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In Half Blood Prince, Dumbledore tells Harry that:

"The seventh 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.”

Half Blood Prince, Chapter 23, Horcruxes.

Why does the master piece that lives in Voldemort have to be the last?

If Voldemort was killed* in the usual way (as he was in 1981), i.e., this master piece was ripped of his body and then all his Horcruxes were destroyed, would he not be finished for ever, and meet the same fate in eternal limbo as he did at the end of Deathly Hallows?

The natural answer seems to be affirmative, if not for the fact that Dumbledore explicitly uses the word 'last'.

If no, what would happen in the alternate scenario described above?

I vaguely remember some mention of this problem in this site, but it could have been in the comments.

*I must clarify that 'kill' here must refer to ripping the (part of his) soul in his body, allowing for the possibility that he might regenerate, as opposed to the ordinary usage of the word 'kill', which leads to death for unhorcruxed people.

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This has not been explained in the books, but my guess is that the "main" part of his soul in his body must have some special characteristics. For instance, it is this part that can be ripped off to make further horcruxes, he did not make horcruxes out of other horcruxes. The 2nd, 3rd, and so forth number of horcruxes had to come out of the main Voldemort. For this reason, I also doubt that the diary Tom Riddle would have been able to make further horcruxes, had he be been able to solidify from his memory state. –  user13267 Jun 30 at 9:42
There is also the case of unhorcruxing. Hermione states that Voldemort would have to feel regret for what he had done in order for the souls to join back. This also indicates that there should be a "main" Voldemort to feel the regret. His horcruxes, although somewhat sentient, in that they know when they are in danger and know how to defend themselves, don't seem to have the same, how can I put it, "juice" that the main Voldemort has –  user13267 Jun 30 at 9:46
Doesn't his soul come back and usually take physical form? If I'm an intelligent Dark Lord and someone successfully kills me, maybe I think that the good guys are getting powerful, so I check on my horcruxes/make new ones/learn more powerful magics. But if out of nowhere I find out that this dweeb, Harry Potter is going to fight me, I'm going to laugh because even if he wins, I'll respawn. –  Thoth19 Jun 30 at 9:47
He wasn't successfully killed, which is the whole point. After the curse rebounded, he was still around, although in an incorporeal form. If anything, this would give him more confidence in his horcruxes. It only confirmed that his horcruxes worked –  user13267 Jun 30 at 9:49
Great Question not sure it's answerable from canon. There are basically two options, so the Soul is floating round earth someone destroys the Horcruxes and the Soul floats away into the next realm. Or someone destroys the Horcruxes and nothing happens. This depends on how we interpret the magic of the Horcrux it will either stop your soul from going on in an instance and so only needs to be active at time of death or they have to remain active to keep the soul anchored. –  Simon Jun 30 at 9:58

2 Answers 2

It's not clearly spelled out in the books, but Horcruxes may work in one of two ways:

  1. Prevent your "main" soul part from being sent to the afterworld after your body dies, the moment it does

  2. Prevent your "main" soul part from being sent to the afterworld after your body dies, and maintain it in this world in perpertuity.

I tend to believe it was #1, because Voldemort didn't feel (and didn't seem affected in his spirit form) when the Diary Horcrux was destroyed.

If it is the first option, then what Dumbledore said makes perfect sense.

If you destroy Voldemort's body first, while any Horcruxes are out there, you have merely let his "main" soul piece escape in spirit form again.

Then, even if you destroy all the Horcruxes later - he can (and will) return to life in the same way he did in GoF, even with no Horcruxes left. And then, promptly make new Horcruxes. So basically, you won a tactical victory and bought time, but lost the war.

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If option 1 was true, will it not, as I discussed with Simon above, lead to a smarter way of cheating Death, namely, killing oneself in case of imminent danger when at least one horcrux is in tact, and waiting for, may be till your unassailable opponent(s), Harry and Dumbledore, in case of Voldemort, is(are) dead and gone, to regenerate and seize power? Voldemort may not have liked this idea much, being as arrogant as he is (and the limbo state is not a very pleasing one too), but the possibility nevertheless exists, and I don't think JKR would have liked this. –  N Unnikrishnan Jun 30 at 17:34
It seems to me that existing in only a spiritual state is neither what Voldemort wants, nor is it easy to return from. The type of magic you need to return from this state requires a lot of powerful magic, like the Philosopher's Stone, drinking unicorn blood, etc. Never mind the fact that amongst the Death Eaters, I wouldn't say the lot are necessarily trustworthy, so Voldemort would have to be concerned that at some point the current crop would die out and just let him exist in limbo. –  Maurice Reeves Jun 30 at 20:34

Isn't that the whole point of the Horcrux. That, even if the body in which the master soul(original soul) resides is destroyed, the soul survives & remains earth bound & can reside inside another body.

So even if anybody Avada Kedavra's Voldemort's master soul, he will not die because the horcruxes keep this master soul earth-bound & living.

Remember what happened at the very beginning. Voldemort's body(in which his master/original soul was residing) got destroyed due to a backfiring Avada Kedavra. But his master soul was still not destroyed. And it took up another body of Nagini & Quirell.

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but that's the whole question; What would have happened if all his horcruxes had been destroyed while he was in the incorporeal form? Why does the main part of his soul have to be the last? –  user13267 Jun 30 at 9:50
Yes but this does not answer the question. Why not kill Voldemort first and THEN all the Horcruxes? –  Jakob Jun 30 at 9:51
@Jakob didnt that just happen during the whole Quirell thing. –  KharoBangdo Jun 30 at 9:53
that would have happened if the avada kadavra had not backfired. The question here is, while Voldemort is in the spirit form after the avada kadavra that backfired, what would have happened if someone had gone and destroyed all his horcruxes, before he could gain a body? –  user13267 Jun 30 at 9:54
It should have still been practical. Last time his body was destroyed he needed more than 10 years to return to power, with the help of allies, and he was very weak in the beginning after his "death". So destroying his body before destroying the horcruxes should have been a good strategy, as they will have enough time (and less death eaters chasing them) to find all the horcruxes while Voldemort lingers around in a weakened form. –  vsz Jun 30 at 12:05

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