Nagini as Horcrux[*]
In an interview with The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet in July 2005, Rowling said,
“Dumbledore’s guesses are never very far wide of the mark. I don’t want to give too much away here, but Dumbledore says, ‘There are four out there, you’ve got to get rid of four, and then you go for Voldemort.’ So that’s where he is, and that’s what he’s got to do. . . . . It’s a huge order. But Dumbledore has given him some pretty valuable clues and Harry, also, in the course of previous six books has amassed more knowledge than he realizes. That’s all I am going to say.
So what were Dumbledore’s guesses?
“. . . 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?”
“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 prophesy had outlined. He believed he was making himself invincible. I am sure that he was intending to make his final Horcrux with your death.
“As we know, he failed. After an interval of some years, however, he used Nagini to kill an old Muggle man, and it might then have occurred to him to turn her into his last Horcrux. 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 certain likes to keep her close, and he seems to have an unusual amount of control over her, even for a Parselmouth.”
“So,” said Harry, “the diary’s gone, the ring’s gone. The cup, the locket, and the snake are still intact, and you think there might be a Horcrux that once was something of Ravenclaw’s or Gryffindor’s?”
“An admirably succinct and accurate summary, yes,” said Dumbledore, bowing his head.
Before getting into the arguments for Nagini as Horcrux, an
explanation must be given for Dumbledore’s assumption that Voldemort
had used Nagini to kill Frank Bryce since we know Babymort cast an AK
to kill Frank. First, Dumbledore was drawing a parallel to young Tom
Riddle’s use of Slytherin’s basilisk to kill Moaning Myrtle, and
second, Dumbledore knew from reading Muggle newspapers that Frank Bryce
had disappeared without a trace (GF30), so Dumbledore may have assumed
Nagini killed on Voldemort’s orders and ate Frank Bryce’s body, which
was not a crazy assumption given that Voldemort planned to feed Harry’s
body to Nagini after the rebirthing ceremony:
“Nagini,” said the cold voice, “you are out of luck. I will not be feeding Wormtail to you, after all . . . but never mind, never mind . . . there is still Harry Potter . . . .”
We got our initial information about Horcruxes (“wickedest of
magical inventions”) from Slughorn, who said a Horcrux is “an object in
which a person has concealed part of their soul.” To make a
Horcrux, the soul needs to be split first by a supreme act of
evil—murder—so that a torn portion could be encased in the object.
“Then, even if one’s body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for
part of the soul becomes earthbound and undamaged.” (HBP23) Slughorn
did not know the spell used to encase the torn soul fragment in the
“And so you volunteer to go and fetch me a substitute? I wonder . . . perhaps the task of nursing me has become wearisome for you, Wormtail? Could this suggestion of abandoning the plan be nothing more than an attempt to desert me?
“My Lord! I—I have no to wish to leave you, none at all—“
“Do not lie to me!” hissed the second voice. “I can always tell, Wormtail! You are regretting that you ever returned to me. I revolt you. I see you flinch when you look at me, feel you shudder when you touch me . . . “
“No! My devotion to your Lordship—“
“Your devotion is nothing more than cowardice. You would not be here if you had anywhere else to go. How am I to survive without you, when I need feeding every few hours? Who is to milk Nagini?”
“But you seem so much stronger, My Lord—“
“Liar,” breathed the second voice. “I am no stronger, and few days alone would be enough to rob me of the little health I have regained under your clumsy care.”
What was Babymort’s condition?
“It was as though Wormtail had flipped over a stone and revealed something ugly, slimy, and blind—but worse, a hundred times worse. The thing Wormtail had been carrying had the shape of a crouched human child, except that Harry had never seen anything less like a child. It was hairless and scaly-looking, a dark, raw, reddish black. Its arms and legs were thin and feeble, and its face—no child ever had a face like that—flat and snakelike, with gleaming red eyes.
The thing was almost helpless: it raised its thin arms, put them around Wormtail’s neck, and Wormtail lifted it. As he did so, his hood fell back, and Harry saw the look of revulsion on Wormtail’s weak, pale face in the firelight as he carried the creature to the rim of the cauldron.
Voldemort knew it would be nearly a year before the ritual to
restore him to a full body with Harry’s blood would be performed, and
until then, he would be utterly dependent. Wormtail wasn’t happy
with the situation, and Babymort knew it. So he may have decided
to make a Horcrux out of Nagini for practical reasons. He would have
more control over Nagini if she contained part of his soul, so he would
be able to use her to keep Wormtail in line. If Wormtail did abandon
him, Nagini would be able to act as his scout and messenger to find
another Death Eater and lead him or her to the Riddle house. Voldemort
clearly didn’t want his Death Eaters to see him as Babymort, which is
why he and Wormtail made no contact with any all year except for the
necessary contact with Barty Crouch, Jr. Voldemort didn’t summon them
until he was back in a full body with full powers.
“The dream changed . . . .
His body felt smooth, powerful, and flexible. He was gliding between shining metal bars, across, cold stone. . . . He was flat against the floor, sliding along on his belly. . . . It was dark, yet he could see objects around him shimmering in strange, vibrant colors. . . . He was turning his head. . . . At first glance, the corridor was empty . . . but no . . . a man was sitting on the floor ahead, his chin drooping onto his chest, his outline gleaming in the dark. . . .
Harry put out his tongue. . . . He tested the man’s scent on the air. . . . He was alive but drowsing . . .sitting in front of a door at the end of the corridor . . .
Harry longed to bite the man . . .but he must master the impulse . . . he had more important work to do . . . .
But the man was stirring . . . a silvery cloak fell from his legs as he jumped to his feet; and Harry saw his vibrant, blurred outline towering above him, saw a wand withdrawn from a belt. . . .He had no choice. . . . He reared high from the floor and struck once, twice, three times, plunging his fangs deeply into the man’s flesh, feeling his ribs splinter beneath his jaws, feeling the warm gush of blood. . . . .
The man was yelling in pain . . . then he fell silent. . . . He slumped backward against the wall. . . . Blood was splattering onto the floor. . . .
His forehead hurt terribly. . . . It was aching fit to burst. . . .
On the night Harry saw Arthur attacked by Nagini, Dumbledore
ran a test with one of his little whirring, silver, smoky instruments.
We don’t know what nonverbal command Dumbledore gave to the instrument
when he tapped it with wand, but a after a few seconds, a snake took
form out of the smoke. When Dumbledore said, “But it essence divided?”
the smoky snake divided into two snakes. I don’t know for sure what
Dumbledore meant by “in essence divided,” but he surely was performing
an experiment directly related to Harry’s dream about the snake attack.
“Dumbledore now swooped down upon one of the fragile silver instruments whose function Harry had never known, carried it over to his desk, sat down facing them again, and tapped it gently with the tip of his wand.
The instruments tinkled into life at once with rhythmic clinking noises. Tiny puffs of pale green smoke issued from the miniscule silver tube at the top. Dumbledore watched the smoke closely, his brow furrowed, and after a few seconds, the tiny puffs became a steady stream of smoke that thickened and coiled in the air. . . . A serpent’s head grew out of the end of it, opening its mouth wide. Harry wondered whether the instrument was confirming his story: He looked eagerly at Dumbledore for a sign that he was right, but Dumbledore did not look up.
“Naturally, naturally,” murmured Dumbledore apparently to himself, still observing the stream of smoke without the slightest sign of surprise. “But in essence divided?”
Harry could make neither head nor tail of this question. The smoke serpent, however, split itself instantly into two snakes, both coiling and undulating in the dark air. With a look of grim satisfaction, Dumbledore gave the instrument another gentle tap with his wand: The clinking noise slowed and died, and the smoke serpents grew faint, became a formless haze, and vanished.”
As Snape later told Harry, “You seem to have visited the
snake’s mind because that was where the Dark Lord was at that
particular moment” . . . “He was possessing the snake at the time and
so you dreamed that you were inside it too. . . . “ (OP24) We
don’t know what command Dumbledore gave the silver instrument, but I
take this experiment as one of Dumbledore’s reasons for suspecting
Voldemort may have turned Nagini into a Horcrux; it may have confirmed
the possibility or likelihood of it, since Dumbledore was not 100%
certain that Nagini was a Horcrux. I do believe that following Harry’s
report and the experiment, Snape was asked to keep an eye on the
interaction between Nagini and Voldemort and report back to Dumbledore.
We do not know when Voldemort obtained Nagini, but Dumbledore knows the
snake’s name, knows Voldemort likes to keep her close, and knows
Voldemort has an unusual amount of control over her, even for a
“He was riding on the back of an eagle owl, soaring through the clear blue sky toward an old, ivy-covered house set high on a hillside. Lower and lower they flew, the wind blowing pleasantly in Harry’s face, until they reached a dark and broken window in the upper story of the house and entered. Now they were flying along a gloomy passageway, to a room at the very end . . . through the door they went, into a dark room whose windows were boarded up. . . .
Harry had left the owl’s back . . .he was watching, now, as it fluttered across the room, into a chair with its back to him. . . . There were two dark shapes on the floor beside the chair . . .both of them were stirring. . . .
One was a huge snake . . .the other was a man . . .a short, balding man, a man with watery eyes and a pointed nose . . .he was wheezing and sobbing on the hearth rug. . . .
“You are in luck, Wormtail,” said a cold, high-pitched voice from the depths of the chair in which the owl had landed. “You are very fortunate indeed. Your blunder has not ruined everything. He is dead.”
Harry awoke from the dream with his scar burning from
Voldemort’s torture of Wormtail, but what strikes me is that Harry
dreamt he was the snake in Order of the Phoenix whereas he dreamt he was merely flying next to the owl in the Goblet of Fire
dream. In the snake dream, Voldemort was possessing Nagini, so
Harry was mentally inside Nagini’s body along with Voldemort’s mind,
whereas in the owl dream, Harry was flying alongside the bird because
Voldemort’s mind was only dwelling on the owl that would bring news of
Barty Crouch, Sr.’s escape from Wormtail, not possessing the owl. In
both dreams, Harry’s scar connection was to Voldemort’s mind.
Dumbledore told Harry at the end of Order of the Phoenix
that on the night of the snake attack on Arthur, Harry had “entered so
far into his mind and thoughts that he sensed your presence.” (OP7)
“In choosing which boy to murder, he was also (without realising it) choosing which boy to anoint as the Chosen One—to give him tools no other wizard possessed—the scar and the ability it conferred, a magical window into Voldemort’s mind.”
Rowling appears to me to be working with a tripartite
anthropology (body + mind + soul) rather than a bipartite anthropology
(body + soul). From what I’ve read in the six books to date, the soul
is an essence that enables self-awareness, but it is separate from the
conscious mind/brain. A big hint came in Prisoner of Azkaban when
Lupin described what happens when a dementor’s kiss sucks the soul out
of a person. The victim’s brain could be working, but he or she would
have no memories because the soul enables self-awareness. Clearly
there must be another animating force keeping the body alive, so the
bipartite model doesn’t fit:
“You can exist without your soul, you know, as long as your brain and heart are still working. But you’ll have no sense of self anymore, no memory, no ... anything. There’s no chance at all of recovery. You’ll just—exist. As an empty shell. And your soul is gone forever ... lost.”
In Half-Blood Prince,
Dumbledore distinguished between Voldemort’s soul on one hand and his
mind/powers on the other, and it’s a curious statement given that
Vapormort was without a physical brain for 13 years, so he must be
referring to the conscious mind of Vapormort’s spectral self during
those years of exile in Albania:
. . . “Without his Hocruxes, Voldemort will be a mortal man with a maimed and diminished soul. Never forget, though, that while his soul may be damaged beyond repair, his brain and his magical powers remain intact (HBP23)
So it seems Dumbledore was correct when he told Harry in Chamber of Secrets that Voldemort had unintentionally transferred some of his powers into Harry:
“You can speak Parseltongue, Harry,” said Dumbledore calmly, “because Lord Voldemort—who is the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin—can speak Parseltongue. Unless I’m much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I’m sure. . . . “
‘”Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” Harry said, thunderstruck.
“It certainly seems so.”
“So I should be in Slytherin,” Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore’s face. “The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin’s power in me, and it—“
Some of Slytherin’s/Voldemort’s power had been transferred
into Harry when the killing curse backfired, not some of Voldemort’s
soul. There are two clues that support the transfer of
mind/powers to Harry. The brain that attacked Ron in the
Department of Mysteries left “thought scars” on Ron’s arms, and
according to Madam Pomfrey, “thoughts could leave deeper scarring than
almost anything else.” (OP38). The Sorting Hat is the other clue
since Rowling has unequivocally stated it is not a Horcrux, yet the
Sorting Hat is able to communicate telepathically with the students
wearing it and it looks into their minds to assess their current and
potential abilities (intelligence, magical talent, ambition,
fair-mindedness, etc.). Most importantly, we know from the Hat that
it’s able to do those things because “the founders put some brains in
Notes:[*] This essay was originally posted on the felicitys-mind LiveJournal, here: http://felicitys-mind.livejournal.com/3963.html.
© 2007 Felicity
edited by Paula Hall