Godric’s Hollow: Failure of a Spell
by Jay Ortiz
Every description of the effects of the curse on Voldemort, especially his own, tells us the spell killed the portion of his soul that remained in his own body. It reduced him to something “less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost.”(110) Whatever he was, it is clear he was no longer human, and he does not claim it was the fragment of his soul that had been in his body that kept him alive, but rather it appeared that “one or more of my experiments had worked . . . for I had not been killed.”(111) He was saved only by one or more of the fragments that he had deposited elsewhere. What could be clearer than his own words? He had not been killed solely because his experiments had worked.(112) If they had not worked, by his own admission, the rebounding spell would have killed him. It is therefore clear the Horcrux spell accomplished part of its mission – it destroyed the soul of the person it hit most directly: Voldemort. But it did not deposit a soul fragment within him. Otherwise, that fragment, rather than his experiments, would have been what prevented him from being killed. Why, then, did the spell fail to transfer that fragment into Voldemort? There can be only one reason: What the Horcrux spell did, when it grazed Harry, was leave that seventh part of Voldemort’s soul in Harry – probably in the scar itself. Its aim was not direct enough to transform Harry into a Horcrux, but it neither killed him nor left him unmarked. When it rebounded upon Voldemort and destroyed the part of his soul that remained within him, however, it had already given up its fragment of his soul. And that, in the plain language of Ms. Rowling, is the solution to the mystery of the sixth Horcrux – it was never created.
This is what Dumbledore meant when he said that the seventh part of Voldemort’s soul 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.(113) It lived its spectral existence in Harry, not in a fully formed Horcrux, and not in Vapormort himself. Voldemort’s own description of his condition seems to rule out any possibility that, during his years in exile, he had even a fragment of his soul; the only thing that kept him alive was that one . . . of my experiments had worked.(114)
How can we be certain that Harry was not a Horcrux? The answer is clear: he still possessed his own soul – a soul that is untarnished and whole.(115) He may have carried the seventh fragment of Voldemort’s soul, but it had clearly not possessed him, or displaced his own soul. He – the unique human being named Harry Potter – did not have two souls, and his own remained undamaged. His scar may have been the temporary lodging place of a soul fragment belonging to Voldemort, but his own soul was completely safe, protected by the sacrifice and love of his mother. The power of her love saved Harry’s soul then and now in two ways: it deflected the spell, and it protected him against the lure, the seduction, of Voldemort’s evil, even though through his scar (and the fragment of Voldemort’s soul it carried) Harry was exposed to those dangers more intensely, perhaps, than any of Voldemort’s disciples.(116)
Was the scar itself a Horcrux? That certainly is a possibility under the strict definition of a Horcrux: “an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul.”(117) Yet, that seems too trivial: By that reasoning, an eyelash or a fingernail could be a Horcrux, but these seem hardly suitable to contain something as important as a human soul. By that reasoning, one of the handles of Hufflepuff’s cup could be a Horcrux, but the cup as a whole might not be. This simply does not ring true. Rather, it is more logical to believe that, although a person might be a Horcrux, the individual body parts of that person could not be.
It is unnecessary, though, to speculate as to whether or not the scar could have been a Horcrux: it simply was not. If Voldemort’s spell had completed its mission and created a Horcrux, it would not have rebounded from Harry, much less had the remaining power required to reduce the Dark Lord to Vapormort. Once the spell had created its Horcrux, it would be spent and vanish. The simple fact that the spell rebounded proves conclusively that it had not yet created a Horcrux – either in Harry or in his scar.
It seems equally clear, since whatever remained of the Horcrux spell as it rebounded did not transfer its soul fragment into Voldemort, that the seventh part of the Dark Lord’s soul had been left in Harry – but neither he nor his scar were a Horcrux. He was a carrier, perhaps, but no more. Something foreign and painful was lodged in his forehead, rather like a piece of shrapnel that remains in the body of a wounded soldier; it did not belong there, and it caused discomfort, but it neither killed Harry nor damaged his soul.
The mystery of the missing sixth Horcrux seems, therefore, to have been solved by Ms. Rowlings own narrative. As Dumbledore correctly observed, even though Voldemort was “intending to make his final Horcrux with [Harry’s] death . . . he failed.”(118) The sixth Horcrux was intended to be Harry Potter — but it was never created. Harry’s soul survived undamaged, through the protection of his mother’s love. That same protection destroyed Voldemort himself – or, more precisely, would have destroyed him, had he not been anchored to the earth by his Horcruxes.
H. A Seventh Horcrux?
Did Dumbledore understand all this and, if so, why did he explain only parts of it to Harry? In particular, why did he speculate that Nagini might have been the sixth Horcrux? If Dumbledore understood the seventh part of Voldemort’s soul was in fact the seventh fragment, and that it had been transferred into Harry himself, would he not have told Harry, rather than mislead him with the speculation about Nagini and create the expectation, on Harry’s part, that he had one more Horcrux to discover than was actually the case? Again, a close reading of the text suggests an answer. Dumbledore’s disclosures about the seventh part of Voldemort’s soul precede, rather than follow, his speculations about Nagini. If the Nagini possibility had not been mentioned at all, the narrative would have been clean and complete, and there would be little question that the seventh part of Voldemort’s soul, that fragment that was created by his murder of James Potter, was all that would remain after the destruction of the first five Horcruxes (the ring, the diary, the locket, the cup and the Ravenclaw relic) and the failure of the sixth. Dumbledore did understand, perfectly; as we will soon see, he knew exactly where that seventh fragment was and it was no longer in Harry’s scar.
So, why did Dumbledore speculate that Nagini might be the sixth Horxrux? He himself recited several of the reasons the snake would have been inadvisable,(119) and yet he clearly led Harry to believe that Nagini might long after Godric’s Hollow have been transformed into a Horcrux. There actually is a reason a prudent and logical reason for Dumbledore to have alerted Harry to this possibility, however unlikely it might have been. Voldemort’s plan was to create six Horcruxes, so that his soul would exist in seven parts. He had failed, however; the first part of the Dark Lords soul the part that had remained in his own body after he murdered James Potter had been destroyed, and he had succeeded in creating only five Horcruxes. There were, thus, only six surviving replications of his soul, not the magically powerful seven that he had intended.
During all those long, pathetic years of exile, Voldemort would have known that he had failed in his goal of creating six Horcruxes and seven existing soul fragments. That would have offended his vanity, as well as thwarted what he regarded as his master plan. And so, knowing his nature, Dumbledore prudently concluded that Voldemort might if he had any opportunity have made another attempt. Clearly, Dumbledore could not let Harry face Voldemort believing that all of the Horcruxes had been destroyed if there existed any possibility that Voldemort had, in fact, succeeded in another effort to create a Horcrux after Godric’s Hollow. The headmaster would have reviewed everything that was known of Voldemort’s activities during his exile and after his regeneration, searching for possible murders that the Dark Lord might have used to create an eighth fragment of his soul an eighth part that would fulfill his goal of creating seven surviving soul fragments. The Dark Lord might, simply, have tried again, and Dumbledore had to prepare Harry for that possibility.
We know from his own wand that, during his Vapormort years, Voldemort committed only two murders (before Pettigrew’s murder of Cedric Diggory, using Voldemort’s wand): Bertha Jorkins and Frank Bryce.(120) Yet, neither of them could have resulted in the creation of a Horcrux because, after Godric’s Hollow but before the Little Hangleton cemetery, Voldemort was not in possession of a soul which he could have split – and neither Bertha nor Frank seems sufficiently significant(121) to have satisfied the Dark Lord’s requirements in any event. Yet, the impression which most readers have is that Dumbledore suggested it was Frank Bryces murder that Voldemort used if, in fact, he transformed Nagini into a Horcrux. That is not, however, what Ms. Rowling actually told us. Dumbledore’s exact words are critical:
After an interval of some years, however, he used Nagini to kill an old Muggle man, and it might then have occurred to him to turn [Nagini] into his last Horcrux.(122)
Dumbledore’s own words establish that Frank Bryces murder was not used to transform the snake into a Horcrux. He stated, first, that Voldemort used Nagini to commit the murder. This is simply inaccurate; Nagini informed him that Bryce was lurking outside the door, but it was his own wand that Voldemort used to kill the Muggle. At the time, Nagini was curled harmlessly on the hearth.(123) This factual error is so obvious that Ms. Rowling must have intended it. Dumbledore could not simply have been mistaken; he actually knew that Voldemort’s wand committed the murder.(124) The most obvious reason Dumbledore might have phrased it this way was to focus Harry’s attention on Nagini; the murder was less important than to alert Harry to the possibility that Nagini might now be a Horcrux. Significantly, Dumbledore does not state that Bryces murder was used to create the Horcrux; rather, what he says is that the combination of the murder and the involvement of Nagini suggested to Voldemort that Nagini might be transformed into his sixth Horcrux: it might then have occurred to him.
In other words, it was the murder of Frank Bryce that might have given Voldemort the idea of using Nagini as a Horcrux. However, as we have seen, Voldemort did not then have any soul fragment within himself, and would have to await his regeneration in order to carry out that scheme.
This is consistent with Dumbledore’s prudent awareness that – once regenerated – Voldemort might try again to fulfill his goal of creating seven existing soul fragments. Alert to that risk, Dumbledore would have been looking for any sign of a new Horcrux – and as he himself says, “I have been curious for a while about the behavior of the snake, Nagini.”(125) It was Voldemort’s ”unusual amount of control over her, even for a Parselmouth,”(126) that aroused Dumbledore’s suspicion. Since he knew that, without even a fragment of soul, Vapormort could not have created a Horcrux before his regeneration, Dumbledore would have known that Nagini could not have been transformed into a Horcrux through the murder of Frank Bryce – but she might have been through the murder of Amelia Bones. Considering that we expected Madam Bones to become a major character but she did not, that she was murdered after Voldemort’s regeneration but curiously offstage, and that her death has nonetheless been mentioned so many times, it is possible that having formed the idea when he killed Frank Bryce Voldemort used his murder of Madam Bones to transform Nagini into a Horcrux, a replacement for the one he failed to create at Godric’s Hollow. Clearly, Dumbledore had to assure that Harry would be alert to the danger. It still seemed unlikely that Voldemort would have selected Nagini as a Horcrux, simply because she would provide no guarantee of immortality. However, the possibility could not be ruled out, and Dumbledore had to consider it and to warn Harry.
To some extent, of course, whether or not Nagini is a Horcrux is irrelevant – she is so close to Voldemort and so menacing that she will have to be killed regardless. However, by introducing the possibility that Nagini is a Horcrux, Ms. Rowling has cleverly diverted our attention from Voldemort’s original failure to create a sixth Horcrux – and has done it in a manner that is neither misleading nor inconsistent with the overall plot. Nagini will have to die. If she is a Horcrux, that is an interesting diversion, but it does not ultimately have any impact at all on the more significant question: if Voldemort’s remaining soul fragment – his first – was destroyed at Godric’s Hollow, and if the seventh fragment was lodged in Harry’s scar, where is it now? Here, Ms. Rowling has truly outdone even herself.
(110) GOF, p. 653.
(111) GOF, p. 653.
(112) GOF, p. 653.
(113) HBP, p. 503.
(114) GOF, p. 653.
(115) HBP, p. 511.
(116) HBP, p. 511.
(117) HBP, p. 497.
(118) HBP, p. 506.
(119) HBP, p. 506.
(120) GOF, pp. 666-667.
(121) HBP, p. 506.
(122) HBP, p. 506.
(123) GOF, pp. 13, 15.
(124) GOF, p. 698.
(125) HBP, p. 506.
(126) HBP, p. 507.