stack of booksBack to Writing

Who Knew? Dissecting the Wizarding World’s Cluelessness about Voldemort’s Secret

After finishing The Deathly Hallows and taking the time to let it sink in, I found myself frustrated with Mrs. Rowling over a number of apparent plot flaws.  One of the most important is the whole issue of how, according to documented canon, no one other than Albus Dumbledore and Regulus Black (and, presumably, Horace Slughorn) independently figured out how Voldemort had secured his immortality.

Granted, the full gory details may be contained only in a single book, since Hermione says that Secrets of the Darkest Art is "the" book that gives detailed instruction, out of the many that she summoned.  But the information does exist.

It seems, if Hermione and Harry's suspicions are correct, that Albus only removed the book after becoming Headmaster in the mid-1950s.  This is curious; if the subject was banned before then, under Dippet's tenure or earlier, why was the material still available in the school library during Tom Riddle's time?  And who banned it originally?  Armando Dippet hardly seems like the sort of person who would take the initiative, and I suspect that he didn't.  I think that the one who did was Dumbledore, as soon as he assumed a position on the staff, which may very well have been when Phineas Nigellus Black was still Headmaster.

Whenever he joined, that school was probably effectively Dumbledore's from the moment he set foot in it as a teacher, given the portrayal of him in Deathly Hallows as a rising star as far back as the 1890s.  The original ban must have been a blanket forbiddance of any teacher to discuss it among students.  I can see Dumbledore giving Dippet an overview of the subject if he needed it (if we recall, every portrait in the office expressed “shock and outrage” upon hearing Harry’s rather prescient explosion about Riddle creating seven Horcruxes, suggesting that they were not at all ignorant about them), and pressuring Dippet into issuing the ban.  Since the past headmasters did seem to know all about them, not to mention a fairly young Slughorn, this ban had to have been enacted recently.  But Dumbledore had no authority to strip the library of material, and Dippet might not have wanted to go that far.  We know Dippet was not a Slytherin, because Phineas Nigellus had been the last before Snape; perhaps Dippet was a Ravenclaw who objected on principle to censoring the library.

However, despite the Hogwarts ban on the subject, the material on the subject continued to exist outside the school.  It had to, or how else would 18-year-old Regulus Black know about it in 1979, decades after the ban?  Indeed, I think we can take it as a certainty that there is a copy of Secrets, or some other text with the information, in the Black family library.  Given that Regulus expected Kreacher to be able to destroy the locket without giving him detailed instructions on how to do it, and was willing to die with that trust, I suspect that Regulus's source was something else, something less thorough than Secrets — probably a book that defined what a Horcrux was but gave no further explanation.  This, too, would explain why Rowling chose not to let the Trio learn how to destroy them from books in the Black house, though a Horcrux book certainly was there.  It would've opened up a nasty plot hole.  (I applaud her for catching this one.  I was afraid, given the apparent complexity of the Regulus situation prior to DH, that she would fall victim to some of the same plot holes and contradictions that R.A.B. fan theories fell to.)

And, given that it existed in the Black family library, I think we can posit that other old pureblood families, especially those with money to burn and a familial interest in the Dark Arts, would also have had volumes that contained the information.

Despite that Dumbledore never told Snape that Harry and his friends were hunting Horcruxes (a twist that really shocked me, honestly), I think Snape may have figured it out anyway.  Dumbledore did, after all, tell him that he didn't want Draco Malfoy's soul damaged, and Snape didn't ask any questions about it, but merely expressed concern for the state of his own.  And later, of course, Albus gave Severus an explicit account of what had happened between Voldemort and baby Harry—again with no questions from Snape.  Now, it may be common knowledge among well-read wizards—which both Albus and Severus were—that committing murder splits the soul.  But I'm not convinced that it is.  Why should it be?  The only known "application" of this is the Horcrux itself.  There is nothing whatsoever to suggest that a wizard who murders but keeps his soul within his body suffers any metaphysical ill consequences, either in this life or the next.  And, given that a Horcrux is the only known context in which a damaged soul is relevant to anything, I find it extremely hard to swallow the idea that Snape—with his massive library—could not have figured this thing out himself.  Especially with Albus's aforementioned discussions about torn souls.  He may not have realized that there were seven Horcruxes involved, but he very well could have guessed that there was one, and that Potter was looking for it and needed the Sword of Gryffindor to destroy it.  There have been mass murderers before—one by the name of Gellert Grindelwald—but no reports of these Dark wizards blowing apart their souls in a murder attempt and then coming back to life after being disembodied.  Voldemort's blew apart because he had already removed five pieces of it, not because he had murdered a lot of people.  I think it does Severus's intelligence a disservice to suggest that he could not have put it all together himself.

I find it incredibly hard to believe, though, that the entire Ministry of Magic seemed ignorant for over thirty years, incompetent and idiotic though some of its members may be.  Mad-Eye wasn’t stupid.  Kingsley wasn’t stupid.  Amelia Bones wasn’t stupid.  Yet people all the way up to Cornelius Fudge were utterly perplexed at Voldemort’s apparent return from the dead.  Nobody knew how he’d done it.  And this would be far more believable if 18-year-old Regulus Black had not managed to independently figure it out himself.  We are talking about a Dark wizard whose byline as he rose to power in the 1970s was "I am immortal."  And after that, a Dark wizard who is documented in eyewitness accounts as having been disembodied, possessing a Hogwarts Professor, and coming back to life in a very specific ritual that he himself did not invent.  Yet nobody in the entire Ministry had a clue?  Despite that the knowledge of Horcruxes is available in pureblood family libraries so that an 18-year-old boy could find it and figure it out?

I was convinced after reading HBP that the Auror division would, at some point in their careers, be exposed to the information.  And honestly, we don't know for sure that they don't, but you'd think that if, say, the more senior Aurors learned about this particular bit of Dark Magic (what they're trained to fight, after all), then they might have figured out that this "Lord Voldemort" character might have made at least one, and might have attempted to do something about it.  I also had a theory post-HBP that Unspeakables, at least those who specialized in the Veil Room and the study of death, might find the concept pertinent to their profession.  Just possibly.  (Wait for it....)

Unless Albus Dumbledore was using his influence to remove it from the entire Ministry, it just doesn't work.  But he may well have done this once he saw Voldemort in the 1950s and realized what he was dealing with.  He was the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards.  And he has been proven time and time again to hold onto his secrets to a harmful degree.  His biggest personality flaw was most definitely not related to any sort of goofy, immature plans he made at age 17 to “take over the world.”  It was his arrogant tendency to view people as his pawns and determine what they “needed to know,” in his opinion, making it hard or impossible for them to discover whatever he didn’t want them to know.  He pulled this on Harry and Snape for years, never telling either of them everything they needed to know.  It’s also perfectly in character for our purported “White Hat” to have been the one to originally ban the topic at school, using this same “I know best” reasoning.

Albus may not have wanted the Ministry to be able to get its hands on anything that might lead them to the correct conclusion about Voldy.  He might have thought it was compromised and a mole could tip Voldy off if the Ministry started hunting down Horcruxes.  (Probably correct.)  There is another, less likely—but so much more fun—possibility, but for now I'm not nearly convinced enough of the truth of that one to adopt it.  However, here it is anyway.  I present to you:  "Area 51."

Area 51 is a location in Nevada where military weapons and aircraft testing is alleged to take place.  It is blocked off from public examination and is associated with UFO conspiracy theories.

While on a burst of "wild" theorizing, it occurred to me that the British wizarding world might have its own little Area 51.

It could very well be that information on Horcruxes is Top Secret.  And has been for many years, since, say, the 1950s, which is when the books were removed from Hogwarts' library despite that Dumbledore had already banned the topic out of personal distaste.  The books might have been removed on Ministry orders if there was a lockdown on public information.  Given that it was already extremely rare magic, such a lockdown could actually be pulled off.  No new books seem to have anything about it, now do they?  The only books we know of that even contain the word are a thick tome so old that it has archaic spellings like "Magick Moste Evile," and a leather-bound book with pages that are brittle and flimsy.  Whatever Regulus Black's source was, it didn't even tell him how specifically to get rid of one, or he would have given better instructions to Kreacher.

We know that there is a division of the Department of Mysteries which studies Death.  This division has a large room containing an ancient veil which, to all appearances, is fatal to walk through.  With the release of Deathly Hallows, we saw the netherworld "King's Cross" from which a dead wizard can decide to return as a ghost, or not.

This netherworld, however, permits one to return to life if there is a living body to return to, as was the case with Harry Potter.  It forces one out if there is a Horcrux anchoring one's soul to the material plane, as there was with Voldemort.  (See my Horcrux essay, section "That Bloody Chapter," for an explanation of this.  However, in a nutshell:  I think Voldemort was supposed to die when he AK’d HarryCrux, and the only reason he didn’t was because Nagini was still alive.  He was knocked out unconscious because he had attempted to kill the body that was tethering him to life, but he could come back because Harry had screwed up and not offed Nagini yet.  Albus sent Harry back because Harry’s blind obedience had very nearly botched everything.)  Incidentally, Voldemort's return from King's Cross answers a question I had after reading HBP, which was what would happen if a wizard with a Horcrux walked into the Veil.  Well, they'd get kicked out, it would seem.

I'd wondered how in the world the Unspeakables studied death if their sole instrument of study was a veil that killed whoever walked through it.  What is there to "study" if it cannot be interacted with?  Ah, how innocent I was.  If those death-studying Unspeakables had Horcruxes....  Well, that Veil suddenly doesn't seem like such a problem, now does it?  I'd hazard a guess that it wouldn't "eat" the body of a wizard who didn't truly die, either.  Those people could waltz in and out of the netherworld all day.

Top Secret.  And quite certainly an "unspeakable" thing to do.

And those who protest that the Ministry wouldn't be so immoral—oh yes it would.  The Ministry employed a race of demons that could destroy souls, and didn't hesitate to use them for this.  Providing a stream of criminals (or other "undesirables") for that small division to kill for Horcruxes seems kind compared to that.

Small wonder the Unspeakables don't talk about what they do.

Do I believe this conspiracy theory?  No, not really.  But it fits, and it’s amusing.

Unfortunately I’m afraid that the most likely real-life explanation is that it was a Rowling oversight.  However, I can’t help but try to cover for her.  The Albus-Dumbledore-removed-it explanation does fit with his character, and the Lovegood-esque conspiracy of Dark Deeds in the Department of Mysteries is just fun.