The Body Thief Curse

by The Pirate King

Greetings, fellow Harry Potter geeks! Welcome to yet another crackpot theory regarding the yet-to-be-revealed mysteries of the Harry Potter series of books, in which I prove to the world that I have absolutely no psychic powers whatsoever.

If you haven’t already read the fascinating Changeling Hypothesis at Red Hen Publications, nor Maline Fredén’s follow-up article, let me strongly suggest that you do so. The two provide the most plausible explanation I’ve seen to date of what might have occurred at Godric’s Hollow the night Voldemort was temporarily vanquished (of course, all bets are off until Ms. Rowling provides the full details). Briefly, this hypothesis suggests that when Voldemort performed the Avada Kedavra curse on baby Harry, something occurred-probably due to a charm performed by Lily-which caused Voldemort to undergo some sort of psychic division. Part of him became a shade without physical form, and part of him (usually described as his soul) entered into Harry and remained there.

But most variants of the Changeling Hypothesis which I’ve read make the assumption that Voldemort’s soul/powers/emotions/whatever only entered Harry by accident, not by design. Recently, it occurred to me that this assumption might be wrong. Voldemort might have been trying to do something quite different that Halloween at Godric’s Hollow-not merely trying to kill Harry, his potential mortal foe, but to vanquish him utterly by temporarily becoming him.

The Harry Potter series to date has revealed several interesting facts about Lord Voldemort: that he was an unwanted child named Tom Marvolo Riddle, that he was a particularly bright Slytherin student at Hogwarts, that he disappeared shortly after graduation and sank deeply into the Black Arts, and that when he returned under a new name-Voldemort-he was no longer recognizable. From these facts we can make a few interesting deductions.

First, consider the Dark Lord’s chosen name. Several Potterphiles have suggested that “Voldemort” is derived from the French phrase vol-de-mort, meaning roughly “flight from death.” As Voldemort fears death more than anything else, this name at first seems to be particularly apt-but why on earth would a Dark wizard deliberately choose a name that reveals his greatest weakness? Perhaps this name-much like the name of his followers, the Death Eaters-has some additional significance. Rather than fleeingdeath, Voldemort may have discovered or created a Dark spell that allowed him tocheat death over and over, achieving a form of immortality and accumulating numerous powers in the process. His followers may have taken on the name Death Eaters in the hope that, as loyal minions of Voldemort, they would eventually earn the privilege of learning the Dark Lord’s secret of immortality-how to “consume” death.

And what might this secret of immortality be? I call it the Body Thief curse.

As a young wizard, Tom Riddle demonstrated considerable natural talents. At school, the Heir of Slytherin opened the Chamber of Secrets and learned to control the Basilisk through his gift of Parseltongue; from this experience Riddle probably got his first taste for killing (Myrtle) and the idea of what it might be like to instigate a reign of terror. His talents in Legilimency and Occlumency may have been manifest in Riddle’s ability to conceal at least some of his motivations from Professor Dumbledore. But of particular interest in this article is Riddle’s apparent talent for possession-the ability to rob others of their free will. Riddle transcribed his teenage self into a diary, and this revenant form was so powerful that it was still capable of possessing Ginny Weasley two generations later. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the newly risen Voldemort controlled Harry from a distance, sending strange visions and alien emotions, and eventually the Dark Lord was able to possess Harry (albeit very briefly). Even as a greatly weakened entity (VaporMort), he could temporarily possess other creatures; eventually, somehow, he found a way to share Professor Quirrell’s body, forcing him to do his bidding. With these examples in mind, it’s very easy to assume that Tom Riddle was already gifted at possession while a student at Hogwarts. By the time he matured into the Dark wizard we all love to hate, he might have honed this unusual ability into a uniquely deadly weapon. Rather than simply manipulating the bodies of others to do his will, he might have learned to go a step further-killing a victim and forcing his own soul into the recently vacated body. This power to forcibly transport a soul into a series of different bodies has some precedent in other fantasy stories, as in the movie Fallen or the book Wild Seed by Octavia Butler.

Here’s how the process might work: Voldemort approaches a hapless victim, performs the Avada Kedavra curse which separates the victim’s soul from the body, then immediately performs the Body Thief curse to transmit his own soul into the newly soulless body, shedding his old physical form much as a snake sheds its outgrown skin. (Alternatively, the Body Thief curse might be a single spell with the ability to force one soul out and replace it with another.) Any onlooker would seem to see Voldemort die and the victim subsequently return to life; in reality, the victim would be dead, with Voldemort inhabiting his body. Further, depending on the precise magical mechanics involved, Voldemort might also be able to “consume” some of his victim’s powers and abilities, making them part of his own soul-thus gaining strength and power each time he performs the Body Thief curse and takes another life.

This spell would have tremendous applicative powers for a Dark wizard. In his earliest days of using the curse, it would allow him to move freely through the wizarding world without fear of detection, moving from body to body as often as necessary. (Although he would leave an alarming trail of dead wizards, witches and other magical beings behind him, this would only serve to strengthen his reputation as an evil wizard of great power.) As he accumulated abilities, he would be able to take on stronger and more powerful creatures and Dark wizards, absorbing their powers in the process. He would never need to fear growing old; if he ever felt the effects of age, he would only need to take over a young, healthy body. His power and longevity would know no bounds; he would be virtually immortal. (Well, other than that disturbing snippet of prophecy overheard in a Hogsmeade bar…)

Several comments which Hagrid and Professor Dumbledore have made about Voldemort are more understandable in light of this theory. If nobody recognized the Dark Lord when he re-emerged from obscurity, it was probably because he had long since left his original body behind. If, during his reign of terror, nobody was entirely sure what he looked like, it was probably because he could (and did) look like anyone whose body he had recently taken. If the wizarding world at large is still afraid to speak his name aloud-well, wouldn’t you be afraid to say the name of an evil being who could be lurking anywhere, had seemingly limitless powers, and could deal out death at will? (I am not suggesting that the wizarding world knew about Voldemort’s ability to perform the Body Thief curse-indeed, it may have been such a closely-guarded secret that most of the Death Eaters could have been unaware of their master’s ability-but it was common knowledge among wizards and witches that Voldemort was capable of appearing from nowhere and killing with ease, without fear of being caught.)

Realistically, there would have to be some limitations to this spell. Several powerful wizards, Professor Dumbledore and members of the Order chief among them, would have been obvious targets for Voldemort’s curse-yet many survived Voldemort’s first reign of terror. There must be some as-yet-unknown but logical reason why Voldemort was unable simply to hunt them down one by one, steal their bodies and use them to locate and kill the others. This might have been accomplished primarily through concealment, as with the Fidelius charm used on the Potters, or with Mad-Eye Moody’s favorite phrase-“CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” Much of the Order’s first work might have centered around simply discovering the source of Voldemort’s phoenix-like power, trying to find and exploit the Dark Lord’s weakness. (Perhaps this information was eventually revealed at great personal risk by one Severus Snape, a young member of Voldemort’s inner circle. Snape’s finding the courage to report information of this magnitude to the Order might be one very good reason why Dumbledore trusts him so implicitly.)

And, of course, there was one known chink in Voldemort’s armor-that disquieting prophecy that claimed the existence of someone with the power to vanquish him. But as an accomplished Body Thief, Voldemort must have thought it would be trivially simple to destroy his rival-not merely by killing him, but by taking his body. Any powers the rival had that could possibly be used against the Dark Lord would then betransferred to him-again, making Voldemort virtually invincible. When the Dark Lord discovered that the subject of the prophecy was the Potters’ baby, he must have laughed out loud; this would be even easier than he had thought. The child’s parents, his thrice-defiant enemies, could be dealt with swiftly enough-and then, what could an innocent child possibly do to defend himself against such a powerful curse?

That is the question I am left to consider. What was it about Harry that made it impossible for Voldemort to finish the curse, transferring his spirit essence into the child’s body? Could it be that Voldemort had never tried to take over a young child before, and therefore did not know that the Body Thief curse cannot be used against an innocent soul? Was it the mother-love that filled Harry’s blood, an overwhelming force for good that Voldemort had never known and could not defend against? Had Lily received some special intelligence from the Order about Voldemort’s ability to perform this curse-and did she perform a special counter-charm designed to work against it? Could the disastrous result (at least for Voldemort) have anything to do with the body that Voldemort was occupying at the time-for instance, could he have tried to kill Harry after having taken over James’ body, or Lily’s?

One thing seems fairly certain-whatever happened that night, the shadow that fled Godric’s Hollow could no longer perform a Body Thief curse, since he could not take physical form for many years. His subsequent searches for immortality have involved other types of possession or the re-creation of a mortal body, but as far as we know he has not been able to force the soul from someone else’s body (Bertha Jorkins’ or Peter Pettigrew’s, for example) in order to exert complete control. Since he would almost certainly have done so if he could, he has probably lost the ability. Perhaps one must have a whole, unfragmented soul to perform the Body Thief curse correctly, and since a portion of Voldemort’s emotional essence seems to be stored somewhere inside Harry, Voldemort may remain unable to perform this particular curse unless he can manage to retrieve his missing soul-chunk from Harry’s body. Perhaps the “power the Dark Lord knows not” is not merely Harry’s capacity to love, but all the missing powers Voldemort accidentally transferred to Harry in the process of trying to kill him and take his body.

There are probably a number of ramifications attached to this theory that I haven’t yet considered, or maybe I’ve missed some important clue that renders the entire argument invalid. If anything comes to mind, let me know.