Why Harry Potter is Not a Horcrux

Alternate Title: Harry is Not a Bloody Horcrux, OK!?

Tamper with the deepest mysteries – the source of life, the essence of self – only if prepared for consequences of the most extreme and dangerous kind.

Adalbert Waffling – Fundamental Laws of Magic

One of the most common fallacies encountered in the Harry Potter corner of scifi.stackexchange is a user’s belief that Harry Potter is a Horcrux. I maintain he is not. This quick analysis is less for the Harry Potter super user as it is more for the newer or mid-level Harry Potter reader, who has come away from the series believing that Harry Potter is a Horcrux, particularly, I’m guessing, because of Dumbledore’s proclamation in Deathly Hallows. We’ll get there, but let’s start with canon:

Canon

Personal consideration of canon certainly influences how a reader will value a book’s text versus authorial intent, and this importance should be addressed. Whether a reader believes Harry is a Horcrux or not can boil down to what personal canon hierarchy a reader subscribes to. Harry Potter canon is (*cough*) somewhat problematic. There are some discrepancies in the books and J.K. Rowling enjoys making what seem to be off-the-cuff statements about Potterverse, that can create canon incongruities. For purposes of this essay, and since I’m the one making the argument, I’ll share a somewhat tongue-in-cheek version of my personal canon hierarchy as an example:

  1. The eight main Harry Potter novels, including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, plus the three ancillary books Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard – UK Editions
  2. Interviews with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
  3. Information verified to have been provided by J.K. Rowling from her Pottermore website and her former JKRowling.com website.
  4. Reputable Harry Potter fan websites such as The Harry Potter Lexicon, Mugglenet, The Leaky Cauldron, or the Fiction Alley Forums.
  5. Anything from the movies, games, parks, Playstation, etc., that are specifically known to come from J.K.Rowling.
  6. The eight Harry Potter Warner Brothers films.
  7. Outside books about Harry Potter, such as Harry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey by Bob McCabe and Harry Potter: A History of Magic – The Spellbinding Companion to a Unique Exhibition by Bloomsbury, etc.
  8. My personal Marauder’s Map
  9. My adorable Harry Potter pop-up book
  10. A Platform 9 ¾ Harry Potter Doormat
  11. My Master has given Dobby a sock!/Dobby is free! socks
  12. A Harry Potter Talking Sorting Hat and Sticker Book
  13. Fan Fiction
  14. The Harry Potter Wikia

Okay, so I’m obviously being sort of silly (except for the Wikia – I would probably cite My Immortal before anything from the HP Wikia). I think my canon hierarchy is relatively laid back compared to, say, the Harry Potter Lexicon, for which “only information that has come directly from J.K. Rowling in either written or spoken form is considered canon, and all other sources, including the film versions from Warner Bros., are not considered official or canon on any level”. And while there are plenty who are annoyed by authorial/book canon purists, every Harry Potter fan is free to reject canon rigidity and have their own canon hierarchy, and be as lax or as rigid with those standards as they like. I’m an authorial/book canon purist – that’s all I will use when answering a question about Harry Potter. Conversely, I unapologetically love the movies and I watch them frequently. That said, let’s move on, because I’m excited to share with you why only authorial and book canon are needed for us to conclude that Harry Potter is not a Horcrux.

Let’s start with the author.

J.K. Rowling

Actually, J.K. Rowling initially seemed to reinforce the position that Harry is a Horcrux. In one interview, for example, J.K. Rowling outright refers to Harry as a Horcrux: (Emphasis and brackets mine):

J.K. Rowling: “[Voldemort] is losing control, and unable to prevent Harry seeing into his mind. The connection between them is never fully understood by Voldemort, who does not know that Harry is a Horcrux.”

Interview with J.K. Rowling – Bloomsbury Web Chat – 7.30.07 given nine days after Deathly Hallows was released. In this interview, both J.K. Rowling and chat room participants asking questions refer to Harry as a Horcrux multiple times.

Pretty straightforward, yes?

No.

In another interview, Jo basically reverses her position:

J.K. Rowling: (Speaking to Melissa Anelli of The Leaky Cauldron website) “Well, I’ll tell you- do you know what? This will not end the discussion. I know that, and you know that, but [anyhow] here is the thing: for convenience, I had Dumbledore say to Harry, “You were the Horcrux [Voldemort] never meant to make.” [And] I think – by definition – a Horcrux has to be made intentionally.

So, because Voldemort never went through the grotesque process that I imagine creates a Horcrux with Harryit was just that [Voldemort] had destabilized his soul so much that it split when he was hit by the backfiring [Killing Curse]. And, so, this part of [Voldemort’s soul accidentally] flies off, and attaches to the only living thing in the room [which is Harry]. A part of [Voldemort’s unstable soul] flees in the very-close-to-death limbo state [in which] Voldemort [goes] on [to exist] in.

I suppose it’s very close to being a Horcrux, but Harry did not become an evil object. He didn’t have curses upon him that the other Horcruxes had. He himself was not contaminated by carrying this bit of parasitic soul.

The only time he ever felt the piece of Voldemort’s soul stirring was in Order of the Phoenix, when he’s going through one dark time after another. And there’s a moment where he’s looking at Dumbledore, and he feels something rear inside him like a snake, and of course, at those times, it’s because the piece of [Voldemort’s soul] inside [Harry] is feeding off [Harry’s dark] emotions. [Harry’s] going through a dark time, and that [parasitic] piece of [Voldemort’s] soul is enjoying it, and making its presence felt. But [Harry] doesn’t know what he’s feeling, of course.

Also, I always imagine that the Sorting Hat detected the presence of that piece of [Voldemort’s soul] when Harry first tried it on, because [the hat is] strongly tempted to put him in Slytherin. So, that’s how I see it.

Now, I know that won’t end the debate, but I do think that the strict definition of Horcrux, once I write the [Harry Potter Encyclopedia[i]], [that definition] [must] be given, and that the definition [of a Horcrux] will be that: a receptacle is prepared by Dark Magic to become the receptacle of a fragmented piece of soul, and that the piece of soul was deliberately detached from the master soul to act as a future safeguard, or anchor, to life, and a safeguard against death.

So, that doesn’t clear anything up. Well, I think it-  It at least states what I believe, but I don’t think it’s necessarily going to convince people who have a strong feeling one way or the other on the matter. You know what? That’s been the case with most of Harry Potter. I give my explanation, and it just fuels more debate.”

Interview with J.K. Rowling – The Leaky Cauldron’s Pottercast – 12.23.2007

So, what to do when an author gives completely disparate answers?

In the instance of whether Harry is a Horcrux – with J.K. Rowling having at one point said Harry is a Horcrux, and at another saying he is not – we can return to canon and see which position its text supports.

First, there’s Dumbledore.

Dumbledore

Dumbledore says to Harry in the King’s Cross chapter of Deathly Hallows (emphasis mine):

‘Then explain … more, said Harry, and Dumbledore smiled.

You were the seventh Horcrux, Harry, the Horcrux [Voldemort] never meant to make. He had rendered his soul so unstable that it broke apart when he committed those acts of unspeakable evil, the murder of your parents, the attempted killing of a child. But what escaped from that room was even less than he knew. He left more than his body behind. He left part of himself latched to you, the would-be victim who had survived.’

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Page 568 – Chapter 35, King’s Cross – Bloomsbury (UK)

Okay, so far canon supports Harry as being a Horcrux.

Dumbledore’s written as a brilliant, formidable wizard – we want to believe in Dumbledore and his astuteness, and, better yet, his moments of caring toward Harry. We don’t want to believe he could be wrong or manipulative, especially when it comes to Harry. This is why Deathly Hallows is so shocking – we see another side of Dumbledore as he coldly and with calculation lays out the necessity of Harry’s death to Snape in chapter thirty-three, The Prince’s Tale. I haven’t yet met a Harry Potter reader who enjoyed reading the scenarios where Dumbledore hurts Harry – and it happens more than once.

For Dumbledore to tell Harry that he is a Horcrux is a huge, big deal.

Surely, it means that Dumbledore actually believes Harry is a Horcrux, the most perverted, the evilest object in the magical universe, correct? As, by the time Half-Blood Prince rolls around, Dumbledore is the closest Harry has to a father figure, it’s fair to say being called a Horcrux by Dumbledore might be pretty hurtful to Harry. Yes? No? Maybe? Conversely, all of us who have parents know they aren’t infallible, even while they are loving us. As fellow user Axelord said to me in a conversation we had on the topic: “Dumbledore was acting on information that he had at the time. He told Harry that Harry was a Horcrux; Dumbledore was basically fallible, as all people are.”

I think readers who come away from the Harry Potter series seriously believing Harry is a Horcrux may lack either a deeper textual understanding of the books, or authorial confirmation indicating otherwise; however, both are really necessary to validate an opinion about Harry not being a Horcrux. I’d like to share with you J.K. Rowling’s comments – comments that put Dumbledore’s proclamation into context.

I think that J.K. Rowling used “Horcrux” purely as a descriptive term because it made it easy for her to convey to her readers that Harry housed a torn portion of Voldemort’s soul inside him. After all, a Horcrux is just that – a piece of a wizard’s soul inside a magical encasement. And J.K. Rowling does go much further into detail in a separate interview, rendering Dumbledore’s use of the word “Horcrux” more of a colloquialism

Second, we have Professor Slughorn.

Horace Slughorn

We’ve gone over two of the three steps to making a Horcrux, so, with the help of our friend Professor Horace Slughorn, I’ll review the third step of making a Horcrux, and then touch on intent.

To make a Horcrux there are three known steps:

  1. The commission of a murder, which splits the soul.
  2. The encasement of the torn piece of the soul within an object that has been prepared by dark magic to receive the soul.

And, finally, the last step, which Professor Slughorn informs us of shortly:

     3. There is a Horcrux spell, which seals the Horcrux within its encasement.

A couple of tidbits about Horcruxes before moving on to the Horcrux spell. Canon does not demonstrate an accidental Horcrux. Tales of Beedle the Bard does confirm Horcruxes are created from some of the darkest magic, and J.K. Rowling confirms that Tom Riddle was not the first wizard to create a Horcrux (that honor would go to Herpo the Foul); J.K. Rowling has also said there were wizards over the years who accidentally killed themselves while attempting to make a Horcrux. It is a dangerous process.

As noted, there is a third step in making a Horcrux, which involves a gruesome spell. This is confirmed in Half-Blood Prince when Professor Slughorn explains Horcruxes to young Tom Riddle:

Well, you split your soul, you see,’ said Slughorn, ‘and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one’s body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged. But, of course, existence in such a form …’

Slughorn’s face crumpled and Harry found himself remembering words he had heard nearly two years before. ‘I was ripped from my body, I was less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost … but still, I was alive.’ ‘… few would want it, Tom, very few. Death would be preferable.’

But Riddle’s hunger was now apparent; his expression was greedy; he could no longer hide his longing.

‘How do you split your soul?’

‘Well,’ said Slughorn uncomfortably, ‘you must understand that the soul is supposed to remain intact and whole. Splitting it is an act of violation, it is against nature.’

But how do you do it?’

By an act of evil – the supreme act of evil. By committing murder. Killing rips the soul apart. The wizard intent upon creating a Horcrux would use the damage to his advantage: he would encase the torn portion –’

Encase? But how –?’

There is a spell, do not ask me, I don’t know!’ said Slughorn, shaking his head like an old elephant bothered by mosquitoes. ‘Do I look as though I have tried it – do I look like a killer?’

‘No, sir, of course not,’ said Riddle quickly. ‘I’m sorry … I didn’t mean to offend …’

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Pages 464-465 – Chapter 23, Horcruxes – Bloomsbury (UK)

Professor Slughorn let slip to Tom Riddle that there is a spell necessary to complete a Horcrux, although he denies knowing what it is. It is likely Tom Riddle found the spell in a dark magic book, which would have been in the Restricted Section – this would have been before Dumbledore removed all the books referencing Horcruxes from the Hogwarts library (and perhaps other kinds of dark magic he didn’t want students exposed to).

The three elements of creating a Horcrux have been established.

Why can’t Harry be a Horcrux?

In Harry’s case, the bit of soul that tore away from Voldemort’s, and attached itself to Harry after Voldemort murdered Lily, was not taken from the master soul deliberately. In fact, as we know, Voldemort never knew that piece of his soul was gone. Because the piece of Voldemort’s soul was torn away unintentionally, it is inherently unable to be used as a Horcrux.

Harry, like Nagini, would have been a living Horcrux, had that been possible. However, Harry had not been prepared as a Horcrux container, by dark magic; this rendered him an infeasible encapsulation for a Horcrux, as he would never be nearly indestructible (I would say totally indestructible, but we all know there are a very few ways to destroy a Horcrux – the Sword of Gryffindor, Basilisk venom, etc. ). The piece of Voldemort’s soul existed in Harry, but Harry was not indestructible.

Most importantly, Voldemort did not perform the Horcrux spell that is necessary to convert the item the piece of soul is encased in into a Horcrux. Voldemort’s Killing Curse backfired, and his soul broke apart so unexpectedly, that:

‘I miscalculated, my friends, I admit it. My curse was deflected by the woman’s foolish sacrifice, and it rebounded upon me. Aaah … pain beyond pain, my friends; nothing could have prepared me for it. I was ripped from my body, I was less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost … but still, I was alive. What I was, even I do not know … I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality.’

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Page 566 – Chapter 33, The Death Eaters – Bloomsbury (UK)

At that point, Voldemort was unable to perform even rudimentary magic, much less magic as complex and dark as creating a Horcrux.

So, our Harry is not a Horcrux. The piece of Voldemort’s soul that resided in him was not deliberately separated from the master soul. Harry was not prepared with dark magic to become a Horcrux receptacle. And, finally, once the wayward piece of Voldemort’s soul was inside Harry, no Horcrux spell was cast to seal the Horcrux magic. The author herself has confirmed that Harry was not a Horcrux. It really doesn’t get much clearer than this.

And now you know!

Thank you to Valorum for suggesting this essay’s title, and related discussion. Additional thanks to ibid and Himarm for also engaging in discussion about Horcruxes with me. Thank you to Axelord for his input. And thank you to DVK for teaching me how to ask a question on SFF.se all those many years ago, and for encouraging me to answer Harry Potter questions, even when it was at the expense of his own rep!


i. J.K. Rowling at one point had the intention to write a book called The Harry Potter Encyclopedia, which she referred to as The Scottish Book in interviews (it’s a long story). Eventually, in lieu of The Harry Potter Encyclopedia, Ms. Rowling launched Pottermore, where she leaves information about Potterverse for her fans. While I personally like the idea of a Harry Potter encyclopedia, I think Pottermore is a more logical choice. With a book, information is not fluid – J.K. Rowling would have to constantly publish new editions of her encyclopedia as she added new material. A website is far more conducive to adding new information for her fans to consider.

Interview Lessons-Learned Series

6 thoughts on “Why Harry Potter is Not a Horcrux

  1. This is a really excellent post, and I enjoyed reading it. I also have a quibble with a technicality of it, that may have some bearing on the larger subject of magic in the HP universe.

    I think your main point is true factually (or, given your secondary point re: flexibility of canon, it is as close to factual as it is possible to get with such a universe), but perhaps skims over a critical factor: Harry is not a Horcrux per se, but rather is an instance of the more primitive notion of what defines a Horcrux; namely, he is a carrier for a soul fragment, and plays much the same role as a Horcrux. As in your post: “After all, a Horcrux is just that – a piece of a wizard’s soul inside a magical encasement.”

    This is a minor differentiation, yet it draws our imagination to a fundamental aspect of magic in HP, a factor which makes that world so “magical” to the reader, namely: magic is a developed art and discipline, born of generation after generation of learning and working, and stemming from a source of what you might call “natural” magic.

    To clarify: In HP, magic is something fundamental that exists in nature, but only some creatures may fully perceive or take advantage of it. I don’t have the sources in front of me, but I recall that there are lower creatures which use magic “by instinct” to, for instance, disappear when they feel threatened. Similarly, an infant human witch or wizard will trigger certain magical acts intuitively, by directing their will instinctively in that direction. It is a rough and basic version of magic to be sure, but this seems to be the fundamental level of the magic ability — tapping a natural force via a mechanism unique to certain individuals or species.

    From the course beginnings where early humans gifted with this ability attempted to understand and harness their power (akin to early muggle humans wrangling with fire, tools, etc), long generations over time established magic as a highly cultivated discipline, a cornerstone of the way magic folk live their lives. Modern spells, potions, and the like are an efficient culmination of countless hours of work by magic wielders, much as cars, computers, etc, are the result of many generations of science and technological growth by muggles.

    All this exploration of magical history works in order to establish that a Horcrux is more than a term. It is rather a particular type of generated magic, a careful use of a combination of A) the natural magical consequences of killing in cold blood (mentioned specifically somewhere in the books), B) the use of a mundane object as a receptacle for magic (which we see in many cases, like the Portkey, and it pays to note that the soul may be considered a magic structure), and C) the intent of the invoking party, which seems to be an essential element of magic — the desire to achieve a particular goal underlies anything from a baby apparating by intuition, to an advanced magic user forgoing a wand when performing a spell. The wand is merely a conduit for convenience, used to channel the will in a targeted way.

    So in saying that Voldemort did not *intend* to create a Horcrux, and therefore due to the constraints of the process of creating a Horcrux, no such named object was created, we bypass the focus that a fragment of Voldemort’s soul was in fact incorporated into Harry in much the way that a Horcrux is formed. The fact that it was not a true Horcrux and could not perform the goal of guardianship in the typical way did not preclude the natural ramifications of binding a soul fragment to an object, in this case a living being, with the resultant complications.

    The Horcrux is a complex and cunning manipulation of the natural outcome of death under certain conditions. This natural outcome, however, is the critical point of what occurs in the book. A piece of Voldemort lies within Harry and must be destroyed for Voldemort to die. A Horcrux by any other name would act its equal. But an accidental soul fragmentation and subsequent incorporation into a nearby object must be rare enough that those with the desire to enact such a set of events by choice must learn the dark art of the Horcrux in order to take full advantage of this contrivance.

    Harry Potter is not a Horcrux. He’s something better, more nuanced, and through the subtle distinction which you have analyzed, we may learn something rather deep about the nature of magic and willpower. After all, it is our choices that show who we really are.

    • Hey, thanks for reading my blog post on why Harry Potter is not a Horcrux. I appreciate your (very extensive) comments in response to my post. I think, though, that they really deserve their own blog post. The purpose of my post was to very plainly lay out why Harry isn’t a Horcrux. That’s it. I didn’t want to expound on it or get into the nuances of magic. It was solely for the Harry Potter reader who comes away from the books thinking Harry is a Horcrux and needs to be educated as to why he is not. You should write an essay of your own! That would be awesome. Again, I appreciate your readership and, as an aside from my post, your points are well taken. 🙂

    • You are welcome, and I’m really glad you enjoyed reading it. 🙂 (I admit I am pleased that it changed your mind!)

  2. This “is Harry a horcrux” debate reminds me of the “is Pluto a planet” debacle. Yes, an authoritative source has said no, but still, the fans choose to disagree with their assessment. And, as with the Pluto debate, it isn’t so much a debate over the underlying dynamics of the system, but over definitions. The horcrux definition presented in the books/movies is just simpler and more intuitive than what Rowling has gone with more recently, and it’s way easier to just say “Harry was a horcrux” to explain why he needed to ‘die’ rather than using that long-winded explanation of splitting souls and how horcrux magic works.

    So sure, Harry’s not technically a horcrux but it’s such a pedantic distinction that I don’t really care. And I’ll keep calling Pluto a planet!

    • Poor Pluto! Defriended by the universe . . . then refriended . . . it doesn’t know what to think!

      If you’re upset about pedantry – my friend, you do not know the Harry Potter fandom. It thrives on pedantry. One is always free to ignore the pedantry, and pass on by quietly, without registering a complaint. Yes? 😉

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