Killing Rips the Soul Apart?

by Jeroen Bouterse

As they are most certainly important objects, it seems appropriate to think about how Horcruxes actually work. For some, it might already seem clear, but I think that there are some unanswered questions concerning this subject. For now, I will restrict myself to the creation of a Horcrux (which means that questions like how precisely they prevent you from dying and how Harry can be the first one to survive Avada Kedavra will not be dealt with).

What do we know? When Tom Riddle asks Slughorn how to create a Horcrux, he answers (after telling him how undesirable this is, which is important, and which I will get back to later):

“”By an act of evil –– the supreme act of evil. By committing murder. Killing rips the soul apart. The wizard intent upon creating a Horcrux would use the damage to his advantage: he would encase the torn portion–“““Encase? But how -?””

““There is a spell, do not ask me, I don’’t know!””
(HBP, p. 465 UK children’s edition)

So, for the creation of a Horcrux, two things are necessary:

  1. Murder, in order to split the soul
  2. The knowledge (and willingness) to perform the magic needed to catch a piece of the split soul and save it in an object

As for the second, it is enough to notice two things: In the first place, it is not easy. It is very hard for wizards to get information on Horcruxes. Even for Tom Riddle, who found out how to open the Chamber of Secrets as a schoolboy, who had learned how to use Avada Kedavra when he was sixteen or perhaps even younger, Slughorn’’s simple answer is new. We can therefore conclude that, apart from the fact that “few would want it” (p. 465), very few would be able to do it anyway. In the second place, it requires Dark Magic, unlike, for example, the Elixir of Life that we hear about in the first book.

As for the first, it becomes more difficult. This is the part that does not apply only to the incidental Dark wizard hoping to become immortal. Slughorn states categorically that “Killing rips the soul apart.” Apparently, this is a given fact. Dark wizards somehow use this splitting, but it happens anyway, to anyone who murders.

The facts that (only) killing rips the soul apart, and that splitting is “against nature” (- Slughorn, p. 465 again), lead to the conclusion that killing is against the nature of an intact soul. This is consistent with Draco not being able to murder Dumbledore later in the book:

““I don’’t think you will kill me, Draco. Killing is not nearly as easy as the innocent believe.” “
(p. 547-548)

As easy as it may sound, as it requires only a curse that cannot be blocked in any way, it is not easy. Why not? The soul resists it strongly since it doesn’t want to be ripped apart. Draco has never killed somebody, has never felt that resistance, and never realized that there’’s more to killing than just the simple Avada Kedavra. You have to overcome your human nature.

However, Voldemort is much different. No doubt he crossed some line when he first killed a person himself. It is very understandable that, even though Tom Riddle’’s nature had always been evil, this actual murder made him less human, and split his soul. Probably, he paid for his second murder again by giving up some of his humanity. His third may have split his soul again. But can we say that killing is in any way against the nature of Voldemort as he is now? I think not. Voldemort has reached the area in which one murder more or less does not make him feel any different. And how is this consistent with killing and ripping his soul apart?

I think this is again a matter of choice. To explain this, I will need the example of Dumbledore for comparison. We know not nearly enough about how much Dumbledore has done in his long life, but we know that he defeated Grindelwald in 1945. Is Grindelwald dead?

JKR: Yeah, he is. (- interview, part 3)

Let’’s assume Dumbledore did kill Grindelwald (if you think he didn’t, well, then let’’s just assume he has killed someone in his long life, which is possible, especially since Dumbledore does not see death as the worst option possible (OotP p. 718)). What did this do to his soul? Probably, the effect is at least comparable to that of Tom Riddle’’s first murder. Even though Dumbledore killed to defeat his enemy, and Riddle killed for vengeance and –perhaps –for joy, they both crossed a line, leaving relative innocence behind. Dumbledore’s soul must have been split, as well as Riddle’’s, as well as anyone’s.

What matters is, what he did then. I think it impossible that Dumbledore would ever think of using this event for creating a Horcrux. However much I regret his death, I must admit that it would be inconsistent of both the Headmaster and Rowling to allow him to come back, no matter how strongly he is associated with the Phoenix. There is a reason why few people would want to create a Horcrux. “It is an act of violation.” As we have seen, splitting the soul and losing your humanity are very, very closely related. Dumbledore would never give up his humanity in order to conquer death. It’’s not surprising that Horcruxes have been labeled Dark Magic, and we know Dumbledore hates Dark Magic.

So Dumbledore kept his soul where it belonged. The murder he performed did not make him less human after all. In fact, it is not unlikely that it even made him understand more about his humanity. That is why he pitied Draco: because he (Draco) tried to force himself to do something that Dumbledore knew was a horrible thing to do.

Can we not conclude that, as the wholeness of a person’s soul and the wholeness of his humanity seem proportional, Dumbledore’s soul somehow became intact again? By choosing to be human, he, despite the murder he had committed, remained human.

How much different did Voldemort act? He preferred immortality over humanity and used his inhuman deed. He used his soul as a device and destroyed it with his will to achieve something higher. It is not the repeated murder itself, but the repeated conscious choice to violate his human nature (by committing murder), that allowed him to rip his soul apart multiple times, and to go “further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality.”

And so, I believe it depends on choice once again, as so much in the series does. I believe Dumbledore’’s soul is intact, and I believe Harry’s soul can be intact even if he has to kill more people than Voldemort did (which I don’’t think he has to, by the way), if only he consciously decides that he wants to be human, unlike Voldemort.

This explanation has, for now at least, answered the question I asked myself. I hope it does as well for those who read it. Comments are very welcome: j.bouterse at planet dot nl. Thank you for your time!