Vessels of Evil

Dec 04, 2007

Posted by Doris
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Vessels of Evil

By Donna Hosie

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Read the archived discussion of this essay here.

Horcruxes—What Are They and How Are They Made?

Before the publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the word Horcruxes was not part of a Harry Potter fan’s vocabulary! Now, over one year on from this book’s release, it is embedded in our lexicon.

We first come across the word in Half-Blood Prince, as Harry is watching a memory from Professor Slughorn that has been altered. At this point, Dumbledore does not explain to Harry what a Horcrux is, and he simply sets Harry the task of retrieving the full memory from the new Hogwarts Potions Master. To his, and her, dismay, Hermione has never heard of this phrase either, but she hazards an accurate guess that “they must be really advanced Dark Magic.”1

The Horcrux is explained fully once Harry successfully retrieves the full memory from Professor Slughorn and we see his recollection of a conversation with then Hogwarts student, Tom Riddle. Tom asks Slughorn if he could tell him about Horcruxes, and as the clever student manipulates the teacher into giving him the required information, we learn that “Horcrux” is the name given to an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul. This results in protecting that person from death, as part of their soul remains “earthbound and undamaged.”2 As the conversation progresses, we learn that to split the soul, one must perform “the supreme act of evil […] committing murder.”3 Tom, however, is eager for more information and—clearly against his better wishes—Slughorn tells him that there is a spell to do this. Tom responds with the question as to whether it would be better to have more than one Horcrux, an idea that appalls Slughorn, and the conversation ends. However, the idea has been planted and confirmed in this clever, but ultimately evil, young mind.

Leaving Slughorn’s memory, Dumbledore goes on to finally explain to Harry what he must do in order to vanquish the Dark Lord, who was once Tom Riddle.

Lord Voldemort’s Horcruxes

Based on the conversation that Tom had with Slughorn, Professor Dumbledore believes Lord Voldemort made six Horcruxes. The seventh piece of his soul still resides in his now corporeal being and this is the reason he was not destroyed when the Avada Kedavra spell backfired on him, those sixteen years before. He chose seven because the number is believed to have magical properties. It also gives Lord Voldemort incredible protection against death. Before destroying that final piece of soul still residing in Voldemort’s body, Harry must first locate and then destroy the other six; a truly daunting and difficult task. He has already destroyed one, albeit without knowing it was a Horcrux—Tom Riddle’s diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Dumbledore destroyed another one—Marvolo’s ring. Marvolo was Tom Riddle’s grandfather and a direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin, one of the original founders of Hogwarts. Destroying the ring, however, left Dumbledore disfigured and weakened—an example of how dangerous Harry’s task will be in the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. That leaves four other objects into which Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort placed a portion of his split soul.

Having now learned of the Horcruxes, the reason for the memories that Dumbledore has been showing Harry comes into clearer focus. Harry, together with Dumbledore, comes to the conclusion that they have seen, via these memories, Tom Riddle choosing a number of the objects he intended to make into Horcruxes. One of these memories shows Tom Riddle visiting an elderly witch by the name of Hepzibah Smith. She possesses a cup that belonged to another Hogwarts founder, Helga Hufflepuff. Tom Riddle likes to collect trophies, and Dumbledore believes Tom has murdered Hepzibah and stolen the cup. There is also a locket owned by Salazar Slytherin that Harry sees in a memory around the neck of Tom’s mother, Merope. Dumbledore also believes Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, to be a Horcrux. Only one is left then, and Dumbledore is extremely vague on this, believing it to be either something of Rowena Ravenclaw’s or Godric Gryffindor’s. Artifacts we know belonging to Godric Gryffindor include his sword and also the Sorting Hat. There are no known artifacts belonging to Ravenclaw.

So Harry faces an enormously difficult task in the seventh, and final, book in the Harry Potter series. He must track down the remaining four Horcruxes, even though he doesn’t know what most of them are, much less where they might be hidden. He must destroy them, though he has very little knowledge of how that can be done—he doesn’t even know how Dumbledore destroyed the ring Horcrux! Then he must find and battle Lord Voldemort, a far more powerful wizard than he is, in order to vanquish him from the wizarding world forever.

It appears unlikely Harry will be able to do this alone. He may have to rely on his best friends, Ron and Hermione, who have stood shoulder to shoulder with Harry on so many occasions. He may also need the help of the remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix, such as Remus Lupin and Minerva McGonagall. The Weasley family could also prove very useful, especially Ron’s older brother, Bill, who works as a curse breaker for Gringotts Bank. His skills in this area may prove useful in breaking through the protections that Lord Voldemort has likely placed around his Horcruxes.

Before we go on, though, we must remember that this is the world that Jo Rowling has created and therefore nothing should be taken for granted. Jo has made not just theorists out of us, but conspiracy theorists as well. We could find a Horcrux on a grassy knoll somewhere! So, was Dumbledore correct in his assumption of the items that became Horcruxes? Dumbledore was not infallible, as Jo herself confirmed:

But I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in books five and six that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books.4

Could Dumbledore have seen an emotional connection between Voldemort and Nagini, for instance, where in fact there is none? Nothing should be taken for granted unless Jo actually comes out and confirms it. In fact, one could argue that Dumbledore’s statement about the making of six Horcruxes is mere speculation. Albus was not a Death Eater, was not in Voldemort’s inner sanctum, and could have no way of knowing whether Lord Voldemort made these Horcruxes. He also tells Harry several times throughout Half-Blood Prince that he is guessing and that he can be quite wrong about some things. That said, we have the following quote from Jo to fall back on:

There are only two characters that you can put it convincingly into their dialogue. One is Hermione, the other is Dumbledore. In both cases you accept, it’s plausible that that they have, well Dumbledore knows pretty much everything anyway…Oh yes, very much so. Dumbledore often speaks for me.5

As we have only one book left to tie up all the loose ends, while Dumbledore may have been wrong about the identity of one or more of the Horcruxes, it could be safe to assume that Dumbledore was correct in his assumption about Lord Voldemort making six of them.

The Locket and the Mysterious R.A.B.

Tracking down these Horcruxes will be difficult enough. Before he was killed, Dumbledore left no clues as to where these were. He believed he had found the locket in the cave, but as we discovered with Harry at the base of the Astronomy Tower, the locket retrieved was a fake. Someone had got to the cave first and retrieved the Horcrux and left another in its place. Inside this fake locket was a note:

To the Dark Lord

I know I will be dead long before you read this

but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret.

I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can.

I face death in the hope that when you meet your match,

you will be mortal once more.

R.A.B.6

The intriguing questions now on the lips of all Harry Potter fans are, who is R.A.B. and where is the Horcrux locket?

The most widely accepted possibility for R.A.B. is Regulus Black, the younger brother of Harry’s godfather, Sirius. When this theory was put to Jo Rowling by Melissa Anelli and Emerson Spartz in their interview with her after the release of Half-Blood Prince, she stated this was “a very good guess.”7 Regulus is first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry has arrived at number twelve Grimmauld Place, the home of the Black family, which is doubling as the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. One morning Sirius is showing Harry the Black family tree, a tapestry which shows the Black family generations. At the bottom of the tree is Regulus Black and a date of death some 15 years previously. This date of death is interesting. If we follow the timeline from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, then Harry and Sirius are looking at this map in the August of 1995. Regulus was therefore killed in 1980, the year Harry was born.

Sirius tells Harry that his brother joined the Death Eaters and was subsequently killed when he tried to leave. Sirius doubts Regulus’s importance, believing he was not killed by Lord Voldemort, but on his orders. However, could Regulus have actually played an important part in helping the future by taking that Horcrux locket?

Later on in this chapter when Harry, Hermione, the Weasleys, and Sirius are cleaning out a room in Grimmauld Place, they find “a heavy locket that none of them could open.”8 Is this the Horcrux locket and is it still in Grimmauld Place? In Half-Blood Prince, Harry sees Mundungus Fletcher attempting to sell, or give, the barman of the Hog’s Head Inn items that are clearly stolen from Grimmauld Place.

Jo certainly likes to make Harry’s life difficult, doesn’t she?! If this locket is the Horcrux, could it now be with Mundungus in Azkaban, or even with Aberforth Dumbledore who we know to be the barman of the Hog’s Head? Aberforth, the brother of Albus Dumbledore, has been on the periphery of this story since day one. Will Deathly Hallows see his emergence?

Could there also be another twist to this tale? We saw in the cave that an immensely powerful wizard like Dumbledore still needed help to remove the liquid to retrieve the fake locket. How could a young man like Regulus have done this alone? Did he take another Death Eater, a member of his family, or perhaps even a loyal servant—Kreacher for example, to help him? Could Kreacher have drunk the liquid, enabling Regulus to switch lockets and return home with the Horcrux? Will Harry have to turn to this vile house-elf, who is now bound to Harry as his new legal owner, for help in learning the past history of what happened to Regulus in that cave? There is even the possibility that Regulus has already destroyed the locket Horcrux, which would make Harry’s task a little bit easier in the final book.

The Horcruxes that have been discussed up to this point have been the diary, which has been destroyed, and the ring, which has also been destroyed. The locket could be in Grimmauld Place, with Mundungus or with Aberforth Dumbledore. So this brings us on to Hufflepuff’s cup.

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Read the archived discussion of this essay in Unfogging Deathly Hallows!





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