How Is a Horcrux Like a Haunted House?
CONTENT WARNING: This article contains a brief mention of sexual assault and may be triggering to readers who are abuse or assault survivors. If you or someone you know is in crisis or dealing with abuse, you are not alone, and we urge you to seek help by using the hotlines mentioned at the bottom of this article.
On a brisk autumn night deep in the Texas country, a couple of reckless 17-year-olds zipped down the road with the world’s largest Horcrux dangling out the rear window of a truck. The Horcrux, a large dining room table on squeaky casters, was like an anchor threatening to capsize the SUV.
It didn’t, thankfully, and we turned off the lights as we pulled onto the street we’d chosen as the table’s final resting place. The car teetered as we backed into the narrow driveway of an old house, carefully avoiding the deep grooves along the side of the road. Although the table was the Horcrux, the house was the star of the evening’s events. A fire back in the ’90s had turned the roof and all its components into ashes. The three rooms of the home were exposed to the stars and filled with a vortex-like energy that led all the local urban explorers (a term meaning trespassers) to give the home the very creative name “the scary house.”
When I first walked into the home a few months beforehand, it was nearly empty. There were fragments of broken glass, pieces of a moldy mattress, and discarded beer cans scattered across the floor. Previous explorers had long since taken the home’s furniture and trinkets. Where this home was lacking materially, it was overflowing with unseen energy. Standing in its center was like circling around the core of a black hole or sailing through the eye of a hurricane. There was something wild and dangerous living deep inside, something that turned blood to ice and tightened its fingers around your throat when you were ready to scream.
We wanted to give a space so energetically active something concrete to hold on to, and this prop table had served as an important, unifying symbol in our first big high school play. The Umbridge in our lives would have had it turned to scrap wood, so we volunteered to take it to a better resting place.
As we pulled the table out of the trunk, the wind rustled the weeds behind us and the shadows of the burnt rafters seemed to warp in the moonlight. Was this actually going to be a better resting place?
We dragged the table down the driveway into the first room of the house. It was chilly outside, and it was even colder within the walls of the scary house. Harvey pulled two red candles out of his bag and we lit them. I looked past the piles of broken glass into the darkness of the next room. I was always uneasy in this house, but tonight the energy seemed a lot more potent.
The candles flickered. The wind rustled the weeds again. A small piece of broken mirror crunched beneath my boot. Clenching my fists, I looked into the back room again.
The shadows were twisting, the darkness shifting like the globular threads of an Obscurus. Something was birthing itself out of the vortex.
“Harvey,” I whispered.
He turned to look at the back room. I grabbed his hand and started to back away, but he took a step forward. There was a low growl.
“Is that…” Harvey began, squinting, “Is that a dog?”
My heart tried to leap out from between my ribs. The shadow growled again. We bolted. Candles snuffed, bags clasped, trunk slammed shut, we were in the car with the radio blaring in less than ten seconds. As we blew away through the night, we laughed until our tears ran like rivers.
A few days later, we relayed this tale to one of our friends who lived a few roads away from the scary house. We always tried not to leap to conclusions about ghosts and other things that go bump in the night, but it felt dishonest to try to blame this incident on our imaginations, especially considering our friend’s reaction to this story. Two weeks beforehand, she told us, one of her neighbors discovered that his dog had contracted rabies. He brought the dog out to the scary house and shot it.
If like me, you’re inclined toward a belief in ghosts, spirits, and things that we cannot see, you might believe that the spirit of that rabid dog got trapped in that house after it was killed. If you’re not, you might believe that I’m lying, that these were a couple of weird coincidences, or that I’m unconsciously exaggerating this incident because I want to believe that haunted houses are real.
I wholeheartedly accept the possibility of this last option, because I’ve always been fascinated with haunted houses. They’re a lot like Horcruxes. A bit of somebody’s soul, or maybe the whole thing, was split off from the body and is now tied to something else on Earth, despite whatever happened to the original body.
They aren’t a perfect metaphor for one another. From what we know about Horcruxes, murder is a necessary requirement to split the soul and create the Horcrux. Hauntings, although they have been reported to arise after murders, seem to happen for a plethora of other reasons. If a haunting is caused by a murder, the relevant ghost or spirit can be the murderer or the murdered. The soul attached to the Horcrux is always the broken soul of the murderer.
JKR has never revealed the gory details of exactly how a Horcrux is made, but we know that “the act of splitting the soul is accomplished by committing murder, which rips the soul apart” (Harry Potter Lexicon). Before Voldemort tried to kill Harry, he had killed enough people and created enough Horcruxes to “destabiliz[e] his soul so much that it split when he was hit by the back-firing curse” (Bloomsbury Live Chat).
Based on what we know, it appears that the act of murder is what physically tears the soul apart. Making changes to the soul breaks the “deepest laws of magic” (DH 35), and it can only be repaired through remorse. It’s possible to damage the soul so permanently that it becomes weak and unstable.
I don’t deny that murder is a horrible thing, but I wonder why murder alone is capable of tearing the soul apart. Murder destroys the physical body, but there is much more to an individual person than their physical body. Destroying the body severs the victim’s soul from direct action in the material world, but their soul still exists. It has passed on.
Barty Crouch, Jr. and the Lestranges used the Cruciatus Curse (Crucio) to torture Frank and Alice Longbottom to the point that they lost their minds. They walk the halls of St. Mungo’s like shells of their former selves, not unlike victims of a Dementor’s Kiss. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Alice Longbottom showed Neville her affection by giving him a gum wrapper. There are many ways to express love for someone else, and I believe she would have picked something different if she had any choice. The Longbottoms’ souls may still exist somewhere deep down, but they were severely injured by the torment they experienced.
In my eyes, the Imperius Curse (Imperio) damages a person’s spirit. If you’re under the Imperius Curse, someone else inspires action in your body. The curse doesn’t destroy or change or your soul; your authentic self and desires are just hiding beneath the spell. The bridge between your body and soul has been replaced. Harry was able to fight against the spell during Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire because of his strong spirit. Whether he was standing up to the Dursleys or fighting back against Voldemort, Harry always took action based on his true desires. Fighting off the command to do something he didn’t want to was second nature. For those without Harry’s iron spirit, their bodies have been hijacked to do someone else’s bidding. Breaking the hold of the curse can be a confusing and humiliating experience.
Although there are three Unforgivable Curses, only the Killing Curse (Avada Kedavra) or its equivalent is enough to tear the soul apart. I feel angry and forgotten in this metaphysical construction. Murder is heinous, and death is exceedingly difficult to deal with, but isn’t what happened to the Longbottoms equally as heinous? Isn’t controlling the body of another person against their will just as horrible or unnatural as destroying it? Some believe that death brings a new beginning. Living victims with fractured souls or crushed spirits get no such fresh start. The mess is theirs to clean up.
I’ve faced my share of pain and abuse in this life. Sexual assault, that cruel combination of pain and body hijacking, of the Cruciatus Curse and the Imperius Curse, I have undergone seven times by seven different people. Seven times my soul has been torn asunder; I wander the world like Voldemort, seeking safe vessels for what’s left of me.
In some ways, my scars are like Harry’s. Although mine are invisible, they sear with pain at the motion of that unfamiliar, broken soul inside of me. But that unfamiliar soul is my own. The person I was or that I am is locked deep inside of Moody’s seven chests, howling like that rabid dog, crying out for justice, justice for the people who tore apart my soul and stuffed it back inside of me. Sometimes I think that I like haunted houses so much because I am one, just like Harry.
And yet, I am alive.
The big thing about death is its permanence. There’s nothing to return to after a curse is lifted. The soul isn’t hiding away in some forgotten corner of the mind. It’s gone.
My soul may be bruised and fractured. My spirit may be weak. But I get to smell the flowers here at the start of spring. I get to sit beneath the clouds and feel the rain on my face. I get to walk along the beach and kiss my husband and laugh until it hurts to breathe.
I get to exercise my spirit and sew my soul back to my body.
Living like a haunted house, broken and full of pain, is not easy. Every step is painful. What those men did to me was unthinkably cruel. But whether they meant to or not, they gave me a way to come back from the place I thought was death’s door. Although we cannot escape the past, one day we will find ourselves standing out on that platform between here and there, peaceful, content, where all is well.
These are some resources for victims of assault if you intend to seek help…
RAINN (National Sexual Assault Hotline)
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline