chapter twenty-three of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry runs to Dumbledore’s office and together the two of them watch Slughorn’s complete memory. In it Tom Riddle asks Slughorn about Horcruxes, and about what would happen to a wizard who splits his soul into seven; Dumbledore then explains to Harry that this is what Voldemort has done. He and Harry then discuss the prophecy and its meaning, and Harry finally realizes that it’s up to him to finish Voldemort off and save the wizarding world – and that he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Slug Club Riddle, by cambium

And there were the half-dozen teenage boys sitting around Slughorn with Tom Riddle in the midst of them….

(by cambium)


Professor Slughorn, by Tealin Raintree

“Tom, Tom…” said Slughorn, “What with your uncanny ability to know things you shouldn’t, and your careful flattery of the people who matter – thank you for the pineapple, by the way, you’re quite right, it is my favorite -“


Tom Marvolo Riddle, by Elspethelf

“Sir, I wanted to ask you something…. I wondered what you know about… about Horcruxes?”


Horace Slughorn, by Beeeb

Slughorn looked deeply troubled now: He was gazing at Riddle as though he had never seen him plainly before.

(by Beeeb)


Tom Riddle, by Ani Bester

Riddle… left, but not before Harry had glimpsed his face, which was full of that same wild happiness it had worn when he had first found out that he was a wizard, the sort of happiness that did not enhance his handsome features, but made them, somehow, less human….


Dumbledore, by Abigail Larson

It is essential that you understand this!” said Dumbledore;… Harry had never seen him so agitated. “By attempting to kill you, Voldemort himself singled out the remarkable person who sits here in front of me, and gave him the tools for the job!”


And So Do I, by Mudblood428

But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.


about the chapter


For the two years between the release of book six and the release of book seven, Severus Snape may have been the primary topic of conversation, but Horcruxes were a close second. Specifically, everyone wondered what they could be, and where they could be hidden – surely there were clues buried somewhere else in the books! There were popular theories, to be sure; the Sorting Hat? A trophy in the Hogwarts trophy room? Is Harry’s scar a horcrux? But there were some outlandish suggestions, too; I’ll never forget hearing from people who were absolutely convinced that the Hand of Glory would be a horcrux, or the mirror that Sirius gave Harry, or Lily’s eyes! A lot of theories did get awfully close, however, so if you’ve yet to read the seventh book it’s worth taking some time to ponder what they might be….

Something You May Not Have Noticed

Dumbledore makes an interesting side comment to Harry when they’re discussing Tom Riddle’s diary, telling him that “When Voldemort discovered that the diary had been mutilated and robbed of all its powers, I am told that his anger was terrible to behold.” So… who told Dumbledore that? Someone who was there when it happened, of course. And at the moment we’re only aware of one spy who’s serving both Dumbledore and Voldemort, and that’s Severus Snape. You don’t suppose Snape was the one who “let slip” that the diary had been destroyed, do you? It’s hard to imagine Voldemort just casually asking Lucius about it, unless Lucius was dumb enough to bring it up himself. Maybe there are more reasons than we realized for Draco to feel like Snape has usurped his father’s position as a favored Death Eater….

The Wizarding World

Wizards may not be any better than Muggles when it comes to determining the meaning of life, but Harry has a leg up on us all – now he at least knows the meaning of his life, as long as Voldemort is alive! Dumbledore’s lesson about the prophecy, though, is an important one. It’s tempting to hear the prophecy and think that Harry and Voldemort were predestined to face one another in the end, as though they have no free will of their own. But as Dumbledore points out, a prophecy doesn’t guarantee the future – it only offers one possibility, and the rest is up to choice. It was Voldemort’s choice to act on the prophecy; it was his choice to go after Harry and not Neville; it was his choice to give Lily the option to save herself; it was Lily’s choice to protect her son instead. And now, armed with the knowledge of how to destroy Voldemort, it is Harry’s choice to march into the arena and engage in the battle. He’ll be going with Dumbledore to destroy the next horcrux they find, and if the day comes that the horcruxes are gone, he’ll take Voldemort head-on. And just as Voldemort chose to make the first part of the story come true by acting on it, so too will Harry ensure that the rest comes true by fighting back. The stage is set; let the battle begin.

Something to Remember

Dumbledore tells Harry that he has been hunting Horcruxes “for a very long time,” but Harry doesn’t stop to think about what Dumbledore means by that. After all, he’s only started noticing Dumbledore’s absences from Hogwarts this school year; and why would he suddenly notice them now if Dumbledore’s been leaving the school horcrux-hunting during previous years, too? No, I think it’s clear that Dumbledore has only been so focused on this particular mission this year. But given that he’s known about the horcruxes for at least four years, the question begging to be asked is: why start searching now?

The Final Word

(A post to her website by J.K. Rowling on September 29, 2006 as she penned book seven:)
“Sitting at my desk trying to invent a word yesterday brought back memories of the last time I did so. I had tried for days and days to hit upon the right name for ‘the receptacle in which a Dark wizard has hidden a fragment of his soul for the purposes of attaining immortality.’ Finally, after much transposition of syllables, I scribbled ‘Horcrux’ on a piece of paper and knew it was The One. But what if somebody had already used it? With some trepidation I typed ‘Horcrux’ into Google and, to my delight, saw what I was looking for: ‘Your search – “Horcrux” – did not match any documents.’ So anyway, yesterday I Googled ‘Horcrux’ again. 401,000 results. As you might imagine, this gave me something of a lift as I went back to scribbling nonsense words on the back of a takeaway menu.”–J.K. Rowling, jkrowling.com

“I think there’s a line… between the moment in “Chamber of Secrets” when Dumbledore says so famously, ‘It’s our choices that define us, not our abilities,’ straight through to Dumbledore sitting in his office, saying to Harry, “the prophecy is significant only because you and Voldemort choose to make it so.” If you both chose to walk away, you could both live! That’s the bottom line. If both of them decided, “We’re not playing,” and walked away… but, it’s not going to happen, because as far as Voldemort’s concerned, Harry’s a threat. They must meet each other…. It’s the “Macbeth” idea. I absolutely adore “Macbeth.” It is possibly my favorite Shakespeare play. And that’s the question isn’t it? If Macbeth hadn’t met the witches, would he have killed Duncan? Would any of it have happened? Is it fated or did he make it happen? I believe he made it happen. –J.K. Rowling, July 2005

41 Responses to “Horcruxes”

  1. I don’t have much to say about Horcruxes, but I did notice something that I find noteworthy. In Riddle’s times (a.k.a fifty years ago), the Slug Club seemed to be formed only by boys, most if not all, Slytherins. We know that by the Marauders’ time, girls and members of other houses are accepted (Lily probably was a member; at least Gwenog Jones was, around that time or a bit later/earlier). Do you think Dumbledore let the Slug Club continue under the condition that any ‘remarkable’ student was invited or is this a consequence of Slughorn realizing it would be better/more politically correct (considering how much muggle women’s rights changed during the ’50s and ’60s) to include more students?
    I’m really looking forward to reading your thoughts on the remaining chapters.

  2. No! I missed being the first comment because I was pondering!
    I think it could be argued that Dumbledore could have been hunting Horcruxes in the fifth book (perhaps less successfully)…

  3. Josie, I disagree that Dumbledore hasn’t been searching for the Horcruxes before this year. I believe he did, in fact, start in Order of the Phoenix. Remember, in CoS, the diary only gave him the first hint that Voldy could have multiple Horcruxes. He didn’t receive confirmation about the multiple Horcruxes until “in essence divided” in OP22 – around Christmastime. So let’s say Dumbledore then does a bit of research into the matter, viewing all available memories of Tom Riddle (kinda like what he did with Harry in HBP but much mroe thorough). Between that and protecting the prophecy (which I maintain was a decoy to keep Voldy occupied) and dealing with Umbridge and rescuing Firenze and the million things he has to do, he keeps busy for about four months doing research. Then in April, when the DA is revealed (which the Lexicon places at either April 20th or 27th), Dumbledore no longer has responsibilities at Hogwarts. And I am convinced that this is his first Horcrux hunt. After all, he finds the ring that very summer, and from what we’ve seen, it takes him quite a while to find a Horcrux.

    So conclusion: Dumbledore began Horcrux hunting during his absence in OotP. Hope this makes sense!

  4. Yeah, hpboy13, your thoughts totally make sense and I think are probably right. I don’t know that it changes my point though, which is that Horcrux hunting is still a *very* recent hobby of Dumbledore’s. It’s partially because he didn’t have all the information, as you say, until Harry presents him with the diary, the “in essence divided,” and don’t forget also the quote from GF – “I who have done more to become immortal than anyone” or whatever it was. All the same, though, it’s striking that Dumbledore has known about Voldemort for decades, and didn’t hunt horcruxes until a little over a year ago at most.

    This also makes me wonder when Dumbledore got that memory from Slughorn. It’s never stated, and I’d always assumed he’d had it for years. But this conversation actually makes it seem like it could have been a very recent thing – perhaps also during the time Dumbledore was missing during OP?

  5. Why start searching for Horcruxes now? We will find out later (book 7) that Dumbledore has now limited time to perform this task.

  6. I have the Swedish translation of those last chapter words stuck on my bedroom door.

  7. I think the hunting of horcruxes began with researching-gathering memories, making his hypotheses about what exactly Voldemort is up to, and planning how best to bring Harry up to speed about it all. We know Dumbledore knows about Horcruxes because he had that book in his office-the one that gives precise instructions on how to make one, and because Slughorn says Dumbledore is particularly fierce about banning the subject. Which, by the way, makes me wonder if the previous headmaster had left that book in the Restricted Section and why he hadn’t removed it?

    Anyway, I think part of the hunt for Dumbledore was the research. He just doesn’t have enough time in general to wander around and look for horcruxes-he’d want to be pretty certain that he was looking in the right spot.

    Of course in book 6 we know that he must pass along this information to Harry because he only has a limited time left to do so. I agree josie, EXCELLENT chapter!

  8. I agree with Jennifer, that the main thrust of his “hunting” was gathering the memories — and that it took years to get some of them.

    Once he had all (but one–incomplete) of the necessary memories, being relieved of his Hogwarts duties allowed him to physically go out and hunt.

    And then, knowing that time was short put him in overdrive.

    That’s how I see it, anyway.

  9. A word to the drawings on this site:

    As Slughorn was teacher of Riddle, he was of course much younger and was neither bald, nor had white mustache and eyebrows. I would estimate him 30 – 40 at that time.

  10. Well Josie, Dumbledore has known Voldemort, but he didn’t have a clue about the Horcruxes until CoS. At one point in the series (I think in his speech in GoF), Voldy says “one or more of my experiments had worked,” which implies Voldy’s probably done a lot of different things to keep himself alive, and how is Dumbledore to guess which one it is? And once he knows in CoS, he suddenly becomes tremendously busy. In PoA, he has to be on his toes to monitor the dementors and catch Sirius Black. In GoF, as you pointed out in your brilliant essay, Dumbledore is tearing his hair out trying to figure out what’s going on and hoping Harry comes out alive. And in OotP, he has his hands full with the Order, and Umbridge, and everything else. As soon as he has a free moment, he goes off to search for Horcruxes.

  11. I think it fascinating that Dumbledore found it necessary to talk to muggles in his search for memories. I can just imagine him interrogating muggles and then oblivating their memories. Just shows the risk he took; not to mention a lot of “pounding the pavement” for a 100+ year old man.

  12. I think that Dumbledore has probably suspected Voldemort used Horcruxes for years. After all, he’s always been of the opinion that Voldemort did not die in Godric’s Hollow –and that rebounding curse should have done it. I expect this was the event that started Dumledore’s train of thought: “He did not die. WHY?” Then he would start looking at ways Voldemort could have achieved relative immortality. A horcrux would have been one way –probably, Dumbledore had many other possibilities in his hypothesis (perhaps he consulted his friend Nicholas Flamel on the subject of Philosoper’s Stones, for instance, to be sure Voldemort could not have made one of those).
    The diary in CoS was very important, but I think it simply confirmed to Dumbledore that a) the Horcrux idea was right (eliminating other possibilities), and b) suggested to him a new problem: why had Voldemort been so cavalier with his precious Horcrux? As Dumbledore says, this problem suggests that perhaps Voldemort had other ways of keeping himself immortal too. Dumbledore would have suspicions, but not enough evidence. Then when Harry reports to him Voldemort talking about “travelling farther down the path that leads to immortality [than anyone],” he would really have raised an eyebrow.
    Seeing as the diary was made while Voldemort was still in school, I bet Dumbledore’s next move was to question people who were closer to Riddle than he himself had been –people like Slughorn. So the tampered-with Slughorn memory may have been obtained quite a while ago –during the summer after CoS, or during PoA maybe. And then he’d also be searching for clues to what the Horcruxes actually could be –interviewing people who had met Voldemort during his rise, like that old woman’s house-elf.

    So I think it’s safe to say Dumbledore has been searching for the way to undo Tom Riddle for a long, long time, and that a good few years has been devoted to actually hunting for Horcruxes –or for information about them. Dumbledore seems to be gone from the school at least once a book, and that is only when we are aware of it. Harry doesn’t see him every day (or I assume not…), and there are the summers. I agree during Umbridge’s reign he was probably actively searching.

    And now, after writing all that, it occurs to me you probably just meant he’s only actually physically going out to find horcruxes recently. I can’t argue with that –but he wouldn’t have known where to look without years of research!

    Sorry for the essay! this was fun to think about. I imagine Dumbledore to be quite logical, as well as inspired. It’s fun to imagine his thought process.

  13. Woah!! I totally quote hazelwillow… and thanks for taking the time to write all that analysis: it’s what I’d been thinking myself. =)

  14. Yeah, hazelwillow, that totally makes sense. I would be fascinated to know at what point Dumbledore learned things. For instance, the timeline on the Hepzibah Smith memory is funny – the memory comes from Hokey, who was already “very old” at the time that it happened, so Dumbledore would have had to have gotten it… when? It couldn’t have been long after Riddle resurfaced as Voldemort, and even saying he waited that long is perhaps stretching things.

    Another interesting point you touched on a bit is the idea that Dumbledore wasn’t sure what means Riddle had used to gain immortality. This seems ludicrous to a reader, who only knows of Horcruxes and a Philosopher’s Stone (and the latter wouldn’t protect you from a rebounding AK…). But Dumbledore knows a *lot* of magic that we don’t, presumably, and may have genuinely spent years or even decades wondering what method Voldemort was using before the diary came across his desk.

    So many essays to write, so little time….

  15. i just want to say to Josie, I LOVE your analysis, especially in “the wizarding world.” VERY well said and well-written. I’m procrastinating on my homework every day when i check your fabulous website, and its always worth it!

  16. Love Mudblood428’s Dumbledore and Harry. The colors are exquisite!

  17. I also want to point out that Voldemort is the VERY FIRST person in history (at least according to what we know) to have made more than one Horcrux. Remember how Slughorn freaked out at the idea of making more than one. So even if Dumbledore suspected Horcrux involvement, he probably wouldn’t have suspected more than one pre-CoS. And the only ones he could reasonably have found with the information he currently had are the locket and the ring, so if he suspected, let’s say, the diary or the cup of being THE Horcrux (and keeping in mind Nagini wasn’t one back then), he’d be at a complete dead end.

  18. Josie, the questions you raise on this site are pure gold. You keep inspiring me to write these long essays in response, if only because I enjoy thinking through the things you raise! In short: sorry and thanks!

  19. Has it ever been clarified what exactly was left behind of Voldemort after he attacked the Potters? There couldn’t have been a body, or the wizarding world would have had no doubt that he was dead. But there must have been something, or people wouldn’t have known for sure that it was Voldemort who had done it. Did his body evaporate and leave empty robes behind?

  20. Billie, we only really get two clues that I’m aware of – one is Voldemort’s description of how Pettigrew found him, in GF33:

    His filthy little friends told him there was a place, deep in an Albanian forest, that they avoided, where small animals like themselves had met their deaths by a dark shadow that possessed them….

    which gives us some idea of what his state must have been like. The other clue we get is that we know Wormtail went in and picked up Voldemort’s wand, because he had it later (and because Rowling said in an interview that he’d done it). But perhaps the robes were left behind – I mean, that would make sense, right?

  21. I almost forgot, hpboy13 – your point makes a lot of sense to me. I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but it definitely helps explain where Dumbledore is coming from.

  22. So, in Chapter 17 I wrote that Slughorn’s memory does not seem all that important. In fact, based on everything Dumbledore seemed to know beforehand, it was completely useless for him. He already knew about the multiple Horcruxes because, of course, he found and destroyed the ring.

    After he sees this memory, then, perhaps he is disappointed because he expected more information.

    But no, now that I am thinking back, Dumbledore never really said the memory was important for HIM. The memory, in fact, was important for HARRY.

    See, Harry has no idea what Horcruxes are, or that it is unprecedented to make more than one. But Dumbledore doesn’t tell him straight away, rather, he tests Harry to see if he can persuade Slughorn to give him the memory!

    It’s also worth noting that Dumbledore has already asked Harry to persuade Slughorn in the past, to convince him to return to teaching!

    Why is this memory test important? Because Dumbledore suspects that Harry will have to persuade people to tell him about Voldemort in order to locate the unknown Horcrux. In fact, in DH Harry persuades the Grey Lady to reveal what she knows about the diadem, so it seems the collection of the memory was actually more important than the memory itself.

    But of course, Dumbledore motivates Harry to perform his best on the “test” by pretending not to know about the multiple Horcruxes, so that to Harry it seems Slughorn’s memory is crucial to solving the riddle of Voldemort!

    My only problem is that Harry fails to remember that Dumbledore destroyed the ring months before this test to retrieve Slughorn’s memory was proposed…

  23. Dumbledore was never entirely sure that Riddle had made seven. This was the memory that sealed the deal; wouldn’t it be a bummer to duel Voldemort, having destroyed seven Horcruxes only to find out he’d made it a round ten? Or spend years looking for two more when he’d only made five?

  24. I remember this now…thank you Rogmar. I just don’t see how Dumbledore could have foreseen this piece of information, unless he already suspected that Riddle and Slughorn had discussed multiple Horcruxes. Maybe he didn’t and was pleasantly surprised.

  25. Oh the irony. Back in chapter 17 I wrote a response to JPM saying that Dumblodore needed the memory for 2 reasons: 1 to know there were 7. 2: To train Harry to pursade people as he would have to do it later. I than said I can not take credit for reason 2 but I sadly couldn’t remember who said it. But it was JPM himself who said it. Lol

  26. I think the story would have been a little better if Dumbledore had expressed some shock at the number “seven” – unprecedented and almost unimaginable! Although he believed there were multiple horcruxes, he didn’t know what the memory was going to reveal, if anything. Fortunately, the memory did define the magnitude of their challenge, and their challenge was enormous!

    So, according to Dumbledore, Voldemort split his soul 7 times, creating 6 horcruxes, with one part still dwelling within himself. “But firstly, no, Harry, not seven horcruxes: six. The seventh part of his soul, however maimed, resides inside his regenerated body.”
    However, I count seven in ADDITION to Voldemort himself: the diary, the locket, the ring, the cup, the diadem, his pet snake, and Harry. Can anyone explain the discrepancy here? Am I misinterpreting this?

    Additionally, I’m baffled by this next portion: “The xeventh part of his soul, however maimed, resides inside his REGENERATED body. that was the part of him that lived a spectral existence for so many years during his exile; without that, he has no self at all. that seventh piece of soul will be the last that anybody wishing to kill Voldemort must attack – the piece that lives in his body.” I am confused because I had assumed that when Voldemort tried to kill Harry, the 1/7 of his soul that he kept in his body would have been destroyed. Isn’t the destruction of that portion what in fact made it appear that Voldemort had been defeated? If not, where did the soul come from that allowed him to REGENERATE?

  28. I also forgot to mention that this is an absolutely incredible site. I have it up while I’m reading the books, and after I finish each chapter, I scroll through the pictures and look at the analysis at the end. I’ve been having so much fun here!

  29. Joy, thanks for your kind words. Here is my understanding of the answers to your questions:

    First, there are indeed seven pieces of soul in addition to Voldemort himself. But Dumbledore doesn’t want to tell Harry that he has the eighth piece until he’s ready. If you read DH33, where Dumbledore tells Snape to eventually pass this information along (and Snape complains, “you have used me”), that’s how he intends Harry to learn that final bit. Until then – in this chapter – Dumbledore is simply giving Harry the rest of the information, and leaving that part out.

    Your second question gets at the nature of the soul. Think of Hermione’s quote from DH6: “A Horcrux is the complete opposite of a human being. Look, if I picked up a sword right now, Ron, and ran you through with it, I wouldn’t damage your soul at all…. whatever happens to your body, your soul will survive untouched.” This is what happened to Voldemort. He was killed in the sense that his body was destroyed, but his soul continued on – and because he had Horcruxes, his soul continued on in a spectral existence in this world. That piece of soul is the piece that lived in Albania, possessed Quirrell, and was reborn in a body again at the end of Goblet of Fire.

    Does that help clarify? :)

  30. Josie –
    Your reply was immensely helpful. I have my aunt and mother both reading the books at the moment, and I’ve been fielding questions as best I can, but this one stumped me. Thanks from all of us!

  31. This was a fantastic chapter. What makes JKR so genius (for many reasons) is that unlike other authors who use prophecies within their stories, her idea of a prophecy is one of choice, not fate. How that must’ve lifted the burden off of Harry when he finally understood!

  32. But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.
    Wow–such powerful words–And exactly what happens in the forest scene in Book 7!

  33. I just read Macbeth for school and I kept thinking of the parallels to this prophecy – so funny that that’s where JKR got her idea from. :)

    This is one of my favorite chapters in the entire series. I always love Harry & Dumbledore’s conversations, but this one might be my favorite.

  34. I only just realized that this is the reason why Slughorn was on the run for over a year when we meet him at the beginning of this book.

  35. I love the final word part of this chapter. What a great way to inspire yourself! Good job JKR with inventing words. And worlds for that matter. :)

    Josie, the section under “the wizarding world” was written very well. I enjoyed it. :)

  36. (SPOILERS)
    Dumbledore lying to Harry about the number of Horcruxes in this chapter bothered me, probably more than it should, but it still did. While Dumbledore hardly ever tells someone all he knows about a subject, he very rarely out and out lies. Normally he will refuse to spreak on a topic (“That is between Professor Snape and myself”) or choosing his words very carefully so that, while what he says is true, it’s not the whole truth of the matter. I even read the paragraph a second time through thinking “Well, maybe he said Voldemort only *made* six, leaving the opening for the accidental Horcrux”, but, nope. “The seventh part of his soul…” I know, I know, Dumbledore isn’t perfect. Still…

  37. I really enjoyed Jo’s comments that you’ve included in “The Final Word.” I wonder what word she was trying to invent for book 7. I can’t think of a word we hear for the first time in that book . . .

  38. On the “arena” quote:

    The final showdown between Harry and Voldemort on the cover of “Deathly Hallows” (the U.S. edition) seems to be taking place in an arena (though it’s actually the Great Hall). I wonder if Mary Grandpre had that line from “Half-Blood Prince” in mind when she drew it.

  39. RE: SYMNHN – Anyone could have told Voldemort about the Chamber of Secrets being opened, at which point Voldemort would have known how it had been opened. He then would have asked Lucius about the diary and even if he had wanted to lie, Voldemort would have known he was lying. So it was not necessarily Snape who informed Voldemort of the destruction of the diary. While it was destroyed for a reason other than it being a Horcrux, I don’t see Dumbledore wanting to make sure Voldemort knew one piece of his soul was destroyed.

  40. Nice discussion.
    Ha! We did Macbeth earlier this year and I got into it cuz it had that self-fulfilling prophecy!!

  41. The last chapter about the arena almost made me tear up, it’s just so beautiful somehow.

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