Dumbledore’s Trust in Snape, Part 4: Horcruxes and Speculation

by D.W. Hill (pentawork@epix.com)

Introduction: The Job Ahead

Now that we have digested the sixth book in J. K. Rowling’’s Harry Potter series, we as readers are in a unique position. Never before have we been able to look forward to the next book with so much knowledge of the storyline. There was no mention of Riddle’’s diary or the Chamber of Secrets before the second book, no mention that one of the Potters’ friends had betrayed them before Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and no mention of the Triwizard Tournament before Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Similarly, we didn’’t know that it was a prophecy that had sent Voldemort after Harry and his family until Order of the Phoenix, and we never heard of Snape’’s old book or Horcruxes before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

While Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is bound to have many new surprises, we, nonetheless, have a fairly detailed idea about what Harry will be trying to accomplish. Why Harry? Why not the Ministry? Rowling’’s portrayal of government in the wizarding world is best summed up by Harry, in his conversation with Rufus Scrimgeour, the Minister of Magic, in the Weasley’s’ garden on Christmas:

“You never get it right, you people, do you? Either we’’ve got Fudge, pretending everything’’s lovely while people get murdered right under his nose, or we’’ve got you, chucking the wrong people into jail and trying to pretend you’’ve got ‘the Chosen One’ working for you!”
(HBP 347)

The Ministry’’s failings leave no doubt that, if the job is going to be done at all, it will be outside the normal channels of government. In addition, Voldemort singled Harry out, before his birth, as the boy about whom he believes the prophecy to be speaking. In his mad dash to destroy Harry, Voldemort has given him certain powers, such as the ability to speak and understand Parseltongue –an ability which no one else in the wizarding world seems to possess. Parseltongue, along with the access to Voldemort’’s feelings and thoughts, which he has as a result of his scar, gives Harry a leg up in the battle that others, though they may be more experienced and more powerful in many ways, do not have.

Furthermore, whether or not the prophecy is true, in and of itself, Voldemort continues to believe in it. No matter what Harry does or doesn’’t do, Voldemort will never rest until he kills him, which is why Dumbledore works so hard to convey to Harry as much as he can about what Voldemort was like throughout his life. Dumbledore does not try to teach Harry advanced magic to prepare him for the battle ahead, or even how to heal dark curses. This is because his plan presupposes that Severus Snape will be there to do those things for him.

We have known throughout the series that Voldemort did not die when his killing curse rebounded on him after bouncing off of the one-year-old Harry. Why? Dumbledore’’s best guess is that Voldemort intended to make six Horcruxes and that in order for him to be vanquished once and for all, the Horcruxes must be destroyed. Here is Harry’’s summation of the job ahead:

“’So,’” said Harry, “’the diary’’s gone, the ring’’s gone. The cup, the locket, and the snake are still intact, and you think there might be a Horcrux that was once Ravenclaw’’s or Gryffindor’’s?”’
(HBP 507)

By the end of Half-Blood Prince, when he finds out that the locket they had retrieved from the cave is a fake, Harry knows that he must find and destroy as many as four Horcruxes. It is unlikely that any of them will be less dangerous or less difficult to deal with than those with which Harry is already familiar. In each case, the destruction of the Horcrux, as well as the survival of those who came in contact with it, depends on powerful magic and at least one other person -– well, living being. Harry needed Fawkes to help and heal him in the Chamber of Secrets. Dumbledore credited Snape for saving his life from the curse on the ring. On the night he dies, Dumbledore credits Harry with helping him get the locket and says he needs Snape to heal him from the poisonous potion he had drunk.

Though he is alone when he finally reaches the Chamber of Secrets, where he destroys Riddle’’s diary (Voldemort’’s first Horcrux), Harry’’s victory is the result of a remarkable and probably unrepeatable combination of circumstances. Though Harry does destroy Riddle’’s diary, he does so with the poisonous fang of Slytherin’’s monster, which he had killed with Gryffindor’’s sword. He would not have had the sword at all if Dumbledore’’s pet phoenix, Fawkes, hadn’’t shown up with the Sorting Hat. Also, Fawkes punctures the basilisk’’s eyes, which are deadly to anyone who looks into them, and it is the healing power of Fawkes’’s that saves Harry from the basilisk venom, giving him another chance at the battle. In addition, Fawkes brings the diary to Harry just before he destroys it.

Furthermore, even prior to Harry’’s use of the poisonous fang, the basilisk itself contributes to Harry’’s victory:

‘Help me, help me,’ Harry muttered wildly, ‘someone – anyone -‘ The snake’’s tale whipped across the floor again. Harry ducked. Something soft hit his face.

The basilisk had swept the Sorting Hat into Harry’’s arms.
(CoS 319)

Remember too, that the diary was designed to fall into innocent hands and was, therefore, not heavily protected like the ring and the locket.


The Ring and the Locket: How far can the evidence take us?

From Dumbledore’’s first appearance in Half-Blood Prince, we see him with a blackened and dead-looking hand. We also see him with an ugly old ring with a cracked, black stone, which we later learn is Slytherin’’s ring. When Harry accompanies his headmaster to visit Horace Slughorn and persuade him to teach again, Dumbledore shows the ring to Slughorn:

He shrugged and spread his hands wide, as though to say that age had its compensations, and Harry noticed a ring on his uninjured hand that he had never seen Dumbledore wear before: It was large, rather clumsily made of what looked like gold, and was set with a heavy black stone that had cracked down the middle.
(HBP 67)

Before making the ring into a Horcrux, Voldemort killed his Muggle father, Tom Riddle Sr., and his grandparents, framed his Uncle Morfin, and pocketed the ring. Dumbledore found it in the ruins of the Gaunt’s’ hovel, where Voldemort hid it. After Harry retrieves the real memory from Slughorn, Dumbledore explains this to him and says of the ring:

And a terrible curse there was upon it too. Had it not been -– forgive me the lack of seemly modesty – for my own prodigious skill, and for Professor Snape’’s timely action when I returned to Hogwarts, desperately injured, I might not have lived to tell the tale.
(HBP 503)

On the night he dies, Dumbledore takes Harry with him to find another Horcrux. Although Dumbledore does all kinds of advanced magic that Harry has never seen before just to get into the cave and out to the island, he needs Harry’’s help both to get to the locket and to get back to Hogwarts. Harry has to force-feed poison to him and then practically carries him out of the cave.

‘“The protection was… after all… well designed,’” said Dumbledore faintly. ‘“One alone could not have done it… You did well, very well, Harry…”’
(HBP 577)

Dumbledore spent many years searching for not only the objects that would interest Voldemort as potential Horcruxes but also the locations that would appeal to him as hiding places. Though he shares his ideas about the objects, he gives no information about any other potential hiding places.

Finding the remaining Horcruxes, a formidable task itself, will not be Harry’’s only challenge. Harry was not with Dumbledore when he destroyed the ring, and Dumbledore never tells him how he did it. The locket they retrieved on the night Dumbledore died, was, of course, a fake. Thus, Harry does not know how to destroy a real Horcrux and can only speculate as to how it is done.

At this point, our guess about that is as good as Harry’’s, so let’s look at the information we do have. I must warn you that we are getting ready to step out on some very thin ice. All we really have to go on are Rowling’’s descriptions. Let’’s look at the physical condition of the Horcruxes we know about. We will assume that the heavy locket nobody could open in the drawing room of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place is the real locket. We will use what we find to determine whether:

  • The locket-Horcrux, wherever it is, has been destroyed
  • Harry is a Horcrux
  • With any luck –- and the role of luck in success has been a theme that has run through the books from the start -– whether another Horcrux has already been destroyed

We will start with what we know about Slytherin’’s ring. If we look at it chronologically, its earliest appearance is on the hand of Marvolo Riddle, Voldemort’’s grandfather, in Bob Ogden’’s memory. Ogden goes to the Gaunt’s’ house to confront Morfin about bullying Voldemort’’s future father.

For a moment, Harry thought Gaunt was making an obscene hand gesture, but then realized that he was showing Ogden the ugly, black-stoned ring he was wearing on his middle finger, waving it before Ogden’s eyes.

‘“See this? See this? Know what it is? Know where it came from? Centuries it’s been in our family, that’s how far back we go, and pure-blood all the way! Know how much I’’ve been offered for this, with the Peverell coat of arms engraved on the stone?”’

(HBP 207)

After Marvolo dies, the ring passes to his son, Morfin. Here is how it is described in his memory, just before the teenage Voldemort stuns him, prior to killing the Riddles, framing Morfin, and stealing the ring:

Morfin pushed the hair out of his dirty face, the better to see Riddle, and Harry saw that he wore Marvolo’’s black-stoned ring on his right hand.
(HBP 365)

Then, in both the tampered-with and the real versions of Slughorn’s memory, we see Tom Riddle, in his sixth year at Hogwarts, wearing it in Horace Slughorn’s office:

Harry recognized Voldemort at once. His was the most handsome face and he looked the most relaxed of all the boys. His right hand lay negligently upon the arm of his chair; with a jolt, Harry saw that he was wearing Marvolo’’s gold-and-black ring; he had already killed his father.
(HBP 369)


And there were the half-dozen teenage boys sitting around Slughorn with Tom Riddle in the midst of them, Marvolo’’s gold-and-black ring gleaming on his finger.
(HBP 494)

What interests me is the crack in the ring. The text is not specific about whether or not the stone in Slytherin’’s ring is cracked, in any of the memories that Harry views in the Pensieve. Nonetheless, I doubt that Marvolo would have been bragging like he does, about how much it’s worth with the Peverell coat of arms engraved in the stone, if it was cracked down the middle. Also, since Rowling mentions the crack in her initial description, leaving it out subsequently seems deliberate. I’’m assuming that the stone was unbroken, at least up until the time Tom Riddle asks Slughorn about Horcruxes. We do not have enough evidence to say if the crack happened when Voldemort made the ring into his second Horcrux, or when Dumbledore destroyed that Horcrux.

If the locket was thrown out or stolen by Mundungus Fletcher, a link in the physical condition of these three Horcruxes might be our only chance of determining whether Regulus actually destroyed the locket Horcrux. The ring is damaged and so is the locket that no one could open. Lockets are supposed to open, as the fake one does. Again, however, we don’’t know if the damage is a result of making it into a Horcrux or destroying the Horcrux.


The Diary: Is it telling us more than Riddle intended?

Many of Harry’’s problems have been solved by books. Hermione reads about Nicholas Flamel, the only known maker of the Sorcerer’’s Stone, in a library book. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, after Hermione is Petrified on her way back from the library, Harry and Ron find a ripped page clutched in her hand explaining about the basilisk -– librarians all over are probably still cringing. Perhaps Riddle’’s diary is giving us a hint about the Horcrux mystery. Here are the descriptions of Riddle’’s diary when Harry first sees it.

Harry and Ron looked under the sink where Myrtle was pointing. A small, thin book lay there. It had a shabby black cover and was as wet as everything else in the bathroom.
(CoS 230)


The little book lay on the floor, nondescript and soggy.
(CoS 231)


Harry saw at once that it was a diary, and the faded year on the cover told him it was fifty years old. He opened it eagerly. On the first page he could just make out the name ‘T.M. Riddle’ in smudged ink….Harry pealed the wet pages apart. They were completely blank.
(CoS 231)

Now look at it after Harry destroyed it.

The basilisk venom had burned a sizzling hole right through it.
(CoS 322)

The diary, which was still a functional Horcrux when Harry found it, was intact as a book. It opens like all books should. Even its cover is still on. It’’s just what a 50-year-old book that has recently been flushed down a toilet should be -– tattered and wet, perhaps, but nothing more. If turning an object into a Horcrux damages the object, why isn’’t the diary damaged? Perhaps, Riddle’’s diary is telling us more than its maker intended. After it is destroyed, it has a hole in it, making its condition substandard just as a cracked ring and a locket that won’’t open are substandard.

We know that when Harry destroyed the diary, it had a hole in it. It went from an undamaged to a damaged state when the Horcrux was destroyed. I believe the ring was cracked by whatever Dumbledore did to destroy the Horcrux, and that the reason the locket is defective, is that someone destroyed that Horcrux as well. Based on this evidence, I would say Regulus did destroy the locket-Horcrux and it doesn’’t matter whether Harry finds it or not.

It follows that the scar on Harry’’s forehead was not formed as the result of making a Horcrux. If this theory is accurate, the folks who – because of a perceived similarity between his scar and the cracked stone – think Harry might be a Horcrux himself, have little to stand on. Furthermore, with regard to the Harry-the-Horcrux theory, nothing we have learned remotely suggests that Voldemort ever made a Horcrux at the same time he murdered. He had three murders under his belt before he knew how to make a Horcrux, as is evidenced by his questions in Slughorn’’s memory. The memory is of Prefect Tom Riddle the year after the first opening of the Chamber of Secrets. He tells Harry, in Chamber of Secrets, that it was afterward– – in other words, probably the year in which the conversation with Slughorn occurred –- that he made the diary, and he could not have turned it or the ring into the first two Horcruxes until some time later, perhaps years later.

There is one other clue which supports the theory that Harry is not a Horcrux. It involves putting together something Dumbledore said with something that happened -– or rather didn’’t happen -– in the graveyard, on the night Voldemort returned. Here are Dumbledore’’s comments about Nagini on the evening when Harry got the true memory from Slughorn:

…I think he is perhaps as fond of her as he can be of anything; he certainly likes to keep her close, and he seems to have an unusual amount of control over her, even for a Parselmouth.”
(HBP 506-07)

In the graveyard, Voldemort can’’t even get Harry to answer a simple question using the Imperius Curse. If making a living being into a Horcrux gives you extra control over that being … Well, you get the point.

Nonetheless, Harry is still left with the question of how to destroy a Horcrux. It could be a spell he already knows or something so complicated that he will have to get that information from someone else. The basilisk’’s fang was poisonous, so we are forced to consider the possibility that the poison itself could have played a role in the destruction. It is, however, unlikely that Dumbledore, who –as far as we know – was never in the Chamber of Secrets, would have had any basilisk poison to use; yet we know he destroyed the ring Horcrux somehow. Perhaps stabbing the book with anything would have worked. If so, then it might be possible to destroy any Horcrux simply by breaking it in some way. Maybe a Reductor curse would do it?

Even so, we are left with the likelihood that Harry, Ron, and Hermione do not have the magical knowledge to find the remaining Horcruxes, to break through their Dark magical protections, or to perform the emergency healing that retrieving them will necessitate. Now we come to an inconvenient truth. No character other than Severus Snape has been shown to have both Dumbledore’’s trust and all the skills that will be necessary to destroy Voldemort. In addition to Dumbledore’’s trust and his own unparalleled abilities, Snape’’s position as a Death Eater, who apparently has Voldemort’’s trust, makes him the most likely person to learn about the remaining Horcruxes from Voldemort himself. Whether or not Dumbledore’’s trust in Snape is warranted will figure highly in Harry’’s ability to vanquish the Dark Lord.


Evil, Love, and Luck

There are three final subjects that could factor into how Rowling ends the Harry Potter series. They are all philosophies that have run throughout the series, and -– like so much in the books -– they play off one another to create ambiguity.

First is her philosophy of evil, as evidenced by Snape’’s description of the Dark Arts when he finally gets to teach the subject in Harry’’s sixth year.

‘The Dark Arts,’” said Snape,’ “are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible.”’
(HBP 177)

One ending that would fit nicely with this understanding of the ongoing reality of evil in the world would be for Severus Snape to remain in the wind. We may find out that he is truly evil, or she may continue to shroud him in ambiguity as she has and leave us guessing.

Next – we have the theme of love. The idea that love is the strongest magic plays throughout the series. It is Harry’’s mother’’s love for him which saves his life. It is this sacrifice that gives Dumbledore the ability to protect Harry –not with some complicated magic but with a transfer of Lily’’s protection to her blood relative, her sister, Petunia Dursley.

Harry stops Lupin and Sirius from killing the traitor, Peter Pettigrew, not out of concern for Pettigrew’’s life, but from a great understanding rooted in empathy and love:

“I’’m not doing this for you. I’’m doing it because – I don’’t reckon my dad would’ve wanted them to become killers – just for you.”
(PoA 376)

‘There is a room in the Department of Mysteries,”’ interrupted Dumbledore, “’that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all. That power took you to save Sirius tonight. That power also saved you from possession by Voldemort, because he could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests. In the end, it mattered not that you could not close your mind. It was your heart that saved you.”’
(OotP 843-4)

But he knows it now. You have flitted into Lord Voldemort’’s mind without damage to yourself, but he cannot possess you without enduring mortal agony, as he discovered in the Ministry. I do not think he understands why, Harry, but then, he was in such a hurry to mutilate his own soul, he never paused to understand the incomparable power of a soul that is untarnished and whole.”
(HBP 511)

How will love fare in the end? How will Rowling reconcile love with the possibility that Harry must murder someone? Will love enable Harry to forgive Snape or Wormtail? I won’’t be very happy about it if Wormtail gets forgiven and Snape doesn’’t.

The third theme is the role of luck –- or providence, if you will. It is Felix Felicis, the “lucky” potion, which enables Harry to talk Horace Slughorn into giving him the true memory of his conversation with Tom Riddle about Horcruxes. Without that memory, he would not know that the idea of a seven-part soul appealed to Voldemort.

What is Harry’’s view of his own success? This is what he tells Ron and Hermione when they are trying to talk him into teaching them defense:

…all that stuff was luck – I didn’’t know what I was doing half the time, I didn’’t plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had help –

…I didn’’t get through any of that because I was brilliant at Defense Against the Dark Arts, I got through it because – because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right – but I just blundered through it all, I didn’’t have a clue what I was doing –
(OotP 327)

What was he referring to? For one thing, there was that incident in the Chamber of Secrets, when Fawkes dropped the Sorting Hat at his feet; he didn’t pick it up. Shortly thereafter, he found himself blindly trying to avoid the basilisk and moved away from the hat. The tail of the basilisk, however, swept the hat into Harry’s arms and he used it to get Gryffindor’s sword, with which he killed the basilisk. It is also luck that saves Harry from Voldemort in the graveyard; the fact that their wands have, at their core, feathers from the same phoenix is not something either of them planned.


A Gem of a Theory

Could luck have another role to play? Let’’s hope so. How many years did it take Dumbledore to find the locations of the ring and the locket? Harry has four Horcruxes to find in one book. If my theory that the damage to the Horcruxes is caused by destroying the object –as evidenced by the diary and the ring,– he might only have three. There’’s yet another possibility that could cut that number to two: Hufflepuff’’s cup and Nagini.

We know Dumbledore thought Voldemort would have liked to have one object from each founder, and that finding such an object was one of his reasons for wanting to teach at Hogwarts. Rowling has thrown a shred of doubt into our minds about whether or not Voldemort managed to get something from the school. Here is Dumbledore’’s summation of his meeting with Voldemort when he came to ask again for a job:

“But unfortunately, that does not advance us much further, for he was turned away, or so I believe, without the chance to search the school. I am forced to conclude that he never fulfilled his ambition of collecting four founders’’ objects. He definitely had two – he may have found three – but that is the best we can do for now.”
(HBP 505-06)

“Or so I believe?” Hmmm… We see Voldemort leave the headmaster’’s office angry after his request is denied. Where did he go? The simplest way out of the castle would be down the marble staircase and out the front door. Let’’s leave alone the possibility that he could have taken any of a number of detours and done who knows what on his way out and assume he just walked down the marble staircase. It was snowing. Perhaps this meeting occurred over the Christmas holidays and Dumbledore was not worried about the safety of his students because no one was there.

So we have Voldemort coming down into the deserted entrance hall, knowing he would not likely be invited back, angry, and desperate for some precious thing into which he can encase part of his soul. Under such circumstances, what compromises was he willing to make? He probably wasn’’t attracted to the old suits of armor, but it may have occurred to him that leaving a Horcrux in the protection of Dumbledore’’s Hogwarts would be a fitting hiding place.

Now let’’s jump forward in time, to the night Dumbledore was murdered. Harry is running down those very stairs, chasing Snape. Are you already ahead of me? Harry takes a shortcut to get ahead of the sister and brother and this is what he sees in the entrance hall:

The oak front doors had been blasted open, there were smears of blood on the flagstones, and several terrified students stood huddled against the walls, one or two still cowering with their arms over their faces. The giant Gryffindor hourglass had been hit by a curse, and the rubies within were still falling, with a loud rattle, onto the flagstones below.

Harry flew across the entrance hall and out into the dark grounds: He could just make out three figures racing across the lawn, heading for the gates beyond which they could Disapparate – by the looks of them, the huge blond Death Eater and, some way ahead of him, Snape and Malfoy…
(HBP 600-01)

Could Voldemort have made the Gryffindor hourglass into a Horcrux? Could one of his own people have inadvertently destroyed it? Whether or not the hourglass was a Horcrux, I doubt that Snape destroyed it. I think he was too intent on getting Draco to safety. Draco, full of rage that Snape had, after all, stolen his glory, might have shot one last curse at the symbol of Dumbledore before leaving the school. If it was indeed a Horcrux, and if Draco destroyed it… Well, for Draco’’s sake, I hope Voldemort doesn’’t find out.

The blond Death Eater, however, seems the more likely one to have done it. Here is Ron’’s description of what he was up to earlier that evening:

…“and that massive Death Eater was still firing off jinxes all over the place, they were bouncing off the walls and barely missing us…”
(HBP 620)

Well, the big Death Eater had just fired off a hex that caused half the ceiling to fall in, and also broke the curse blocking the stairs.
(HBP 621)

Is the Gryffindor hourglass a Horcrux or merely a very poignant image of the downfall of Dumbledore? Will Voldemort give Hufflepuff’’s cup to Snape, and will Snape find a way to help Harry? Is Severus, like his Roman Emperor namesake, really just out for himself, or is that name yet another way Rowling has fostered so much suspense and ambiguity? Will Harry talk to Nagini in Parseltongue and get her to bite her master before killing her? Will anyone live happily ever after? So many questions, so little time.