Horcruxes

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Chapter 23 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Horcruxes← Chapter 22 | Chapter 24 →

Synopsis[edit]

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Harry returns to the castle as the Felix Felicis potion is wearing off. Memory in hand, Harry presents himself to Professor Dumbledore, who seems amazed and pleased with Harry's success. He fetches his Pensieve, and they enter Slughorn's fifty-year-old memory.

Tom Riddle asks Slughorn about Horcruxes. Slughorn explains it is the darkest of Dark magic that can split a soul to encase it into another object; if killed, the perpetrator never actually dies because his soul shard remains earthbound. Souls are not meant to be split, and it takes the ultimate evil, murder, to rip a soul apart. Prodded further, Slughorn reveals there is a spell, but claims not to know it. Riddle asks if, as one Horcrux can keep someone alive, would more not be better? Seven is a very powerful number. Slughorn, horrified, tries calming himself by saying this is all hypothetical. Riddle agrees, but as he departs, Harry sees the same wild joy on Riddle's face as when he learned he was a wizard.

Back in his office, Dumbledore says the diary that Harry destroyed four years before, was not only a Horcrux, but also a weapon, intended to possess a Hogwarts student to reopen the Chamber of Secrets. Dumbledore also theorizes that Voldemort may have divided his soul into seven pieces (Tom Riddle had claimed that seven was the "most powerfully magical number") to obtain immortality. As long as any Horcrux survives, Voldemort is unable to be killed. Dumbledore also speculates that Voldemort only used unique items to house his Horcruxes — objects with a significant history and value to Riddle. Two Horcruxes have been destroyed: Tom Riddle's diary (seen in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and a ring once belonging to Marvolo Gaunt, Voldemort's maternal grandfather. Dumbledore's injured hand resulted from destroying the ring, and it was only his own skill and Professor Snape's timely action that contained the damage. Of the four remaining Horcruxes, Dumbledore believes that one will be Hufflepuff's cup and the other Slytherin's locket; the third may be a Ravenclaw artifact. The only known Gryffindor artifact, the sword, remains safe in Dumbledore's office. The final Horcrux may be Nagini, Voldemort's pet snake. Placing a Horcrux in a live being is risky, however, as living creatures can be killed. Dumbledore also notes that his recent absences were due to his searching for Horcruxes, and says Harry can accompany him if he finds additional ones.

Dumbledore believes Voldemort is unaware when a Horcrux is destroyed, and that he can only be be killed when all his Horcruxes are destroyed by someone with uncommon skill and power, someone like Harry, who possesses the ability to love.

Analysis[edit]

While Dumbledore never explicitly says so, a reader piecing clues together can see that Dumbledore has only counted six Horcruxes: with two destroyed, four remain to be found. While this seems to counter Riddle's belief in seven being the most magical number, we should remember that Voldemort retains one soul piece within himself. It should be mentioned that a Horcrux is not "used up" when Voldemort returns from the dead; when his body is killed, his main soul remains anchored to the Earth by the Horcruxes, and that is used to re-animate him.

It is easy to assume that the artifacts Voldemort chose to house his Horcruxes in are based on their economic value, and that an artifact dating back to Salazar Slytherin would be protected by its antiquity. However, Dumbledore never says anything like that. The artifacts were selected because they are valuable to Riddle. The ones we know of are the diary, valuable because it contains proof that Riddle is the heir of Slytherin, and the Gaunt ring which links him to the old Peverell family. The Slytherin locket and the Hufflepuff cup that Dumbledore mentions, are associated with the founding of Hogwarts, the first place Riddle could call home. The one within Nagini was likely placed there in haste, and the snake happened to be a convenient receptacle; but the one unknown Horcrux will be an object that is valuable to Riddle, whether or not it is valuable to anyone else.

Trelawney's prophecy stated that "The Chosen One" would have powers the Dark Lord lacked. That power is love, and Dumbledore realizes that it is Harry's abilities, combined with his capacity to love, that will empower him to defeat Voldemort. Unlike Harry, who is emotionally intact, and whose friends support him out of loyalty and amity, Voldemort is psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally shredded, feeling only hate, envy, and rage, and controls his followers through fear, intimidation, and coercion. And while Harry finds it difficult to fathom that something so simple as love is the more powerful force, he understands that, once again, it is also about choices: Voldemort's actions regarding Harry are based on the prophecy, but Harry would choose to fight Voldemort whether or not the prophecy had been made. That choice, and the ability to make that choice, is largely what gives Harry powers that Voldemort lacks and prevents Harry from falling victim to the Dark side. Some years earlier, Dumbledore had stressed to Harry that it is one's choices that makes a person what they truly are, just as it had with Harry's father, James, when he chose to overcome his youthful bad behavior.

Dumbledore believes that Voldemort's snake, Nagini, is also a Horcrux. It has been suggested that Voldemort's final Horcrux might have been generated when Voldemort murdered Frank Bryce, the Riddle Manor caretaker. Voldemort's wand was also used to murder Bertha Jorkins in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so it could have been her death that allowed Voldemort to create a Horcrux that he may have embedded within Nagini. It is also possible that all his Horcruxes were in place when he encountered Baby Harry; weak and disembodied, Voldemort may have been unable to create Horcruxes after that incident. This would then rule out a Horcrux being made from either Bertha Jorkins' or Frank Bryce's deaths. However, Dumbledore is correct that Nagini is much more self-aware than an ordinary snake, and that Voldemort seems to have far more control over her than expected. As Dumbledore noted, we have entered the realm of speculation: as Dumbledore knew nothing about the circumstances surrounding Frank Bryce's or Bertha Jorkins' deaths, his speculation does not quite tally with readers' understanding. Nagini was already acting most decidedly un-snake-like when Frank Bryce was killed, so the best assumption is that Voldemort's final Horcrux was actually created from the earlier Bertha Jorkins' death, and was retained in Nagini.

Dumbledore is mistaken in saying that the sword is Gryffindor's only known artifact; there is also the Sorting Hat, which says it once belonged to Gryffindor. The Hat is somewhat sentient, and it is questionable as to whether it is properly an artifact.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review[edit]

  1. Why might Voldemort have created so many Horcruxes? Was this wise? If not, explain.
  2. What is the significance of each object Voldemort hides the Horcruxes in?
  3. Why was Dumbledore so frequently absent from Hogwarts?

Further Study[edit]

  1. How would love be able to defeat Voldemort? Does Harry truly understand its significance?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

One Horcrux was previously seen in Grimmauld Place. "A heavy locket that none of them could open," matching Slytherin's locket that has been seen in the Pensieve memories a few times now, was discovered and discarded during the cleanup of Grimmauld Place. A note inside a fake locket that will be found later in a secret sea cave is signed R.A.B., which are the initials of the late Regulus Arcturus Black, a repentant Death Eater and Sirius's younger brother. The locket at Grimmauld Place will prove hard to find; originally Kreacher, retrieving it from the trash, had set it aside, unable to part with any Black heirlooms. It is later stolen by Mundungus Fletcher, who was seen earlier busily looting Grimmauld Place. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione eventually catch up with Mundungus, he informs them that the locket was extorted from him by Dolores Umbridge at the Ministry of Magic.

Curiously, even though Harry clearly sees Slytherin's distinctively-shaped locket during his and Dumbledore's forays into the Pensieve, Harry fails to recognize it as the same one that was found and then discarded at Grimmauld Place, nor will he fully realize that another locket that will be collected from a sea cave near the book's end is also different until he finds a note inside explaining that it is a fake Horcrux. Dumbledore also never notices the difference; however, he will be in an extremely weakened physical and mental state after recovering the locket, and did not necessarily record the small details so accurately.

Dumbledore believes Voldemort is unable to feel when his Horcruxes are being destroyed, given that he was unaware the diary had been dispatched until Lucius Malfoy told him. What Dumbledore has withheld from Harry is that a second Horcrux, the ring, has also been destroyed, with no apparent response from Voldemort. It is learned later that Snape is able to bring information about Voldemort to Dumbledore, and he would have reported Voldemort's reaction to the ring's destruction had Voldemort known about it. While Harry learns that the ring Horcrux has been destroyed, he must remain unaware of just what Snape's true role is for a while longer.

If Riddle was truthful when he spoke to Slughorn, it indicates that he found nothing about Horcruxes in the library and that the book, Secrets of the Darkest Art (which we learn in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an authoritative source on the making and destruction of Horcruxes) had already been hidden away. Even then, though, Tom Riddle and the truth had, at best, no more than a nodding acquaintance. So it is entirely possible that Riddle had a greater understanding about how to create Horcruxes than he let on and could have created one. The author has stated that the ring Horcrux was made via the death of Tom Riddle Sr., which happened at the same time as Tom collected the ring from Morfin Gaunt; thus, if the ring was on Tom's finger in the memory, it must already have been a Horcrux. One of Dumbledore's infrequent mistakes is seen here: Dumbledore stated that once the ring was made into a Horcrux, Tom no longer wanted to wear it. He is wearing it in this memory, and it is presumably already a Horcrux. Possibly, a better statement would have been, "Once he had made a second Horcrux, he felt a need to keep them all safe and separate from himself." Thus the ring Horcrux would have been hidden once he had made the diary Horcrux.

It is certain that Riddle would have waited to hide the ring Horcrux in the Gaunt shack until Morfin and Marvolo were no longer there. He had learned from Morfin that Marvolo had died. Having framed Morfin for Tom Riddle Sr.'s murder, Riddle would have known that Morfin was in Azkaban, but there is always the possibility, slim though it may be, that he would escape or be released. Presumably it was only after hearing about Morfin's death in prison that Riddle thought it safe to return to the Gaunt shack and hide the ring there. Having taken great pains to conceal his original name, and especially his middle name, Voldemort thought it would be impossible to make the connection back to the Gaunt shack.