The Boy Who Lived?
Horcruxes are, in my opinion, a fascinating subject. Apart from what you need to do to create them, the way they work is also intriguing. What do the “experts” say about this?
Slughorn (p. 464):
“Well, you split your soul, you see, and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one’s body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged.”
My temporary conclusion when I read this was that a Horcrux functions as a kind of backup; even if one part of the soul (the part in the body) is destroyed, the wizard is not definitely killed because he has another part hidden somewhere, ready to stand in when the first part has been killed. This made sense to me, but according to Dumbledore (and we have to trust him on his word, because we have no sources that are more reliable), it doesn’t work that way.
Dumbledore (p. 470):
“The seventh part of his soul, however maimed, resides inside his regenerated body. That was the part of him that lived a spectral existence for so many years during his exile; without that, he has no self at all. That seventh piece of soul will be the last that anybody wishing to kill Voldemort must attack – the piece that lives in his body.”
After all, it comes to the fact that as long as a certain piece of soul (which I will call the ‘main piece’) is supported by one or more Horcruxes, it is immune to death. Whether or not it can be touched by the Dementor’s Kiss remains unknown (though we can guess), but we are sure it cannot be killed. This is, however, only the case for the main piece: the Horcruxes are not protected by each other or by the main piece, and the main piece likely isn’t even aware of the other pieces (Voldemort did not feel the loss of his diary Horcrux); the connection between the pieces is limited to the protection of the main piece by the other pieces.
The Horcruxes only protect the soul: Voldemort’s body was destroyed (though Avada Kedavra does not destroy your body — perhaps the explosion did so). Voldemort has the lucky gift of being able to possess living beings, and this gift remained with his soul, so the loss of his body did not make him entirely helpless. He could use other beings to do his will. This is important.
As we know, Harry is said to be the first one ever to survive Avada Kedavra. He being ‘the boy who lived’ is so special because the curse has been deadly in all other cases before him. This raises the simple question, how can this be?
We can safely assume that some wizards in the past must have created Horcruxes. Apart from the fact that there is a certain knowledge about them (though the ordinary wizard doesn’t know about it), Dumbledore says (p. 467):
“As far as I know – as far, I am sure, as Voldemort knew – no wizard had ever done more than tear his soul in two.”
If Dumbledore had not been aware of any wizard in the past ever having split his soul in two, he would have formulated this differently. Assuming wizards have created Horcruxes in the past (though not many wizards probably have been capable and willing of doing so), what does this mean for Harry’s the-boy-who-lived status?
There are some possibilities that might more or less answer this question. The first and simplest is that in every previous case, the Horcruxes were destroyed before the dark wizard himself was attacked. Obviously, the wizard was then once again vulnerable to death, and killed.
This would (though in a not very satisfying way) explain why Harry is the first one to survive Avada Kedavra. However, it is also stated that Harry is the only one who’s survived the curse. We know of at least one wizard who has been Avada Kedavra-edbefore he had no Horcruxes left — Lord Voldemort did survive, didn’t he?
We must therefore look for the important difference between surviving by Horcruxes and Harry’s survival.
The first option is, that Harry is special because he is the only one with an intact soul who survives the curse. It is without having to give up his humanity in any form that Harry lives on. Even better, it is because of something purely human that Harry survives: love.
Obviously, Harry is the first and only one (yet) to survive in that way. Rowling has said herself that it has never happened before. This most certainly makes Harry very exceptional, and a strong example of the “power of love” that Dumbledore preaches. However, by accepting this as the explanation, we are making a mistake. The reason why Harry is alive is unique, but what does that say about the fact that he is alive?
Some might say that a wizard who survives by Horcruxes can’t really be called alive, but I think that this is a word that should not be made a value judgement. Yes, it is possible to live a “cursed life” — by drinking unicorn blood, for example. It is possible to live your life at the cost of your humanity — for example, by splitting your soul for making Horcruxes. These forms of life are anything but preferable in the eyes of the characters we’ve learned to trust. Those who choose to live such lives, however, are still alive. It would be a bit lame if Harry turns out to be the-boy-who-lived-as-Dumbledore-wants-it. Well, Harry, we call you the first, not because you are, but because we like you.
I think that there is another significant difference, which perhaps explains why Harry deserves the title of the boy “who lived” more than the Horcrux-wizards. I will try to explain it by another comparison: the Lord of the Rings.
In LotR, Sauron forges a ring which has great power, but which also seems to serve another purpose: Sauron’s life depends on it. When his body is killed by Isildur, Sauron’s soul (or at least, that’s what I call it now) lives on, almost powerless, but alive nonetheless. All that needs to be done to defeat him forever, however, is destroying the One Ring. Isildur does not destroy the Ring (he’s tricked by it; the Ring has a will on its own), and later, Sauron’s soul gains power again. It seems that he still does not have a body, however, because when Frodo destroys the ring, Sauron’s soul is killed immediately.
The differences with HP are many, but imagine Sauron as a dark wizard who makes a Horcrux (the ring). Imagine that the dark wizard’s body is destroyed by an enemy (or at least made useless for a soul to live in), therefore leaving only the “main part” of his soul, which cannot be destroyed because the Horcrux keeps it alive. How would this wizard look?
Stone dead, of course.
Now imagine that, though Avada Kedavra does not destroy the body, it makes the body useless for the soul to live in. Normally, a soul without a body dies, but because of the Horcrux, the soul does not really die… it only looks pretty much the same. The soul itself does not have any power — “less than the weakest ghost,” as Voldemort says to his Death Eaters in GoF. It needs a body to show that it is alive.
Of course, Voldemort’s soul had one power left, as we’re also told in GoF: the power to possess other beings. This gives Voldemort a connection to earth (perhaps Sauron-like), and therefore to some options that in the end give him back his body. But what happens to the dark wizard who does not have a lucky gift like that? His soul remains utterly helpless. It does nothing more than exist. Unable to show any signs of life, the wizard seems dead. The Avada Kedavra has killed him, everyone believes. It is not a surprise that most of the wizarding world thought Voldemort to be dead; what signs were there that he was not?
Also, when the Horcrux is destroyed – damaged severely enough to drive out (and thus kill) the piece of soul that inhabits it – the main piece of soul is destroyed in the same instant. Driven out of its original body by Avada Kedavra, and unprotected by its Horcrux, it dies. It can still be called death-by-Avada Kedavra. Even though you cannot be sure that the dark wizard you just killed is indeed dead, you can be sure that he will never survive the deadly curse: the Horcrux delays the death until it is destroyed, but in the end, Avada Kedavra always kills.
Except for Harry, who remained totally unharmed — not only did his soul survive, but also was his body still fit for his soul to inhabit it. Untouched by Avada Kedavra, untouched by the explosion, he can be said to be the only one who did not meet certain death because of the curse, the only one “who lived.”
Until book 4.
Had Dumbledore discovered and destroyed the Horcruxes before Voldemort got back a body, Voldemort would have met the same fate as any dark wizard: death by Avada Kedavra, albeit somewhat postponed because of his Horcruxes. Dumbledore has not done that, though, and now, after Voldemort’s resurrection, destroying the Horcruxes will not be enough. Even with all of them destroyed, Voldemort now has a body in which his soul can comfortably live on — he needs to be killed again. He has totally overcome the Avada Kedavra. He lived.
Harry and Voldemort equal each other in this: they are the only two people yet to survive a curse that does not always immediately kill, but that has always caused death in every other instance. The difference is that Harry survives because of love, and keeps his humanity; Voldemort, on the other hand, survives because of skill, giving up his humanity. Still, he survives, and the moment that his soul has a body to support it again, he marks himself as Harry’s equal. He has, with his Dark magic, achieved the same as Harry did with the love of his mother. It is indeed a great triumph, but Harry has power the Dark Lord knows not. Dumbledore’s victory has yet to come.
Thanks for your time (you can e-mail me at j.bouterse at planet dot nl). Bye!
All book quotations taken from the UK hardback edition of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, unless otherwise stated.