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If a living creature that contains a Horcrux is killed by "normal means", i.e. not a way of destroying a Horcrux like basilisk venom, what happens to the Horcrux?

For example, what would have happened to the Horcrux in Nagini if she had been killed in a way that didn't also destroy the Horcrux?

marked as duplicate by Mithrandir, Edlothiad, TheLethalCarrot, Machavity, Vanguard3000 Jun 26 '18 at 12:29

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  • The two are mutually inclusive, essentially, but Miss Bella and Mithrandir (and that feels so incredibly wrong typing...) give some examples. I'd add that Dumbledore told Harry it was a real risk for Voldemort that Nagini was a Horcrux and there's a reason Voldemort put the protective cage around her; and for all he knew the Sword of Gryffindor wasn't impregnated with basilisk venom so it would have worked by any death - because basilisk venom was out of the equation in his mind. – Pryftan Jun 26 '18 at 1:06
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To destroy a Horcrux, you must destroy the object it lives in beyond magical repair.

“It doesn’t have to be a basilisk fang,” said Hermione patiently. “It has to be something so destructive that the Horcrux can’t repair itself. Basilisk venom only has one antidote, and it’s incredibly rare--”
“--phoenix tears,” said Harry, nodding.
“Exactly,” said Hermione. “Our problem is that there are very few substances as destructive as basilisk venom, and they’re all dangerous to carry around with you. That’s a problem we’re going to have to solve, though, because ripping, smashing, or crushing a Horcrux won’t do the trick. You’ve got to put it beyond magical repair.”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 6: "The Ghoul in Pajamas"

"repair", for a living being, is keeping them alive. Nagini was a Horcrux; it was killing her that destroyed the Horcrux inside her as well. It wasn't specifically the beheading - if it was purely the physical form being beyond repair, then technically her head could have stitched back on... but she'd still be dead. The important part is that she'd be dead, no matter the form.

A Horcrux is completely dependent upon the vessel that it's in.

"Because a Horcrux is the complete opposite of a human being.”
Seeing that Harry and Ron looked thoroughly confused, Hermione hurried on, “Look, if I picked up a sword right now, Ron, and ran you through with it, I wouldn’t damage your soul at all.”
“Which would be a real comfort to me, I’m sure,” said Ron. Harry laughed.
“It should be, actually! But my point is that whatever happens to your body, your soul will survive, untouched,” said Hermione. “But it’s the other way round with a Horcrux. The fragment of soul inside it depends on its container, its enchanted body, for survival. It can’t exist without it.”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 6: "The Ghoul in Pajamas"

Once the vessel is not in a state where it could be repaired, the Horcrux is destroyed. Nagini, as a vessel, was alive. Once dead, that destroyed the Horcrux.

If you're looking for a bit of Word of God, JKR has stated that the soul receptacle needs to die to destroy the Horcux, without stating that they need to be killed in any sort of special way:

The Horcrux-receptacle has to be destroyed BEYOND REPAIR, so Harry would need to have DIED.
@jk_rowling on Twitter

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Null Jun 28 '18 at 14:06
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If the creature it lives inside is killed, it’ll almost certainly die too.

J.K. Rowling answers a similar question, when she’s asked if Harry could die of something “mundane” with the piece of soul in him. She says that he’d have to die to get rid of the piece of soul, which also indicates dying would be enough to get rid of it, presumably however it happens.

SU: So, can I ask this? This is kind of a random question, but if Harry had this Horcrux in him, sort of, would he actually have died, say, when the dragon could have killed him, or when he was falling during Quiddich, or anything? Could he actually have died?

JKR: Well, you’ve got- if his body had been irreparably destroyed. (SU: Yeah) He has to die to get rid of that piece of soul. His body has got to be irreparably damaged. So a lot of people asked, and I think I’ve answered this since, but a lot of people immediately said, having finished Hallows, (gasps) “But then, that means in Chamber of Secrets, when he was pierced by the basilisk…” (SU: Oh, right) but no, no, no, no, he didn’t die! He didn’t die. (JN: Yeah) That was stated right in the beginning with the Horcrux, the receptacle has got to be destroyed. His body wasn’t destroyed! He got a bit poisoned, and then he got the antidote, immediately. So that’s not going to drive out this piece of soul. Sorry if I sound frustrated, but occasionally…
- PotterCast (Dec 23, 2007)

Although Nagini is an intentionally made Horcrux and therefore different than Harry, it’s likely that this is the case for any living Horcrux. The way to destroy a Horcrux is by putting it beyond magical repair, so that the Horcrux can’t just repair itself. Once this is done, the piece of soul is destroyed.

“It doesn’t have to be a Basilisk fang,’ said Hermione patiently. ‘It has to be something so destructive that the Horcrux can’t repair itself.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 6 (The Ghoul in Pyjamas)

However, it doesn’t have to be destroyed completely; the stone in the ring was just cracked, for example. It was still wearable, as Dumbledore wore it, and the Resurrection Stone in it still worked. The diary was stabbed, but not entirely destroyed - it was whole enough for Harry to put a sock in. The important thing is that some amount of damage is done that can’t be repaired magically.

“Sitting on one of the little spindle-legged tables that supported so many frail-looking silver instruments was an ugly gold ring set with a large, cracked black stone.”
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 10 (The House of Gaunt)

It doesn’t have to be completely destroyed, just damaged in a way that can’t be magically repaired (so it can’t just repair itself). For a living Horcrux, dying would be putting it beyond magical repair, whatever the manner of death is, since magic can’t bring the dead back to life. As Pryftan mentioned in the comments, the Dark Lord thought it was necessary to protect Nagini from death, and he wasn’t going to be expecting the Sword of Gryffindor imbued with basilisk venom.

“It is the only way, Nagini,’ he whispered, and he looked round, and there was the great, thick snake, now suspended in mid-air, twisting gracefully within the enchanted, protected space he had made for her, a starry, transparent sphere somewhere between glittering cage and tank.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 32 (The Elder Wand)

The Dark Lord considered it possible enough that someone could kill Nagini that it was worth protection against, even though it meant no longer being able to use her as a weapon.

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    It is the case: otherwise why would Voldemort have put the protective cage around Nagini? If it wasn't a risk he wouldn't have done so. And he had no way of knowing that the Sword of Gryffindor was impregnated with basilisk venom so it's not that it's that sword only that would be necessary. It was a powerful snake but there's no reason to believe it had to be killed in a magical manner any more than a Death Eater falling from the sky in a certain battle involving seven Harry Potters... – Pryftan Jun 26 '18 at 0:57
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    Oh and as for the Stone: Rowling stated that only Dumbledore could have destroyed the Horcrux without breaking the stone. So that's an exception. More correctly it wasn't the stone itself: it was just that the stone was part of it (as in added to it). – Pryftan Jun 26 '18 at 1:07
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    @Pryftan That’s an excellent point! :) The Dark Lord saw it as likely enough that Nagini could be killed to put her in a protective cage. So, there must have been some danger that she could be killed. Nagini was powerful, but the Dark Lord decided it would be better to keep her in a magical cage rather than having her take part in the battle, so there had to be a reason he’d think that necessary. I’ll add that into my answer, it’s a really great point! :) – Bellatrix Jun 26 '18 at 2:07
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    @Pryftan I didn’t know Rowling had ever stated Dumbledore was the only one who could have destroyed the Horcrux without breaking the Stone. Thanks! :) I’ll update my answer to mention at least one more Horcrux then! – Bellatrix Jun 26 '18 at 2:10
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    @Bellatrix Yes :) If it wasn't a risk he wouldn't have done that; but he did. But once Harry was 'dead' he didn't foresee any issue because who would defy him then once their hero was dead - by Voldemort's own doing? Of course he underestimated just how loyal (etc.) they all were. And yes as you wrote (I thought of it but neglected to say) he would have preferred her being a weapon. – Pryftan Jun 27 '18 at 0:41
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Seeing as the only other living horcrux we see in the books is Harry Potter, the answer to your question may not exist, at least not in canon.

Harry got hit with the killing curse, which destroyed the horcrux in him, but didn’t actually kill him. Who knows if the only reason that worked was because Voldemort was the one to cast the spell or if anyone could have cast the spell and gotten the same results? If nothing else, fiendfyre would probably work, if only because it killed both the horcrux in the diadem and Vincent Crabbe in the Room of Requirement.

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    This is a nicely reasoned answer but would be better if you could edit in some sources/evidence. – TheLethalCarrot Jun 25 '18 at 8:37
  • I remember Dumbledore telling Snape that it's very important that Voldemort himself must "kill" Harry. I guess we can safely assume that the outcome would be different if the killing curse was spelled by someone else. I'd say there would be no effect, since Voldemort was required to destroy part of his soul inside Harry and otherwise black magic behind the Horcrux would protect the host. – ElmoVanKielmo Jun 25 '18 at 9:17
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    There's a reason they didn't use said fire: it's hard to control. But if Harry was killed - truly - then so too would the fragment of Voldemort's soul that resided in him. And I'm pretty sure the reason Harry didn't die, at least in part, is that Voldemort took in Harry's blood and this tethered Harry's life to Voldemort's: and he lived. – Pryftan Jun 26 '18 at 1:02
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In order to destroy a horcrux, you need to destroy it without possibility of repair.
That's why the horcrux in Harry survived the basilisk attack in CoS.

In our world, where the Laws of Thermodynamics applies, it is fairly easy to achieve.
But in the magical world, as we have multiple examples, it needs specific ways.

Yet, it is generally admitted in all magical worlds that beheading is quite efficient as 'destroying 'someone' without possibility of repair'.

Over the course of the books, Harry gets hurt multiple times, broken bones, disappeared bone, cuts and bruises (I must not tell lies).
It is safe to assume that the horcrux part in him didn't completely protect him against physical harm (maybe it gave partial protection, but we have no way of knowing).

So we can safely assume that any physical (even non-magical) weapon or tool could have hurt Nagini to some extent (i.e. make her bleed).

Any weapon that could have destroyed Nagini beyond possibility of magical heal (decapitation, acidic dissolve, meat grinder) would have destroyed the horcrux.

  • Can you edit in some evidence to back up your claims? This also, at the moment, seems to be extremely speculative. – TheLethalCarrot Jun 25 '18 at 8:59
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    For less radical death (poison, suffocation, fatal bleeding), it is very possible that the body would become an inferi, powered by the horcrux. - why do you say that? That's... not how Inferi work. – Mithrandir Jun 25 '18 at 9:30
  • There's no evidence the fragment of Voldemorts soul inside Harry provided any sort of protection to him. We could chalk that down to the fact he isn't really a Horcrux in the ordinary sense (Horcruxes are created deliberately), but the same does seem to apply to Nagini (we don't really see her shrugging of any magical attacks on her, and in fact Voldemort is quite worried about her in DH). – Cubic Jun 25 '18 at 14:05
  • Pedantic: It's a scar not a bruise. And although it's an exception there is that chicken that lived for 18 months without a head: bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34198390 But yes as long as the creature dies the Horcrux does too. However your last paragraph is flat out wrong. That's simply not true. They are corpses reanimated to do the wizard/witch's deeds; this includes dark magic and has nothing to do with how the person died. – Pryftan Jun 26 '18 at 1:00
  • What do the Laws of Thermodynamics have to do with killing horcruxes? – Edlothiad Jun 28 '18 at 8:16

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