The Keys to His Soul
Excuse me if I sound like a bad imitation of Arthur Weasley rambling on about the wonders of some perfectly ordinary Muggle device, but I have to say it: Keys are awesome. They’re so simple, but they help you every day. You feel safe leaving your valuables in your home because you can lock them in while you’re away and use a key to get them back later. Granted, you may have a home security system — but even then it’s not as if you leave your door unlocked. Use of a key is still your primary defense. Since you’re the only one with a key that works in your lock, it’s reasonable to assume youre the only one who can get back in the easy way.
In the cave, Dumbledore explained that in case he ever wanted to visit or remove his Horcrux “Voldemort would have left obstacles ahead that only he would be able to penetrate” (HBP, pp. 563-564, U.S. hardback). That got me thinking — what if Voldemort used a key to protect the locket Horcrux? Not a key like your house key, mind you, just something operating under the same principle. If Voldemort was the only one in the world to have an object that was required to avoid the effects of that green potion, he could’ve reasonably assumed hed be the only one who could get the locket back out of the basin the easy way.
Whats a one-of-a-kind object we know Voldemort had in his possession at the time he was preparing the protections for Slytherin’s locket? Hufflepuff’s cup, of course. Tom Riddle stole the cup and locket from Hepzibah Smith at the same time. Thanks to Hepzibah, we also know that it’s no ordinary cup — she mentioned that it had ”all sorts of powers” (pg. 436). So Voldemort had a magical cup, and he chose to protect his locket Horcrux with The Punch Bowl of Doom. I doubt that’s a coincidence.
What sorts of powers could a cup possess? I imagine they would have something to do with what happens when you fill it up with liquid. Maybe Hufflepuff’s cup turns anything put into it to water or pumpkin juice. Maybe it neutralizes poisons or creates antidotes. Maybe the cup simply makes whatever is put into it disappear. Any of those powers would be perfect if Voldemort wanted a secret way to easily get by his own green potion obstacle. I think Voldemort intended to use the cup Horcrux as a key to unlock the final protection on the locket Horcrux.
Using one Horcrux to protect another is actually a rather brilliant idea. Voldemort would’ve assumed it was highly unlikely that anyone would find out he had more than one Horcrux in the first place. Even if someone did figure out that there were multiple Horcruxes, they would still have to find them in the correct order (first the cup, then the locket) for the cup’s powers to do them any good. They would also need enough foresight to not destroy the cup as soon as they found it — and why would someone out to destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes think to keep one intact? In fact, I suggest this system was so brilliant that Voldemort planned to hide all four Hogwarts founder’s relics in this manner.
Yes, all four. I believe that Voldemort succeeded in his quest to find a relic from each of the founders. I also believe that every one of the relics had unique powers, and that Voldemort planned to hide the Horcruxes he made from them in sequence with each one somehow being necessary to access the next. First he hid the locket, making it necessary to use the powers of the cup to retrieve it. Then he hid the cup, making it necessary to use the powers of the unidentified Ravenclaw relic to retrieve it. Finally, he hid the Ravenclaw relic. And what was required to safely pass through the protection on that object? None other than the sword of Godric Gryffindor.
Gryffindor’s sword magically appeared in the Sorting Hat during Chamber of Secrets. It’s important to note that we have no idea where the sword was between Gryffindor’s time and Year Two of the series — about a thousand years of its existence are unaccounted for. If Voldemort was scouring the earth for relics of the Hogwarts Founders to make into Horcruxes, there’s no reason he couldn’t have found the sword.
At this point, I should probably stop to clarify something — Gryffindor’s sword is not now and has never been a Horcrux. Dumbledore had plenty of time to inspect it, and I don’t dispute his findings. However — just because the sword isnt a Horcrux doesn’t mean that Voldemort never meant it to be one. After all, he would’ve needed an object to make into his sixth and final Horcrux. And as Dumbledore explained, that was the Horcrux Voldemort intended to create with the murder of Harry Potter.
When Voldemort went to the Potters’ house in Godric’s Hollow, I think he had Godric’s sword with him. This may seem counterintuitive at first — Voldemort is normally so protective of his Horcruxes. Why risk carrying the sword around with him? Several reasons:
- It wasn’t actually a Horcrux yet. (Tom wore the Peverell ring until he made it into a Horcrux.)
- He was about to commit the murder he would use to make the sword into a Horcrux — it was convenient to have it on hand.
- His opponents were two young, unprepared wizards and a baby. Not much of a threat. By that time, the sword was the key to getting the Ravenclaw Horcrux. If you could get Ravenclaw’s, you could get Hufflepuff’s. With Hufflepuff’s, you could get Slytherin’s.
- It was really safer for Voldemort to keep the sword with him until he could finish making it into a Horcrux and hide it as well.
Of course, killing that baby did turn out to be a little trickier than Voldemort imagined. When his Avada Kedavra backfired, he lost his body — and the sword along with it.
Flash forward to Goblet of Fire — since he no longer had Gryffindor’s sword, Voldemort resorted to using Nagini as his sixth Horcrux. That might’ve been the end of it, but then he learned that the diary had been destroyed. The Dark Lord was once again one Horcrux short of a seven-part soul.
Now we’ll skip ahead to Voldemort and Dumbledore’s duel in Order of the Phoenix. When I reread that scene after learning about Horcruxes, I realized Dumbledore may have (accidentally or intentionally) tipped his hand. Dumbledore refused to kill Voldemort, and was making comments such as, ”We both know there are other ways of destroying a man, Tom. Merely taking your life would not satisfy me…” (pg. 814 U.S. hardback). If you were Voldemort, wouldn’t that be enough to make you wonder if Dumbledore had discovered your dearest secret? Wouldn’t you want to make sure your Horcruxes were still safe?
Voldemort knew Nagini was fine, since he keeps her close. He could easily have gone to check on the Peverell ring shortly before Dumbledore found and destroyed it. The Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin relics were a different matter, though. To get to them, he would need Gryffindor’s sword.
Don’t you just hate it when you’ve misplaced your keys?
So what would Voldemort have done next? I suppose he could’ve spent the summer searching second-hand shops in the hope that the sword would turn up in a cardboard box full of 8-tracks and troll dolls, but that doesn’t seem quite his style. It’s more likely the Dark Lord realized that if he wanted to recover the sword he’d lost over a decade ago, he’d have to backtrack. Voldemort may have returned to where the Potters’ house once stood, but he wouldn’t have found the sword there. Why not? Well, we know that the sword was actually safe in Dumbledore’s office by then, but Voldemort had no reason to suspect that. (Sure, the sword’s magical, but I don’t think Voldemort would’ve chosen it for a Horcrux if he knew one of the tricks it could do was going poof and reappearing in the hands of his opponent.) As far as he knew, it was because of the Muggles.
Remember what Hagrid said the night he delivered Harry to the Dursleys? “I got him out all right before the Muggles started swarmin’ around.” [SS, pg. 15, U.S. paperback). This let us know that after the Potters’ house was magically reduced to rubble, there were quite a few Muggles on the scene. And if there were Muggles wandering unwittingly into the middle of a magical catastrophe, odds are there was another party on the scene as well — the Ministry. While we’ve never been told explicitly of a Ministry presence at Godric’s Hollow, I think it only makes sense. Someone had to Obliviate any Muggles who saw too much, come up with a good excuse for the ones who saw just enough to get suspicious, and remove any artifacts of the wizarding world from the scene. Artifacts like, for example, a magical ruby-studded sword.
Keeping in mind were well into the guesswork thickets at this point, let’s suppose Voldemort realized that the Ministry would be a good place to start if he wanted to find out what happened to something left in the ruins of the house. The trouble is, he’s Voldemort. The Ministry may be incompetent at times, but even they weren’t going to let him stroll in and file a claim at the Lost & Found. He couldn’t just go around questioning random Ministry employees, either, because every move he made risked tipping the good guys off about the importance of the sword. No, Voldemort’s best strategy would be to find a single target. Someone who worked for the Ministry at the time of his fall, and was one of the first on the scene at Godric’s Hollow that night.
Unfortunately for us, we have no way to look into who was there on behalf of the Ministry. We could take a wild guess, but there are tons of Ministry employees to choose from. Is this line of speculation a dead end?
Not if dead is the operative word. Out of all our possible Ministry first responders, only one was personally killed by Voldemort shortly after his duel with Dumbledore: Amelia Bones.
The warning letter Harry received after the Dementor incident in OotP told us that if a serious violation of wizarding law occurs, a Ministry representative is dispatched to deal with the situation in person. Bob Ogden’s memory in HBP showed us that these house calls are made by someone from Magical Law Enforcement. Amelia was middle-aged, which means she was old enough to have been working for the Ministry during the first war. Her position as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement before her death strongly indicates that she had been working there for quite some time, since it seems likely that job would go to someone with experience. On top of all that, her last name was Bones. Given that this is the Potterverse, she might as well have been named Amelia Ifoundyourparentsbodies. I think she was at Godric’s Hollow after the disaster that night, and I think Voldemort knew it.
The circumstances surrounding Amelia’s murder seem to support this theory. Others have suggested that Voldemort went after Amelia because he didn’t like what she was doing as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, he wanted to use her murder to create a Horcrux, he had a grudge against the Bones family, or he wanted to steal something from her house. None of these suggestions ring true for me, because they don’t require anything more than a simple murder.
Voldemort’s weapon of choice is the Avada Kedavra — he’s quite handy with it. He must’ve had the element of surprise working for him, because he somehow got into a room that was locked from the inside (and presumably had anti-Apparation magic protecting it as well). Yet Fudge pointed out “…all the evidence was that she put up a real fight” (p. 13). If Voldemort only wanted Amelia dead, when would she have had time to put up much of a fight? Even a gifted witch would’ve needed a flock of pet phoenixes swallowing up killing curse after killing curse to survive very long if Voldemort’s only goal was to murder her. No, Voldemort was after more than that. He was after information. He wanted Amelia to give him an answer to the same question Harry Potter readers have asking for years — what exactly happened that Halloween night?
I’m not sure what Amelia told Voldemort about what she found at Godric’s Hollow (or what he forcibly ripped from her mind, since having one’s brother and his family murdered by a Death Eater would tend to make one less than cooperative). The sword could’ve been gone from the scene before she arrived, put into storage, or believed destroyed. It doesn’t matter very much in the scheme of things, because even if the Ministry did have the sword at some point, they obviously lost it to Harry by Year Two. No matter what answer Voldemort got out of Amelia, it couldn’t have been one he liked. She didn’t know where his key was. His formerly brilliant plan meant he was now locked out.
Of course, Hufflepuff’s cup was only essential to getting past the final protection on Slytherin’s locket. Voldemort may have used a similar pattern of protections when hiding the cup and the Ravenclaw relic as well. After his unsuccessful chat with Amelia Bones, Voldemort could still have gone to check on his Horcruxes. Hed be able to get as far as the final trap in each hiding place, but he wouldn’t be able to actually remove the Horcrux. This would explain why he never found out that R.A.B. had taken the real locket. Voldemort wouldv’e gone to the cave and seen that everything looked like it hadn’t been disturbed in a very long time (because it hadn’t been). He wouldn’t have been able to empty the basin, though, since he believed using Hufflepuff’s cup was the only way to do it safely. (Voldemort obviously never thought of Harry and Dumbledore’s method — and why would we expect him to? He’s not big on teamwork.) Since the locket couldn’t be seen through the potion, Voldemort wouldn’t have noticed the switch.
Did Voldemort give up at that point, satisfied that his Horcruxes were safe? Or did he keep searching for Gryffindor’s sword? Did he learn that it was in Dumbledore’s office? Does that have anything to do with the nature and timing of the mission the Dark Lord assigned Draco? Did Voldemort hope to recapture the sword and use it to replace the destroyed diary? I think I’ll leave speculation on those subjects for another time. What I will say, though, is that it’s at least possible Voldemort found out where the sword was. Word could have gotten out through addled Lockhart, for example, or from any of the people who’ve been to Dumbledores office in the past few years. JKR even demonstrated that at least one visitor had taken notice of the unusual knickknack:
“And did you kill a basilisk with that sword in Dumbledore’s office?” demanded Terry Boot. “That’s what one of the portraits on the wall told me when I was in there last year…”
OotP, pg. 342
If the portraits of former headmasters and headmistresses have been blabbing, the information could be anywhere by now. (Like with Florean Fortescue, who is probably related to former headmaster Fortescue, and just happened to be kidnapped by Death Eaters around the same time as Amelia Bones’ death.)
We can guess forever about what information has made it back to the Dark Lord, but it doesn’t amount to much. No matter what Voldemort knew and despite the Death Eaters’ invasion of Hogwarts, Gryffindor’s sword remained in its case at the end of HBP.
Of course, that wasn’t the first opportunity our villain missed. After all, an incarnation of Tom Riddle was there when Harry pulled the sword from the Sorting Hat. When answering a FAQ on her website about what would have happened if Tom Riddle had escaped the diary in CoS, JKR had this to say: ”I can’t answer that fully until all seven books are finished, but it would have strengthened the present-day Voldemort considerably.”
Voldemort wouldve been strengthened because he wouldve had a body and the chance to finish Harry off with a quick Avada Kedavra — but we could’ve guessed that a long time ago. What is it that we need to wait until Book 7 to fully understand? Maybe it’s that Voldemort did indeed use Gryffindor’s sword in a plan like the one I described above. If Tom Riddle had escaped the diary, he probably would’ve killed Harry and made off with the sword as the shiny trophy of his victory. Tom would have it, and Harry wouldn’t.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Even though Harry doesn’t know it yet, having Gryffindor’s sword will be one of his biggest assets as he goes after Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes. He just has to:
- Be lucky enough to discover where Ravenclaw’s relic is hidden before he discovers where Hufflepuff’s cup is hidden. (Hey, its a 50/50 chance. It wouldn’t take that much luck.)
- Get past the initial protections surrounding the Horcrux. Remember that none of the initial protections for the locket (hidden door, blood sacrifice, hidden boat, Inferi) were actually dangerous unless you did something stupid like jump into the lake without looking. I imagine that the other Horcruxes will be protected in a similar manner. If Harry, Ron, and Hermione could figure out how to get to the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone as first years, they can handle this.
- Figure out that Gryffindor’s sword (which Harry can gain access to either because Dumbledore willed it to him or because it likes to magically show up just when its most needed) will allow him to get past the final, otherwise lethal obstacle protecting the Ravenclaw relic.
- Repeat the above process, this time using Ravenclaw’s relic to get to Hufflepuff’s cup.
- Put Gryffindor’s, Ravenclaw’s, and Hufflepuff’s items together with Slytherin’s locket from Grimmauld Place. Voila! The Hogwarts Four will be reunited, and Harry and his friends won’t be even a little bit dead.
Can I just say it one more time? Keys are awesome.