Guest Post: Solving the Horcrux Mystery

I get a lot of mail. Most of it is questions or requests for my thoughts. A few e-letters, though, offer theories about Rowling’s writing that only close reading reveals. These can be risible parallels with passages from the minor prophets in the Old Testament (I kid you not). They can also be, as this post below certainly is, a look at a subject I thought I knew well but about which I had missed a great deal. I begged the author, a friend in Australia, to let me share her thoughts with you as a Guest Post and she has given me her permission. Enjoy this exploration of what Dumbledore knew about the Horcruxes and when he knew it towards a better understanding of the Headmaster’s character!

Solving the Horcrux Mystery   Emma Nicholson

When James and Lily Potter died, Dumbledore was certain that Voldemort would return – he knew Tom Riddle made himself immortal.

What remains a mystery is when Dumbledore realised Voldemort had plans for immortality, when he knew the plan was based on Horcruxes, and when he realised Harry was the final Horcrux.

JK Rowling gave us seven very clear mysteries in each book, mostly stated right in the title, and many more expressed mysteries that span the series, like “Who is Snape really working for?”

However, there are “unexpressed mysteries” left to discover. These aren’t directly addressed in the book, but are left for the fan to ponder. By cleverly mixing up the order of events, JKR disguises the trail of clues.

Luckily for us, when it comes to Dumbledore, Rowling left a key to deciphering her ‘Riddle’.

“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution. However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you’ll forgive me.

I shall not, of course, lie.”

Dumbledore may keep secrets, but he doesn’t lie to Harry (except about woollen socks).

So let’s look at when Dumbledore figured out Voldemort’s plan, in the order of time when they occur. Then we might see why it matters so very much to our understanding of Dumbledore as a character.


This all started when Riddle was still Riddle at Hogwarts…. This is what we know happened in order of events:

  • Dumbledore kept and annoyingly close watch on Master Riddle ever since the first Chamber Secrets incident. He later made a diary into a Horcrux.
  • Tom Riddle discovered his connection to the Gaunt family, dispatched of his Muggle relatives, stole Marvolo’s old ring and sent Morfin to Azkaban for the crime. We know this happened while Riddle was still at school because Harry sees him wearing Marvolo’s ring in Slughorn’s memory.
  • Tom alerted Slughorn to the fact that he had an ‘academic’ interest in Horcruxes.

‘It’s a banned subject at Hogwarts, you know … Dumbledore’s particularly fierce about it …’

However there are other possible events not explicitly stated by Rowling.

Firstly, Dumbledore may have researched the Riddle Murders. No doubt the Daily Prophet reported that Morfin Gaunt was arrested for murder and Tom Riddle Snr’s name was probably mentioned. Dumbledore takes the Muggle newspapers, so it’s possible he read about Frank Bryce, who was arrested and claimed a young dark haired boy was spotted at the property.

Secondly, Dumbledore may have removed the Horcrux books from the library, and even been aware that Tom Riddle was researching them.

‘This is the one that gives explicit instructions on how to make a Horcrux. Secrets of the Darkest Art – it’s a horrible book, really awful, full of evil magic. I wonder when Dumbledore removed it from the library … if he didn’t do it until he was Headmaster, I bet Voldemort got all the instruction he needed from here.’

Hermione is not sure exactly when Dumbledore removed the books, but it may have been while Armando Dippet was still headmaster, and may have been in response to students like Tom Riddle going to the Restricted Section.

Hermione needs Lockhart to sign a note for her to get ‘Moste Potente Potions’ which specifies the book required. If Tom Riddle also needed a signed note from a teacher asking for books like “Secrets of the Darkest Art” Dumbledore might have been onto him then.

There would have been very few books in the library with information about Horcruxes, and Dumbledore was probably watching any student who accessed them

‘No … well … you’d be hard-pushed to find a book at Hogwarts that’ll give you details on Horcruxes, Tom. That’s very Dark stuff, very Dark indeed,’ said Slughorn

And lastly, it is possible that Slughorn told another teacher of his conversation about Horcruxes with Riddle. Slughorn was not yet aware of what Riddle would become, and so may not have felt the shame he experienced later in life. It’s possible he divulged it.

Clues are already laid which Dumbledore could potentially make a connection from even now, if not later.


After Hogwarts, Riddle worked for Borgin and Burkes, and disappeared after poor old besotted Hephzibah Smith got bumped off and had her goodies nicked.

Hokey was accused of this crime, and was also excused from it given her advanced age.

It is not clear when Dumbledore acquired Hokey’s memory, but it can’t have been too long after Hephzibah was murdered, as Hokey was quite old (and she long dead by the time Harry saw the memory in the Penseive).

Later, but still before the first wizarding war, Tom Riddle returns to Hogwarts asking Dumbledore for the Defence job, looking a little less human, and with a not-so-secret alternate agenda (i.e. hide Ravenclaw’s diadem and attempt to nick Gryffindor’s sword.)

From their conversation we know Riddle has been “experimenting” with magic

‘I have experimented; I have pushed the boundaries of magic further, perhaps, than they have ever been pushed –‘

It’s possible Dumbledore surmised Voldemort’s experiments are about making himself immortal, or perhaps he has already found out before now

“Yes, I certainly do know you have seen and done much since leaving us’ he said quietly ‘Rumours of your doings have reached your old school, Tom…”

Furthermore, if Dumbledore was so fierce about Horcruxes not being a taught as subject at Hogwarts, he may know enough about them to recognise the signs. Tom Riddle’s ‘burnt waxy features’ and bloody eyes are signs of the soul being ripped repeatedly. Don’t forget that Dumbledore still had all the information on Horcruxes at his disposal even if it was not available to students

‘And once we get hold of it, how do you destroy a Horcrux?’ asked Ron.

‘Well,’ said Hermione, ‘I’ve been researching that.’

‘How?’ asked Harry. ‘I didn’t think there were any books on Horcruxes in the library?’

‘There weren’t,’ said Hermione, who had turned pink. ‘Dumbledore removed them all, but he – he didn’t destroy them.’

Dumbledore also knows Riddle didn’t visit Hogwarts looking for a job, and he’s up to something in the castle.

Voldemort sneered ‘If you do not want to give me a job – ‘

‘Of course I don’t’ said Dumbledore. ‘And I don’t think for a moment you expected me to. Nevertheless, you came here, you asked, you must have had a purpose.’

I’d bet a couple of fingers on my good hand that Dumbledore is watching Voldemort’s activity closely as a result of his suspicions. Let’s call this point in time “Theory Formed”.


If Dumbledore had not already started investigating Voldemort when he applied for the DADA job, I believe he certainly would have started doing so not long after

‘what I know, I found out after he had left Hogwarts, after much painstaking effort, after tracing those few who could be tricked into speaking, after searching old records, and questioning Muggle and wizard witnesses alike’

Notice he says “after he left Hogwarts” and not “after your parents died” or “after he rose to power”.

It makes sense that the original Order of the Phoenix would have been seeking a way to defeat Voldemort long before Harry received his scar. So it is probable that Dumbledore had sought the memories of Hokey, Bob Ogden and Morfin Gaunt during this period. All these witnesses were long dead before we learn about them in Book 6.

We don’t know at what point Dumbledore got the tampered Sluggish Memory, but it could have also been during the first wizard war too. If this is the case, then Dumbledore would have definitely known for a fact that Tom Riddle was interested in Horcruxes.

Up to this point, there has been a lot of rather damning evidence left for Dumbledore to find. So we’ll call the period of the first wizard war “Proving the Theory”


Dumbledore knows Voldemort had an Immortality Plan, and probably knows by now it involves Horcruxes (after all how many ways can there be for a wizard to ensure their immortality?)

On the way, Albus becomes one of two people who hear Sybill Trelawney make a fateful prophecy.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord”

He puts James and Lily into hiding…

Now we get to the fateful Halloween night…The night Lily and James die….

“No one knows why, or how, but they’re saying that when he couldn’t kill Harry Potter, Voldemort’s power somehow broke—and that’s why he’s gone.”

Dumbledore nodded glumly.

“It’s—it’s true?” faltered Professor McGonagall. “After all he’s done… all the people he’s killed… he couldn’t kill a little boy? It’s just astounding… of all the things to stop him… but how in the name of heaven did Harry survive?”

“We can only guess,” said Dumbledore. “We may never know.”

Gone. Not dead. And Albus says they “can only guess” at why Harry survived, but we know his guesses are usually pretty spot on.

Dumbledore leaves Baby Harry at the Dursley’s with a letter explaining about the protection of Lily and her blood, certain Voldemort will be back. Dumbledore tells Snape this just after Lily dies.

‘- the Dark Lord will return, and Harry Potter will be in terrible danger when he does’

Not if. When. Dumbledore voices his knowledge that Voldemort is immortal, while Snape is still blowing his enormous hook nose on a handkerchief.

Dumbledore wasn’t alone thinking this. Even the Ministry didn’t believe he was dead – “exiled” they call it during the Crouch trial. And the Death Eaters were sure also 100% sure he would return to Power – so sure they sent Neville’s parents to the nuthouse.

“The Dark Lord will rise again, Crouch! Throw us into Azkaban; we will wait! He will rise again and will come for us, he will reward us beyond any of his other supporters! We alone were faithful! We alone tried to find him!”

Voldemort is immortal. Everyone knows it. What we don’t have hard evidence for yet: Is Dumbledore aware it’s down to Horcruxes?

There is not a lot of evidence to support this in the books, but there are a few subtle hints, which in hindsight (knowing that Dumbledore probably investigated Riddle prior to this point) suggest that Dumbledore may have proven his theory prior to Voldemort’s demise.

A few small lines of dialogue in the Philosopher’s Stone point to the fact that Dumbledore is aware that he had ripped his soul apart. Remember that these opinions have probably been held for quite a while. First, Hagrid drops this classic gem

“Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die. Some say he’s still out there, bidin’ his time, like, but I don’ believe it.”

And Dumbledore himself tells Harry

“…not being truly alive he cannot be killed”

Let’s call Voldemort’s downfall “Hypothesis in action”


Why is all this relevant?

If Dumbledore knows Voldemort is using Horcruxes, there is a chance that Dumbledore also knew Harry was a Horcrux too. This sheds a very different light on how Dumbledore acts in relation to Harry and allowing him to face Voldemort.

From the time the prophecy was made by Trelawney, before James and Lily died, it was clear that the Dark Lord would have a very unique connection with The Chosen One

“Neither can live while the other survives”

So we look to the clues…

Let’s start with the fact that Harry seems to have a disproportionate amount of protection placed on him.

There is an enchantment on Privet Drive, to boost the protection in Lily’s blood. Why? Harry could have been physically protected from Voldemort by simply having him guarded by members of the Order. Curiously it appears that both modes of protection were happening at the same time

“Very strange strangers they were too. A tiny man in a violet top hat had bowed to him once while out shopping….

….A bald man in a very long purple coat had actually shaken his hand in the street the other day and walked away without a word”

We know the guy in the top hat is Daedalus Diggle. Is the bald guy Kingsley Shacklebolt? If so, this might indicate that the Order are guarding Harry. From the opening chapters of Book 1 Kingsley, and Daedalus on the case, and Mrs Figg as Harry’s babysitter! Hagrid then escorts Harry to Diagon Alley – there’s no question of Harry going alone like Tom Riddle did.

An interesting fan theory running about the internet is that Molly Weasley “accidently on purpose” came across Harry on the way to platform 9 ¾, and I think it has merit.

Why would Molly ask aloud what the platform number is when she has been taking her boys to Hogwarts since Bill’s first year? Why would Molly, aware of the Statue of Secrecy, talk loudly about Muggles in the middle of a crowded platform?

The fan theory says Molly saw a lost boy and wanted to help him. But I believe there is more to it. Even if she pretended not to know who Harry was, it is entirely possible that Molly knew exactly who Harry was. After all, Harry is recognised repeatedly through the series by many people.

It is also possible that, being so close to Dumbledore, Molly was even assisting Harry on Dumbledore’s direction. It would not be the first time the Weasley family was tasked with looking out for Harry’s safety.

What is the point? Well, it is an unusual amount of protection, considering that at this point in time most people think that Voldemort’s powers are gone. We need to ask ourselves if there another purpose to the enchantment on Privet Drive which enhances Lily’s sacrifice.

Let me form my own fan theory for you: Dumbledore knew Harry was an accidental Horcrux, and the enchantment on Privet Drive was to protect Harry’s soul from Voldemort’s soul.

The enchantment works on the bit inside of Harry just as well as it does on the bits outside of him. Voldemort cannot harm Harry, so the bit of soul inside him cannot start to grow like a parasite while he is a child.

There are two quotes I want to draw your attention to which happen early in the series. Firstly in Philosopher’s Stone

“Quirrell, full of hatred, greed and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason.”

We are already talking about souls in relation to the protection Lily provided Harry.

And as a School Treat, not only did JKR cancel exams in Book 2, she also gave us our first clue that Harry is a Horcrux

”Voldemort put a bit of himself inside me?’ Said Harry thunderstruck

‘It certainly seems so’……

Yes Harry – there’s literally a bit of Voldemort in you. Remember Dumbledore said he would not lie?


If Dumbledore knew that Harry was a Horcrux, what does this mean to a reader when we go back and reflect on Dumbledore’s actions in relation to allowing Harry to face the Dark Lord?

There are 3 key moments where I believe Dumbledore sets up Harry to face Voldemort. These happen in books 1, 4 and 7, completing a lovely ring composition. I deliberately leave out Harry’s encounters in Books 2 and 5 because I believe Dumbledore did not know Harry intended to face him.

Let’s not forget Harry’s conclusion in Deathly Hallows that Dumbledore saw Harry’s death as a secondary blow to Voldemort….

Book 1

Hagrid has been tasked with getting the Philosophers Stone from Gringotts, and while it is supposed to be something students don’t know about, Dumbledore asks him to do it while he is looking after Harry.

They know “someone” is trying to steal the stone. Right at this moment, teachers are devising clever security measures back at the castle. I believe Dumbledore already knew it was Voldemort behind it all. He asked Snape to keep an eye on Quirrell, and even Harry suspects Dumbledore knew more than he let on.

“He’s a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don’t think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It’s almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could…”

I don’t think he just wanted to “give you a chance”, Harry. I think he persuaded you to face Voldemort. Dumbledore knows you have the “unique weapons” and determination to face Voldemort from the Prophecy.

Here is a list of things Dumbledore did to ensure Harry faced Voldemort:

  • Letting him see Hagrid take the Stone from Gringotts
  • Giving Harry the Invisibility Cloak
  • Possibly influenced Hagrid to give Harry a wooden flute for Christmas (honestly, is that the most random gift ever?), and counted on Hagrid’s blabbermouth to let him know how to get past Fluffy
  • Told him directly how to work the Mirror of Erised “should he ever come across it again”
  • Probably arranged for Harry to do detention in the forest hoping he would find out Voldemort’s sneaking about. If the centaurs knew Voldemort was on the loose, I’m guessing Dumbledore did too.
  • Knew Quirrell was trying to steal the stone and yet kept him on staff and didn’t sack him immediately
  • Delightedly told him he “did the thing properly” when Harry told him he found out about Nicholas Flamel

Now – let’s pause on that. He practically set up Harry to face Voldemort at the age of 11. A task that nearly killed him.

Book 4

Dumbledore has a lot of evidence that Voldemort is going to come back at the start of book four, and yet still allows Harry to compete in the Triwizard Tournament.

 We start with Trelawney’s prediction at the end of Book 3, and the incident at the World Cup. He also tells Harry directly after the Pensieve incident that:

  1. He has been corresponding with Sirius and knows about Harry’s dreams
  2. He guesses about the connection between Harry and Voldemort
  3. He reads the muggle newspapers and is aware that Frank Bryce was murdered
  4. He knows about Bertha Jorkins going missing and finds it odd enough to investigate in his Penseive

Dumbledore would be a fool to not know at this point Voldemort is planning a comeback and that the plan involves getting a hold of Harry. He also knows Harry didn’t put his own name in the Goblet of Fire (calmly) – someone inside the school is setting Harry up. And yet, Dumbledore “lets” him compete.

 Did he mean for Harry to face him again? Did he even intend for Voldemort to come back using Harry’s blood?….

 “He said the protection my – my mother left in me – he’d have it, too. And he was right – he could touch me without hurting himself, he touched my face.”

For a fleeting instant, Harry thought he saw a gleam of something like triumph in Dumbledore’s eyes.”

Triumph. Such a specific word, and we know JKR is all about the little details. Triumph means to achieve success or victory. It is not a stroke of luck.

Did Dumbledore know that the only way to protect Harry permanently is to allow Voldemort to take his blood?

Book 7

Sort of self-explanatory: “Go get Horcruxes, kill Voldemort, and here’s some Hallows. Oh BTW you’re a Horcrux too and you need to die, but I’m counting on that blood to keep you alive! So, yeah… Good luck!”


JKR left us enough evidence to suggest that Dumbledore figured out Voldemort’s Horcrux plan much earlier that we first suspect.

By cleverly placing the clues out of order in the books, messing with the timeline, and revealing information from Harry’s point of view, JKR misdirects the reader into overlooking what information Dumbledore had and when.

There is also further evidence that Dumbledore suspects Harry is a Horcrux before Harry even gets to Hogwarts, and that Dumbledore had a hand in orchestrating some of Harry’s key encounters with the Dark Lord.

Of course, my theories may be incorrect. But for me, part of the brilliance of the series are the subtleties JK has left for us to play with. So if I happen to be wrong, at least I had fun doing it!


  1. Kelly Loomis says

    Excellent article – so clear, well thought out and presented succinctly. This goes along so well with the way she writes and how Dumbledore thinks and operates. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Dumbledore’s development in the upcoming films. Thank you for presenting this theory to us.

  2. Jon R White says

    Excellent investigative work. You make a compelling case. I think Dumbledore felt guilty about all of the manipulation that subtly dominated Harry’s entire life. In book 7 he said Harry was a better man than he was. The manipulation ended up being what was needed to finally rid the world of Voldemort. Dumbledore must have really been torn about doing what was necessary because I think he also did love Harry as well.

  3. Emma Nicholson says

    Jon R White:
    I’d completely agree – I think sacrificing yourself is easy. Sacrificing someone you love dearly to save the world is monumentally harder. Something Avengers Infinity Wars has as a main theme!

    I think this is why he took so many steps to ensure Harry’s success – not just so Voldemort would be defeated, but to do everything he could to help Harry survive what must be done. I would even go as far to say that along side Grindelwald and his family, Harry was one of Dumbledore’s great loves.

    Because I think despite our logic telling us that Dumbledore sacrificed himself for the greater good, there was part of him that did it just for Harry.

  4. Bridgitt Dickey says

    Very well thought out and presented. What struck me is the theory about Molly Weasley. I find that makes a lot of sense. I put down Molly’s seeming flightiness that first time at King’s Cross as just being a harassed mother trying to get a large brood of trouble-makers off to school. Good catch.

  5. Emma Nicholson says

    Bridgitt: it makes more sense when you consider Hagrid “neglected” to tell Harry such an important thing as how to get into the platform!

    For a man Dumbledore trusts so much, he certainly makes an exceedingly large number of “convenient slip ups”….

  6. Em you blew my mind on this one! Especially the theory about Molly.

    Suddenly feeling the itch to read the books again

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