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Horcrux Redux:

Disclaimer: This piece had become so horrendously long that I was forced to split it years ago. With the current posting there has been considerable recent addition and expansion made to this section of the study thanks to explorations made in an e-mail discussion in the year after the release of DHs.

There has been comparatively little modification or revision to the older portions of the article. Mostly because so much of it turned out to be wrong. At least, wrong if you accept Rowling’s version of the events as the truth. Since Rowling’s version is both self-contradictory and incoherent, I find that I am more inclined to regard it in the light of a suggestion. One which I do not feel either obligated, nor particularly inclined, to take at face value.

****

So. Okay. Once again, it’s time to review and consider what we think we know about the Horcruxes. And to figure out whether we know anything more than we thought we did.

The whole issue of Lord Voldemort’s Horcruxes is an overly complex one, and most of the following conclusions are reflective of what seemed to be possible regarding them as of the end of HBP, so you can expect all three of these pieces to wander off on any number of tangents.

In fact, the whole issue related to Horcruxes turns out to be involved enough to have required splitting it into more than one essay even before DHs came out. The essay above; ‘Raiders of the Lost Horcrux’ is now ONLY concerned with R.A.B., the missing Locket, and the adventure of the Dark Lord’s sea cave. This one, and the essay following it concern the rest of the Horcruxes, and some theories about Horcruxes in general.

****

Rowling’s handling of the “secret” of Lord Voldemort’s deathlessness seems to have been poorly managed throughout the series.

Very poorly managed, in fact. But at the end of HBP we had reason to believe that we were finally on the right track, Of course we were still missing what we thought could have turned out to be crucial bits of information. In the event, it turns out that even though we probably were, Rowling never chose to pass that information on to us. So the whole business just remains poorly managed.

For, once again, Rowling seems to have rewritten the rules to suit her own convenience. Rendering much of what she had told us in HBP gibberish.

****

First, however, a side-step: my “fellow traveler” the LiveJournalist Swythyv and I were engaged in an ongoing e-mail discussion/debate pretty much since the release of DHs, and we have covered a lot of very odd ground in that time.

In August of 2008 we finally stumbled into the bog related to Horcruxes.

What set us off this time was another piece of Rowling’s carelessness.

Well, I say that it is a piece of Rowling’s carelessness. Swythyv’s mode of operation is to steadfastly maintain the fiction that Rowling is so much cleverer than her readers that there is likely to be a bombshell still waiting to explode related to the way the Potterverse has been set up, and the way that Rowling chose to misdirect us all in the course of telling her story.

But, regardless.

We had all been given to understand in HBP that the Diary had been unique. That claim actually played very well. We had already encountered the Locket by then, and passed it hand to hand to everyone in #12, and not only had Harry had no reaction to it, but neither had anyone else. It was simply an inert artifact, a piece of jewelry which no one could get open. The Ring we didn’t encounter until after it had been denatured. So we never saw it in action.

The Diary, on the other hand, had been designed to be a weapon. It had an interactive interface and was built to reach out and get a grip on whoever wrote in it. First to convince them that it was their friend, to encourage them to confide their closest secrets to it, and ultimately to possess, control and drain them of their “life force” until it managed to restore the soul fragment which it housed to the material plane.

This explanation worked remarkably well. Although you would have thought that Harry’s scar might have had some reaction to it. Or at least to the Diary revenant.

Instead, in a lame and desperate attempt to insert some suspense and excitement into the black (plot) hole of the endless camping trip, in DHs the Locket was suddenly acting like the One Ring and Hermione, the exposition machine, was earnestly informing us in chapter 6 that all Horcruxes will influence you if you get attached to them. Or, apparently, are even around them for any significant amount of time.

This was a stupid, and shabby enough retrofit in the first place, but Rowling didn’t even bother to incorporate these changes thoroughly enough to take into account the fact that by the time we got it off her, Umbridge had been in possession of that Locket for over a year, and it hadn’t even affected her ability to cast a Patronus. Nor was there the slightest indication that Umbridge was under Locket!Tom’s control. She was just same monumentally unpleasant self she’d always been, with fewer outside limits to constrain her. And the Horcrux certainly hadn’t had anything to do with giving her a promotion.

Besides which, if all Horcruxes acted like that they wouldn’t be very useful for prolonging their creators’ lives would they? Anyone who came into contact with them would know within weeks that something was not right about those artifacts. Ginny figured it out in a couple of months, at the age of 11, for crying out loud. The Trio realized that the Locket was getting them down within a few weeks too.

The Diary was designed to be (possibly) expendable, since Tom had other Horcruxes out there. But if you only had one, you would damned well want it to act inert!

Well, we kicked that around the block for a while, between us. And ultimately drifted off in a couple of other directions, but in the course of the discussion I came to a couple of related conclusions of my own.

We have it from Rowling (admittedly it’s only in an interview statement, so she could reverse herself at any time) that she thinks it was Herpo the foul who first came up with the idea of Horcruxes, as well as being the wizard to have created the first Basilisk.

Well, Herpo was a wizard from the days of classical Greece. That may have been a long time ago, but in our own world that was an era which was amply documented. The same cannot necessarily be said for all the eras since then.

This gives us a good long stretch of time since Horcruxes were invented, and we have no idea how many wizards may have created Horcruxes in order to try to fend off death. Or how many of them may still be around, in some form or other (I doubt that they are walking around on their own two legs merely looking pale and interesting. Nothing says that a Horcrux renders you invulnerable to time).

All we know is that as recently as the 1940s no one was believed to have ever created more than one of them. What isn’t so obvious, because no one has ever come out and said so, is that we haven’t a clue of how many Horcruxes have been created since Herpo’s day. Because the only ones that anyone knows about are the ones which somebody later managed to destroy. And it might be a mistake to suppose that the ones destroyed are the only ones that have ever been made.

We also haven’t any official information on how a Horcrux is made. Frankly, on this subject, I don’t think Rowling has a clue, herself. She imported the concept of Horcruxes from folklore where any number of villains seem to have managed to create external hearts/souls/lives and no one has ever bothered to ask how they got them.

And the method used could make a difference.

****

Wizards with the same kind of natural ability to possess others that Tom can claim appear to be vanishingly rare (thank ghod!). And a Horcrux ought not to have abilities that its creator doesn’t. So right there let’s forget about all Horcruxes being able to take over anyone who gets attached to them. There may be other such wizards with such a talent out there, but not many. And they are probably not in western Europe. Asia, maybe. I think there is something of a tradition for possession there. And there is no reason to suppose that they are out there making Horcruxes.

Tom tells us that the only ability he retained while disembodied was the ability to possess others. He overstates his case, for I am sure he was still a Parselmouth. But being a Parselmouth would have scarcely been useful for any purpose apart from entraping snakes. Which seems to have been what he used it for. He lured them into range and then possessed them. Tom, it seems, even when reduced to no more than an incomplete, disembodied soul was able to reach out and take possession of other creatures. And in OotP, even after he already had a new body to live in, he was still able to reach out and (briefly, and with great pain) take possession of Harry. Ergo: it is a tenable hypothesis to suppose that Tom is able, at least briefly, to be consciously in two bodies at once.

(ETA: if we are supposed to conclude that he *couldn’t* possess Harry because of the Harrycrux already being in place, then how was he and Harry able to painlessly hitch a ride with Nagini, if she was also a Horcrux?)

Well, as anyone who has read my Changeling hypothesis essay in the past couple of years is aware, I contend that Tom Riddle’s ability to possess others is a quality which contributed mightily to his ability to create seven Horcruxes (one of them unintentionally).

For I contend that to take possession of the victim is an intrinsic component of the creation of a Horcrux. I flatly do not support the loosey-goosey “kill the victim first and make the Horcrux later” postulation that Rowling appears to support. As I say, I don’t think Rowling ever bothered to work out how one creates a Horcrux. All that mattered to her is that somewhere out there in the Potterverse there needed to be a method of doing it. Upon the whole, I believe we are all better off rolling our own explanation, than waiting around for her to tell us what to think on the subject.

However, thiswould tend to support the claim that all Horcruxes keep trying to do it too.

For that matter, given the kind of inert objects that people tend to use to make Horcruxes from, the soul fragment is probably desperate to link to a source where they can see and hear and have some kind of sensory input again.

And that by the time they are in a position to do it, every single one of them is stark raving mad.

****

Slughorn tells us in HBP that to commit murder tears the soul. I’m sure that he is correct. But what he does not, and probably cannot tell us is that to commit murder will necessarily tear pieces of it off. The soul may rip into the middle from an edge, or along a fold, or off an existing rent (if there is one), or make a hole, or anything at all, leaving perhaps a tattered edge, but not necessarily a damaged soul and a loose fragment suitable for framing. Indeed, if, as he clams, the soul is supposed to remain whole and inviolate, for a piece of a soul to actually get separated from the rest would probably be quite rare. And, indeed, “against nature”. And consequently, might not be possible, no many how many murders one comitted.

Consequently, “the spell” that Slughorn refuses to speak about and starts hyperventilating at the very thought of, probably assures that when the soul is torn there will be a clean split and a separate fragment.

And one of the most certain ways of splitting something cleanly is to slice it apart when it is braced between two anchor points.

Yes, killing people will tear your soul, But it does not guarantee that the soul will be torn into individual bits, nor will murder remove any of the bits to an external housing. Your soul, even if it is in bits remains safely inside your body. I also do not accept that there is any way in which you can select a specific fragment of your soul and exorcise it from your own body at some later date. I do not even accept that you can look inside yourself and gauge the condition of your own soul to see whether there are loose bits available for rehousing.

And, the usual way to get a soul out of a body is to kill the body that it lives in.

You see where I am going here?

If you have possessed the victim, and then kill him, using a spell specifically for that purpose, it splits off the piece of your soul that is in the victim’s body. And since you are still alive, that soul fragment (at that point) tries to get back to the rest of the bundle. You catch it in the artifact you’ve prepared as a housing and presto, there’s your Horcrux. You can add further protections/curses/whatever to the housing later. It’s possible that the spell that kills the victim and splits the soul also makes the fragment visible, at least temporarily. Or at least to you.

Now, a wizard who is not naturally able to take possession of a victim has an additional step to perform, since the possession would also need to be accomplished by a spell. I suspect there may be such a spell. It is possibly a variant on Imperius, as the Horcrux creation spell is a variant on AK (at any rate, it is green like an AK).

Which eliminates all the nonsense (which Rowling seems to have chosen to dispense with herself) over Tom wanting to use particularly “significant” deaths to create his Horcruxes. If what you’re dealing with is a ritual proxy suicide, any victim’s death is going to be a “significant” death.

Which is also why the soul fragment in Harry was still in Harry. Tom had possessed him in preparation to making his 6th Horcrux, but that Horcrux never got properly made.

What I propose happened was that (based upon the Dementor-assisted memories given us in PoA) Tom broke into the room, Lily got between him and Harry and pleaded for mercy. Tom took possession of Harry, who started laughing in Tom’s voice. Lily, horrified, glanced back over her shoulder towards him and started screaming. While she was distracted, Tom stepped to one side and threw his Horcurx-creation curse past her. She saw what he was up to at the last moment and threw herself in its path.

What I have extrapolated from this basic premise to explain what happened to Harry was to propose that the spell requires that the caster and the victim share the same soul.

Harry and Tom were sharing the same soul. Lily and Tom didn’t. And it was Lily who threw herself into the path of the spell.

Yes I know that DHs does not show it happening this way. I flatly don’t believe DHs. DHs and just about everybody in it just is too stupid to be believed. And for the record, I had stopped believing DHs long before Tom turned up in Godric’s Hollow to kill the Potters.

The spell, hitting someone who did not share the caster’s soul, went blasting back to find its caster. Rather like taking an axe to a heavy plank that turns out not to be anchored at both ends. Being unstable, it flips up and bashes you.

It got Tom, and it got him good. The fact that he already had other Horcruxes and couldn’t be killed may explain why it completely destroyed his body tying to get him out of it. Once it got him out of his own body it then followed the still intact soul connection to the fragment in Harry, and probably tried to destroy it as well. Which is where the scar came from. It shorted out the fragment that had been possessing Harry, but it didn’t get it out of hm. It didn’t even break the connection to the remaining portion of Tom’s soul. It was trying to perform its function backwards, having started at the wrong end, and by the time it got to Harry had probably overextended itself and was running on empty. Which for Harry's sake may be just as well.

The fragment was heavily damaged, however. It acts like it has been Obliviated. It doesn’t have any agenda of its own, it has no identity or self-awareness, it barely recognized the name of Tom Riddle, and it never took control of Harry. But that particular fragment was also never actually separated from Tom. It still reacted to him, and either Tom or Harry eventually could activate and use the link. None of the other Horcruxes seem to be at all aware of Tom himself. And he became aware of that one, as he never was aware of the rest of them.

****

The ability to possess others it would make a very big difference to what one can accomplish without a body. Because anyone who creates a Horcrux is eventually going to be in that particular boat.

Because the fact remains that making a Horcrux does not mean that you physically live forever. We have no evidence whatsoever to suggest that it makes you immune to time. Eventually you are still going to lose your body — or it will become so enfeebled that you will be trapped in it. Only anomalies like Tom, who can naturally reach out and possess others get any kind of benefit from creating Horcruxes. Otherwise all a wizard accomplishes by it is something that will diminish his soul in order to tether it on this side of the Veil, and since any wizard has the option of choosing to be a ghost, and can do so with a complete soul, a Horcrux effectively produces absolutely zilch.

And, frankly, being a ghost is the sounder choice, since you are pretty well guaranteed to remain yourself as a ghost, rather than having to fight to retain your identity and stay aware every single moment, without rest, and in ever-present danger of unraveling, as Slughorn describes it, and even Tom later confirms.

It’s small wonder Tom is such a world-class fruitcake. He’s got more than 10 years of sleep deprivation to make up for. Maybe that’s why he was so curiously passive once he finally managed to resurrect himself. Because I’ll swear he did next to nothing for the rest of the series. Perhaps he just gave his followers a few basic instructions and a free pass, and was sleeping it off.

****

And, a Horcrux-creator who cannot natively take possession of others is a sitting duck for the kind of attrition which ultimately will unravel any sense of identity or self-consciousness. It wouldn’t matter if he was alive. He would no longer be himself.

The whole concept of building Horcruxes, when you really examine it, is a monumental scam from the get-go. I think old Herpo must have been pretty far gone in a Dark Arts-related dementia when he came up with that trick. And I don’t think we need to look very far to figure out just what entities may be hanging around waiting to unravel such defenseless, disembodied, and incomplete souls, do we?

A ghost cannot perform magic, so any such hypothetical chaotic entities just leave them alone. But undead souls still retain that link to the source of their magic. Even incomplete souls can channel magic — so long as they remain at least technically alive. In fact they probably leak magic, or magically-charged emotional detritus, even more freely than complete souls do. And we know what kind of entities appear to feed on that. None of them mean humans well.

In the most recent version of the ‘History of Magic’ essay I have postulated the existence of “thin places” in the world where magic leaks into the material plane in the form of what in Real World folklore has become codified as a “holy well”. This is fresh, new magic which is emitted as a steady rate, unlike the magic channeled by humans. It’s nature is still chaotic, but it is not conscious and it is certainly not hostile. Magical creatures, whether sentient being, fantastic beast, or magical botanical tend to be drawn to the sites of these wells and to settle in the vicinity.

In the History of Magic essay I also touched upon the chthonic cults which in early times, particularly in the centuries before the development of the cored wand, attempted to duplicate the rare holy wells by creating “pools” of power through unsavory and dangerous practices.

An unraveled soul would also duplicate the function of a well. For it is also an entry point into the physical world of magical energies. The souls that unravel are probably serving as a snackbar for the kind of entities that feed on raw (i.e., Dark) magic. Such unraveled souls probably account for a number of odd anomalous places of “power”. Ones that do not entail “holy wells” or whatever other natural phenomena would account for such an entry point.

Since these false wells were originally human souls, it is possible that the emission of magic from them fluctuates, since humans, without wands, appear to be unable to regulate their channeling of magical energies. But it is unknown whether the impacted quality of human magical channeling is fundamental to the human soul or a by-product of attempting to channel magic through a human body. Humans, as I have pointed out before, are not inherently a magical species, and their bodies are not necessarily designed for the effective channeling of magic. It is scantly possible that an unraveled and disembodied soul would create a false well which emitted magic as steadily as a true well. It would not, however be accompanied by the water source which normally accompanies a “holy well”.

Nor can we count on the magic emerging from such an entry point being typically non-hostile.

We are in a peculiar sort of position since we can do something like a “forensic” examination of early times, up to about the founders era, using our own Real World folklore to fill in gaps and examine the “bones” of what appears to have survived to the present day. But, much later than the Peverills (who Swythyv and I placed somewhere around the beginning of the 13th century) and we might as well be playing “telephone”, because the two worlds’ social histories start diverging wildly. But there do still seem to be a few points in common.

For one thing, I suspect that after Nicholas Flamel and his wife were known to have succeeded in creating the Philosopher’s Stone at the end of the 14th century, there may have been far fewer people interested in creating Horcruxes in an attempt to extend their lives. A Horcrux, after all wouldn’t have the additional benefits of making you as rich as you wanted to be, or of producing the universal panacea in addition to the elixir of life. But it would have taken a while before the news of Flamel’s achievement traveled beyond Paris, and longer before people believed the report.

And, of course, no one but the Flamels seem to have managed the feat, either. But most wizards with anything like a functioning moral compass would have made that their project rather than looking for instructions on making Horcruxes.

****

At the end of HBP we all suspected that relevant information had been deliberately saved up for Book 7, or that various details may have just fallen through the cracks.

Particularly where it came to the issue of Regulus Black and the hijacked Locket.

Still, I felt we could all be sure that while we may or may not have heard the last of Regulus Black, we definitely hadn’t heard the last regarding Tom Riddle.

About whom we have just way too many contradictions to ever really sort out.

For example: at the climax of Goblet of Fire, we observe Voldemort publicly admitting to his mustered Death Eaters that what he has achieved is not true immortality and that he will temporarily “settle” for having his former body back again. And, indeed, he can hardly be truly immortal if he is still vulnerable to Time. In the same scene he also is publicly reminding the whole assembly that they all know the steps that he has taken to achieve deathlessness.

Excuse me?

Two books later this version of the story has gone completely walkabout. It is now implied that yes, he is immortal, insomuch as any human being can be, and that while we are reminded of his boasts in the graveyard about having pushed the boundaries of Magic farther than any other wizard, the creation of a Horcrux is implied to be something so vile that even the Death Eaters would shrink from it in horror; that Voldemort is convinced that nobody knows about his Horcruxes, and that it certainly cannot be general knowledge that he has made half a dozen of them.

What gives?

And is this even the case? We cannot even know that for certain.

But that version is “The Official Word according to Albus Dumbledore”. And while John Granger’s “Tom Riddle and his Scar-o-Vision” theory would nicely reconcile the issue, I found myself reluctant to adopt it wholesale. That theory plays extremely nicely with others, but it feels like a snare and a delusion. It makes things just a bit too easy. In fact, it constitutes a walking temptation to fall into lazy reasoning. Indeed, it’s too tempting by half.

****

We’d been led to believe that the subject of Horcruxes has only been banned at Hogwarts comparatively recently. Within the last century in fact. And while the creation of them must have always been a very rare occurrence, the knowledge of the underlying theory seems as though it may previously have been reasonably widespread. We do not know this for certain, but I did not think that this was where Rowling intended to drop one of her bombshells.

To begin with: Horace Slughorn is surely the last wizard who would ever be tempted to contemplate the creation of a Horcrux, yet he seems conversant enough with the theory that underlies them. It is possible that it was Albus Dumbledore’s very fierceness on the subject which prompted Horace to research what all the fuss was about and found the answer sickening, but the fact remains that in his day one could readily look such information up.

And, for all his supposed power, Albus was only able to suppress the information regarding Horcruxes at Hogwarts itself. The information is still out there in any private library which ever had it, and even current books on the Dark Arts may still discuss the subject, so long as they do not care whether they will be able to sell the book as a text to Hogwarts students or to its library.

Indeed, wizards from the generations before Tom Riddle’s may have known about the process fairly routinely. Much as current generations know about the Avada Kedavra curse.

Which, when taken in concert with the fundamental asymmetry of the reasoning which claims that while to die is far from the worst thing that can happen to you, to kill is the ultimate evil — leaving completely out of the equation the issue of killing in the line of duty (people do keep reminding us that this is supposedly the story of a war, you know) and totally overlooking the fact that the whole point of this series is that we have been set up to expect it to end with the hero killing somebody — to popular acclaim and a victory parade — I ended up feeling very cross at all of the fundamental contradictions and illogic on display. Fortunately we did get a hint that Rowling was aware of this, and that even if she did end up botching the job in the end, she at least intended to address it.

(ETA: Well, I suppose you could say that in the end she did. Even if only to the extent of having events conspire to trick Tom Riddle into killing himself.)

At the time, I thought that she may have already given us the tools to figure most of it out for ourselves. Not all of it, of course. She had to have saved up something critical for the final book.

But we still had a very awkward set of contradictions and cross-purposes to try to reason from. Particularly when we could not know just how much of what was stated openly up to GoF may have been shot off in the off-the-map revision of Rowling’s Master Plan between Volume 4 & 5 which I was convinced took place, out of the public eye.

I supposed that at the very least we needed to assume that the Death Eaters may have been led to believe that they think they know something about Voldemort’s method of attaining deathlessness. A false impression which is simply not the case. And one that probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the creation of multiple Horcruxes.

****

So, about those Horcruxes:

Upon consideration: I thought that when we finally came to it, there might turn out to be rather less to the problem of hunting the Horcruxes than met the eye. At least at first glance. At second glance, I thought that what we expected to be the easy part, probably wouldn’t be.

For example; I was beginning to suspect that we would not be forced to go out and hunt for all four of them. And that was a good thing, too.

We’d only got one more book in which to wrap this business up. There’s got to be a shortcut in there somewhere. Otherwise this last leg of the trip is going to be in serious danger of starting to feel awfully repetitive and episodic. Plus; having to hunt down four of the things would overbalance the action to the point that the whole last book would end up feeling like constituting nothing but hunting Horcruxes. (ETA: I called that correctly anyway. I would have just as soon not.) And to that point Rowling generally just didn’t give us books that are only about one thing.

But each of her books, so far, had appeared to have a single overriding central issue, as well as at least one related subplot. I couldn’t imagine that she was going to suddenly branch out into a completely different technique with the 7th in a series of 7. (ETA: *sigh* It would have been nice if I had been right about that at least. But I really cannot accept the childhood and youth of Albus Dumbledore as constituting a legitimate subplot. It was even more totally unnecessary and irrelevant to the actual story arc than the identity of the Half-Blood Prince.)

Rowling finally put one of her major cards down on the table when she introduced the concept of the Horcruxes. It is clear to just about every reader that the central issue of Book 7 was going to involve getting those sorted out.

But, let’s face it, a quest for a single critical item is a lot more focused and likely to be interesting than a diffuse scavenger hunt for four of them. At least from the structural standpoint of putting together a satisfactory storyline. Since, let’s face it, that is the task that Rowling was up against.

We’d had one book already that set Harry a number of separate tasks. The first, when successfully completed, led us directly to the starting point for the second; then we got thrown an unexpected extra one before Harry was able to prepare for that 2nd task. We knew about the 3rd task well in advance but apart from hitting the books with Hermione and practicing spells that might come in useful there wasn’t a lot that Harry could really do about it until it was upon him. And at the end of that one he was unexpectedly confronted by his enemy.

Rowling avoided the pitfall of an episodic plot in GoF by keeping the official set “tasks” pretty firmly in the background and filling the foreground with other concerns: the falling out with Ron; the ongoing mystery of who put Harry’s name in the goblet in the first place. She wasn’t really likely to be able to do this so effectively when the task consists of rooting out and disarming four Horcruxes, but there was still room for some leeway.

Nevertheless, given the way the books all seemed to produce echoes of one another, and the way the 5th book reflected the 1st, and the 6th replayed elements from the 2nd, could we help but wonder whether part of the pattern of the 4th would be incorporated into the 7th along with various even more recognizable elements of the 3rd?

I thought that we could probably expect to turn up clues to the Cup, the “mystery” Horcrux, or the 6th Horcrux in the course of the hunt for the Locket. Harry ended the 6th book focused on finding R.A.B. and discovering what happened to the Locket. I figured that that particular hunt would probably serve as the launching point for the quest for all the Horcruxes. Most of us did.

At the end of HBP, we had four Horcruxes unaccounted for. We knew what two of those looked like and had no official news on the others, apart from Albus’s suggestion of the snake.

My own gut feeling — which had absolutely no authority on the matter, as I was well aware — was that Harry already had possession of (was) one of them. I was also now inclined to suspect that Voldemort had possession of another. These two would be brought to the final confrontation and both would be revealed at that time. This would no doubt blindside everybody.

I did not believe that the one in Tom’s custody was the snake.

****

I did not know whether this was the way that Rowling would play it or not, but it had occurred to me that we might get a stronger, more engaging story if she let Harry concentrate on the quest for one of the Horcruxes, and it led us a merry dance nearly all the way through the book.

And the one that seemed best fitted for that particular role really was the Locket. We start out the book with Harry having already decided to follow the trail of the Locket.

I did think that we might be able to expect a protracted search for the Locket. Over the course of which the trio may have thought they had found it, and it will turn out that what they had been following was the trail of one of the others.

Because in the course of this quest, I thought we would probably stumble across a lead on another one of the accursed things (rather than finishing one hunt and starting a new one, which would interrupt the flow of story). The 2nd one would almost certainly be the Cup. Because with the Cup, we, and Harry, were in a position to recognize it when we saw it. And that discovery would make a fine pick-me-up in the middle of a long slog. Because we would probably be no closer to the Locket at that point than we were at the beginning. Or not that we would be able to tell.

Which is why I suspected that we would NOT find the Locket in Kreachur’s nest. You don’t get a lot of scope for turning up clues to the other Horcruxes if you can go directly to the Locket in the boiler room of the Black House, resolve that issue, and find yourself back at square one with no place to go from there. And Harry and his friends were going to look just too thick for belief if Rowling sent the trio all over creation before leading them back to #12 to look for it. I suspected we might be following that Locket for as long as we were following the trail of Nicholas Flamel and the Philosopher’s Stone.

And it finally sank in, thanks to a comment from a correspondent, that there was actually some canon support for this hypothesis. We already had a magical item in our possession which might be perfectly capable of pointing us right to where any Horcrux may be!

So long as it happened to be in a place that the item knew about.

****

The Marauder’s Map will track you — as yourself — living or dead, regardless of whether you are invisible, Polyjuiced, or creeping about in your Animagus form. So, just what is it about you that remains unchanged despite shape, visibility, or apparent species?

Or life status. The Hogwarts ghosts, and Peeves, also show up on it.

Peeves we know is a spirit, but he not really a ghost, for he was never actually alive. But a proper ghost we had already had defined to us as “the imprint of a departed...” what?

Holy hauntings, Batman! It looks very much as if what the Marauder’s Map is actually tracking are souls.

There are still some bugs in this hypothesis, of course. We don’t know what the Map would do regarding soul fragments. They may show up in really teeny-tiny lettering that just looks like a random smudge. They may just show up as initials, or random letters, not a proper name. But they ought to show up.

And there is also the problem of whether or not the Map knows about the place where they are. The Marauder’s Map was a rather impressive piece of work. But it was still just the work of a group of schoolboys. And by that time in the series the reader was able to figure out what some of the magical principles they had adapted into it were.

The fact that it reveals or conceals its contents by a password is a no-brainer. Where any mechanical lock can be opened by Alohomora, any intended private space is secured by passwords. It took no flash of genius to decide upon that.

It also seems to include some of the technology from portraits in that there is a lingering imprint of the creators’ personalities which is invoked when someone attempts to view it without giving the proper password. Much the way the Sorting Hat claims to be able to represent all four of the Founders. That the personality imprints recognized Snape’s name accounts for the customized insults the Map produced especially for him. Had Colin Creevy attempted it, the insults would have probably been much more generalized.

And then there is that really impressive tracking charm.

We don’t know whether they invented it, or modified it. But I’d vote for the latter. If the MoM can track underaged sorcery, and the Hogwarts quill can record magical births, we can assume that there is likely to be a whole class of tracking magic available for some clever kids to adapt. And they were able to modify the charm so that it only appears to track humans, and specific other creatures (i.e., Mrs Norris). We’ve never had any indication that the Castle’s resident House Elves show up on it, despite the fact that the Marauders were perfectly well aware of the House Elves. They’d been in and out of the kitchens for years.

But they still needed to draw the actual map themselves. And the places that they could not get into (like the other Houses’ common rooms) are shown as blank areas.

Harry’s use of that Map has been pretty rudimentary. He has generally checked it to see whether a route he wanted to use was clear, or to see if anyone was moving around so he could go another way. He hasn’t simply viewed the map to see just who is out in the public areas, or who may be standing somewhere without moving.

Maybe in a presumably empty school, perhaps any name would seem worth a closer look.

But I do still suspect that the Map doesn’t give any indication of the secret places that the Marauders never managed to find.

No Chamber of Secrets, for example. And the fact that Sirius Black was suggesting that the DA use the Shrieking Shack for their meetings implies that although Harry later believes that he couldn’t see into or get into the Room of Requirement was because of Draco’s orders to keep people out, the fact that the Room never showed up at all, could have been due to the fact that the Map may simply just not know about it.

Which laid out a rather creepy potential suspense template for Harry and his friends, sneaking through the closed, and presumably empty school, confident that the Map can show them all of the secret ways, when it doesn’t know all of them.

But Riddle does. Or at least he knows a few different ones.

And both Snape and Pettigrew know about that Map. Although I suspect that neither is volunteering that information to their Master.

Another ugly implication is that if the Map is tracking souls, it probably isn’t tracking bodies.

Riddle could probably march that whole army of Inferi into the Great Hall and the Map wouldn’t even blink.

****

Which leaves us with the question of the final two of the set of Horcruxes.

With a more focused quest, such as is postulated above, for the final two Horcruxes to converge at the finish line would certainly be in keeping with the suggested pattern of two halves of the problem finally coming together in the final book.

Because the kind of stop-start action of hunting and destroying Horcruxes one at a time — and then having to start over on the next one — just didn’t really seem to be on. That would be a really awkward kind of a storyline to try to wrangle and make interesting. No. Just — no.

So I thought that either, one of the Horcruxes would to lead directly to another or the kids would find out that Reggie did manage to neutralize his, or something else ought to be bound to turn up. Between getting hit by the cloudburst of “other shoes” still waiting to fall on us, discovering what was so important about Lily (or that stupid cloak), finding out the significance of the notorious “gleam”, getting ourselves blown up by the last of the Snape bombshells, and having to deal with the big show-down with Voldemort himself, having to also root out and neutralize all four missing Horcruxes, one at a time, was just too many.

But, as well as it fit the requirements, we didn’t know whether Rowling would use this kind of more focused structure until the last book was out.

(ETA: Oh if only, if only. Instead we got the totally clunky and unexplained contrivance of arbitrarily reopening the Tom/Harry mental link in the other direction and having Harry receive what amounted to divine guidance by way of postcards from the universe. Or at least from the prophecy demons’ 2nd cousins all through the book. Feh. I “feh” upon it.)

I did at least confidently expect that Harry and his friends were eventually going to manage to locate and dispose of both of the Horcruxes where Harry knows what he is looking for. Which is to say, the Locket and the Cup.

Plus, of course, eventually figuring out that he was the last of the set.

****

According to Dumbledore, Tom was still one short of his full set when he went to kill Harry.

That’s a clue, you know. When you really stop and think about it, that whole statement is rather odd. In fact it is a clue to a couple of things.

The first is that Dumbledore just wasn’t telling Harry (or us) everything he suspected. Here he has only just finally examined Slughorn’s memory which tells us that there were supposed to be 6 of the accursed things and five minutes later he’s already tallied up how many of them Tom had created by when? C’mon.

I say that Dumbledore had already figured out that there had to be more than one of them, and he knew that it was going to turn out to be a “significant” magical number of them. Dumbledore, unlike Riddle may not have ever studied Divination, but I’ll bet you anything you please that they both studied Arithmancy. That factor alone had probably already narrowed Dumbledore’s theory down to a choice between either 3 or 7. I think Albus already suspected it was probably 7, Slughorn’s memory just confirmed it.

I do think that during Riddle’s 10-year absence Albus’s investigation was almost certainly tracing Tom’s actions with regard to stolen property rather than Horcruxes. It was only after Albus got a look at Tom upon his return sometime during ’57–’63 that he would have had reason to start suspecting Horcruxes had been added to the equation.

After all, Albus had personally seen the subject banned at Hogwarts before Tom even showed up to ask about it. Possibly before Tom was even born. And by everything we’ve been given to reason from, Tom managed to create his first one completely off Albus’s radar.

But when he showed up looking like a molten wax image after spending a decade off the map, Albus must have started wondering what he’d been up to, and just what use he might have put those three valuable and historic artifacts he had managed to purloin before he disappeared (by that time Albus would have spoken to Morfin Gaunt and known about the ring). If Albus knew enough about the subject of Horcruxes to get it banned when he wasn’t even Headmaster yet, he probably knows at least as much about them as Tom Riddle. Possibly more.

Which to Albus may have been a hint right there that he was up against a soul in multiple parts. Tom was greedy enough to turn every significant artifact he could get his hands on to his own use. A 3-part soul might have been significant enough to satisfy him. But that would have meant that he had only used two of the stolen artifacts for Horcruxes. And Albus knew Tom well enough to know that he wouldn’t have been able to resist taking “possession” of all three. 4, 5, and 6, are not magically “significant” enough numbers to suit Tom Riddle’s opinion of himself. So he was almost certainly aiming for 7.

The only question was whether he had attained it yet. Once Albus had figured that out, and had given it some hard consideration, by HBP Albus provisionally suspected that at the time of his defeat, Tom had still been at least one short.

(ETA: and Rowling summarily dismissed this whole line of enquiry when she sat down to write DHs, too. For there is no indication in the flashback of Tom’s first defeat that he had shown up at the Potters with the intention of creating a Horcrux at all. Instead the whole passage in HBP has now been trivialized into just another instance of Albus buttering Harry up. And I find myself disbelieving that as well.)

****

The second thing to have come out of that particular discussion was the sudden, rather unaccountable suggestion that the final Horcrux was Nagini.

I imagine that the majority of the fandom probably agreed with me that the 6th Horcrux was not Nagini. (And, in strict accuracy, Nagini turned out to have been an extra 7th Horcrux, even though she was indeed the final one.) At first glance, one can’t imagine why Dumbledore should have made that suggestion — considering the way that he’d been dancing all around the subject of the significance of Harry’s scar from the first chapter of the first book.

From a meta standpoint the suggestion must have been intended to serve as a hint to the reader that a Horcrux can be made from a living creature. I thought at the time that we might be supposed to conclude that this is simply one of Dumbledore’s lesser mistakes.

But even mistakes (had it been such) tend to happen for a reason, and it finally surfaced that Dumbledore’s suggestion of Nagini being the 6th Horcrux didn’t actually come out of nowhere, much as it may have appeared to. The inception for Dumbledore’s theory that the 6th Horcrux might possibly be the snake could have been suggested to him by the scene in OotP where Albus consults one of the little silver instruments in his office after Harry reports the snake attack on Arthur Weasley, just before the Christmas holidays.

Dumbledore already knew perfectly well that Tom was involved in the attack. A snake doesn’t just randomly get into the DoM and go looking for someone to bite. And Harry wouldn’t have been linked into the business if Tom wasn’t involved, since Harry’s connection is to Tom, not to just any old plain-vanilla snake, even if he can understand them.

So, as soon as Harry reported a snake attack Albus knew that whatever his instrument showed, it would probably be represented by a snake. That was no surprise, and Harry could see that Albus was not surprised. Nor was Albus surprised when the pale green smoky snake split into two snakes.

It didn’t, however, split into three snakes. There was a physical snake, and there was Tom. Harry ought to have been represented as well.

What now seemed very likely to me in retrospect was that the instrument was representing Harry and Tom, and ignoring Nagini, who is just a plain old snake, even if a remarkably large one (enlarged by magic? Maybe).

Well the big bombshell at the conclusion of OotP is that Albus Dumbledore finally had to admit to us, and to himself that he makes emotional mistakes.

He also had repeatedly demonstrated his conviction that other people cannot handle the truth. I was beginning to wonder whether, perhaps, he wasn’t quite as good at that himself as he needed to be.

Considering that it took until the aftermath of the debacle in the Atrium at the end of OotP to force Dumbledore to even tell Harry about the Prophecy, I supposed it would have hardly been in character for Albus, one book later, to pop out with “And now that you know what a Horcrux is, Harry, I am sorry to have to inform you that you are one!”

Despite the fact that he had been dancing all around the issue of the significance of Harry’s scar and the nature of his connection to Lord Voldemort ever since the opening of the series, the very fact that he threw out the suggestion that Nagini may be the 6th Horcrux at all may be an even bigger hint that he might have managed to lead himself up the garden path over the previous year.

After all, he would hardly want to have to grapple with the problem of Harry being the 6th Horcrux, which will also have to be destroyed in order to get rid of their enemy. He is certainly determinedly not admitting that possibility to Harry, insisting that his power to vanquish the Dark Lord has to be based on something else altogether.

And, to give Albus credit, once examined, there are a lot of strangenesses concerning Lord Voldemort’s dealings with that snake. So, the suggestion didn’t just come out of thin air, even though one certainly gets that impression when Albus first pops out with it.

And I thought that Harry might eventually remember the image of that smoky snake splitting into two snakes, and interpret it differently from the way Albus had. He was there, after all, and he knows that he was one of those snakes.

Instead, we discover that Albus was right, and that Tom, for absolutely no reason that makes any kind of sense, made a Horcrux out of a living snake.

Admittedly he had a clear and present reason to keep that snake close to him at the time. He needed her venom in order to survive for a year (and probably magically enlarged her to increase the venom supply). But that hardly required turning her into a Horcrux, which in the natural way was bound eventually to die.

Of course, it is possible that he expected to be truly immortal by the time that happened.

****

And yet, John and his Scar-o-Vision filter looked awfully tempting about then.

According to the Scar-o-Vision reading (of which I only know the basic premise, and may have spun off in an entirely different direction with it than John did), Albus realized after Tom’s attempt to possess Harry in the MoM that Tom had figured out that the scar serves Harry as a warning system and that if he wanted to use the connection he will have to slide past it without setting it off.

Since he had been in and out of Harry’s head all of year 5, and that Harry had not been having a year-long headache, he seems to have stumbled upon how to do it.

Ergo: throughout HBP Albus was always aware that Tom might tune back in, and hedged his bets by being very careful in all his statements; attempting to inform Harry without giving away how much he had figured out (or when he figured it out) to Tom — if Tom had tuned back in. It would certainly explain all of those weird statements from Albus that contradict things we’d already learned. But, like I say, the theory is so broad it felt a bit like an attractively-baited trap.

And yet, it is certainly tempting. Particularly in view of things like the following:

Shall we have a little exercise in “parsing” the word according to Albus?

Regarding Albus’s suggestion that the 6th Horcrux is Nagini.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Dumbledore. I think I know what the sixth Horcrux is. I wonder what you will say when I confess that I have been curious for a while about the behavior of the snake, Nagini?’

Say what? Let’s change the subject in the middle of the statement why don’t we? This doesn’t actually tell us that he really does believe the last Horcrux is Nagini, does it?

‘The snake?’ Said Harry, startled. ‘You can use animals as Horcruxes?’

‘Well, it is inadvisable to do so,’ said Dumbledore, ‘because to confide a part of your soul to something that can think and move for itself is obviously a very risky business. However, if my calculations are correct, Voldemort was still at least one Horcrux short of his goal of six when he entered your parents’ house with the intention of killing you.

‘He seems to have reserved the process of making Horcruxes for particularly significant deaths. You would certainly have been that. He believed that in killing you, he was destroying the danger the prophecy had outlined. He believed he was making himself invincible. I am sure that he was intending to make his final Horcrux with your death.

All quite useful and informative, and certain to be important later, but damn-all to actually do with the snake isn’t it? And still no claim that he believes his suggestion himself.

‘As we know, he failed. After an interval of some years, however, he used Nagini to kill an old Muggle man, ...

Which we already knew to be untrue. We witnessed Frank Bryce’s murder and BabyMort killed the man himself, by magic, with his own wand. The snake just watched. Harry witnessed it too, and I’m pretty sure that he eventually had either told Albus about it himself, or he told Sirius who might have told Albus. (Otherwise, how would Albus know?)

Harry certainly told Albus that the echo of Frank Bryce came out of the wand in the Priori Incantatum. Nagini certainly had nothing to do with that.

‘...and it might then have occurred to him to turn her into his last Horcrux.

It might have occurred to him to run off to the La Scalla and embark on a new career as a counter-tenor, too, but he didn’t do that either.

‘...She underlines the Slytherin connection, which enhances Lord Voldemort’s mystique. 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.’

True enough, and proof of nothing. Tom is an expert at holding others under his control. A mere snake, however large, would be child’s play.

From this point Albus makes the odd statement here and there about the snake-as-Horcrux, just to make sure we don’t forget. But never, never once does he actually come right out and tell us that; “Yes, I do believe the snake IS the Horcrux.”

I thought that he was trying to lead Harry, and us, right up the garden path.

So, why?

Well, by the time DHs came out, I was less sure of that than I had been that the snake was NOT the Horcrux, but we might have gotten a hint the year before when Harry decided that he was the “weapon” Voldemort was after, and was planning to run away in order not to compromise the Order’s secrets or endanger his friends. It was only Phineas, passing on Albus’s orders, who managed to keep Harry from doing it. Albus would not have wanted a repeat of that incident.

It had finally caught up to me that Albus’s little disclaimer at the beginning of the series of Pensieve presentations, where he states grandly that we are leaving the realm of fact and certainly and entering into the misty marshes of memory and the (something, something) of wild speculation, is bound to be there for a reason.

Harry asks whether Albus believes his speculations are right, and Albus responds that of course he does, but that as he has pointed out before, he makes mistakes like any other man (and comments that his are likely to be bigger ones).

Does it now occur to anyone else that this is Rowling practically issuing a mission statement that something Harry was told over the course of those sessions is going to turn out to be wrong? Either inadvertently, or deliberately, but wrong.

Nagini-as-Horcrux was certainly a top candidate for that, but there were other possibilities as well.

But at that point I hadn’t a clue of what the suggestion about the snake’s real function was within the context of the story, and it read like a blatant case of a non-sequitur that’s there “because the author says so”. The 6th Horcrux was obviously Harry. The soul fragment is lodged in his skull just underneath the scar. I could not account for any good explanation for Harry’s multiple connections to Tom without factoring in the probability that he was a Horcrux.

And there wouldn’t be any problem finding that Horcrux, once they figure out what it is. Although figuring out what to do about it was likely to be a considerable puzzle.

****

Another thing this conversation with Harry seemed to be a clue to was that if we had any hope at all of solving this puzzle, we had to ask ourselves one overriding question: “What would Tom Riddle do?” And not let ourselves be distracted from the answer.

The indications we had at the time initially lead to the conclusion that Riddle created the first five of his Horcruxes comparatively quickly after the discussion with Slughorn. The majority of us believed that he had hidden all of the ones he had made by the time he returned from his first exile.

I was no longer quite so sure of that.

I was now inclined to believe that he kept the ones he had by then in his own possession. Three of the ones that we know about were artifacts of sufficient interest and value to be kept for their own sakes. And kept on display to boot. There was no reason for anyone to suspect that they were anything other than what they appeared. I suspected that the fourth, the unknown one, may have been in much the same vein. In any case, it would have been in the form of something that no one would question his possession of.

And while someone among his followers who knew about Horcruxes (which is unlikely, since just about all of his followers are either Riddle’s own age or younger) might conceivably have theorized that one of his collection of artifacts might be one, they would hardly have leapt to the conclusion that they all were.

****

So: what would Tom Riddle do?

Well, what has Tom Riddle done?

Most of us believed he had created the Diary Horcrux before he turned 17 because the Diary revenant told us that it was put into the book when it was 16, and the revenant had no obvious reason to be lying about the matter. Tom already had possession of the Ring by that time, so it isn’t much of a stretch to assume that he may not have wasted much time in creating that one, either.

He could have created the Ring first. In fact, he probably had. Maybe that’s the reason he felt he could be so blasé about creating the Diary as a weapon as well as a safeguard. He already knew that he had another in reserve. (Hold that thought.)

But we didn’t know that for certain. And from other indications it wasn’t the most probable answer. He seems to have kept the Diary in his own possession longer than just about any of the others, so he probably felt safe enough regarding it’s security.

He made off with the Cup and the Locket (and the Ring, and the Diary) by the time he was 21–26 or thereabouts. Surely it didn’t take him all 10 years to turn them into Horcruxes. And he had almost certainly done so before he returned to the ww. Which was sometime around 1960 give or take 2–3 years.

At some point, probably before his return, he created another.

And then, in 1981, he at last decided to create his final one.

Why wait so long?

Well, Dumbledore did say that Tom Riddle liked to use artifacts of some grandeur — with a history and significance for his Horcruxes, preferably ones that had associations with the Founders (or with himself).

That supposition certainly seemed to be true at the end of HBP. Given a choice in the matter Tom will certainly use an artifact “of virtue”. And it is clear that he really did originally want to use Godric's Sword, which he could only get at if he stayed there at Hogwarts. But he doesn’t absolutely insist on that. The Diary was from someplace like Woolworth’s. It’s only discernible virtue was that it belonged to him, and contained some of his secrets.

I still tend to think that Tom had originally intended to create his Horcruxes from artifacts that were significant to himself. The Ring was directly connected to him and his family history, and his search for the locket (which he learned about at the same time as the ring) was for the same reason. I am convinced that his decision to hang around at Borgin & Burkes was part of an attempt to trace the Slytherin Locket, the existence of which he had learned of from his encounter with Morfin Gaunt.

Before DHs came out I thought that it was only when poor, silly Madam Smith waved Helga’s cup under his nose, that he decided to branch out and collect artifacts associated with all the other Founders as well. Now, of course we know that he got the idea of collecting the whole set before he finished school, back when he managed to sweet-talk the story of the Ravenclaw diadem out of the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw.

Albus had also claimed that Tom liked to reserve the creation of Horcruxes for “significant” deaths. I’m even less convinced of the truth this statement, and I remain so (Rowling seems to have completely jettisoned it). But in at least one case I think Riddle did have a specific and, to him, highly significant death in mind. Which is what created his problem.

He wanted to use Godric's sword for it, and with Albus in charge of the school, he couldn't get at the sword.

And he was saving that Horcrux up for the death of Albus Dumbledore.

****

Tom Riddle had committed three murders by means of the Avada Kedavra Curse at the age of 15. Albus tells us so directly. He committed these murders in the summer before his 5th year, which we know to be the case, for he stole the Peverill ring at the same time, and we saw him already wearing the ring in his interview with Slughorn, presumably during his 5th year, although that interview could conceivably have taken place in the Autumn term of his 6th.

By his return to the ww after his first 10-year exile, he had created at least 3 Horcruxes, the Ring, the Locket and the Cup. He had probably also created his “mystery Horcrux”.

Many fans have been assuming that the murders of his father and his paternal grandparents probably accounted for three of these. We do not know whose deaths contributed to the others.

I now think (in defiance of Rowling’s statements on the subject) that any assumptions associating the murder of the Riddles with Tom Riddle’s Horcruxes are simply wrong.

Rowling never gave us any information on how one actually creates a Horcrux, beyond the fact that it is necessary to commit a murder to do it. Nor does she specify what type of a killing will split your soul. I am not convinced that just any sort of a kill even will do it. As I’ve stated in a number of places, killing other people may be required in the line of duty. It is the duty of a soldier in a shooting war to attempt to kill the enemy. The Harry Potter series is repeatedly referred to as the story of a war. Does a “duty” killing split your soul? Well, perhaps.

What about killing in self-defense? How about while defending someone else? Probably. Such splits can be mended by the application of a proper remorse, we are now told.

What about accidental killings? We can’t be sure about those.

Say you fly into a rage and hit someone with a rock, in the heat of the moment, not necessarily intending to kill? What if you knock someone down and they manage to fall wrong and die of it? Yes, I can see it counting and remorse as a possible remedy.

But what about attempted killings that don’t come off? The murderous intent was there. What if you poison someone with a slow-acting poison and they get help before it kills them? Throw an AK at them and miss? This whole issue is far too mushy, too inexact. We cannot draw a solid conclusion from such wiffle-waffle statements on the subject as we have gotten from Slughorn.

I am not even convinced that the “official” version of Hepzibah Smith’s death could be counted as a murder that Riddle himself, committed, for all that he was responsible for it. Not if it really happened the way it was reported. So far as anyone has ever been able to establish it was Hokey who actually poisoned her mistress. Whether under Imperius, or a Confundus charm or not.

Which raises the question; was Tom actually at Madam Smith’s house that night? Did Tom poison her himself and plant a false memory in Hokey as he had done with Morfin Gaunt? It’s certainly possible. It’s the only way that he would have been able to create a Horcrux from her death, and for a wonder, I do believe Rowling when she tells us that the Cup was created as a Horcrux from the murder of Hepzibah Smith. But we do know that while Hokey might have poisoned her mistress, she certainly didn’t steal the cup and the locket. I say Tom was there. Madam Smith would certainly have welcomed him, had he turned up there one evening, whether by prior arrangement or not. And turning Helga’s cup into a Horcrux, using the death of one of Helga’s descendants to do it would have certainly appealed to him.

Moaning Myrtle’s death cannot be directly attributed to him, however. Myrtle was killed by the Basilisk, which was simply behaving in accordance with its nature as a Basilisk. Riddle at the very least was responsible for the death, yes. But since we cannot with any certainty state that either Myrtle was unquestionably slain “by his hand” I am not convinced that her death would have had any effect upon the integrity of his soul.

We might be completely justified in, for simplicity, adopting the reading that only murders committed by some form of killing curse will split your soul. And that the splitting of the caster’s soul is an intrinsic part of why such curses are classified as Unforgivable.

And that killing spiders, or for that matter, flies with one does not qualify.

We might also postulate that in order to split your soul, you have to use the curse to kill something that has a soul. And the victim has to actually die. Throwing a curse with lousy aim and shattering rocks with it doesn’t split your soul no matter how murderous your intent might be.
And if Rowling means something else, then she needs to explain it to us.

****

Or, maybe, just maybe, I wondered whether we ought to be asking ourselves a whole different set of questions. Because I’d come to around to the view that all of the above might turn out to be barking up the wrong tree. There are a cartload of assumptions in play regarding Horcruxes here, and I was beginning to suspect that most of them were wrong. It should be noted that at the time I am now speaking of, I had not yet disected the matter to the point of realizing that possession was an intrinsic part of the process.

For example:

Did we really know that creating a Horcrux is a two-step process?

First the kill, and then move the fragment to it’s external housing?

I didn’t think we did.

After all, if Harry is a Horcrux, Voldemort certainly didn’t get a chance to make two tries at it.

Just what did we actually know about Horcruxes at the end of HBP? What had we been told?

Slughorn stated that there is “a spell”, (NOT a pair of spells) to actually create a Horcrux. We’d been led to assume that this spell takes a piece of an already fragmented soul and merely moves it into an external housing. I was not so sure about that by then. I’m even less so now.

For one thing, such a simple matter of merely “moving furniture” certainly doesn’t sound like an act of supreme evil in and of itself. Which according to Slughorn is what he claims is necessary to create a Horcrux. And Slughorn started dithering whenever Riddle’s questions were directed to the spell — which in Slughorn’s account seems to be intimately associated with the actual act of murder. Merely moving the fragments around certainly wouldn’t explain Slughorn’s agitation upon being asked further details about “the spell”.

We’d all been assuming for years that the curse Harry survived as an infant was the Avada Kedavra curse. Crouch/Moody told us so in front of his whole class. And we believed him.

But Crouch Jr wasn’t there in Godric’s Hollow. And I very much doubt that he knew anything about Voldemort’s Horcruxes. He couldn’t know which curse Voldemort used at Godric’s Hollow. And, Albus Dumbledore’s apparent confirmation of “what everyone knows” is one of those faintly screwy statements he made in HBP. And between his “I make mistakes” disclaimer and the possibility of John’s Scar-o-Vision filter, I had a hard time simply accepting it at face value by the end of the book.

Everyone assumes that Voldemort used an AK, because the AK is “the killing curse”. But it is hardly the only curse that kills. It’s just the one that is Unforgivable, and it is also the one known to be unblockable. A 15-month-old baby is not going to be doing a lot of curse-blocking. Riddle could have used any sort of fatal spell to try to kill Harry. In fact, I think he used the Horcrux-creation curse.

And the Horcrux creation curse cannot be just a simple AK.

Slughorn stated that there is “a spell” to create a Horcrux. “You split your soul, you see,” said Slughorn, “and you 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...” All he tells us beyond that is that in order to split the soul one must commit murder. That sounds rather as if the actual committing of the murder is an absolutely intrinsic part of the procedure, not a preliminary step.

I think that if you go back and reread Slughorn’s memory carefully, you will not find anything in that (extremely dithery) account to absolutely contradict the interpretation that “the spell” to create the Horcrux IS the spell which actually splits the caster’s soul — and murders the victim — and also makes it possible to redirect the resulting fragment into it’s external housing.

And this reading might explain why although Albus is obviously prepared to have the students of his school taught about the AK curse in the course of their education — even though Crouch/Moody tells us that he isn’t supposed to be introducing this material before 6th year — knowing that they may in some extreme circumstance be required to use it (and which is only Unforgivable when used against humans, and the ww is overrun with monsters), he successfully banned the entire subject of Horcruxes with their intrinsic component of human sacrifice more than a dozen years before becoming Headmaster.

Which all suggested to me that Albus Dumbledore might know more about Horcruxes than Tom Riddle did. In fact, he may very well have figured out what he was up against within 10 minutes after Riddle arrived at that meeting to ask for the DADA post, and showed him his altered face. There can’t be very many things which would produce that kind of a physical effect.

****

What I propose is that it is the actual splitting of the caster’s soul that is the purpose of that spell. Murder is just the by-product of it. The toxic waste, as it were. This is murder in cold blood, as an abominable means to a blasphemous end which has nothing to do with the victim. A person (and I would be willing to guarantee that it has to be a *person*) slaughtered to create a Horcrux cannot necessarily even take his own murder personally. This, by almost anyone’s definition is an act of supreme evil.

The purpose of AK is to kill its target. There may be a perfectly good, entirely justifiable, reason to want to kill a target. And that target does not have to be human. It only has to be living. All living things will one day die. To hasten a death prematurely is deplorable, and it may be wrong, but it is not unnatural.

Ergo: The Avada Kedavra Curse does not inherently split the soul into bits.

Corollary: The Horcrux-creation curse is not unblockable. We have been directly told that only the AK is unblockable. We no longer have to invent arcane reasons for how Lily managed to block it. Rowling just handed us a perfectly logical explanation.

Or so I thought at the time.

Added to this, while it might be hypothetically possible to possess a victim and then kill them with a standard AK, we have no guarantee that the damage to the soul produced by that AK would actually tear the portion of soul possessing the victim off. Nor does a failed AK ever rebound upon it’s caster (or not when cast from a normal wand, anyway). It would merely damage whatever it did hit. If Tom possessed Harry, then shot an AK at him which hit Lily instead, he would have merely killed Lily, leaving him able to make another attempt. And the failed attempt would show up in the Priori Incantatum “log”. There was no record of ANY spell in the yew wand’s log between the murder of Lily Potter and the murder of Bertha Jorkins.

In fact, consider the Diary revenant’s response upon learning that Harry had survived because his mother had died to save him: “So. Your mother died to save you. Yes, that’s a powerful counter-charm. I can see now...”

Excuse me; but we have all been told very clearly and quite directly that Avada Kedavra has no known counter-charm.

Ergo: Voldemort did not, as I had originally supposed, try to kill Harry with some mysteriously modified variant of the AK Curse.

He did not try to kill Harry with the AK curse at all.

He tried to kill him with the Horcrux-creation curse.

The weak point of my original Changeling Hypothesis had always been the necessity of having to extrapolate magic which was not known to exist in canon. It took nearly 9 months post-HBP to realize that such magic quite certainly DOES exist in canon. We just do not know its name.

And, what’s more. If that is what happened at Godric’s Hollow, I thought we might yet get a solid confirmation of it.

There was a witness, after all.

Oh, yes. I was sure that Pettigrew was there. Nobody had thought to ask him whether Harry survived an AK. Nobody ever seems to remember to ask Pettigrew anything. And he never volunteers information. He could probably tell us whether the spell that rebounded was an AK — or something else that he had never heard of before. If we ever managed to catch up to him. And thought to pop the question when we did it. Like I say, people seem to have an inordinate amount of trouble remembering to do that where Peter is concerned.

(ETA: and we are still overlooking the fact that he had to be present when the Nagini-Horcrux was made, let alone be been the one to create the BabyMort homunculus. He’s hardly what I would call a magical nonentity. Seems to be one of the most accomplished Dark wizards in canon.)

I humbly extended my apologies to any correspondents who had earlier contended that the creation of a Horcrux had to take place at the same time as the murder that made it, for having originally pooh-poohed their theory. They were right. I was wrong.

Or so I was finally convinced. I still am. Rowling is wrong. She never bothered to work out the issue of how Horcruxes are made, so I say that she still doesn't know. All that mattered from where she was standing is that they had been.

****

Consequently: we need to reconsider the assumption that Tom used the murder of his father to create his first Horcrux. Or that the Diary even was the first Horcrux. He certainly didn’t create it from the death of Moaning Myrtle, Rowling notwithstanding.

The Diary Horcrux was already such a bundle of “experimental” magic that it may seem premature to dismiss the possibility. But it really doesn’t look very likely. Not now that we know a bit more about the matter.

Rowling had Albus tell us that Tom killed the Riddles the summer of “his 16th year”. (i.e., the summer before he turned 16.)

He was already wearing the Peverill ring when he asked Slughorn about Horcruxes. But although he was wearing the Ring in that interview, he was not wearing his “elegantly wasted” appearance.

What now raises a much bigger issue, is the question of how Tom managed to create a Horcrux while he was still underage, off of everyone’s radar.

For that matter, how he managed to kill the Riddles while still under the Trace.

Because even Dumbledore, who probably knew even more about Horcruxes than Riddle did, and knew that Riddle wrote in that Diary when he was 16 still tells Harry that he doesn’t think Riddle committed any murders between those of his father and grandparents in the summer of 1942 and that of Hepzibah Smith some five–10 years later. (Providing yet another temptation to apply that Scar-o-Vision filter.)

Unless Albus was just being obnoxiously literal and fudging the truth again, which would be perfectly in character. He may not be willing to admit to knowing there was a murder if he cannot put an actual name to it. And he is clearly not counting the death of Moaning Myrtle.

Because if creating a Horcrux is known to cause a physical effect upon the creator’s appearance, then Albus must, at the very least, have been retroactively suspicious of Riddle’s “elegantly wasted” appearance during his interview with Madam Smith.

But that does not mean that the Horcrux Tom had created by that point was the Diary. He already had possession of the Ring. Which Harry did not notice him wearing in the interview with Madam Smith.

Why is it so hard to believe that he may have managed to commit an additional murder, that not even Albus heard the slightest hint of? While still under the Trace? Without any mention of there having been a suspicious death around that time? It really does seem the most likely solution, given our persistent and continuing lack of information. But somehow that explanation just doesn’t satisfy.

Whatever Tom did, he either did it in a (probably unsavory) wizarding district (in Hogsmeade? Knockturn Alley?) and it escaped notice, or he did it somewhere outside of the ww, but was able to get away from the area quickly enough that the inevitable report of magic performed among Muggles did not identify him.

And the more you think about it, the less likely it seems that Tom could have created a Horcrux, off the map, while he was still being monitored for underage sorcery. After he was of age, out of school, working in Knockturn Alley, and on his own is another matter.

All that stands in the way of it is the Diary revenant's statement that it had been put into the book when Riddle was 16.

Well, the memories of what had happened in 1943 had been. There is no question about that. Riddle was 16 when he recorded those events in that diary.

But the memories from June of 1943 are definitely not the soul fragment which turned the diary into a Horcrux. The fragment should have had its own memories. Later memories. Even if only from later in 1943. Hold that thought.

It is just possible that my extrapolation in the recent ‘Minding the Gap’ essay could be on the right track and Tom had somehow managed to get himself removed from the Trace over the summer of ’42. The whole business of the Trace was a piece of inexcusably lazy explanation in itself, one that raises far more questions than it answers.

Harry’s warning notices in CoS and OotP both identified the spell and place of occurrence, and were delivered to Harry as the nearest known wizard to those locations. They did not identify the wizard or the wand which had actually cast the spell. (Indeed, Dobby’s hover spell was performed wandlessly.) If Riddle split his soul, committed a murder, and created his first Horcrux somewhere well away from any of his known haunts, the blame could easily have fallen upon somebody else in the area. Riddle has established a pattern of doing that sort of thing when he is working independently. But I still doubt he could have done it while he was personally being monitored for underage sorcery.

It wasn’t Myrtle’s death that created the Diary Horcrux anyway (despite what Rowling has to say about it now). The revenant effectively tells us that Riddle did not do anything until after Hagrid was expelled. Which was some time after Myrtle was killed. And every one of the visions that the revenant shows us took place after that death. I seriously think that anyone could have continued to enter data into that diary after it had been converted into a Horcrux. Ergo; it was still a diary at least until the end of the school year.

****

Which reminds us: the whole subject of Horcruxes is banned at Hogwarts.

Was already banned before Albus became Headmaster or Riddle even started asking about them.

So where did Riddle learn how to create one?

Where did he even learn enough to decide to ask Slughorn about them?

And no, I don’t accept Rowling's lame-arsed attempt at a retrofit by pretending that Sluggy was lying, and the books were just sitting right there in the Restricted Section until Albus became Headmaster.

Well, a fan by the name of Felicity on the old HogwartsProfessor.com forum made one particularly good suggestion. In the Room of Requirement, in its aspect as the Room of Hidden Things Harry notes:

There were thousands and thousands of books, no doubt banned or graffitied or stolen.

Tom had discovered a lot of the castle’s secrets by the end of his first year as a Prefect. Or even earlier. The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, little Aragog, probably more than one of the hidden tunnels, it isn’t too much of a stretch to suspect that he may have discovered the Room of Hidden Things as well. In fact we can now be sure that he did. He was all over the Castle for his first five years looking for the entrance to Salazar’s Chamber of Secrets. And Tom is the sort of boy who might very well have wanted to hide something, himself, in any case.

Riddle may have discovered the term “Horcrux” in the same book that Hermione later found that one remaining reference to them. But that book does not go into the subject. It does not even define the term.

He seems to have learned what a Horcrux is from Horace Slughorn. But he did not learn from Slughorn how to create one.

However, Slughorn did also drop the information that the subject of Horcruxes is banned at Hogwarts. This information was probably not the deterrent that poor old Horace had intended it to be.

He had inadvertently told Tom exactly where he needed to go to find the information he wanted.

****

Of course there are any number of other possibilities in play as well. We were told that Tom always spent the summer break at his orphanage. But by the time he was asking Dippett to let him stay at school for the summer he was already 16 and the probability is that now that he was old enough to legally work for a living, his orphanage wouldn’t have accepted him back on any consideration. And for that matter, he may have been shown the door any time up to a couple of years earlier. We have no information on what he did with himself over the summers after that.

But, even at the age of 11 Tom informs us that he was in the habit of roaming about London unsupervised. And from the age of 11 he knew how to get into Diagon Alley. Where he could have met up with anyone from school.

And many of his schoolmates came from families with private libraries.

I rather suspect that Tom could have managed to garner an invitation to visit a schoolmate, or series of schoolmates, during any summer, if he chose to, and didn’t have other obligations. Or to have just gone home with any of them for tea after a “chance” meeting in Diagon — or Knockturn — Alley. Such meetings would be even more easily arranged if he was actually working in one of the shops over the summer. Many of his classmates would have considered it an honor to get some individual time with clever Tom. And such visits would have been quite untraceable a few years later, when Dumbledore was trying to follow Tom’s backtrail.

And later, as an employee of Borgin & Burkes he may have had reason to pay calls on old schoolmates on behalf of his employers, many of whose families may well have patronized the shop. Some of them on a fairly regular basis. The Blacks, for example, were even related by marriage to the founder. No, going to work for B&B was not a waste of Tom Riddle’s time or talents.

And, after all, if Regulus Black before he was even out of school was able to figure out that Lord Voldemort had ensured his immortality by creating a Horcrux, it stands to reason that he had access to that kind of information, too. In fact he probably needed to do no more than look it up in his own family’s library at #12.

And by that point in the series, Harry and his friends also had access to that library.

****

Which also raises the long-standing, low-level nagging question of why Tom even had that diary. Why, after all, would Tom Riddle have had a Muggle diary with him in which to record the events of the later half of his 5th year?

Was he already in the habit of keeping a diary? I suppose he could have been. But we hadn’t been given any particular reason to think so. Frankly, in retrospect, the diary reads as something that Rowling suddenly pulled out of her hat for her own convenience.

Most fans assume that he went out and bought it, or stole it, as soon as he returned to London and immediately put his memories of the year into it.

But I am not at all sure that really plays. The Diary revenant was able to take Harry into his memory to show him what he wanted — to the very day.

That does not sound like a random retrofit. It sounds more as if the events of that year had already been recorded day-by-day as they happened.

And then were concealed later.

For that matter, the whole diary functioned as a Pensieve, and that doesn’t sound like a random retrofit, either.

Post-HBP, we had also discovered the existence of Morfin Gaunt, and that Tom had a track record of dabbling in memory modification. I now think that the diary may have been an experiment in memory storage.

I think that his on-the-fly experience of tampering with his uncle Morfin’s memory, the previous summer, had given Tom ideas, and he bought or lifted a couple of diaries from the local Woolworth’s to experiment with in his following year at Hogwarts. He couldn’t have known in advance that this was going to be the year that he would strike gold over the Chamber of Secrets, but, when he did, it enhanced the value of the 1943 volume immeasurably. It was like encountering a once-in-a-lifetime event when you actually manage to have a camera with you.

The next toppling domino to hit me on the head was the realization that the Diary was probably not the first Horcrux at all; it was the fifth one. He made that one primarily as a weapon, and he didn’t make it until he decided he needed that particular weapon. i.e., he produced the diary as a diary in 1943, but he created the Diary as a Horcrux in 1981.

When you stop and think about it, Harry caught a flash of Lord Voldemort’s red eyes in the face of young Tom Riddle down there in the Chamber. Young Tom Riddle didn’t have red eyes. The memories which gave the revenant its form were those of the 16-year-old Riddle, but there is no reason to assume that the soul that informed it would have been. And the Diary revenant would have had every reason to lie to Harry Potter about that.

If I am right, by the time Lord Voldemort created the Diary as a weapon, he already knew about the existence of Harry Potter. And the Prophecy related to him. And whatever he didn’t know Ginny had filled him in on.

Since the Horcrux function was added so much later, the Diary revenant may even have had some hazy recollection of it’s original source’s actions and intentions right up to the year of his defeat, well after the dates that the memories which formed it’s appearance had been put into the book. This is not certain, for by any comparison the fragment in Harry certainly seems to have no recollection of its former existence. But I seriously doubt that 16-year-old Riddle’s eyes were ever red, regardless of what kind of light he was in. So, it may just be safer to consider that anything the revenant has to say about what happened when may be thoroughly compromised and not to be taken for granted as being the truth.

Which makes it all really very much simpler, all round. It also removes all of the time constraints over just when Tom Riddle learned how Horcruxes are made, or explaining how he managed to make one while he was still being monitored for underage sorcery.

It also may explain the reason for why the Diary was so much saner than the Locket. The Diary had been dumped into a variant of a Pensieve. With memories, complete with all the memories’ images and sounds to inhabit. It may have been trapped in one year of the creator’s past for 11 years, but it wasn’t necessarily altogether sensory-deprived.

****

What this raises instead is the question of; when did Tom discover how effectively one of his Horcruxes would reach out and try to take take possession of someone? Even if the book that Hermione later stole from Dumbledore’s office mentions that, it seems to claim that first the victim has to have become attached to it.

After all, to do that was the whole point of creating that Diary Horcrux.

We may also need to consider the fact that the Diary took care to obliviate its little host(ess) after each use in order to string out the situation as long as it could. How did it know to do that? It really doesn’t come across as something that 16-year-old Tom would have spared a thought for.

And for that matter, the Diary didn’t just reach out and grab people at random. It only reached out and tried to get a grip on the people who wrote in it. By the time it was turned into a Horcrux, Tom had given it an interactive interface. Probably to limit its focus to only one victim.

16-Year-old Tom would have never thought to do that, either.

****

Well, we do have a couple of possibilities for when Tom might have discovered the general “grabbiness” of his Horcruxes. In HBP Albus tells us that Tom discovered that after he had turned it into a Horcrux he didn’t care to wear the Ring any more.

I’m not quite sure how that works. Neither does Rowling evidently, since she discretely buried the whole line of inquiry under the Dumbledore backstory when she finally got around to writing DHs. I mean, how do you notice that you are trying to take control over yourself? From outside? Even better, explain to me please how exactly Albus Dumbledore is supposed to have discovered that.

It’s a lot easier for me to believe that he created the Ring and hid it in the ruins of the Gaunt hovel as a traveler’s insurance policy just before leaving on his trip to Albania, and that Albus is talking through his hat.

A rather more interesting possibility turned up under one of the rocks that Swythyv and I kicked over in the course of our e-mail discussion:

It really does seem evident that once Tom knew that there was a Prophecy out there related to his downfall, he started hiding those Horcruxes that he had kept with him. Admittedly the Diadem seems to have been stowed in the 7th floor storage room at Hogwarts as early as his return to Britain, and we have no idea as to why — apart from the convenience of the author. The Ring, as I say, I think had been hidden in the Gaunt hovel since some time around 1947 or ’48. But the Locket only went into the sea cave in 1980, the Diary was handed to Lucius in ’81, and he had entrusted the Cup to Bellatrix somewhere around the same period.

Uh-oh.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

Bellatrix. Add Horcrux, shake well.

Good lord, she’d have rolled over for it in a New York minute. Talk about getting attached to the damned things. And by that time the bloody Cup wouldn’t have been even remotely sane.

That one wasn’t deliberately built as a weapon. It wouldn’t have tried to conceal it’s intentions or obliviate its effects. It would have simply reached out, grabbed her, and taken her over. And she would have been delighted to serve as its vessel. To be as one with her Master? To be her Master? That’s her idea of paradise. (“He shares everything with me!”)

Is that what’s actually wrong with Bella? She enjoyed being possessed by Tom, and wants it back? His lack of any sort of respect for any social contract may have struck her as enormously liberating. And she keeps trying to get close enough to him for him to do it again. And it’s the last thing he intends to do.

Because I cannot see that Tom would have been best pleased by that development. I don’t think he’d have found that development either convenient or discrete. And he sure the hell wouldn’t have welcomed a potential doppelganger right in the middle of his organization. Not to mention that it completely blew the whole “secret” of what that Cup he’d entrusted to her was right out of the water. It is obvious that Bellatrix knows about that particular Horcrux.

I had earlier speculated that he’d given Bella the Locket and told her to put it in the cave. But Rowling didn’t choose to go there. And this is shaping up to be an extremely worthy alternate.

I think that once he managed to make it turn her loose — for they don’t seem to take the host over 24/7, or not at first — he gave her instructions to put it away somewhere that it wouldn’t be in contact with her. I would imagine that his instructions to Bella were so emphatic that she didn’t even dare to remove the Cup from the vault after he disappeared.

But the incident would have been enough to set him to thinking over the possibilities of creating one that was specifically designed as a weapon which was intended to take someone over. And he’d deal with the consequences once he’d got what he wanted out of the situation.

To wit: the death of Albus Dumbledore.

****

Of course what this whole line of speculation does is to give the stupid “One Ring” behavior of the Locket some legitimacy after all.

It still doesn’t explain Umbridge’s apparent immunity. That’s still a loose end, dangling, twisting in the wind. Like I say, there are just too many contradictions and bits of illogic scattered through the whole issue of Tom Riddle and his Horcruxes to be able to ever draft out anything like a Unified Theory of Everything which would actually be able to take all of it into account. Rowling rewrote the rules at least once too often for that.

But the presence on site of a determinedly grabby Horcrux might explain something of the atmosphere of #12 over the course of OotP. That locket had been sitting there in the display case in the parlor since 1980. And when Sirius threw it out, Kreachur had immediately pulled it out of the rubbish bin and hid it in his nest. So it was still there in the house. And now it was even closer to the kitchen where everyone tended to gather. I expect that, Molly Weasley’s cooking notwithstanding, moping, sulking and squabbling rapidly became the order of the day.

To say nothing of 16 years of exposure to it on Kreachur’s part.

Mundungus Fletcher didn’t take the damned thing out of the house until after Sirius was dead and the Order had cleared out.

But if it was going to possess anyone in that time it would have been Kreachur, and it didn’t. I’m not sure that House Elves can be possessed by the souls of wizards. It would interfere with their geas to serve.

Although there is the fact that he hadn’t cleaned anything in a decade, isn’t there?

Nor do we know how long Walburga Black had been acting like her portrait.

I think old Arcturus had a lucky escape when he decided to move in with his daughter.

It might be relevant to keep that factor in mind when re-examining Sirius’s steady decline in mental stability over the course of the year, and even to reflect upon Walburga’s last five years in that house alone with only Kreachur — and that Locket.

****

Well this looks like as good a stopping point as any.

The ongoing exploration of Tom Riddle and his Horcruxes continues in the following essay.