Overcoming Death: A Basic Approach

by Sylvia

The topic of Voldemort’s immortality has been discussed, and discussed to no end, but I’ve never read an explanation that satisfies me entirely. Therefore, I’ve decided to tackle this problem using a basic approach. Generally, when you have a problem and you want to overcome it, you try to find the cause of the problem and to act against the cause so as to eliminate the problem. It’s logical enough, isn’t it? Let’s apply this method to Voldemort’s search for immortality.

Becoming Immortal: A Step-By-Step Method

1. Identify the problem. I am a wizard. I am mortal. I want to be immortal.

2. Identify the cause of the problem. I know there are some people who are in a state nearing death, but who are not dead in the strictest sense of the term, namely people who have received the Dementor’s Kiss; their bodies still function but they have no conscience of the world they’re living in. On the other hand, I know that when one is hit by the Avada Kedavra curse, one dies, period. Clearly, the Dementor’s Kiss, which I know affects the soul of its victim, and the Killing Curse don’t affect the same part of an individual. From this, I deduce that the part that carries mortality is the one affected by Avada Kedavra, and not the soul, since Dementors, after having sucked the soul out of their victims, don’t leave them dead.

3. Act against the cause of the problem. I am a logical person, so I’m going to concentrate on the part of myself that makes me mortal. I can’t remove it from myself because I would die right away, which is just the opposite of my aim (that’s what the Killing Curse does, actually). But with the help of Dark Arts rituals, I will be able to modify this part, to alter it, so that it will be immune to Avada Kedavra.

And so Lord Voldemort did. But it wasn’t so simple. It had consequences.

The Five Parts Constituting a Human Being

Let’s go back to the beginning, when Voldemort understands that humans are constituted of different parts:

  • The body: a purely mechanical part that is a mere “empty shell” (PoA, pg. 183, UK paperback) when the soul associated with it has been sucked by a Dementor
  • The mind or intellect: the ability to think and to reason
  • The soul: the part that Dementors feed upon (PoA, p. 183) and probably the part that goes through the Veil at the DoM when one dies
  • The yet undefined part targeted by Avada Kedavra. In Mysteries Unveiled, Brandon Ford provided the solution: he calls it “life essence.” It is the part that makes an individual simply alive, and therefore that carries mortality since when you haven’t it any more, you die.
  • “The power…that [Harry] possesses in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all” (OotP, pg. 743, UK hardback)

Yes, that’s right: the power mentioned in the prophecy. This power is not particular to Harry since there is a room dedicated to it in the DoM (the locked room). Also note that the prophecy doesn’t say that “the one” is the only one to have this power. Other people may have it, although it’s only “the one” who will be able to vanquish Voldemort. Unlike most of you folks, I don’t believe this power is love. I think it is the ability to feel, as opposed to the ability to think. Because it is what makes us, humans, different from animals. I’m going to call it “humaness.”

Because of it, we can feel emotions irrationally. Unlike Voldemort, who always has a reason to be happy or angry, Harry sometimes does’t even know why he feels like he feels: “Harry felt he could have produced the world’s best Patronus” (PoA, pg. 230), but he merely won a Quidditch Cup. “[Harry] wasn’t even sure why he was feeling so angry” (OotP, pg. 293) when Hermione challenged him about teaching Defence. Contrast this with the following quotes:

“It hurt because…he’s…angry…He wants something done, and it’s not happening fast enough.” (OotP, pg. 338)“Last time, it was because he was pleased…He thought something good was about to happen.” (OotP, pg. 338)

“[Harry] wondered…what had happened to make Lord Voldemort the happiest he had been in fourteen years.” (OotP, pg. 479)

These three quotes all indicate that there’s always a concrete reason behind Voldemort’s emotions. Now, remember that Dumbledore said that the pain Harry feels upon Sirius’s death is “part of being human” (OotP, pg. 726), and that conversely, it has been hinted at least once that Voldemort may not be technically human: “Dunno if he was human enough to die” (PS/SS, pg. 46, UK paperback). In my opinion, all of this indicates that Voldemort lacks something and that this something has to do with feelings and humanness.

The Consequences of Voldemort’s Actions

Based on what I said earlier, Voldemort decided to alter his life essence so that it wouldn’t be affected by Avada Kedavra. But what he probably didn’t realize is that these five parts are linked to one another, or rather that life essence binds the other four parts together. (Nicole offered a similar, if less elaborate, explanation in What Is Voldemort Missing?). This is why one can survive without a body (Voldemort as a spirit), mind (Neville’s parents) or soul (victims of a Dementor’s Kiss), but not without life essence (victims of the Killing Curse). The consequence is that if the life essence part is modified, it has repercussions on the other parts.

Imagine a potion cauldron containing four different liquids: A (body), B (mind), C (soul) and D (humanness). When they’re cold, these four liquids are separate (like oil and vinegar when they’re let still). When they’re hot, the four liquids blend and the potion is effective. The fire under the cauldron represents life essence. Extinguish it, and the potion will be useless. Remove A, B, C or D but let the fire keep burning, and the potion won’t be whole but it will have an effect. Alter the temperature of the fire, and the properties of A, B, C and D will in turn be altered. (Thanks, Professor Snape, for this analogy!)

Getting back on topic, what were the consequences of Voldemort altering his life essence?

  • His body underwent physical modifications: Voldemort has red eyes and a snake-like face, whereas young Tom Riddle has normal features. These modifications caused his body to be destroyed when he was hit by the rebounding Killing Curse at Godric’s Hollow, whereas this curse shouldn’t have done anything to the body. [The bodies of people killed by Avada Kedavra are left unmarked: “The Riddles all appeared to be in perfect health — apart from the fact that they were all dead.” (GoF, pg. 9, UK paperback)]. Needless to say, this last effect wasn’t intended by Voldemort.
  • His mind was apparently unaffected.
  • His soul may or may not have been affected (we don’t have enough information to go on with).
  • His life essence is now immune to Avada Kedavra. That was Voldemort’s aim and that’s why he didn’t die at Godric’s Hollow.
  • His humanness disappeared. That’s why the prophecy says “power the Dark Lord knows not.” Either Voldemort didn’t realize it happened, or he discarded it as a minor drawback. (In Sacrifice, Voldemort-Style, Daniela Teo likewise suggested that Voldemort sacrificed “his human self” in order to attain immortality.)

In our potion analogy, the Voldemort-cauldron contains the liquids A (the properties of which have changed), B and C, and the temperature of the fire has been modified.

What Happened At Godric’s Hollow…

When Voldemort was hit by the rebounding Avada Kedavra, his body was destroyed [if it weren’t the case, we would have heard of it. Moreover, Voldemort wouldn’t have needed to recreate “his old body” in the graveyard (GoF, pg. 569)]. Voldemort’s vapour form was simply a mixture of his soul, mind and altered life essence (all of his parts, minus his body). His soul didn’t go behind the Veil or wherever one’s soul goes when one dies, because he never died since his altered life essence was still holding his soul and mind together. (The fire, protected against Avada Kedavra, was still burning under the Voldemort-cauldron then containing only B and C). The bodies of the animals he possessed weren’t strong enough to support their own life essence and Voldemort’s, so they died soon after the possession. Quirrell’s body wasn’t strong enough either, so he had to drink unicorn blood to strengthen it.

…And at the Ministry

When Voldemort possessed Harry at the MoM, his altered life essence had a kind of “allergic reaction” to Harry’s humanness (in this case, expressed by Harry’s love for Sirius). Remember that the life essence altering caused Voldemort to lose his humanness. This reinforces that immortality and humanness don’t go together.

A Possible Explanation for the Scar Connection

Taking these ideas further, we can find an explanation of the nature of the connection between Harry and Voldemort. Brandon Ford speculated that in order to cast a successful Killing Curse, this spell had to be “powered” with a bit of the caster’s own life essence, and that it was this bit of Voldemort’s life essence that created Harry’s scar. I tend to agree with him because if that’s the case, the Harry/Voldemort scar connection may be caused by a residual link between the bit of Voldemort’s altered life essence that has stayed in Harry’s scar and Voldemort’s altered life essence residing in Voldemort’s body.

It may even be the reason for Dumbledore’s comment: “Yes, but in essence divided?” (OotP, pg. 416). As I said earlier, life essence binds all the parts of an individual together. So, either Voldemort divided himself when he altered his life essence (i.e. he corrupted the link binding all of his parts together, thus creating a division in the individual that Lord Voldemort is, which might in turn lead to a vulnerability he had not expected) or (and I think this hypothesis is more probable) Voldemort’s life essence is divided between him and Harry, because of the failed Avada Kedavra. It is a situation that has never happened before because it is the first time a Killing Curse has failed to kill. Since normally all the victims of this curse die, the fact that a bit of the caster’s life essence goes into the victim isn’t a problem, since it is immediately released when the victim dies.

But here, we have an unprecedented situation because the victim, Harry, didn’t die (thanks to Lily’s protection). I prefer the second hypothesis because Dumbledore made his comment when he was in front of Harry, and his silver instrument may have sensed that Voldemort’s life essence (one smoke snake) is divided between Harry and Voldemort (two smoke snakes). In essence divided.

I know that this explanation of the scar connection is based on Brandon’s speculation regarding the functioning of Avada Kedavra, but I like it, simply because it fits with all we know. I’m not sure about the following, but maybe Dumbledore didn’t try to kill Voldemort at the MoM because Harry could have been affected, too. If a Killing Curse is directed at Voldemort, what would the consequences on the bit of his life essence lingering in Harry’s scar be? Is this bit of Voldemort’s life essence blended with Harry’s own life essence now?

And Now, How Do We Get Rid of Him?

How do you kill someone who has no humanness, who can survive without a body, whose life essence is altered against Avada Kedavra, and whose soul may also be altered against Dementors for all we know? And please bear in mind that we would much prefer to keep Harry whole and healthy, thank you very much.

Apparently, according to the prophecy, the solution lies with Harry’s humanness. Humanness isn’t a power as such. But I’ve been wondering for some time now about the wording of the prophecy, regarding the power mentioned. It says “he will have power the Dark Lord knows not.” Not “a power.” Not “powers.” It suggests that Harry has more power than Voldemort, not that he has a particular power that Voldemort doesn’t. I believe for example that humanness, through the feeling of happiness, is the force that powers a Patronus, and I’d be really surprised if Voldemort could cast such a spell. A Patronus isn’t a power, like, say, being a Parselmouth or a Metamorphmagus constitutes a power. If I am right, it is an example of humanness giving Harry more power than Voldemort.

I don’t know if Voldemort is now immortal in the sense that it will be impossible for him to die of old age or to choke on a fish bone, but he certainly seems to be immune to Avada Kedavra. I’m pretty sure it was one of the steps he took in his search for immortality and this particular step has proved successful, although it had consequences Voldemort probably hadn’t expected.