Some content in this article is derived from information featured in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and, as such, spoilers will be present.
A Thestral is a breed of winged horses with a skeletal body, face with reptilian features, and wide, leathery wings that resemble a bat's. They are very rare, and are considered dangerous by the Ministry of Magic. Thestrals are, undeservedly, known as omens of misfortune and aggression by many wizards because they are visible only to those who have witnessed death at least once or due to their somewhat grim, gaunt and ghostly appearance.
Due to Thestrals' classification as XXXX, only experienced wizards (or Hagrid) should try to handle Thestrals. Breeding as well as owning these beasts may be discouraged or even illegal without Ministry consent; in fact, wizards that live in areas not protected against Muggles are forced by law to perform Disillusionment Charms on their Thestrals regularly.
- "If he had had to give them a name, he supposed he would have called them horses, though there was something reptilian about them, too. They were completely fleshless, their black coats clinging to their skeletons, of which every bone was visible. Their heads were dragonish, and their pupil-less eyes white and staring. Wings sprouted from each wither — vast, black leathery wings that looked as though they ought to belong to giant bats. Standing still and quiet in the gathering gloom, the creatures looked eerie and sinister."
Thestrals have quite a disturbing appearance and the wizards who are capable of seeing them often only describe these creatures as being sinister and spooky. This is because they are seen as having big, bony figures and their dragon-like faces which bear white, glittering eyes that lack both expression and pupils. Additionally, they are lured by the scent of blood.
Being a type of winged horse, most of their anatomy is identical to a horse, excluding their large wings that sprout from their back. Unlike the Abraxan, another breed of winged horses, Thestral's wings do not possess any feathers at all; they have vast, black and leathery wings that are more similar to those of bats.
Their fleshless, lustrous bodies are covered with a translucent and glossy coat. This smooth and dark skin is a bit slippery and so thin that Thestral's bones are clearly defined through the entire extension of their sleek bodies.
These eerie horses have long black manes, as well as a large tail, either with flowing black hair, like horses or ending in a tuft, like zebras.Another distinction is their sharp fangs used to seize and slash their prey.
These magical creatures can be found in dark environments, and the forest is their natural habitat. They communicate with each other through a shrill and strange shriek that resembles some sort of monstrous bird.
They appear to be loyal creatures, able to discern a friend from an enemy and offering help to humans in need of transportation. Thestrals would forcefully attack anyone or anything they see as a threat and, in the unusual case of domesticated Thestrals, any enemy of its owners.
In the Battle of Hogwarts, Hogwarts' trained flock of Thestrals cooperated with Buckbeak, the Hippogriff, to attack the Giants fighting for Voldemort. It's unclear whether or not wild herds can similarly cooperate with other species.
Thestrals are carnivorous animals and are attracted to the smell of blood. Professor Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank mentions that they often attack birds. This indicates that, naturally, they hunt not only for food in the ground, but also pursue flying prey.
- "The horse crouched slowly, then rocketed upwards so fast and so steeply that Harry had to clench his arms and legs tightly around the horse to avoid sliding backwards over its bony rump. He closed his eyes and pressed his face down into the horses silky mane as they burst through the topmost branches of the trees and soared out into a blood-red sunset. Harry did not think he had ever moved so fast: the Thestral streaked over the castle, its wide wings hardly beating...."
- —A Thestral taking off and in mid flight[src]
The Thestral tail hair is a powerful and tricky substance that can be mastered only by a witch or wizard capable of facing death. It should be noted that this substance can be used as a core in a wand's conception and it was used to create the most powerful wand known by wizards, the Elder Wand.
The most well known ability of these beasts is their invisibility to those who haven’t seen death. In other words, they are only visible to people who have seen someone dying and fully accepted, understood and internalised the concept.
Thestrals have an extraordinary sense of smell and will easily recognise the smell of blood and fresh flesh, even if the source of the scent is rather distanced.
They also have quite a useful sense of direction. The Thestral can understand exactly where their riders need to go. If their riders have a certain destination in mind, they only need to say the destination and the creature will diligently carry them to the intended location — much like owls do with letters.
These gentle, winged beasts are very capable and fast fliers and can travel long distances hardly beating their large wings. For example, in 1996, six members of the Hogwarts herd (ridden by Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood) were capable of flying from Hogwarts (Scotland) to the Ministry of Magic (London) in a brief amount of time. It is possible that they were faster than even the fastest broomstick, as when Harry rode his, he did not think he had ever moved so fast, and he was the owner of a top-of-the-line broomstick, the Firebolt.
Their powerful wings are capable of lifting, at least, the burden of two humans plus their own weight.
Thestrals in the wizarding world
- "'But they're really, really unlucky! They're supposed to bring all sorts of horrible misfortune on people who see them. Professor Trelawney told me once —"
- —Wizarding superstition regarding Thestrals[src]
Interaction with humans
Thestrals can be domesticated and mounted, so they are used as an alternative to brooms, Apparition, and other methods of transportation. Once trained, they are very diligent and will quickly carry their owners wherever they wish to go. However, travel by Thestral is technically illegal, as it is a breach of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.
Even with all their useful abilities, Thestrals are rarely used as methods of transportation due to their reputation as omens of evil and their somewhat dreadful and even distasteful appearance.
When riding a Thestral, the traveller usually holds the creature's mane to ensure balance. To aid the mounting, the wizards also place their legs behind the wing joints to provide safety. Flying on the back of a Thestral during a long journey is frequently an unpleasant experience, particularly to those who dare riding them without seeing the creature. The high speed flight on an invisible steed can be terrifying. The wind will, eventually, cause a temporary deafness and will force the riders to close their eyes. It is often difficult to keep balance on their slick backs.
The Hogwarts herd is gentle towards humans, they react satisfactorily to caresses and avoid attacking owls. However, taking into consideration the Ministry of Magic classification as "dangerous", this behaviour may be exclusive to well-trained Thestrals, or just mere prejudice from the Ministry.
- "Hogwarts has got a whole herd of 'em in here."
- —Hagrid referring to the Thestral herd at Hogwarts[src]
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has a very loyal flock of Thestrals used mainly to pull the carriages that lead elder students from Hogsmeade Station to the gates of the Castle. To people who cannot see Thestrals, it appears that the carriages are autonomous. The herd at Hogwarts started with a male and five females. A number of them have been born since, beginning with one named Tenebrus, which is a special favourite of Hagrid's, the Hogwarts gamekeeper. Harry and a group of students flew Thestrals from Hogwarts to the Ministry of Magic in an attempt to rescue Sirius Black. They were also used by Albus Dumbledore, when he needed to travel but didn't care to Apparate.
Rubeus Hagrid, the trainer and breeder of this specific herd, strongly suspects that this is the only trained large group of Thestrals in the whole of Great Britain.
Harry Potter's encounters with Thestrals
Harry Potter first saw the Thestrals at Hogwarts in September of 1995, after having witnessed the murder of Cedric Diggory in June. Harry could not see them that June because he had not yet dealt with what he had witnessed. At first, he wonders why the supposedly horseless carriages are suddenly pulled by such sinister creatures when they are able to move on their own. He points the Thestrals out to Ron Weasley , and realises that Ron cannot see them. Sensing his desperation, Luna Lovegood assures him that she has always been able to see the horses and that he is just as sane as she is. Given Luna's odd habits and beliefs, this statement does not completely reassure Harry.
They were first identified by name by Professor Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, after Hedwig was found injured, when she mentioned that Thestrals sometimes go after birds. They were next mentioned by Hagrid in a Care of Magical Creatures class, where the students were told that they could be used as mounts, and introduced their navigation abilities.
In June of 1996, Harry, Hermione Granger, Ron , Ginny Weasley, Luna Lovegood, and Neville Longbottom flew to London atop the Thestrals in order to find Sirius Black, whom Harry believed to be in danger in the Ministry of Magic. (Hermione, Ron, and Ginny had trouble mounting their Thestrals for the ride since, at least to the three of them, the Thestrals were invisible).
The Order of the Phoenix made use of Thestrals in the summer of 1997 during the Battle of the Seven Potters. Six of the Order's members took Polyjuice Potion to disguise themselves as Harry, and then the "seven Potters" and their protectors fled 4 Privet Drive to safe houses of other members. Hermione Granger and Kingsley Shacklebolt flew on a Thestral, and so did Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour, as Fleur doesn't like brooms.
Known people who can see Thestrals
|Viewer||First death witnessed||Notes|
|Albus Dumbledore (possibly)||Ariana Dumbledore (possibly)||As he rode them when he did not feel like using other forms of transportation, it would be odd if he could not see them.|
|Rubeus Hagrid||His father (possibly)||Hagrid witnessed several deaths over the course of his life, including his father, and could see Thestrals.|
|Neville Longbottom||His grandfather||Neville mentioned being able to see Thestrals in a fifth-year Care of Magical Creatures class.|
|Luna Lovegood||Her mother Pandora||Luna witnessed her mother die during a magical experiment gone wrong when she was nine years old, circa 1990-1991, and thus could see Thestrals when she first came to Hogwarts.|
|Theodore Nott||His mother (possibly)||Theodore was one of only three students who could see Thestrals in the aforementioned Fifth year Care of Magical Creatures lesson, and found them distasteful-looking.|
|Harry Potter||Cedric Diggory||Harry did not see Thestrals immediately after Cedric's death in June of 1995; it took a few months before he accepted this tragic event, and then was able to see Thestrals.|
|Kingsley Shacklebolt (possibly)||Unknown||As he chose to ride a Thestral during the Battle of the Seven Potters, it is likely that he could see them.|
|Severus Snape||Unknown||Snape could see Thestrals, presumably as a result of seeing people killed in the First and Second Wizarding Wars, as Dumbledore once asked him 'how many men and women have you watched die lately' and Snape replied 'lately only those whom I could not save'.|
|William Weasley (possibly)||Gibbon (possibly)||As he rode a Thestral with Fleur (because she wasn't fond of riding a broom) during the Battle of the Seven Potters, it is likely that he could see them (it would be odd if he couldn't)|
|Fleur Delacour (possibly)||Unknown||She chose to ride a Thestral with Bill during the Battle of the Seven Potters, as she wasn't too fond of riding a broomstick, so it is most likely she could see them.|
Behind the scenes
- J. K. Rowling stated that the core of the Elder Wand is a Thestral tail hair.
- J. K. Rowling also stated that the reason Harry was not able to see Thestrals until the beginning of his fifth year was that when he left Hogwarts in June he had not yet fully come to terms with Cedric's death.
- As described in Goblet of Fire, when Harry and Cedric are transported into the graveyard, Harry's scar begins to hurt and then Wormtail kills Cedric. It mentions "A blast of green light blazed through Harry's eyelids, and he felt something heavy fall to the ground beside him." That meant that Harry had his eyes closed when Cedric died and did not know what fell next to him. Therefore, Harry did not actually witness Cedric's death and should not have been able to see Thestrals as a result of it. Despite this, it is canon that Harry can see Thestrals, as it was clearly stated that he could see them in Phoenix, and thus the way in which he witnessed Cedric's death can be described as a consistency error. If one considers it a mistake that Harry was able to see Thestrals, then he should not have been able to see them until either the death of Sirius Black, or Albus Dumbledore, depending on whether witnessing Black falling through the Veil would count. Thestrals, however, can be seen someone who has gained a sufficient understanding of what death means, and it is possible this was enough for Harry to see them, even though he had not witnessed Cedric's death directly.
- Harry also had the chance to witness at least two people die before the death of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. His mother was murdered by Lord Voldemort when he was one, and Professor Quirrell in his first year. Despite this, Harry is not able to see the Thestrals until the beginning of his fifth year. J. K. Rowling has explained this stating that he was in his crib when his mother was murdered, and passed out before Quirrell died. It's also possible that when his parents died, Harry was too young to truly understand the concept of accepting someone's death. This creates a paradox in the films, since the first film appears to show Harry seeing Quirrell die.
- It may be possible that Bill, Fleur and Kingsley Shacklebolt all saw someone die as they all rode a Thestral during the Battle of the Seven Potters. The explanation is that Kingsley Shacklebolt most likely saw a death during the First Wizarding War. However, who Fleur and Bill saw die is unknown. It is possible, that, like Hermione, Fleur could not see Thestrals, since she lived in France where the First Wizarding War wasn't as effective, and she was only four years old when Voldemort was defeated the first time.
- In the films, Thestrals do not seem to have visible hair.
- Thestrals also don’t seem to have fangs in the film, at least in the young foals. Instead they have a pointed beak which they use to grab food and then they swallow it, almost without chewing, much like birds eat worms.
- Neville Longbottom does not seem to be able to see Thestrals in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
- Kazu Kibuishi illustrated the cover of the Scholastic special edition version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which features Harry riding a Thestral, and two other people (possibly Ron and Hermione) riding Thestrals in the background.
- In rare cases, a Patronus may take the form of a Thestral, according to Pottermore.
- In an interview for the fifth film, Daniel Radcliffe described the Thestrals as resembling something the Four Horsemen would ride, alluding to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of the Christian Bible, among whom Death is a member.
- After the second Wizarding war, almost all wizards and students of Hogwarts could see Threstals as many saw Voldemort dying.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Indirectly mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (First appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film) (Flashback on Disc 2)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (play)(Mentioned only)
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
- Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book
- LEGO Harry Potter: Building the Magical World
- LEGO Harry Potter
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Motorbike Escape
- LEGO Harry Potter
- LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7
- Harry Potter: The Creature Vault
Notes and references
- ↑ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 10 (Luna Lovegood)
- ↑ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 17 (Educational Decree Nuber Twenty-Four)
- ↑ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 21 (The Eye of the Snake)
- ↑ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 33 (Fight and Flight)
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 34 (The Department of Mysteries)
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Magical Beasts in Hiding: Ministry of Magic Classification; an A-Z of Fantastic Beasts: Winged Horses
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 J. K. Rowling's Official Site: Extra Stuff
- ↑ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 4 (The Seven Potters)
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Epilogue (Nineteen Years Later)
- ↑ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 36 (The Flaw in the Plan)
- ↑ Wizards' Ordinary Magic and Basic Aptitude Test - Grade 1, Question 11
- ↑ 30 July, 2007 webchat on Accio! Quote
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 15 August, 2004 Edinburgh Book Festival on Accio! Quote
- ↑ Pottermore - Thestrals
- ↑ J. K. Rowling's Official Site
|Professors: Silvanus Kettleburn · Rubeus Hagrid · Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank (substitute teacher)|
|Textbooks: The Monster Book of Monsters · Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them|
|Care of Magical Creatures at Hogwarts: Hagrid's Hut · Forbidden Forest · Care of Magical Creatures classroom|
|Creatures studied: Hippogriffs · Flobberworms · Salamanders · Blast-Ended Skrewts · Nifflers · Unicorns · Thestrals · Bowtruckles · Crups · Fire crabs · Knarls · Kneazles · Porlocks|