The Two-Way Mirror #13: Does Dumbledore Know Why Voldemort Didn’t Die?

By Daniela

I think it’s high time we start asking ourselves “What in the world is going on inside Dumbledore’s mind?” Dumbledore is always thinking and I am sure he lands upon numerous interesting solutions to all kinds of magical problems. I am even certain that the question Rowling thinks is crucial to the books – Why didn’t Voldemort die? – is somewhere at the top of Dumbledore’s list of things to think about. And what do you want to bet that he has already figured out the answer to our favorite question, and has allowed us to glimpse the direction of his thoughts?

Dumbledore was not always so far ahead. Towards the end of GoF, the only things he really had were his questions. He wondered about the nature of the scar connection, as we see in his answer to Harry’s query about why his scar hurt: “I have a theory, no more than that… It is my belief that your scar hurts both when Lord Voldemort is near you, and when he is feeling a particularly strong surge of hatred” (GoF 600). But his theory was a summary of what we all knew at that point. He also wondered about Voldemort’s nature, which is perhaps related to why Voldemort didn’t die:

“‘So you think… that dream… did it really happen?’ ‘It is possible,’ said Dumbledore. ‘I would say – probable. Harry – did you see Voldemort?’

‘No,’ said Harry. ‘Just the back of his chair. But – there wouldn’t have been anything to see, would there? I mean, he hasn’t got a body, has he? But… but then how could he have held the wand?’ Harry said slowly.

‘How indeed?’ muttered Dumbledore. ‘How indeed…'”
(GoF 601)

How indeed, we should be asking ourselves, too. Harry saw a wrinkled creature before Voldemort acquired a full body, but how did that creature come to be? I am sure that every time Dumbledore asks a question – and what’s more, repeats it – there is a very interesting answer to it.

OotP marks the beginning of a new era. It is now the time to finally understand the “how” and the “why” and the “what.” Harry learns about the prophecy at the end of this book. But from the beginning, Dumbledore has begun to figure things out: he knows the connection has greatly intensified since Voldemort has acquired a body. Dumbledore is resolutely NOT looking at Harry throughout his hearing (OotP 139, 150, 151). He knows that at this point Voldemort’s eyes might be staring out of Harry’s, even without having looked at Harry once. This recent realization clearly came to him as a logical conclusion rather than as an act of observation, because we know he has been completely out of touch with Harry since GoF. It may be that Dumbledore understands now how the scar functions, and that the connection was bound to be made stronger by Voldemort’s acquiring a body. This is a very perceptive deduction. It is only much later in OotP that we and Harry finally understand why Dumbledore has been avoiding Harry’s eyes throughout the book:

“It happened in the fraction of a second: in the infinitesimal pause before Dumbledore said “three,” Harry looked up at him […] and Dumbledore’s clear blue gaze moved from the Portkey to Harry’s face. At once, Harry’s scar burned white-hot, as though the old wound had burst open again – and unbidden, unwanted, but terrifyingly strong, there rose within Harry a hatred so powerful he felt, for that instant, that he would like nothing better than to strike – to bite – to sink his fangs into the man before him -”
(OotP 474-75)

We should probably wonder why, if Voldemort is staring out of Harry’s eyes, does Harry feel like a snake? It is true, he had been inside a snake’s body moments before this situation, but I think there is more to it… Dumbledore has figured out a long time before us a dangerous side effect of the scar: Voldemort himself can be present inside Harry’s body. And Dumbledore made clever use of the portkey to allow Harry to envision just for one moment what is happening.

Has Dumbledore been figuring out Voldemort as well? I don’t think the scar and Voldemort are separate: when you start figuring out one, you start figuring out the other. I think there is some evidence that Dumbledore’s moment of realization has finally come, and that this decisive intellectual event happened as a result of Harry’s vision of Arthur Weasley being attacked by the snake. We know that for some reason it was this incident that constituted the greatest “incursion upon the Dark Lord’s thoughts” (OotP 532). I was always puzzled by this fact. Why should this be the decisive moment? It’s true, it was an action-packed moment, but why should Voldemort have been more aware of Harry’s presence now than at any other time?

Harry’s conversation with Snape during Occlumency lessons is presented in a way that places a lot of emphasis on the fact that a “snake” was involved in this powerful vision. And if we remember the quote above in which Harry, emotionally influenced by Voldemort, feels a snake-like desire to strike and sink his fangs into Dumbledore, perhaps we need to pay careful attention to this association between Voldemort and the snake.

“‘It appears that the Dark Lord has been unaware of the connection between you and himself until very recently. Up till now it seems that you have been experiencing his emotions and sharing his thoughts without his being any the wiser. However, the vision you had shortly before Christmas-‘ ‘The one with the snake and Mr. Weasley?’

‘Do not interrupt me, Potter,’ said Snape in a dangerous voice. ‘As I was saying… the vision you had shortly before Christmas represented such a powerful incursion upon the Dark Lord’s thoughts-‘

‘I saw inside the snake’s head, not his!’

‘I thought I just told you not to interrupt me, Potter?’

‘How come I saw through the snake’s eyes if it’s Voldemort’s thoughts I’m sharing?’

‘Do not say the Dark Lord’s name!’ spat Snape.

‘You seem to have visited the snake’s mind because that was where the Dark Lord was at that particular moment,’ snarled Snape. ‘He was possessing the snake at the time and so you dreamed you were inside it too….'”
(OotP 532-33)

I believe Rowling is using a narrative trick. Snape’s deferral of his answer to Harry’s question about the “snake” for the purpose of ensuring that Harry shows proper respect invites Harry to constantly repeat the question that associates Voldemort with the snake. Now why would Rowling want us to hear the question about the snake posed repeatedly?

Snape’s answer comes in the end, but seems a bit boring, really. I think Harry’s insistent bringing up of the “snake” detail is an authorial hint that there is more to this event of “incursion upon the Dark Lord’s thoughts” than Snape thinks or says. But what could the more interesting answer be? That Voldemort’s steps towards immortality may be related to the snake in some fashion? Joining Voldemort at a time when he’s possessing the Snake would then a very powerful incursion into his thoughts because it could be a perception of his most cherished secrets… ‘Meghana’ pointed out to me that Snape’s “until very recently” is rather vague. It is clearly connected with the snake incident, but it would be interesting to find out at what point exactly, and therefore how, did Voldemort realize what was happening. Understanding how Voldemort became aware of Harry might provide many other unexpected answers.

Harry’s repeated question, especially the one in which he says he saw inside the snake’s head, not Voldemort’s, seems to lead in the direction that Voldemort is somehow a snake. But “Voldemort the Snake” seems too obvious an answer to all of our questions. The associations between Voldemort and the snake have been so frequent and pronounced throughout the book that they seem to leave nothing to the imagination. And yet, honestly, with Slytherin, the Basilisk, Nagini and Parseltongue in the background, would you be satisfied with any Voldemort formula of immortality that leaves the snake out?

‘Lenora’ and ‘simplybecky’ have also pointed out Voldemort’s snakiness. Lenora provided a number of allusions to the snake from the books and made an interesting summarizing point in her editorial Voldemort’s Makeover, in which she mentioned several beasts that might have contributed to Voldemort’s immortality potion: “Perhaps the unicorn blood and snake venom is just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps, in his quest for immortality and power, he’s concocted potions from and performed transformations with the strongest and most dangerous magical creatures he could find in an attempt to transfer their strengths to himself. What could be harder to kill than a vampire, a dragon, a unicorn, an Erkling, and a basilisk all morphed into one?” And ‘simplybecky’ noted in the thread that Lenora’s editorial generated: “And what is a major thing that snakes do? Why, they shed their skin. I find it interesting that Voldy shed his body that night in Godric’s Hollow, and then got himself a new body. It all seems very snake-like to me. (And I know this is stretching a bit, but didn’t Harry find a very large basilisk skin in the Chamber of Secrets, itself? Could this be bringing that little fact that snakes do shed skin to our attention?)”

Before speculating any further, let’s return to our authoritative source of answers: Dumbledore. What does he think of the snake connection? I know that everyone will know exactly what scene I am talking about. But the question is, have we fully understood it?

In order to understand it, I propose that we carefully study “Dumbledore’s Questions”: the questions he asked after Harry saw Mr. Weasley attacked by a snake in the Department of Mysteries.

Dumbledore First Question:

“‘How did you see this?’ Dumbledore asked quietly, still not looking at Harry. ‘Well . . . I don’t know,’ said Harry, rather angrily – what did it matter? ‘Inside my head, I suppose -‘

‘You misunderstand me,’ said Dumbledore, still in the same calm tone. ‘I mean… can you remember – er – where you were positioned as you watched this attack happen? Were you perhaps standing beside the victim, or else looking down on the scene from above?’

This was such a curious question that Harry gaped at Dumbledore; it was almost as though he knew…

‘I was the snake,’ he said. ‘I saw it all from the snake’s point of view….'”
(OotP 468)

That “- er -” so characteristic of Rowling when something rather meaningful is being uttered is placed by Dumbledore right before the indirect allusion to the snake’s point of view… And Harry wonders “what does it matter?” but I bet it does matter… Why would Dumbledore ask such a question? It’s true that Dumbledore thinks Harry needs to talk about disturbing experiences in order to heal (see GoF), and it is indeed disturbing for Harry to think himself “Voldemort’s weapon,” but I think there is more to Dumbledore’s question than helping Harry psychologically. In fact, the follow-up question(s) addressed to the silver instrument make it obvious that this question is part of a greater inquiry. What does Dumbledore want to know?

If the answer were really obvious, then there wouldn’t be follow up questions, right? If the fact that Voldemort can possess a snake were just a simple fact, as well as that Harry would accompany Voldemort because of the scar, then there would be nothing more to think about, would there? We know that Harry can be where Voldemort is, because he has done it in GoF. It is true, though, that in GoF Harry always was placed at some peripheral point (Frank Bryce’s point of view, getting off the owl), not in the center, i.e. exactly where Voldemort was. Perhaps for starters Dumbledore really wanted to know the extent of the progress of the scar connection. And there has been progress, because Harry had not yet been quite inside Voldemort in his dreams. He will later dream he is inside Voldemort himself, but after the snake incident. Nevertheless, all these deductions don’t require Dumbledore to go tinkering with the silver instruments. Knowing Harry was inside the snake with Voldemort was enough to understand the connection. But that is the kicker: Dumbledore has to be sure first that Voldemort was inside the snake also. And perhaps that is not such an evident thing.

I think there may be something that we are taking for granted, and for that reason we don’t see what Dumbledore sees. Just like Harry, we don’t know much about the magic world. Once we found out there were all these spells possible in the Potter universe, we started believing that just about anything is possible if you’re a wizard. Harry, for example, was not at all surprised to be able to talk to snakes. You have to be an old-time wizard to know how rare and possibly dark the gift of being a Parselmouth is. Is there similarly something we are taking for granted in this Harry – Voldemort – Snake triangle because we are not wizards to know what is possible and what is strange in the magic world?

To return to Dumbledore, I think that in addition to wanting to know where Harry was, he really wanted to know where Voldemort was, and how in the world he could be there. Dumbledore draws the conclusion that Voldemort was in the snake’s body, since Snape tells Harry later on that Voldemort was possessing the snake at the time. The possession aspect probably unnerved and intrigued Dumbledore. Why was this information so precious? Hasn’t Voldemort been possessing creatures from time immemorial? Or rather, since he lost his body 13 years ago? Was he able to do it before? I wish Hermione would pick up a book on possession and let us read over her shoulder… Who can possess? In what form? Can a wizard who has a body possess another body? I am willing to bet that Voldemort’s possessing the snake in the DoM was something very unusual indeed or it wouldn’t have been so thought provoking for Dumbledore.

The simple fact of possession (of Quirrell for example) did not seem to lead Dumbledore towards any great theories. But now Voldemort has a body. So I bet that in Potterverse, once you have a body, it’s not normal to be able to possess a different body – unless there is something about your body or soul or the relationship between your body and soul that is different from that of a normal wizard being… and in Voldemort’s case, we would know the difference was acquired through certain steps. ‘Meghana’ pointed out to me that these steps may involve the myth of the “familiar.” As Sam Avila states in his editorial The Runespoor and the Half Blood Prince, Voldemort says that Nagini is his “familiar.” Sam pointed out that according to folklore, magicians who spend much time with their familiar begin to acquire its mental and physical characteristics. Although I think there may be something even more active in Voldemort’s steps towards immortality, I’d like to know more about what a “familiar” means in Potterverse: how does one acquire a familiar?

When Voldemort attains a new body, he says he has settled for his “old body,” by which I take it he means his mortal body. So if Voldemort has returned “back to normal” he really ought not to be able to possess creatures… I don’t know about you guys, but Voldemort looks anything but normal to me, and I really doubt Tom Riddle had red eyes with slits for pupils. The new creature that Voldemort has become bears upon it the traces of the steps he took at some point in the past.

If Voldemort is a Parselmouth, why not just tell Nagini what to do, rather than possess her in the DoM? But he couldn’t, because he would have to be in the Ministry of Magic to speak Parseltongue, and he doesn’t want to enter it. We know he doesn’t want to reveal himself, which is why he is not going after the prophecy himself. That means that he can possess from a distance (and without a scar?) How? In fact, didn’t he possess Harry from a distance also in the DoM, since his body was supposedly “gone from the hall”? How did he do that? Is there any similarity between the two possessions?

Dumbledore’s Follow-Up Question(s):

After asking Harry about his point of view and taking care of some immediate business involving finding Mr. Weasley and setting up Fawkes as guard, Dumbledore begins his follow-up questions with a sense of urgency: “Dumbledore now swooped down upon one of the fragile silver instruments” (OotP 470). He taps “gently with the tip of his wand” the said instrument (I remember he did the same with his Pensieve), and an intriguingly silent exchange of answers and questions begins. In a sense, we can see Dumbledore think “aloud”:

“Tiny puffs of pale green smoke issued from the minuscule silver tube at the top. Dumbledore watched the smoke closely, his brow furrowed, and after a few seconds, the tiny puffs became a steady stream of smoke that thickened and coiled in the air…. A serpent’s head grew out of the end of it, opening its mouth wide. Harry wondered whether the instrument was confirming his theory: He looked eagerly at Dumbledore for a sign that he was right, but Dumbledore did not look up. ‘Naturally, naturally,’ murmured Dumbledore apparently to himself, still observing the stream of smoke without the slightest sign of surprise. ‘But in essence divided?’

Harry could make neither head nor tail of this question. The smoke serpent, however, split itself instantly into two snakes, both coiling and undulating in the dark air. With a look of grim satisfaction Dumbledore gave the instrument another gentle tap with his wand: the clinking noise slowed and died, and the smoke serpents grew faint, became a formless haze, and vanished.”
(OotP 470)

This is quite a remarkable passage. I don’t think it is quite clear what exactly Dumbledore is trying to figure out and how exactly the instrument works. I believe there is much more to Dumbledore’s thinking than meets the eye. In fact, I think the exchange between Dumbledore and the instrument is a dialogue with several questions and answers. The problem is, can we determine what the questions are, and what is the meaning of the answers? If you wondered why I titled this section “Dumbledore’s follow-up question(s)” with an (s) it is because I think there are more questions than we may initially think. It is just that not all the questions are spoken.

First, we have some physical evidence of the first question in Dumbledore’s gentle tapping of the instrument with his wand. And we see the answer to it: light green puffs of smoke gradually take the shape of a snake. Next, the instrument’s first answer provokes Dumbledore’s almost impatient response: “Naturally, naturally.” Consequently, Dumbledore asks a second question: “but in essence divided?” and the instrument answers by splitting the original snake into two seemingly identical snakes. In the end, upon seeing the twin snakes, Dumbledore shows “grim satisfaction.” He has no more questions, taps the instrument again, and the smoke disperses.

‘Meghana’ wondered why the “grim satisfaction”: “satisfied because he knows what it is, but grim because he didn’t want to know the answer… or it causes him to strategize more?” I think the “grim satisfaction” indicates even further progress in Dumbledore’s thoughts. There is a certain finality about the “grim satisfaction,” as if Dumbledore has found out all he needs to know, and he’s ready to face the worst. Harry has a bit of a parallel grim acceptance about him at the end of OotP, after he learns about the Prophecy and knows what he’s in for. Funnily, as I have been rereading OotP, I have found the qualifier “grim” applied a few times to Hermione, when she reacts to Umbridge.

I think the instrument helps somehow to confirm Dumbledore’s suspicions. What is this instrument? Is it part of Dumbledore’s brain? We know that the founders of the school have put a bit of their brain in the Sorting Hat. We have seen the Pensieve store memories so that Dumbledore can watch them at his leisure and detect connections. Which part of Dumbledore’s brain is the silver instrument? How exactly does it work? It seems that once the instrument has said something, it is confirmed as the “truth,” although the instrument doesn’t seem to be able to say it without a bit of prodding from Dumbledore. Dumbledore seems to think ahead of the instrument, but the instrument gives him the certainty that he is right. It is as if Dumbledore’s thoughts are hypotheses and the instrument is the experiment that confirms a theory. There is something computer like about this: the instrument seems to be a simulator. Perhaps the instrument stores the basic laws of magic: it can tell what is possible and what is impossible. That would explain why once the instrument shows something, it can be concluded that it is the “truth.”

I am going to reconstruct Dumbledore’s dialogue with the instrument, adding in the unspoken parts, completing the sentences, filling in the blanks and translating the images:

Dumbledore: You heard what the boy said. He was inside the snake. Where was Voldemort?

Instrument: Do you see this snake? It’s obvious!

Dumbledore: Naturally, naturally. But I’m sure you know what I’m aiming at, so don’t give me the obvious. He couldn’t have been all in the snake. That new body of his. He must be… in essence divided… right? I don’t see how else… Show me! I have to see this with my own eyes.

Instrument: Right you are! He was in two different places at the same time. And check this out: he was essentially a snake in both places. What do you think of that?!

Dumbledore: Of course, it follows… I don’t like this. He will have realized then… Harry… Occlumency… Good-bye now. Tap Tap.

I tend to think that both the unspoken question that elicited the one snake and the spoken question that elicited the two snakes were about the same thing, because of the connecting “but” which seems to imply that the first question was “show me what this is,” and the second “show me what this is, but show me the whole thing.” It is kind of like asking “show me a tree” and the instrument shows you a seed. So you say “yeah, but show me all the ramifications” and then the instrument shows you the adult plant.

I’ll simplify in the extreme so that it feels as natural as possible:

Dumbledore: What is this?

Instrument: A snake.

Dumbledore: Naturally, naturally. But in essence divided?

Instrument: Two snakes.

So in Dumbledore’s unspoken question, what does “this” stand for? Fill in the blank? The scar, Harry, Voldemort? I think we can take “this” and build a sentence with it based on the answers that follow. “This” is a snake, but it is in essence two snakes. I think we can definitely eliminate the possibility of “this” = Harry, because Harry will never be “two snakes” even if he may be “one.” This is looking more and more like an equation now: X is a snake, but in essence it is two snakes. X = what? Some real algebra for you: what is one and two snakes at the same time? To hide a person’s identity, we also say X, just like in algebra… Or we say “You know who.” “You know who” = what? That sounds like an interesting question to me. Is Dumbledore talking about “You know who”? Maybe people should be referring to him as “You know what.” The question “what” fits the best in the dialogue.

Dumbledore: What is this creature that Voldemort has become?

Instrument: A snake.

Dumbledore: Naturally, naturally. But in essence divided?

Instrument: Yes.

Dumbledore’s conversation with Voldemort

Now, Rowling tells us that Dumbledore “knows something a little more profound” in the Ministry of Magic when he doesn’t try to kill Voldemort. I wonder if, just as in the dialogue with the silver instrument, there are some unspoken elements in Dumbledore’s comments to Voldemort. For example, he says: “We both know there are other ways of destroying a man, Tom” (OotP 814). Considering that Harry is present, I am sure Dumbledore is not talking about common knowledge such as being kissed by a Dementor or having one’s mind addled by the Cruciatus curse or the memory charm. He could have said, “You know full well…” Saying “we both” makes it sound as if it is “the two of us” who know something, and as if Dumbledore is saying “I know one of your secrets.” What secret are the two of them in on? I wonder if Dumbledore is thinking about what Voldemort has done to himself in order to be immortal, and believes that Voldemort has destroyed himself. Voldemort snarls that “There is nothing worse than death” (OotP 814) and I bet we can translate this statement as there is nothing so awful that Voldemort would not do in order to become immortal, because to him there is nothing worse than being mortal. So, more and more I am becoming convinced that we can translate the conversation in the MoM between Dumbledore and Voldemort into a dialogue about why Voldemort didn’t die. We just need to fill in some blanks.

Dumbledore: We both know what you have done to yourself in order to be immortal, Voldemort. Yes, I have figured you out. If I killed you I couldn’t hurt you as much as you have hurt yourself. And anyway, now you can’t even escape your so-called immortality. I bet you hoped though, on some level, when you got a body back: it wasn’t your old body, though, don’t fool yourself. You can’t have your own body without your own soul. Yes, yes, you know what I’m talking about. So don’t think you can tempt me to kill you, because we both know full well what would happen. You fool. You should have realized there are other ways of destroying a man than death. Now you know, because you have destroyed yourself. So no, I won’t try to kill you. I have a different plan. Don’t you wish you knew my plan? But let me tell you, if you really want to know my feelings on the matter, even if I could kill you, merely taking your life would not satisfy me, I admit – I’d prefer something worse for you…

Voldemort: There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore! Maybe you have figured out what I have done. You think it is awful. But I will not taste death, and you will! Death is the worst there is!

Dumbledore: You are quite wrong. Indeed, your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness… Your existence is the worst there is, Tom. Who would have thought you’d take your foolish ambition that far? Not only have you destroyed your soul, but you have made yourself less powerful than you might have been, had you accepted your human lot and death… And so you will lose miserably.

Eh? Does it sound like this is what they were really talking about?

Inside Voldemort’s Head

I suppose, since we’ve been picking Dumbledore’s brains, we ought to pay Voldemort’s thoughts a brief visit, especially now that he’s been nicely irritated by Dumbledore in the MoM. What exactly happens when Voldemort possesses Harry? Where in the world is Voldemort’s body? Are Harry’s thoughts and feelings truly his, or Voldemort’s, or is there some form of Imperio happening in this possession, and Voldemort makes Harry feel thoughts and feelings that are fictitious? My gut feeling is that there is something genuine about these feelings that Harry is sensing, but that they say perhaps more about Voldemort’s nature than about Harry’s relationship to Voldemort.

“And then Harry’s scar burst open. He knew he was dead: it was pain beyond imagining, pain past endurance- He was gone from the hall, he was locked in the coils of a creature with red eyes, so tightly bound that Harry did not know where his body ended and the creature’s began. They were fused together, bound by pain, and there was no escape-”
(OotP 816)

How can Harry sharing Voldemort’s feelings and/or body now that he is dead? Is the fact that Voldemort lost his original body enough? Also, did some kind of switch take place? I thought it was Voldemort who was inside Harry’s body, not Harry who was inside Voldemort’s body. Is this Voldemort’s pain that Harry is feeling? Is Harry’s soul really gone from the hall, locked in Voldemort’s body? And why then does he say that his body is fused with Voldemort’s? Harry’s body is still in the hall.

It is especially the fusion of the bodies that made me think these feelings might actually belong to Voldemort more than to Harry. It is true that when Harry’s feelings for Sirius – which are genuinely his own: Harry escapes from Voldemort’s superimposed thoughts just like when he battled the Imperio curse with thoughts and feelings that express his own desire – save him from possession, Harry feels the “coils” of the creature “loosen.” At that point I think that he is using the memory of his previous feelings to describe his present situation. But I think the previous feelings applied to Voldemort. The idea of two bodies fused together, the notion of not knowing where his body ends and the body of the “creature” begins, the sensation of being “gone from the hall” and “locked in the coils” of a creature at the same time, all of these details make me think we may be sensing rather than how Harry feels in Voldemort’s body, how Voldemort feels in his own body, with a soul that is fused with a snake. The word creature is repeated. Voldemort is no longer human. Perhaps death can be understood in the sense that Voldemort is no longer alive as a human being. Perhaps this desperation caused by the feeling of being dead was brought about not by Voldemort’s partial death in Godric’s Hollow, but by Voldemort’s earlier experimentations with his soul and body, his unwise steps towards immortality.


Voldemort’s despair and his loss of identity

If it is Voldemort who “knows he is dead” and who feels “pain beyond imagining, pain past endurance,” then Voldemort feels an eternal despair about being humanly dead. Since he still seems to be breathing and such, I take this sensation of death to be the feeling of a loss of identity. And identity may be the very life of a human being. Voldemort’s merging of his essence with that of a snake for the purpose of achieving immortality came at an awful price. He could survive as creature, but he was dead as being. He hated his identity so much that he changed it, starting with his name. Perhaps he also hated his “human identity.” And so he chose to be part beast. He thought that was a small price to pay. But losing one’s identity is worse than death. Identity is a great theme in the novel. For Harry, this is a story of finding his identity: realizing that he is a wizard, learning about his parents, discovering his destiny. It would be an interesting point of contrast that the story should also deal with Voldemort’s loss of identity. The widespread habit of calling him “You know who” (or “Dark Lord”) gives Voldemort plenty of infamous status, but paradoxically further strips him away of his identity.

Voldemort the human beast

In a way, the centaurs’ preference to be classified as beasts rather than beings (see Fantastic Beasts) might be an example of the sort of overweening pride that can lead to making the decision to become part beast. But in the centaurs’ case it is a purely philosophical decision that can always be changed. In Voldemort’s case, the change may constitute a permanent form of damage… The prevailing theme of animal experimentation that is evident in allusions to hippogriffs, centaurs, sphinxes, and Hagrid’s skrewts might be another hint that Voldemort has done something of this nature to himself. Maybe the reason Voldemort can’t have access to Harry’s power is that one needs to be a human to have it. Or, not to be too anthropocentric, maybe one needs to be a “being,” and Voldemort is no longer a being, but part beast. But back to our beloved centaurs, aren’t they part beast? Does that mean they necessarily lack the “power”? Wait, maybe combining a human with a snake is worse than combining a human with a horse… Don’t ask me, ask Rowling…

Voldemort the double

I have found an interesting piece of trivia: the name Tom, based on Thomas, means “twins.” And if the conversation about Voldemort brought up the twin serpents, perhaps there is something essentially divided, essentially “twin” about Voldemort. This essential division may help him possess a snake while still inhabiting his own body, and continue to live although his body is destroyed. He is double in two ways: double natured, human and snake, and double bodied, in that he can divide, like a snake shedding its skin maybe, into two souls, one of which has the potential of growing a new body, and one of which may be just the image of his soul, like the trace left in Harry’s scar… Voldemort’s soul would be able to divide in two at the moment of “death” like a unicellular organism creating two identical halves from the original cell. Because of some law of unity, as in the soul must be whole to pass to the other side, it would be impossible for Voldemort ever to die, because his soul would always be divided. It fits that Voldemort the divider should have a “divided” soul. I imagine that having a divided soul is worse than death. But what happens to the halves? Can the soul really stay divided? What if “a re-merging has to happen” as ‘Meghana’ wondered? Perhaps this re-merging would explain why “neither can live while the other survives,” why the connection has been getting stronger and stronger between Harry and Voldemort…

Voldemort the triple

I give big thanks to Meghana for this idea. She asked: “what about the Runespoor… could that be in essence divided… Nagini, LV, and Harry????” Nice idea! I had to pay that good old and forgotten classic a visit – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – and brush up on the Runespoor: I had completely forgotten there was such a thing in Potterverse. I also discovered Sam’s editorial, in which he posited there may be a Runespoor-like connection between Harry, Voldemort, and a third party. Sam thought the third might be… Mark Evans. Don’t feel bad, Sam, the general idea is still good. I think it is Nagini… The Runespoor has an “MoM classification XXXX” which means “Dangerous / requires specialist knowledge / skilled wizard may handle.” However, it isn’t XXXXX which would make it a “known wizard killer / impossible to train or domesticate.” The Runespoor is a “three-headed serpent.” There are very interesting facts about it:

“The Runespoor, though not in itself a particularly vicious beast, was once a favorite pet of Dark wizards, no doubt because of its striking and intimidating appearance. It is to the writings of Parselmouths who have kept and conversed with these serpents that we owe our understanding of their curious habits. It transpires from their records that each of the Runespoor’s heads serves a different purpose.”

The rest of the description is quite hilarious at times. One head is the planner, the second is the dreamer, and the third is the critic, “and will evaluate the efforts of the left and middle heads with a continual irritable hissing” (sounds like Hermione when she was warning Harry not to use Umbridge’s fireplace). In addition, the heads “tend to attack each other. It is common to see a Runespoor with the right head missing, the other two heads having banded together to bite it off.” Sam thought this was a sign that Voldemort was going to bite it (i.e. have his head bitten off), when Mark and Harry ganged up against him. But why not have Nagini and Harry gang up against Voldemort? Harry can speak to snakes, after all. Maybe he developed a friendship with a snake in the first version of CoS. Perhaps in HBP Harry will befriend… Nagini, and learn some of Voldemort’s secrets… The idea of dark wizards talking to Runespoors certainly allows the possibility of a connection between the Runespoor and Voldemort. Voldemort is now a triple-headed Runespoor, with a head for himself, one for Nagini, and one for Harry. I bet Harry has the head that is the dreamer – remember Harry’s dreams? Perhaps Dumbledore’s look of “grim satisfaction” may have come from realizing what snake Voldemort used in his transformations: the Runespoor. So he can understand partially how Voldemort functions. And if Voldemort is triple, even if Dumbledore killed Harry in order to kill Voldemort in the MoM, he would miscalculate, because he’d leave out a third… But unlike Voldemort, Dumbledore doesn’t miscalculate, and doesn’t overlook the hidden protection… I think Rowling dreamed up this creature for a reason. As Sam pointed out in his editorial, Rowling developed at length the entry on the Runespoor (a whole page to itself, and an illustration!)… and surely Fantastic Beasts contains some valuable hints…


The greatest problem with “Voldemort the partial snake” is that this idea is not only guessable, it is glaring at us. But Rowling says she doesn’t think the answer to “Why didn’t Voldemort die?” is guessable. So which difficult to guess part am I missing? I can’t help feeling that even if I am missing the part that Rowling is thinking about, all this guessable stuff is very likely to be the case.

Post Scriptum

As you may have noticed, there were a number of references to Meghana’s comments in this editorial. She did a remarkably professional job of reading my study and providing insightful feedback and useful editing suggestions. Thank you, Meghana.