric’s moment of death though he didn’t actually see it, then he sees and has to return Cedric’s body. That should be enough for Harry to have “seen death”.

Neville and Luna were also able to see the Thestrals, though it’s unclear whether they actually witnessed the moment their loved ones died. We know Luna’s mother died in an explosion when she was nine, but we don’t know if Luna actually saw her mother die - we just know she described it as terrible, which doesn’t necessarily mean she saw it. It could just as easily mean Luna thought an explosion was an awful way to die, or simply that it was terrible her mother had died. There’s even less information about how Neville’s grandfather died, and whether Neville had actually seen the moment of his death.

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