They Knew, They Knew Not…
“They, who knew the steps I took, long ago, to guard myself against mortal death.”
-GoF, U.K. edition, pg. 562 “Lord Voldemort believes that he alone knows about his Horcruxes.”
-HBP, U.K. Edition, pg. 532
What a great contradiction, and a great topic for an editorial. Even while we are speculating on the more “major” issues (Snape, R.A.B, etc.), such small details disturb us. Did the Death Eaters know? Did Order members know? What about everyone else? Well, here’s what I’ve come up with.
The Death Eaters
The more common belief is that the DEs did know. After all, the quote from GoF is very well-known throughout fandom, and JKR herself emphasized its importance. Very well. Dumbledore, however, seemed to believe otherwise.
“Lord Voldemort believes that he alone knows about his Horcruxes.”
-HBP, pg. 532“I thought I knew what he meant, though the Death Eaters did not.”
-HBP, pg. 469
“Of course, Lucius did not know what the diary really was.”
-HBP, pg. 475
As opposed to:
“They, who knew the steps I took, long ago, to guard myself against mortal death.”
-GoF, pg. 562
While it is safe to assume that Voldemort knows better, the idea of him telling the whole DE lot about his secret does not seem plausible to me. Voldemort is not unintelligent; he is very clever, cunning and is a very good strategist. Telling the DEs seems to me a very foolish thing to do. What if one of them turned against him? What if one was a spy for Dumbledore? What if one, when offered a generous prize, divulged the secret willingly?
I do not think that Voldemort would risk these possibilities for the sake of gloating before his followers. If he had, Dumbledore would not have had to do so much painstaking research to find out about the Horcruxes; most DEs are Slytherins who, according to Phineas Nigellus, will always give their own benefit top priority. Voldemort knows this. He also knows that some Death Eaters would turn against him and although they do not survive for a long time after that, there is enough time for them to run to Dumbledore. And if Dumbledore happened to have a spy in his inner circle (which I do not think for a second has not occurred to Voldemort), it would be very unwise indeed to run around with “I have made seven Horcruxes” written in big bold letters on his forehead.
“But what about ‘they, who knew the steps’?” I hear you say. Well, there were certainlysteps, in the plural. I doubt that Voldemort relied completely on his Horcruxes. He would “[go] further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality” (GoF, pg. 566); he would “[experiment]; [push] the boundaries of magic further, perhaps, than they have ever been pushed” (HBP, pg. 415); he would most certainly try all possible means. He would do more than stick with the plan he had at sixteen.
And the best thing is, we have very good evidence that he did on page 566 of GoF:
“And now, I was tested, and it appeared that one or more of my experiments had worked…for I had not been killed, though the curse should have done it.”
One or more. One Horcrux or more? Nah. Horcruxes are one experiment. There was another, a third and maybe even a fourth. “Huh? Why?” This is where it gets interesting.
Imagine you are Voldemort. You have created several Horcruxes, and intend to make more. You believe it is the way most likely to keep you alive should your body be destroyed. Yet, you are doubtful. You do more research. You find less reliable methods of protection, advanced healing suggestions, and whatever else. You decide to try these anyway, just for self-satisfaction. You have now done all that you can.
It is wise, of course, to keep this secret. Someone might blab to Dumbledore, and then you’ll have to deal with the possibility of someone trying to destroy your Horcruxes. But you are going to be questioned: your followers will want an explanation. And there’s no reason why you should not give them one. You decide it’s too risky to tell them about the Horcruxes, so you content them by explaining at length the othermeasures you have taken to protect yourself against mortal death. The other steps. And they buy it!
There is a couple of loopholes in this theory, the bigger of the two being that Voldemort would not feel obliged to tell the DEs anything about his quest for immortality. Maybe not. It could be that he simply wanted them to believe he did achieve it, without giving too much away. It could simply be a show of power (“I have invoked an ancient protection and am now immune to death. Mwahaha!”) It could even be an elaborate lie: that he did not experiment any further, but simply made it up.
The other is about Bellatrix Lestrange. I see no reason for Voldemort not to trust her with his secret. Never in a million years would she betray it to anyone. She could even prove helpful. Perhaps he trusted her with the protection of one. Remember that “the Dark Lord has, in the past, entrusted [her] with his most precious–” (HBP, pg. 34). Of course, JKR does not allow her to finish her sentence, but if my theory holds true, Bellatrix Lestrange was trusted with the protection of one Horcrux at least. It would at least explain her absolute certainty that “the Dark Lord will rise again” (GoF, pg. 517) after his first downfall.
That was my feeble attempt at explaining the inconsistency in the text. Of course, it could always be one big mistake in the books, but I do not think Voldemort’s rebirth speech was lightly worded, then again nor do I believe for a second that his Horcruxes were common knowledge among the Death Eaters.
Dumbledore seemed not to have confided in anyone but Harry. After all, even McGonagall did not know. And wasn’t she his second? His “very worthy second,” according to JKR? He seemed to have realized the importance of this secret being told to a very limited number of people: only those who were involved in it. Although McGonagall might be Dumbledore’s second at school or even in the operation of the Order, she was not involved in the Horcrux quest, nor would she have ever been.
However, there is nothing to suggest that some Order members might not somehow know. I cannot see someone like Mad-Eye Moody, for example, not deducing that Voldemort did, after all, create a Horcrux. He knows Voldemort did not die when the curse backfired. He probably knows or has deduced that only his body was destroyed since he managed to return. He knows what Horcruxes do. If he gave the matter some thought, he would certainly come to that conclusion. Couple that with Dumbledore’s frequent absences from school (they definitely knew about them), and the fact that Dumbledore is looking for Voldemort’s Horcrux is out in the open, though someone like Moody would undoubtedly hide it for Dumbledore’s sake. He might not be the only one. I do not think, however, that many people did. Horcruxes are a banned subject at Hogwarts. It is therefore safe to assume the average wizard does not know what a Horcrux is, and those who do will probably not bother to think about it and relate the facts. Few will. Very few indeed.
Slughorn, of course, knows. He believes he should not have told Tom Riddle about Horcruxes, and that “[he] did great damage that day.” (HBP, pg. 459). That must mean he knows Voldemort did after all create one Horcrux, or more. He is too cowardly to do anything about it, though, not even to tell Dumbledore (as demonstrated by the effort Harry had to make to extract the memory from him). He will just keep to himself and ignore the whole thing. Bah.
The Death Eaters are done with, the Order is done with. The wizarding population on the whole is definitely ignorant. But there is one problem still
So does he know? Did either Dumbledore or Voldemort tell him? Did he, like Moody, deduce that the only possible explanation for Voldemort’s downfall and rebirth was that he created a Horcrux? Well, the possibilities are endless, so let’s establish the facts, shall we?
1. Knowledge of Dumbledore’s moves with regard to the Horcruxes is of stupendous importance to Voldemort. He needs to know if Dumbledore somehow found out about them. He needs to know if he had set out to find and destroy them one by one. A spy would be very helpful if he told him about the Horcruxes.
However, he did not have one. He did not know that Dumbledore knew about the Horcruxes, and that he had set out to find them. If he did, he would have checked on all the Horcruxes. Yet, the fake locket with R.A.B’s note was still there, unread. It could be that Snape did not tell him, or it could be that Snape did not know in the first place. There are a thousand possible scenarios.
2. Dumbledore was gravely hurt after retrieving the Horcrux (Marvolo’s ring) from the ruins of the Gaunts’ house. He was healed by “Professor Snape’s timely action when [he] returned to Hogwarts, desperately injured” (HBP, pg. 470).
The story that was given to the world seems to be that Dumbledore sustained this injury in his duel with Voldemort (“slower reflexes”), but Snape would definitely know that it was not true. What Dumbledore would have told Snape if he had not told him about the Horcruxes, was that he attempted to touch an item for some reason. There was a protective curse on that item, however, and he was seriously hurt. What Snape might deduce from that is completely dependent on what he already knew. What he told Voldemort also depends on where his loyalties lie.
3. “[Voldemort] was not aware, for instance, that the diary had been destroyed until he forced the truth out of Lucius Malfoy. When Voldemort discovered that the diary had been mutilated and robbed of all its powers, I am told that his anger was terrible to behold,” -HBP, pg. 474 (my underline).
So Dumbledore was told of Voldemort reprimanding Lucius. Clearly, Snape had gone to Dumbledore and told him what happened. While we are not directly told that Snape is Dumbledore’s only spy, it makes sense that it is so, partly because Snape seems to enjoy a very high status in the Order, and partly because I doubt that Dumbledore would manage to find another such highly qualified candidate for the job (such a “superb Occlumens”). I am therefore going to assume that he is the lone spy, and thus the only possible source of information. This poses a big problem. If he knew about the Horcruxes, he would know it was important. He would therefore choose to report it (or not). If he was on Voldemort’s side, as I would love to believe, why would he tell Dumbledore something that would lead him to believe the diary was, for some reason, of great importance?
*I will not refer to this point in my analysis for reasons of length. I am including it, however, for anyone who might want to use this argument themselves, or might want to redraw my scenarios with this in mind. The rest of the editorial will hinge on the two previous assumptions.
So how much did he know and how did he come to know it?
I am going to draw several scenarios based on Snape’s loyalties, how much he knew and how he came to know it, then I will explore the possible results of each briefly and eliminate them one by one. I will not use all the evidence there is to debunk each theory: only the least possible to eliminate the possibility; the editorial is already over-long.
Snape is on Voldemort’s side. Voldemort told him of the Horcruxes so that he can watch out for Dumbledore’s moves.
What would happen?
- Dumbledore trusts Snape and tells him that he is looking for the Horcruxes. Snape runs off to tell Voldemort. Voldemort goes to check on his Horcruxes. NOPE, Voldemort did not check on the Horcruxes.
- Dumbledore does not tell Snape he is looking for the Horcruxes. He then seeks him for healing. Snape immediately deduces that what Dumbledore must have touched was a Horcrux, and runs off to tell Voldemort. NOPE, Voldemort did not check on the Horcruxes.
- Snape knew the identity of the Horcruxes. He sees Marvolo’s ring on Dumbledore’s hand, or sees it on the small table in the Headmaster’s office. He runs off to tell Voldemort. NOPE, Voldemort did not check on the Horcruxes.
Snape is on Voldemort’s side. Voldemort does not trust him with the Horcrux secret.
What would happen?
- Dumbledore tells Snape about the Horcruxes. Snape immediately blabs to Voldemort. NOPE, Voldemort did not check on the Horcruxes.
- Dumbledore does not tell Snape anything. He seeks him for healing. Snape immediately runs off and tells Voldemort what Dumbledore told him. Voldemort deduces that what Dumbledore ‘picked up’ was his Horcrux, and checks on the Horcruxes. NOPE, Voldemort did not check on the Horcruxes.
Snape is on Dumbledore’s side. Voldemort trusted him and told him of the Horcruxes so that he can watch out for Dumbledore’s moves.
What would happen?
- Dumbledore tells Snape about the Horcruxes. Snape does not tell Voldemort. He tries to help Dumbledore as much as possible instead. YUP, it works.
- Dumbledore does not tell Snape. Snape deduces that Voldemort made a Horcrux by himself. He tells Dumbledore, who is not surprised. They work on finding the Horcruxes together. YUP, it works.
- Dumbledore does not tell Snape and Snape does not deduce anything by himself. He does not know anything and does not do anything. YUP, it works.
Snape is on Dumbledore’s side. Voldemort does not trust him with the Horcrux secret.
What would happen?
- Dumbledore tells Snape about the Horcruxes, they work on it together. YUP, it works.
- Dumbledore does not tell Snape, but Snape deduces it and tells Dumbledore. They work on it together. YUP, it works.
- Dumbledore does not tell Snape, and Snape is clueless, or does not tell Dumbledore what he thinks. Nothing happens. YUP, it works.
When I finished drawing these scenarios and took a good look at them, my jaw dropped. How is it that every Snape-is-evil scenario simply does not work? I was so intent on discovering some sort of loophole or mistake I drew every single one three times, and used the “Lucius and the diary” argument along with others. It simply did not work. Several tantrums later, I reluctantly submitted to the fact that I might have uncovered the best piece of evidence we have yet that Snape really was on Dumbledore’s side, a conclusion I desperately hoped I would not come to. It works so perfectly. Now that I come to think of it, I see no reason why Dumbledore should not have trusted Snape with the secret. He “[trusted] Severus Snape completely.” (HBP, pg. 513) He could prove very helpful to Harry after all. (This works best with the Dumbledore-was-planning-to-die theory). If Snape was on Voldemort’s side, he would immediately tell. It is such a huge clue.
Snape’s loyalties aside, these drawings do not help us determine whether or not Snape knew of the existence of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. I believe, however, that the scenarios in which Snape knows are much more likely (and are greater in number). Even if nobody told him, the possibility that he would not deduce it himself is dim. It would also serve the plot. So principally, yes, Snape knows.
Why have I gone through all of this? I wanted to determine who might be able to help Harry in his Horcrux quest, and who might hinder it. With this map in mind, I can read Book Seven knowing that one of those people will step forward with that knowledge, and have some influence in Harry’s quest, and Voldemort’s fate in the very end. It is therefore, I believe, very important.
So there: I may have uncovered Snape’s loyalties, and have created a complete and accurate map of exactly who knew about the Horcruxes; or I may be as woefully wrong as Humphrey Belcher, who believed the time was ripe for a cheese cauldron.