A class on Thestrals

Harry learns about the Thestrals during a Care of Magical Creatures lesson

Extract from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

By J.K. Rowling

‘Ready?’ said Hagrid cheerfully, looking around at the class.

 ‘Right, well, I’ve bin savin’ a trip inter the Forest fer yer fifth year. Thought we’d go an’ see these creatures in their natural habitat. Now, what we’re studyin’ today is pretty rare, I reckon I’m probably the on’y person in Britain who’s managed ter train ’em.’

 ‘And you’re sure they’re trained, are you?’ said Malfoy, the panic in his voice even more pronounced. ‘Only it wouldn’t be the first time you’d brought wild stuff to class, would it?’

 The Slytherins murmured agreement and a few Gryffindors looked as though they thought Malfoy had a fair point, too.

 ‘Course they’re trained,’ said Hagrid, scowling and hoisting the dead cow a little higher on his shoulder.

 ‘So what happened to your face, then?’ demanded Malfoy.

 ‘Mind yer own business!’ said Hagrid, angrily. ‘Now, if yeh’ve finished askin’ stupid questions, follow me!’

 He turned and strode straight into the Forest. Nobody seemed much disposed to follow. Harry glanced at Ron and Hermione, who sighed but nodded, and the three of them set off after Hagrid, leading the rest of the class.

 They walked for about ten minutes until they reached a place where the trees stood so closely together that it was as dark as twilight and there was no snow at all on the ground. With a grunt, Hagrid deposited his half a cow on the ground, stepped back and turned to face his class, most of whom were creeping from tree to tree towards him, peering around nervously as though expecting to be set upon at any moment.

 ‘Gather roun’, gather roun’,’ Hagrid encouraged. ‘Now, they’ll be attracted by the smell o’ the meat but I’m goin’ ter give ’em a call anyway, ’cause they’ll like ter know it’s me.’

 He turned, shook his shaggy head to get the hair out of his face and gave an odd, shrieking cry that echoed through the dark trees like the call of some monstrous bird. Nobody laughed: most of them looked too scared to make a sound.

 Hagrid gave the shrieking cry again. A minute passed in which the class continued to peer nervously over their shoulders and around trees for a first glimpse of whatever it was that was coming. And then, as Hagrid shook his hair back for a third time and expanded his enormous chest, Harry nudged Ron and pointed into the black space between two gnarled yew trees.

 A pair of blank, white, shining eyes were growing larger through the gloom and a moment later the dragonish face, neck and then skeletal body of a great, black, winged horse emerged from the darkness. It looked around at the class for a few seconds, swishing its long black tail, then bowed its head and began to tear flesh from the dead cow with its pointed fangs.

 A great wave of relief broke over Harry. Here at last was proof that he had not imagined these creatures, that they were real: Hagrid knew about them too. He looked eagerly at Ron, but Ron was still staring around into the trees and after a few seconds he whispered, ‘Why doesn’t Hagrid call again?’

 Most of the rest of the class were wearing expressions as confused and nervously expectant as Ron’s and were still gazing everywhere but at the horse standing feet from them. There were only two other people who seemed to be able to see them: a stringy Slytherin boy standing just behind Goyle was watching the horse eating with an expression of great distaste on his face; and Neville, whose eyes were following the swishing progress of the long black tail.

 ‘Oh, an’ here comes another one!’ said Hagrid proudly, as a second black horse appeared out of the dark trees, folded its leathery wings closer to its body and dipped its head to gorge on the meat. ‘Now … put yer hands up, who can see ’em?’

 Immensely pleased to feel that he was at last going to understand the mystery of these horses, Harry raised his hand. Hagrid nodded at him.

 ‘Yeah … yeah, I knew you’d be able ter, Harry,’ he said seriously. ‘An’ you too, Neville, eh? An’ –’

 ‘Excuse me,’ said Malfoy in a sneering voice, ‘but what exactly are we supposed to be seeing?’

 For an answer, Hagrid pointed at the cow carcass on the ground. The whole class stared at it for a few seconds, then several people gasped and Parvati squealed. Harry understood why: bits of flesh stripping themselves away from the bones and vanishing into thin air had to look very odd indeed.

 ‘What’s doing it?’ Parvati demanded in a terrified voice, retreating behind the nearest tree. ‘What’s eating it?’

 ‘Thestrals,’ said Hagrid proudly and Hermione gave a soft ‘Oh!’ of comprehension at Harry’s shoulder.

 ‘Hogwarts has got a whole herd of ’em in here. Now, who knows –?’ ‘But they’re really, really unlucky!’ interrupted Parvati, looking alarmed. ‘They’re supposed to bring all sorts of horrible misfortune on people who see them. Professor Trelawney told me once –’

 ‘No, no, no,’ said Hagrid, chuckling, ‘tha’s jus’ superstition, that is, they aren’ unlucky, they’re dead clever an’ useful! Course, this lot don’ get a lot o’ work, it’s mainly jus’ pullin’ the school carriages unless Dumbledore’s takin’ a long journey an’ don’ want ter Apparate – an’ here’s another couple, look –’

 Two more horses came quietly out of the trees, one of them passing very close to Parvati, who shivered and pressed herself closer to the tree, saying, ‘I think I felt something, I think it’s near me!’

 ‘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.’

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix