by Robert Ogden
We readers have all but decided that Harry must set off and destroy the rest of Voldemort’s Horcruxes in Deathly Hallows. This has presented all sorts of problems, which many ingenious editorialists has attempted to solve. My theory is that a proper “magical Horcrux hunt” would take way too long. A short one would be impossible to write properly without some sort of unconvincing plot contrivance. JKR also made a Horcrux hunt the climax of the last book. She probably doesn’t want to risk the readers thinking, “it was better last time.” What’s more, Dumbledore has already gone Horcrux hunting. It took him a great deal of time and required every bit of skill he possessed. This was the greatest wizard in the world. So it’s not going to be any easier for Harry. This begs the question: Why do the Horcruxes have to be destroyed?
The answer is obvious. The Horcruxes must be destroyed so the Dark Lord can be killed once and for all. Let us then ask this question: Why must he be killed once and for all? To put it another way: What would happen if Harry went into the final showdown with Voldemort while there were still Horcruxes intact?
To properly answer this question, we must figure out how Horcruxes work. In Half-Blood Prince, Slughorn told us what they are and how they are made, but not how they work. Luckily, we were already unwittingly shown how they work. We got a glimpse in Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone, and got the entire answer in book four. To put it succinctly, a Horcrux keeps your soul tied to earth once you die. This would seem to be a fate worse than death, unless there were some way to come back to physical form. In Goblet of Fire, we saw exactly how that process unfolds. Basically, to come back requires one to make a kind of dark magic gumbo that consists of four ingredients: the conscious soul, an ancestor’s bone, a loyal servant’s flesh, and the blood of your worst enemy. That last one is the most important: the blood of your worst enemy. Voldemort needed Harry Potter’s blood.
If we assume that Dumbledore knew that, in order to return, Voldemort would need Harry’s blood (a fairly safe assumption), then after the incident at Godric’s Hollow, why did he not just go take a thestral ride over the Irish Sea and toss baby Harry in? I don’t think it’s just because Dumbledore is a nice guy. He’s shown that he’s perfectly willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Surely his affection for one baby wouldn’t keep him from preventing Voldemort’s return, which would cost many, many more lives. No, there had to be another reason. I believe it was this: when Voldemort acted on the prophecy, he turned it into one of those binding magical contracts that you cannot escape from. (Think Triwizard Tournament and Unbreakable Vow.) If Voldemort ever did return, the prophecy now guaranteed only one person would be able to stop him: Harry Potter. And at that point, there was another way for him to return, besides getting to Harry’s blood: the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s stone. We know he attempted to use that very method.
Fast forward to the end of Harry’s first year. The Stone has been destroyed. If Harry were to snuff it at this point, would there be a way for Voldemort to return? Actually, Dumbledore couldn’t be sure. Quirrel had been in contact with Harry for a year. It wasn’t entirely inconceivable that he had somehow managed to get a little of Harry’s blood and store it some place. So Dumbledore was now in a bit of a pickle. He had to keep Harry alive for the day of the final showdown with Voldemort; a day that could only occur because Harry was indeed being kept alive. In the meantime, Voldemort couldn’t be killed. In effect, there was a stalemate until that fateful day in the graveyard.
Fast forward again to the end of year four. While Harry is telling Dumbledore what happened in the graveyard, he sees a “gleam of triumph” in his eyes. Why? Simply, Dumbledore now knows Voldemort can be finished off for good. What’s more, the elaborate planning that Voldemort went through to nab Harrry made it plain that Quirrel did not ever manage to procure any of Harry’s blood.
Fast forward once more to the end of year six. As Harry battles the Death Eaters, Snape does not let them touch him. While some have taken this as “Good Snape” trying to keep Harry safe, if you buy my theory that the prophecy is now a binding magical contract, then his actions are more consistent with “Evil Snape.” As others have shown, it’s very likely that Snape actually heard the entire prophecy, otherwise Professor Trelawney wouldn’t have ever noticed that he was there. Therefore, he knows that “either must die at the hand of the other” (OotP, Chapter 37) and that the Death Eaters will not be able to touch Potter. He tells them not to touch him, not because he wants Harry to be safe, because Harry is not going to die anyway, but because he’s worried what will happen to the Death Eaters if they violate the prophecy.
We now return to the question presented earlier: What would happen if Harry went into the final showdown while there were still Horcruxes at large? Two things are possible: Harry could lose (which won’t happen), or the Dark Lord could be reduced to Vapormort form. With the Stone gone, if Harry put his blood out of reach, there would be no way for the Dark Lord to rise again. Therefore, to end the series, Harry must step through the veil, thus condemning Voldemort to an eternity of wandering the earth without any hope of returning. Of course, it would still be a good idea to get rid of all those Horcruxes eventually, just to be safe. That sounds like a job for “Ron the Auror,” whose Indiana Jones-like Horcrux hunting exploits would no doubt be chronicled by countless fanfic writers who just don’t want this series to end.