By this point in time, it is obvious that my original extrapolations of whether, and how, Harry Potter might have been “changed” by the events of Halloween 1981 are no longer the most convoluted element related to that event. Not by a long shot.
No, the most intractable element of that event is attempting to figure out what happened, and what precisely went wrong with it?
And what, for that matter, could Lily have possibly had to do with it?
• • • •
Nobody has ever given us a satisfactory explanation for that. So. Here is yet another exploration of the various possibilities regarding what actually might have taken place in that confrontation.
First, we need to ask ourselves some questions:
- Why did the curse rebound? For that matter just what curse was it?
- What actions had Voldemort taken in his attempt to make himself immortal? He did manage to achieve deathlessness. Is it possible that his previous actions might have some impact on the events of this particular attempt to create a Horcrux? It wasn’t his first attempt, after all. Indeed, by all accounts, it was designed to be his grand finale.
- What is the nature of the connection between Voldemort and Harry? Are any of the other Horcruxes so connected to their creator?
- Can we blindly rely on Dumbledore’s summation of the matter? Is he telling us everything he knows? Or everything he suspects? Is he telling the truth of what he knows/suspects?
As to the first of these questions, we still don’t have anything beyond the most shallow of answers, and most of those are extrapolations from fanon, not canon. But I was pretty sure that I may have finally figured it out. Of course I’d thought that before, too. The current version is better than my earlier ones, at least. But it is, however, still a product of speculation.
I also had come to suspect that we had been following a false trail since GoF.
• • • •
Q: When Crouch/Moody told us that there was only one person known to have survived the Avada Kadavra Curse, and that “he is sitting in this classroom”, why did we believe him?
A: We believed him because he was a teacher. And he gave us what appeared to be a viable answer to the standing question of what had taken place the night that Voldemort went to murder Harry Potter, and didn’t succeed.
But is that any reason to go on believing him now?
It was also implied that Crouch Jr was still a raw recruit in 1981, he is said to have been no more than 18–19 years old at the time of Voldemort’s first defeat (or was he?). I very much doubt that he ever knew anything about Voldemort’s Horcruxes. He certainly wasn’t at Godric’s Hollow. What the hell does he know about what curse Voldemort threw at Harry Potter? He certainly wasn’t there.
The obvious syllogism goes; AK is the “killing curse”. Voldemort tried to kill Harry Potter. Therefore, Voldemort tried to kill Harry Potter with an AK.
Well. No. Not necessarily. Not even if Rowling goes out of her way to try to convince us of such. We’ve seen way too many examples of the fact that Rowling doesn’t bother to “think” about the kinds of things she plunks into her story to make that kind of an assumption. She also lies as easily as Albus Dumbledore. We are not ever going to get a well thought-out extrapolation of what happened at Godric’s Hollow from Rowling. Anything she gives us is almost guaranteed to be as full of holes as Swiss cheese. And she doesn’t like to be pinned down or to be expected to comply with anything she’s already told us, either. We’ve got the Flints to prove it. All in all, we’ll be much better off rolling our own.
Now, many a year after the fact, I am still unwilling to concede that it might have been an AK that Voldemort attempted to throw at Harry Potter. The very fact that the curse rebounded alone argues strongly against that. Under anything like a normal circumstance, the AK does not rebound.
But other curses might. And other curses can also kill.
So I am not just not blindly accepting that the curse that Tom Riddle tried to kill little Harry Potter with was the Avada Kadavra curse. No, not even when DHs tried to show him doing it. I flatly do not believe DHs. I’ll only accept something handed up to me in DHs if it makes sense of something else we’ve been handed to juggle. And there are remarkably few things in DHs that will do that.
• • • •
Particularly not if Dumbledore was correct in his stated belief that Voldemort’s intention was to create a Horcrux from Harry Potter’s murder (Rowling appears to have somehow completely forgotten all about that claim by the time she sat down to write DHs. There is not the slightest suggestion of any attempt to create a Horcrux in that flashback, which convinces me that the “flashback” is no such thing. It’s just Tom fantasizing about how he *should* have handled that murder — from the vantage point of 16 years later, with 20/20 hindsight). In the absence of any such confirmation we are forced to consider that Albus may have been deliberately lying to Harry, when he told him as much. Probably in order to give him a hint that Tom *had* created a Horcrux at Godric’s Hollow. Or perhaps just to butter the kid up and make him feel “special”.
But the Avada Kadavra curse does not in itself create a Horcrux, or Horcruxes would be a lot thicker on the ground than they are, and just about every third DE would have at least one.
They would certainly be a lot wider known about than they are. And for all that Avada Kadavra is referred to as the “killing curse”, like I say, it is hardly the only curse that kills. Wizards are perfectly aware of this, although common usage tends to conflate the issue.
AK is only the killing curse which is reputed to be “unblockable”.
A 15-month-old infant is not going to be doing a lot of curse blocking.
Perhaps the requisite sacrificial victim of a Horcrux-creating murder isn’t going to be in a position capable of doing any kind of curse blocking either.
• • • •
Rowling, obviously never considered the details of the process necessary for creating a Horcrux important enough to work it out all the way through to a logical conclusion. (Or, for that matter, how to account for how Albus supposedly knows exactly what happened at Godric’s Hollow despite the fact that there were no surviving witnesses apart from Harry who Rowling is determined to insist didn’t see what was going on.) But let’s explore this conundrum all a bit further.
A classic AK is widely agreed to be unique in that it is unblockable. Lily shouldn’t have been able to have stopped one of those. She certainly ought not to have had any control over an AK which was cast by somebody else after she was dead. An AK ought to have simply killed her, and killing her should have had no effect upon any subsequent spells cast by her murderer. James had certainly attempted to get in the way of Voldemort when he followed Lily and Harry up the stairs. So why didn’t the curse rebound when he killed Lily?
There is no plausible reason why killing Lily first should have made a subsequent AK rebound on its caster.
In complete defiance of Rowling’s statements, and particularly in defiance of the so-called flashback at Godric’s Hollow (which is totally crackfic), I still don’t believe that what Tom threw at Harry would be a standard AK. I don’t think that what Tom threw at Harry was any kind of an AK at all. Even if it is Rowling who seems to think it was. (Maybe she just didn’t want to have to stop and hand us yet another infodump in the middle of an action sequence.)
Even dismissing most of the (totally unconvincing) information that was pasted on in DHs, we still are stuck with a number of anomalies to juggle regarding the event.
One major anomaly we have to juggle is the issue that when whatever the spell was that rebounded, Tom’s body appears to have been completely destroyed by it. There was no body left at the scene of the attempted murder. The Dark Lord did not merely die, he disappeared.
And the wall blew out. AK might damage inanimate objects when it hits them by mistake, but it doesn’t typically cause explosions.
And, finally, it should also be pointed out that there was NO record in the Priori Incantatum “log” from Tom’s wand in GoF of any curse that failed. Or, indeed, any spell whatsoever being cast during the period that would account for Harry’s injury or Voldemort’s disappearance. The log skipped directly from Bertha Jorkins’s murder, to Lily’s.
With nothing in between.
• • • •
If the spell had been a standard AK — which is presumably unblockable — it ought not to have bounced at all. If it hit the wrong person, it should have simply killed the wrong person. End of story.
If the spell had merely bounced, it ought to have still worked as designed when it did hit a living target, even if it ended up hitting the wrong person. Harry and Draco’s ricocheting spells, in GoF, were both perfectly functional after they collided and hit persons they were not aimed at. But whatever Voldemort threw at Harry rebounded and, not merely killing the caster’s body, completely destroyed it. Allegedly.
Clearly whatever Lily did totally bollixed whatever Tom was trying to do.
With mostly unforeseen results.
Which Albus Dumbledore nevertheless appears to have been able to piece together, after the fact, despite the lack of any eyewitness account. I don’t care how powerful a wizard he is, he ought not to have been able to do that. Not if this is something that had never happened before (as Rowling keeps trying to claim).
Not unless there was something about the scene of the crime itself which made it plain what had happened. So, can we extrapolate a series of actions that would produce a physical result that Albus would have been able to use to piece together what had taken place?
Keeping in mind that Albus at least did have access to those books which referenced the creation of Horcruxes, using the traditional method. And, by the time he spoke of the matter to Harry, plenty of time to research them. And to consider details.
He is very insistent that Harry lived because his mother died to save him from as early as Book 1. I don’t think he is shaving the truth particularly closely when he tells us so. And there is no really satisfactory way of placing an eyewitness at the scene who could have reported the event. So how does he know?
What precisely did Lily do?
• • • •
Which is probably not the right question to be asking. A more relevant question is; what, precisely, was Tom trying to do?
I think we really ought to be asking whether we have enough information to postulate just how any Horcrux-creation spell works yet. Because just about any attempt to extrapolate what happened is going to depend on that. And that seems to be something that it would be better to address in a different essay altogether. That exploration totally hijacks this one.
For that more in-depth exploration on the creation of Horcruxes, I’ll direct you attention farther back the list of topics to the essay entitled; ‘Broken Promise: An Introduction to Horcruxes’.
But we do need to have at least a basic idea to continue further here.
And what we have to extrapolate here is some plausible way in which Lily managed to derail it.
• • • •
This is hardly my first attempt to try to extrapolate what the spell that Voldemort threw at Harry was and how it was supposed to work, and, most importantly, what exactly went wrong with it. I’ve posted at least two earlier iterations of attempts at a solution to the problem over the past 20 years. So, consider this an exercise in trying to open door #3.
To repeat: under normal conditions, the Avada Kadavra curse does not automatically create a Horcrux
Horace Slughorn — who admittedly is probably not the most knowledgeable of sources on the subject — claims that there is “a spell” needed to create a Horcrux. He claims (and for what it’s worth, I believe him) not to know this spell.
C’mon, I’m sure that even Slughorn knows the AK. However reluctant he might be to use it.
So, for starters, I am going to postulate that the Horcrux-creating spell is probably not unblockable.
In the event, the spell apparently was blocked. So, Voldemort did not attempt to murder Harry Potter by means of the Avada Kadavra curse. He probably attempted to kill Harry Potter by means of that unnamed Horcrux-creation curse that Slughorn was referring to.
Lily’s sacrificial death blocked that one.
And the Diary Revenant came out and admitted as much, now that we have some context to understand what it may have actually been telling us.
“So. Your mother died to save you. Yes, that’s a powerful counter-charm. I can see now...”
Excuse me; but haven’t we all been told, loud and clear, and repeatedly, that Avada Kadavra has no known counter-charm? I think even 16-year-old Riddle knew perfectly well that the same lack of a counter-charm did not apply to the documented Horcrux-creation spell. (Especially since by all indications he had already created his own first one by that time.) Let alone the probability that the Diary Revenant’s actual soul source was not the 16-year-old Riddle whose memories had given it form, but the 54-year-old Riddle of 1981.
There might have been any number of possible ways to have blocked that spell. Lily’s willing sacrifice stopped it cold.
One big question now is whether Lily knew that this is what would happen.
Rowling is insistent that she didn’t.
• • • •
There are very few means by which to attain deathlessness, and Voldemort was not famed for creating a Philosopher’s Stone.
But Horcruxes had long been a banned subject at Hogwarts. James Potter had been brought up to abhor the Dark Arts. Sirius Black no longer had access to his own family’s extensive Dark Arts library after the age of 16, and we know nothing of Lupin (a halfblood) or Pettigrew’s family backgrounds. There is no obvious source of information on Horcruxes to be found here.
For that matter, Lily wouldn’t even go out with James until 7th year, and being Muggle-born, had no obvious avenues of inquiry regarding Horcruxes, either.
But the information is out there if you know where to look for it. If Regulus Black, at the age of 17 could have figured out that Voldemort had a Horcrux, it stands to reason that somebody else with access to a private library without the limitations that Dumbledore has imposed upon the one at Hogwarts could find it out as well. Dumbledore’s banning of the subject is presumably a comparatively recent phenomenon.
And that ban only applies to Hogwarts.
It stands to reason that the Blacks are not the only family with Dark Arts volumes in their private library. Indeed, I suspect that you could find a nice collection of such at Spinner’s End. I very much doubt that Severus Snape put that whole library together himself, although he has certainly added to it. I think he inherited the majority of it from his mother and/or his Prince grandparents. This is a possible source of at least some basic information. But not an essential one. And certainly not the only one.
• • • •
My original reading was that Lily — who the reader had been consistently led to underestimate throughout the series — in an act of desperation masked in surface hysteria had maneuvered Voldemort into tacitly agreeing to a binding magical contract of “my life for Harry’s”. And that by killing her, rather than simply stunning her, he sealed his own fate, believing himself to be beyond the reach of consequences. When he turned his wand on Harry the “breech of contract” clause nailed him. If he had not already rendered himself deathless, that would have been the end of the story.
It now seems to me, however, that even that explanation is much more complex than really required. As of January/February, 2007 (i.e., before the release of DHs), the dominoes had been falling like rain.
As things have turned out, I think that it is abundantly clear that it is what Tom did himself that established the connection between himself and Harry. What Lily did to cause the curse to misfire prevented the connection from being broken. And through the energy conducted by it, both parties were Changed.
• • • •
Which brings me to yet another ultimately fruitless exploration.
As with so many other situations, Rowling deliberately set this one up — and then apparently forgot about it altogether, for she certainly did nothing with it.
According to Albus Dumbledore’s reading of the circumstances, Voldemort allegedly intended to create his sixth and final Horcrux from the death of Harry Potter.
Dumbledore goes on to state that the rebounding curse prevented this, and that if he has created a sixth Horcrux, it was done after his return to the material plane. Dumbledore also admits that he makes mistakes, and that when he does they are likely to be huge ones.
In common with most of fandom, I was of the opinion that Dumbledore had either made a mistake in this case, or he has deliberately deflected inquiry from its proper object for reasons which were not immediately obvious. I was sure that the sixth Horcrux was not Nagini. The sixth Horcrux — such as it is — was Harry Potter.
In this supposition we were led to believe that we were wrong (actually we weren’t), and I was duly disgusted to learn that Nagini turned out to be a Horcrux after all.
However, the fact that Voldemort had created another Horcrux — although not from the death of Frank Bryce, but (ex-cathedra) from that of Bertha Jorkins, once he returned to a vestigial physical form concealed from Tom the discovery that he had also created one from the infant Harry Potter when his curse misfired at Godric’s Hollow.
We saw what Riddle looked like in his interview with Madam Hepzibah Smith after he had already created his first Horcrux.
We saw what he looked like upon his return to the wizarding world 10 years and (presumably) three additional Horcruxes later.
Voldemort was familiar with each incremental step of the process between those two points. And when he ran his hands over his newly-formed face after rising from the cauldron, he would have expected to discover the changes wrought by creating his most recent Horcrux. Which is to say, Nagini. The changes between the “molten wax” face that he wore upon his return from his first exile, and the “mask-like” face that he has worn since his second return are extreme enough to detect by touch (like, say, no longer having a *nose*), running those spidery hands over his face, as Harry watched him do.
Even though, as I suspect, there may have been a brief incremental stage (or the beginnings of a brief incremental stage, we have no way of knowing how long such a physical change takes to establish itself) between the wax image and the mask that came out of the cauldron which appeared in the year before his first defeat (since I am now inclined to believe that the Diary was actually the 5th Horcrux, created around 1980–81).
• • • •
However, working our way back (again) to Godric’s Hollow:
Horace Slughorn claimed that “a spell” existed for the purpose of creating a Horcrux when Riddle asked his question in the academic year 1942–’43, but that he did not know that spell, and he insisted that the subject had already been banned. I think we can probably take Slughorn at his word on this much. Tom Riddle did not learn how to create a Horcrux from Horace Slughorn. At most, he only got confirmation on what a Horcrux was.
*sigh* This is completely without regard to the direct contradiction to Slughorn’s information that Rowling inserted into DHs when she decided that she had painted herself into a corner again. (And it has also now become abundantly clear that we cannot trust any statement of Rowling’s that was ever made in any interview, since she lacks the integrity to even stand by what she has already published in the novels. And claiming that she doesn’t reread her own work after it’s published is not an acceptable excuse.)
But we also know that Riddle, by all accounts, was once supposedly brilliant. The very fact that he created that Diary, not just from the manner in which he had designed its housing; incorporating the function of a calendar, and a Pensieve (both of which were probably originally created for some other purpose than what we ultimately saw them used for), and then retrofitting an interactive user interface by which the fragment later housed in the Horcrux might be able to influence and take possession of the holder, steal their life and escape from the book (one life spent to put it in, another spent to take it out), we can conclude that he was not in the least averse to messing about with extremely dangerous, highly experimental magic.
But first, he had to find out how to split his soul, and eject a fragment, enabling him to do it.
Although when he did discover the documented method, he evidently postulated that the traditional spell might not even be necessary — or not to a wizard like himself, at least! And then set about to prove it. And did. Tom Riddle never needed that traditionally documented Horcrux-enabling spell.
Well, we are not without possibilities there. Albus Dumbledore was not able to ban information related to the creation of Horcruxes outside of Hogwarts. And it has been pointed out to me that Riddle may not in fact have spent all of his summers in that orphanage. Which opens up a whole other line of inquiry.
But I do agree with the fan who pointed out that Tom may have learned more from Slughorn, than just what a Horcrux was; this fan also implied that Slughorn may have inadvertently given Riddle exactly the information he required when he informed Tom that the subject had been banned at Hogwarts.
Banned books are certainly to be numbered among the contents of the Room of Hidden Things. And it is no stretch whatsoever to suspect that by his 5th year Tom Riddle was probably already well acquainted with the Room of Hidden Things.
In fact, that he was familiar with it was even confirmed in canon. He hid a Horcrux there, after all.
• • • •
Riddle, who since the date of his interview with Madam Smith apparently has committed a great many murders — enough to stock a good-sized underground lake with Inferi, anyway; to the point that if any mere murder would split one’s soul, Tom’s lack of any capacity for remorse, would ensure that his soul would probably be no more than a bundle of shreds and tatters — is nevertheless still stated by Albus Dumbledore to have reserved the creation of his Horcruxes for “significant” deaths.
I suspect that this may be a slight misstatement on Dumbledore’s part. Possibly a quite deliberate one. As a “ritual suicide” — which I now believe any murder used to create a Horcrux to be — any death that results in the creation of a Horcrux is by definition a “significant” death. Regardless of how insignificant the apparent victim.
Riddle certainly does appear to have, for many years, been holding back on the creation the last of his projected set of six Horcruxes, reserving it for a publicly recognizable significant murder. But there is no reason to suppose that the five deaths that created the others were any more “significant” than that the Diary was an object of historical significance and grandeur.
We do not know the identities of the deaths (significant or otherwise) from which Riddle created Horcruxes from the Diary, the Locket, and the Diadem. Rowling’s statements on the subject are contradictory and difficult to reconcile with the facts as they are depicted inside canon. Although I am inclined to believe her when she says that Madam Smith’s death created the Cup. But, again, this was an interview statement. She tends to change those each time she is asked anything like the same question. And at this point it looks very much as though we never will know for certain whose deaths he used for this purpose, any more than we will be told the identity of the people who are now sleeping the long sleep in Lake Inferi. But it is implied that by the time he had returned to the wizarding world after his first Albanian exile he had already created at least four of his intended set of 6 Horcruxes.
• • • •
We will never know the name of the traditional curse which enables one to split off a piece of one’s soul and makes the creation of a Horcrux possible, but, from Slughorn, we know that such a spell certainly exists. Otherwise Slughorn would not have specified that there was a specific spell. He’d have just said it was necessary to murder someone and left it at that, assuming that the spell would of course have been AK. I now suspect the spell that had poor Sluggy hyperventilating was in fact, a possession spell.
Something for which Tom Riddle had no need at all. Riddle never needed a spell for that.
A Dementor extracts the soul of its victim without harming the body. Nor are there any sweeping changes to the victim’s physical appearance due to having lost their soul. Those who have been Kissed do not resemble Lord Voldemort. And we get no indication in the text of the books that the dementors remove the soul in pieces when they extract it.
Under “normal” circumstances the dementors are allegedly more selective in what they take from their victims. Draining them of all hope, or joy, or happiness, or magic, and feeding upon them until the point that the victim, no longer able to recover from the drain, is left with only his worst memories to retreat into, leading ultimately to deepest melancholia, and the failure of the will to live. But while a Dementor might devour a soul, or diminish it, it does not appear that a dementor would be able to divide one.
So. According to my current extrapolation; to create a Horcrux, one must first possess one’s Victim and then murder the Victim while one retains possession of them, in a form of ritual suicide, which will split the portion of one’s soul that is possessing the Victim off from the rest of its source. The Victim’s death severs the connection between its caster and the fragment which is possessing the Victim, and then ejects the soul fragment which had possessed the Victim from the Victim’s body, by killing the Victim’s body.
The fragment — whose source is still alive, and in no danger of being drawn to the Veil — will attempt to return to that still-living source. Who prevents this return by entrapping it in a new housing, thereby creating a Horcrux.
It is possible that the curse also slows down the soul fragment, or makes it visible to the caster, so it may be more easily snared in a waiting artifact, as a butterfly with a net. The artifact evidently does not suck the soul fragment into itself on its own, or you would expect Tom’s “Master” fragment to have been entrapped by whatever artifact he brought with him when he went to create his final Horcrux from Harry’s murder (assuming the artifact survived the implosion).
Which would have served him right.
Yes, I know Rowling did not mention such an artifact in her “flashback” of what she now wants us to believe took place, but I am not convinced one did not exist. Not if Albus was correct that it was Tom’s intention to create a Horcrux from Harry’s murder. And given the very existence of the Harrycrux, that supposition seems entirely too plausible to just arbitrarily dispense with.
So. Creating a Horcrux is designed to render you immune from death. Creating a Horcrux requires a form of ritual suicide. The Victim serves as an intermediary proxy.
I further postulate — and at this point I admit that I am extrapolating beyond the overtly stated data at our disposal — that the traditional, documented curse is a grounded spell which requires that both caster and Victim share the same soul. If they don’t, I suspect all hell breaks loose.
And, on Halloween of 1981, did.
• • • •
But it does appear to be at least a viable hypothesis that only wizards who are able to take possession of others would be the ones who are easily capable of creating Horcruxes. Any other sort of witch or wizard needs that Horcrux-creation spell to establish the requisite possession of the Victim.
And the spell was probably devised by a wizard or witch who did not have Tom’s advantage of being able to natively take possession of other creatures. So the spell is primarily intended to establish the required possession. The murder which actually kills the victim, is sent through that connection.
Is the ability to possess others really common, or is it a specialty of wizards of “a certain caliber”? At this point we have no information on that issue. Over the course of the first two books in the series we certainly had our noses rubbed in the fact that Tom Riddle was capable of possessing others against their will by the time he was 16. But no other person in the entire series, to the best of my recollection, has ever been stated as having “taken possession” of any other beast or being. In DHs we were told that Horcruxes tend do that. And presumably other forms of cursed artifacts are also capable of it. But we never met another witch or wizard who could.
Although it seems fairly clear that the principle of possession is widely enough known for most wizards to at least be familiar with the concept of it, for it is spoken of easily enough. But it isn’t the first thing one thinks of when faced with a problem.
I think Tom discovered that he could possess other creatures before he got his Hogwarts letter. Billy Stubbs’s rabbit hanging itself from the rafters now sounds highly suspicious. He probably got it up there and then made it jump, once the rope was around its neck. He broke contact immediately that time, and didn’t actually experience its death. And since he did break contact, and the victim wasn’t sentient, his soul didn’t split off a fragment. It may have taken some damage. Not that he cared.
But the two children he took to that cave may have been less successful “practice pieces” or perhaps he chickened out at the last moment. (Was he able to possess both of them at once? Maybe he overreached himself and lost control of them.)
He knew that being a Parselmouth was uncommon by the time he reached Hogwarts. But if possession is rare to begin with, I think he figured out that his facility for that was even rarer. And, indeed, if the spell that Slughorn refers to is in fact a possession spell. Tom never needed it at all, and may have been “rolling his own” the whole time. But I would not go so far as to depend upon that. If it works as I extrapolate it working, he certainly attempted to use it at Godric’s Hollow.
If, perhaps, Tom had already found the banned books in the Room of Hidden Things, and knew he could do this, perhaps he wanted to know what else he could do with it. Ergo; he took the risk of raising the question to Slughorn, even if it cost him Slughorn’s regard. It seems to not be out of reason to suppose that Slughorn’s fondness for Riddle might have cooled off abruptly after their discussion on that particular subject.
But he just as certainly did not use the traditional method based upon the documented possession spell to create a Horcrux from the death of Myrtle Warren. There was no detectable “spell” used in that murder whatsoever. Nor was there any spell used in the death of Madam Hepzibah Smith. By this point, I have come to the conclusion that Tom may very well have amused himself by experimentally killing each of the victims of his first five Horcruxes by a different method.
And all of them had worked.
• • • •
We’ve also known since Book 1 that Voldemort tried to kill Harry and that his spell evidently rebounded, with the result that he, himself, disappeared.
We have been assuming, ever since GoF that Voldemort attempted to kill Harry with the AK on Barty Crouch Jr’s say-so, despite the fact that when that event took place Crouch allegedly wasn’t above 18–19 years old, a raw recruit, and wasn’t actually present at Godric’s Hollow to know what spell Voldemort used. I think that it is time to dismiss whatever Barty Crouch Jr has to say on the subject. It’s not impossible, but it is a false lead. A red herring.
I rather think that for what he fully intended to be his final Horcrux of the set of six, Tom decided to make the grand gesture of using the traditional spell.
Which he had never actually cast before.
And it isn’t out of the question that he may have destabilized it from the get-go himself by not using the spell to also establish the required possession.
And Albus’s appearance of going along with Crouch’s statement in HBP was probably for some reason to which we had not been introduced yet. In DHs it was finally unveiled that yes, Albus was very deliberately not telling anyone his suspicion that Harry might not need to die in order to destroy that particular Horcrux, after all.
AK typically leaves a body behind. An unmarked body. We have also watched it do varying levels of physical damage to inanimate objects.
So right there we’ve been thrown a curve regarding our speculations. It throws them right into limbo. For we do have some level of confidence that all five of the known deaths for which Riddle was responsible by the time of his first exile from the ww left bodies. Nobody disappeared.
In the ONLY instance where we have been directly given to understand, in canon, (not after the fact in an interview answer) that Riddle’s primary reason for attempting to commit a murder was to create a Horcrux, the UNintended victim (i.e., the caster) disappeared, leaving no physical trace. No AK which we have observed has ever behaved in this manner.
• • • •
I repeat: in the absence of a dementor; to remove a soul from its body requires a death. The natural death of a 3rd party has no effect upon the 1st party’s soul. I suspect that the deliberately caused death of said 3rd party normally has no diminishing effect upon the soul of the 1st party either; although the 1st party may be required to stand in temporal or spiritual judgment for their actions regarding their level of responsibility for that death. And even if damage to the murder’s soul is sustained, in normal persons remorse will go at least some way in healing it.
The curse which splits, and ejects, a fragment of the soul of its own caster provides the required “death” of the caster by using that of a proxy, a live, intermediate temporary housing, whose death serves to split off a portion of the caster’s soul, which is then redirected into an external housing to keep it from ever passing through the Veil and defeating the purpose of splitting it.
So. Just what did Lily do to disrupt the process?
And why did that disruption do what it did?
And, just exactly what did the disruption do?
And why is there no record of it in the Priori Incantatum which we watched play out in the graveyard of Little Hangleton?
Or is there?
• • • •
Harry’s dementor-assisted memories of the event are really very strange. Harry has no emotional connection to himself in them at all. It’s rather like a Pensieve playback with the video turned off. Or a radio play. Rowling claims that Harry did not see his mother’s murder. No doubt this is supposed to account for it. (Although she showed us quite otherwise in the DHs “flashback”. Harry was definitely able to see that.)
Well, okay. We all agree upon the basic hypothesis that Lily died to protect her son/her son was protected because she died instead of him. No one is arguing about that.
At this point my theories diverge irredeemably from what we were shown in DHs. And frankly, I still think my version is better-built than that. (It would be hard not to be.)
I think that in defiance of the “flashback” in DHs, Tom did not simply kill Lily when she wouldn’t cooperate. And, unlike in my earliest hypothesis, there wasn’t any formal “contract” that she established between them, of her life for Harry’s. She did not trick Tom into such a contract. The “contract” which resulted from her action wasn’t actually a contract, and it wasn’t expected. It was indeed a product of “magic at its most impenetrable,” She didn’t know the projected result that would take place from her action.
But she may have been reasonably sure that what she did might save her baby.
I think she pretty much instinctively threw herself into the path of the Horcrux-creation spell.
Before it could reach Harry.
Whether she knew just enough about the principles involved to know that the Murderer and the Victim must share a soul, or not, she knew that her husband was dead, and she was not going to stand meekly by and watch her son be murdered. She was probably making every bit as useless a gesture as Bellatrix did in marching off head-high into Azkaban. But she was not going to stand by while her son was murdered right in front of her. If Voldemort did not cast the curse non-verbally, she knew that it wasn’t an AK, and may even have hoped that her getting in the way of it would cause the spell (whatever it was) to misfire in some, probably spectacular, manner, which would buy Harry some time.
With no certainty of what would actually happen to her.
• • • •
Let’s take another look at the possible order of action here.
Possession does not require touch, Lily’s sacrifice would not keep Tom from possessing Harry, but it kept him from killing him. A death did result from that spell. In fact the physical death of the caster also resulted from it. So the soul fragment was still split off, but the fragment was not forced from Harry’s body because Harry did not die.
Indeed, as with all Dark magic, the caster’s intent matters far more than it does in common domestic wizardry. Tom’s very determination to create a Horcrux from this murder enabled him to do it, even though he completely lost control of the process.
And Lily’s sacrifice transmuted into Tom being unable to “touch” her child. The Horcrux that Tom created in Harry might one day jerk him around, but it could not retain possession of him. To do that Tom had to make the attempt himself from outside. And when he did that it threw both of them into agony. Tom would never again be able to possess Harry without incurring consequences that he did not wish to invoke.
I now find myself wondering whether the shrill voice Harry heard laughing in the later portion of his dementor-assisted memory of the event was his own — after Voldemort took possession of him. That was the point in those memories where Lily stopped pleading, and started screaming.
Tom intended to kill her child in front of her, and make some unspecified use of her for his own purposes. He didn’t believe that she could do anything to stop him.
Okay, let’s try this version on for size:
- He breaks into the room, fresh from murdering James, laughing the patented Evil Overlord cackle™. Lily gets between them and pleads for Harry’s life. He orders her to get out of the way. She doesn’t.
- He takes possession of Harry. He didn’t need for her to get out of the way to do that.
- Harry starts laughing with Tom’s voice, Lily glances at him in horror and screams.
- Tom steps to one side and throws the Horcrux-creation spell past her, while she is distracted.
- She catches him at it and throws herself in the way of it. Just in time.
It killed her. Consequently there is no record of any failed spell in the Priori Incantatum log. Lily’s echo serves as a record of that spell just fine. After all, nobody else died. But it couldn’t create a normal Horcrux from her death, since her soul was not shared by the caster of the spell. The historically documented Horcrux-creation spell requires that the Victim and the Murderer share the same soul. Destabilized, the spell rebounded, looking for its caster’s soul. And found it.
Actually, what it found was two fragments of its caster’s soul. I’m not sure that the fragment still inside of Tom”s body was so much larger than the one in Harry’s for the energy of the now uncontrolled spell to tell which was which.
We’ve already seen that rebounding spells can do damage greatly in excess of their original intent. Protego, which causes spells to rebound carried Harry some way into Snape’ memories, rather than just evicting Snape from his own. Gilderoy Lockhart completely wiped out his own memory when a defective wand caused a simple Obliviate to rebound.
When the Horcrux-creation curse found the soul it was looking for, it didn’t just kill the perceived Victim, it allegedly destroyed the container housing the incomplete soul. It is generally believed to have vaporized it. I’m not altogether sure that this wasn’t partially because the soul in that container was incomplete. The Horcrux-creation spell is designed to be used on bodies harboring an excess of normal soul, not a deficiency of one. Having done so, the misfiring spell’s energies also seem to have been conducted through the still open connection between the two portions of the shared soul (which Lily’s interference had inadvertently kept from being broken) to attack the fragment of the soul which was possessing Harry as well. It is probable that this extreme level of destruction was the result of there being no proper “grounding” between Murderer and Victim.
A tremendous amount of psychic energy must be necessary to split a soul from a 3rd-party’s death even when it works the way it is supposed to. Something which vaporizes a physical body might well be on the level of a very small, very contained nuclear blast. (This suggests that if a small, localized “nuclear blast” is at risk of taking place upon the site of the creation of a Horcrux, then it is best to create one out of doors in an area where the energy burst is unlikely to find any particular targets. Out in a field or a meadow — or a stone circle — might be most appropriate.)
The energy released in such a blast may very well have been what blew out the wall of the room. But I’m NOT going to commit to that view. That spell had already found three different victims, killed one, allegedly vaporized another, and injured a third. I don’t see any reason why it would go on to damage an inanimate object like a house. I’m more inclined to think that the explosion was Pettigrew sowing confusion when he snatched Voldemort’s wand and made a run for it.
For that matter, the whole event might be brought even more into scale if we also postulate that the rebound did not vaporize Tom’s body, only killed it. And that Pettigrew vanished the body to forment confusion by raising a mystery.
After all, it’s not like we don’t canonically have Pettigrew at the site of an even more deadly explosion not much more than 24 hours later. Even if that one was a combined effort, since Sirius Black had managed to get a spell off at Pettigrew, too.
Like I say, underestimating Pettigrew is usually a mistake.
But, we are not dealing with an AK here. An AK might cause localized damage where it hits, and punch a hole in a wall, but it does not generate the power to blow one out. I will agree that the destruction at the Potters’s house may not have been due to Peter Pettigrew sowing confusion after the fact. Although we cannot completely dismiss that possibility, either.
When the curse rebounded, it effectively produced a form of Horcrux from Lord Voldemort’s own physical body’s death, rendering himself both Murderer and proxy, and which split his soul into the bargain. Small wonder the pain was beyond describing.
• • • •
It is evident within the text that something definable as a Horcrux was, in fact, created in this spell-gone-awry. But it was not a typical one, nor was it captured in whatever artifact that Voldemort had intended to create it for. By the time the process reached the point where the caster is supposed to capture and house the soul fragment in an object, Voldemort had completely lost control of it.
Thus he “marked” Harry Potter as his “equal”; being now possessed of the inherent qualities necessary to vanquish the Dark Lord, in accordance with the Trelawney prophecy. Assuming that you are prepared to give any credence whatsoever to the Trelawney Prophecy.
As a Horcrux himself; moreover, as one in which the connection to the original source was never broken, to all of the other Horcruxes, Harry Potter ought to have been indistinguishable from their creator, for he and they all share the same soul. Up until the botch-fest of DHs this premise appeared to hold quite steadily. Harry had handled the Locket, the Diary, and the Diadem, all without invoking any response whatsoever. Only when he actually wrote in the Diary did he activate the “user interface”.
As Dumbledore points out, there is a risk involved in creating a Horcrux from a living entity which can think for itself and take independent action. Probably almost as big a risk as taking Prophecies at face value.
• • • •
The portion of Tom’s soul which had been sent into Harry to possess him was severely damaged by the magical backlash of the rebounding spell, although it was neither killed, nor ejected from its housing. (We cannot be sure whether the scar was produced by the malfunctioning curse attacking the fragment, or the fragment attempting to escape its housing.) It was, however, rendered incapable of continuing to possess Harry. And it was never able to do so again.
The backlash, however, appears to have shorted out any memories native to the fragment of Tom’s soul which had possessed Harry, as well as all sense of its own identity. Otherwise it might have managed to reestablish possession and control him in the same way in which the Diary fragment which had possessed Ginny controlled her. Possibly even despite Lily’s protection. Over the course of the series it appears to have been completely incapable of doing anything of the kind.
(Unless it actually had done so and the Harry Potter we know really IS the spiritual clone of the former Tom Riddle — which would put us all back to square one of my original Changeling hypothesis. But I really doubted that Rowling was going to be taking us in that direction, and in fact she did not.)
The portion of Riddle’s soul embedded in Harry scarcely recognized its own former name and unlike the fragment in the Diary it had no access to any of the memories of its creator. Nor does it identify with him. It is a mostly-quiescent passenger. Although the fact that Harry is a Parselmouth was an indication that the fragment was still present.
And even though the fragment behaved as if it had been Kissed, or at the very least, Obliviated, it was still alive and it was still a fragment of Tom’s soul. And Harry was still a Horcrux. A defective Horcrux, perhaps. A Horcrux by default.
But a Horcrux, nonetheless.
• • • •
Which raises a number of questions: If you can only create a Horcrux by possessing the Victim and then killing him, then by the opening of OotP Tom ought to know perfectly well that Harry is still carrying around that piece of his soul, simply by reason of the existence of the connection between them.
How long was it before HE was aware of that connection? He didn’t start trying to use it until after the Christmas break and the debacle of the snake in the Ministry.
Was he prepared to simply sacrifice that particular soul fragment to the grand gesture of murdering Harry in the full view of all his followers during the graveyard assembly? Because he certainly intended to kill Harry in the graveyard.
Or did he believe that because Harry was clearly NOT under his control, that that particular fragment had been lost when his original body was killed? Did he only become aware of their connection later?
That is certainly possible. It is also possible that he felt the gesture of murdering the child said to be his downfall in the sight of all his possibly doubting followers would have been worth the sacrifice. (Not to mention neutralizing that irksome Prophecy.)
I think we can dismiss the fact that QuirrellMort almost killed Harry back in Book 1. QM was trying to get the Stone away from him, not commit his murder. And the Revenant in CoS either did not realize that Harry was effectively another Horcrux, or, possibly, did not care. Harry’s scar did not react at all to the Diary Revenant (although it really ought to have). It is unlikely that the Revenant had any reaction to him, either.
Which raises another question. The Revenant was generated from a soul fragment housed in a Horcrux. It must have known that its original source was still alive. The fact of its own existence should have been proof enough that the original source could not die. You have to wonder what its intentions were toward its (now known to be disembodied, since Ginny had told him about it) creator. But this is a side track, and not likely to be a particularly productive line of inquiry.
And, returning to the point here; if Tom knows (at least by the end of HBP) that Harry is carrying around his missing soul fragment, did the fact that he could not properly possess him again in the Atrium at the end of OotP come as a surprise? Or was that the point at which he finally realized that the boy not only was still carrying around the fragment, but that there was something wrong with it. That he could not use the fragment to take full control of Harry. And that he could not effectively possess him twice.
As well as the fact that the scar served the boy as a warning system.
Because the screwup at Godric’s Hollow appears to have also done something like reversing that fragment’s polarity.
Now, rather than the fragment being drawn to its original source it is repelled by it. When the two are brought into physical proximity the fragment appears to be thrown back into the same state it was in at the point of the divorce from its origin. Even to open the connection from a distance could set it off if there was a strong emotional charge sent through it.
But in the absence of being used as an emotional conduit, it seems to have been at least hypothetically possible that the connection could be used merely for observation. For it appears to have been being used for that purpose all through OotP. We got quite a few instances of that sort of thing in the course of that book. (And a LOT more of them, in the other direction, in DHs. Although pain was always present on Harry’s end during those. Tom, however seems to have remained unaware of Harry’s visits.)
At some point during OotP, even if not before the opening of the story, it seems inarguable that Voldemort became sufficiently aware of his connection to Harry to attempt to use it as an observation post, and these attempts did not always, or did not always immediately provoke a reaction from the scar. This campaign on Tom’s part ultimately ended in disaster. To the point that by the opening of HBP he had taken to using Occlumency to block the connection.
Albus Dumbledore claims that Voldemort found the attempt to take possession of Harry and use him as a hostage at the end of OotP too painful to sustain. I do not know whether this is another of Dumbledore’s mistakes, one of his fibs, or what, because we did not actually get to witness that attempt. Harry was too overcome with the pain of the contact himself to be a reliable observer and we never got an outside point of view. There had certainly been no indication that Voldemort found his new ability to physically touch Harry the summer before painful to himself, although that was certainly still painful to Harry.
They had certainly had no trouble both hitching a ride with Nagini. I think Lily’s protection having originally been proof against both physical touch and any future psychic possession to be a viable hypothesis. But Lily was not able to drive Tom out of Harry before he killed her. And the soul fragment was stuck there once there was no other physical place for it to go.
• • • •
Physical proximity continued to be a problem. Although Tom was able to get around the ban on physical contact from his end by creating a simulacrum which bore a blood relationship to Lily. Indeed, although Voldemort’s attempt to counter the restriction lessened the effects of the reversed polarity, it was incapable of eliminating it. Harry was still thrown into pain once he was in physical proximity to Lord Voldemort, and any physical contact was excruciating. There doesn’t appear to be any really viable way for Tom to recreate for himself a housing which can touch Harry, or even to get near him without setting the scar off.
And unless the pain issue is entirely due to something that Lily did, it made me doubt very much that Nagini was another Horcrux. She would not be so cooperative if she could not get near Tom without pain (Ergo; evidently the pain was due to what Lily did and did not apply to Nagini). I really did think that the snake was more likely to be under Imperius than that she was actually carrying around a piece of Tom’s soul. He could possess her when he needed to hitch a ride. He did not need to keep her possessed. Keeping her spellbound ought to have been sufficient.
But in any case, the fact that Harry was carrying around a bit of his enemy’s soul in his forehead has somehow managed to gift him with at least a trace of his enemy’s abilities and power. Such as being able to understand Parseltongue. For whatever use that was worth.
And, no, I did not think that Dumbledore was being entirely straight with Harry concerning what he suspected might have happened. If nothing else, Dumbledore has always been reluctant to tell others things that he only suspects; remaining non-committal until he can show proof of his contentions. Dumbledore also seemed to have rather more faith in the innate power of good over evil than appears to be really warranted under the circumstances.
Nor did we ever have access to all of Dumbledore’s sources of information. That could also have made a difference in his decisions.
But I really do think that we have come very close to one possible answer to the question of what Lily did, in a manner that makes some kind of sense according to the material we had to work with before the series completely shredded itself, and which accounts for the probability that Harry inadvertently ended up becoming a Horcrux.
And that creating a Horcrux is a one-step process. Tom just plain didn’t get a chance to make 2 tries at it.
• • • •
Which brings us to the question of how Albus Dumbledore managed to figure out what happened from examining the scene of the crime. Assuming he ever actually did so.
Dumbledore did seem to have figured it out, at least in theory, because he knew just enough about the traditional creation of a Horcrux to know how it was supposed to have worked. And to tally that up against what appeared to have happened.
The lack of a body for Tom, combined with the disappearance of the Dark marks (which had already been reported by Snape), as well as (possibly) the damage to the house, was destruction on such a level that it might well have suggested that an improperly grounded spell had gone violently wrong there. And, since (at least after the fact) Albus already suspected that Tom’s intention must have been to create a Horcrux from Harry’s murder, the fact that Harry was alive, but Lily wasn’t, would have suggested to him that she had thrown herself into the path of the spell, destabilizing it.
As early as the end of PS/SS Albus is able to tell Harry, with complete confidence, that Harry lived because his mother died to save him. Either this is something that he knows because a willing sacrifice is known to be the only thing that will effectively block the Horcrux-creation spell, or he has deduced that Lily gave her life to save Harry because Hagrid reported that Lily’s body was in the room where Harry had been found, and there is no other ready explanation for Harry’s survival. Or the Harrycrux, which Albus must have also suspected.
Otherwise, how do you account for his having that particular piece of information? He certainly wasn’t there. If you remember, he didn’t even know who the Potter’s real Secret Keeper was. Got an anonymous letter, did he?
If he was confident that he knows what spell was used, having already confiscated the references to it, then he at least had some chance of figuring out what must have gone wrong with it, just from the report of the conditions which Hagrid found there.
That Harry was now scared suggested that something new was in play that Albus couldn’t anticipate. But the possibility that the boy was now a living Horcrux could hardly be either ignored or dismissed.
• • • •
An extra bit of soul might also explain Harry’s peculiar irresistibility, as well as much of his heightened vulnerability to dementors.
An additional magical “transfusion” also goes a long way towards explaining the number and severity of Harry’s accidental childhood magical break-throughs, since as a corporate entity he had too much power for any immature wizard to be able to effectively control or suppress.
• • • •
But at any rate, this is the product of my latest attempt to unravel the Gordian knot presented by the question of just what did happen at Godric’s Hollow, on Halloween, 1981.