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It seems that to Dumbledore, defeating Voldemort could only happen in one way: by having Voldemort die. The entire quest to find and destroy the horcruxes took place only to achieve this objective. Harry even was willing to sacrifice himself in order to bring Voldemort closer to death.

Why did Dumbledore assume this was the only option, though? There are numerous ways to effectively eliminate a wizard without going to the extent of killing him. The previous dark lord Grindelwald was imprisoned. Other criminals receive the Dementor's Kiss. Gilderoy Lockhart and Neville's parents were permanently incapacitated through magical damage. There are probably lots of other ways in the Rowling's universe that a person might become effectively defeated while still living, whether or not that person has horcruxes. Did Dumbledore, or anyone else, consider any possibilities other than jumping straight to the killing option?

What made everyone convinced that nothing other than death would subdue Lord Voldemort?

Note 1: The prophecy said that "Neither can live while the other survives", but according to the interpretation Dumbledore gave Harry, it means that as long as Harry lives, Voldemort would be determined to kill him. If Voldemort were incapacitated a different way, though, he might lose his ability or motivation to face Harry. As Dumbledore points out, not every prophecy has to come true, and maybe some only come true because the people involved choose to make it so.

Note 2: I wonder if certain measures, such as the Dementor's Kiss, work differently when the recipient has a Horcrux. If there's a canon answer to this, I would be interested to know. However, I doubt this would rule out other methods of magical incapacitation.

Canon answers preferred, please.

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  • 1
    Just when I thought there weren't any good Harry Potter questions left to be asked. BTW I think your Note 2 question might be better off as a separate question (if it hasn't been answered already).
    – tilley31
    Oct 5, 2021 at 16:33
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    Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality tackled that a logical way; obliviated to almost down to basically nothing, then transformed to an inanimate form, and kept like that. Obviously not canon (it's a very well done fanfic, re-imagining HP with parents who taught him logic,) but much more sensible.
    – K-H-W
    Oct 5, 2021 at 16:42
  • @K-H—W That seems to be a cruel and inhumane punishment. The old adage: there are fates worse than death. A (the?) solution strikes to the heart of what are the possibly competing goals for sanction against Voldemort: justice? Ending his acts? Rehabilitating his worldview? Oct 5, 2021 at 17:16
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    @SillybutTrue -- Maybe.. But, from another perspective, it has Voldemort as a self hating person who had the potential to go right, but had bad experiences (we know this because Harry, in this Universe, is basically his clone -- Nature/Nurture issue); Harry's action basically is comparable to killing him (mentally), and resetting him to base values -- Harry hopes, in the future, to try to rehabilitate him. In the meantime, with no memory, and in an inanimate form, he's basically suspended; not suffering in any way. And what Harry is doing to the world may well allow helping him later.
    – K-H-W
    Oct 5, 2021 at 18:25
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    @SillybutTrue -- Note; my comment above is WAY oversimplifying; read the fanfic -- its really well written and has a myriad of references any devotee of SciFi will enjoy :)
    – K-H-W
    Oct 5, 2021 at 18:28

3 Answers 3

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Other actions would grant some time of peace, but not solve the problem ultimately.

Let's go through proposed solutions, remembering that Voldemort is immortal thanks to his Horcruxes...

If Voldemort was imprisoned, banished, hidden or in any other way isolated from the Magical Community: That would resemble the situation when he had been hiding powerless and bodyless in forests of Albania. Sooner or later somebody would find him and help him get back to power (like Quirrell and Wormtail did).

The Dementors where on the dark side. They are Voldemort's natural supporters, because with his ruling the sorrow and hopelessness spreads. So it wouldn't be easy to convince a Dementor to kiss the Dark Lord.

Gilderoy Lockhart lost all his memories, but he remained his personality (remember giving autographs at the hospital?). If Voldemort lost all his memories, he'd have infinite time to grow to an independent evil person with new memories.

The Longbottoms lost their mind because of long torture with Cruciatus Curse. Maybe one could bring so much pain to Voldemort that he loses his mind and lives permanently incapactitated. That would actually render him dead to the world. But wouldn't it be much more unethical than just killing him?

Now, assuming that any of the above plans is successful, we must not forget about the Horcruxes. They not only grant immortality to the Dark Lord, but they can also act independently. The Diary possessed Ginny Weasley and in the end it almost turned to a bodily form. The Locket also was able to speak and show images, possibly could do more. So, sooner or later Voldemort could revive from one of his Horcruxes.

The plan of destroying all Horcruxes and killing Voldemort was not the only action of Dumbledore taken against the Dark Lord. The Order of the Phoenix members didn't know about Horcruxes at all. They tried all other means to resist Voldemort and slow down his actions. But Dumbledore and Harry were aware that in the end somebody had to destroy Horcruxes and kill the Dark Lord.

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  • Thanks for the answer. Your responses to the suggestions I listed are reasonable, although I was wondering if there is a canonical reason to rule out all possible alternatives to death, not just the handful I came up with off the top of my head. Did any character ever consider any other option? The point about horcruxes acting evil independently is very good, though.
    – Zayn
    Oct 5, 2021 at 22:09
  • I don't recall any discussion on actively striking on Voldemort. Order of the Phoenix focused on convincing Wizards of his return, spying on Death Eaters and guarding the Prophecy. The Ministry led by Fudge did nothing but false propaganda and Scrimgeour wasn't much better. Then it was too late as the power of the Dark Lord grew and more and more of good people had to go into hiding. Oct 6, 2021 at 10:51
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In Deathly Hallows, another solution is offered: remorse.

Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows, Chapter 6:

“Isn’t there any way of putting yourself back together?” Ron asked.

“Yes,” said Hermione with a hollow smile, “but it would be excruciatingly painful.”

“Why? How do you do it?” asked Harry.

“Remorse,” said Hermione. “You’ve got to really feel what you’ve done. There’s a footnote. Apparently the pain of it can destroy you. I can’t see Voldemort attempting it somehow, can you?”

Harry actually tries to bring Voldemort to it:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 36 :

“It’s your one last chance,” said Harry, “it’s all you’ve got left. ... I’ve seen what you’ll be otherwise. ... Be a man ... try ... Try for some remorse. ...”

Since Voldemort refuses to try it, he is beyond redemption. Having an unstable 7-pieces soul, he can not only rebuild his body, should it be destroyed, but also to possess and inhabit other people, as he did with Quirrell and Ginny Weasley.

The only way to stop him is to kill him. But Harry tries to give him an option to redeem himself until the end.

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  • This is it! The other answers offer good explanations, but here is concrete evidence of someone (Harry) explicitly considering a solution to put an end to Voldemort's tyranny (remorse) that doesn't involve directly killing him. Good find!
    – Zayn
    Oct 9, 2021 at 14:34
  • Worth noting that remorse, in case of Voldemort, is utter suicide.
    – TimSparrow
    Oct 11, 2021 at 8:35
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Of the options you mention, the only one that would seem to irreversibly put an end to a wizard is the Dementor’s Kiss. Now consider this passage from Chapter Twelve of Prisoner of Azkaban:

“They call it the Dementor’s Kiss,” said Lupin, with a slightly twisted smile. “It’s what dementors do to those they wish to destroy utterly. I suppose there must be some kind of mouth under there, because they clamp their jaws upon the mouth of the victim and — and suck out his soul.”

Harry accidentally spat out a bit of butterbeer.

”What — they kill — ?” “Oh no,” said Lupin.

“Much worse than that. You can exist without your soul, you know, as long as your brain and heart are still working. But you’ll have no sense of self anymore, no memory, no... anything. There’s no chance at all of recovery. You’ll just — exist. As an empty shell. And your soul is gone forever... lost.”

Lupin drank a little more butterbeer, then said, “It’s the fate that awaits Sirius Black. It was in the Daily Prophet this morning. The Ministry have given the dementors permission to perform it if they find him.”

Harry sat stunned for a moment at the idea of someone having their soul sucked out through their mouth. But then he thought of Black.

“He deserves it,” he said suddenly.

“You think so?” said Lupin lightly. “Do you really think anyone deserves that?”

“Yes,” said Harry defiantly. “For... for some things...”

Here Lupin suggests that the Dementor’s Kiss is a fate too terrible for anyone, even someone who (at the time he believed) was a mass murderer and traitor to his best friend. It is certainly conceivable that this would apply to Voldemort as well.

Note also that Lupin does not have a problem killing bad guys if it comes to it. Take this passage in Chapter Five of Deathly Hallows:

Lupin looked aghast.

“Harry, the time for Disarming is past! These people are trying to capture and kill you! At least Stun if you aren’t prepared to kill!”

Dumbledore, on the other hand, avoids killing bad guys (even though those bad guys sometimes kill good guys on a future occasion).

For instance, this passage In Chapter Thirty-Five of Deathly Hallows:

“Master of death, Harry, master of Death! Was I better, ultimately, than Voldemort?”

“Of course you were,” said Harry. “Of course — how can you ask that? You never killed if you could avoid it!”

Thus, if Lupin who is willing to kill still thinks that no one deserves the Dementor’s Kiss, it is certainly reasonable to suppose that Dumbledore who is not willing to kill would also oppose the Dementor’s Kiss.

Furthermore, throughout the series we see that Dumbledore does not approve of dementors. As one example, we have this passage in Chapter Thirty of Goblet of Fire:

“Crouch is going to let him out,” Moody breathed quietly to Dumbledore. “He’s done a deal with him. Took me six months to track him down, and Crouch is going to let him go if he’s got enough new names. Let’s hear his information, I say, and throw him straight back to the dementors.”

Dumbledore made a small noise of dissent through his long, crooked nose. “Ah, I was forgetting... you don’t like the dementors, do you, Albus?” said Moody with a sardonic smile.

“No,” said Dumbledore calmly, “I’m afraid I don’t. I have long felt the Ministry is wrong to ally itself with such creatures.”

“But for filth like this...” Moody said softly.

Here we see that Dumbledore thinks that dementors shouldn’t be used at all, let alone the Dementor’s Kiss, even for convicted Death Eaters.

Besides for the above argument, there are also practical considerations. As early as Chapter Thirty-Six of Goblet of Fire Dumbledore was predicting that they would lose the loyalty of the dementors:

“The rest of us sleep less soundly in our beds, Cornelius, knowing that you have put Lord Voldemort’s most dangerous supporters in the care of creatures who will join him the instant he asks them!” said Dumbledore. “They will not remain loyal to you, Fudge! Voldemort can offer them much more scope for their powers and their pleasures than you can! With the dementors behind him, and his old supporters returned to him, you will be hard-pressed to stop him regaining the sort of power he had thirteen years ago!”

By Chapter Eight of Order of the Phoenix he was suggesting that this might have already occurred:

“If it is true that the dementors are taking orders only from the Ministry of Magic, and it is also true that two dementors attacked Harry and his cousin a week ago, then it follows logically that somebody at the Ministry might have ordered the attacks,” said Dumbledore politely. “Of course, these particular dementors may have been outside Ministry control —”

And by Chapter One of Half-Blood Prince the Ministry already admitted this:

“I thought dementors guard the prisoners in Azkaban,” he said cautiously.

“They did,” said Fudge wearily. “But not anymore. They’ve deserted the prison and joined He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I won’t pretend that wasn’t a blow.”

Thus, while Dumbledore might not have been able to predict the exact unfolding of events after his death, he would certainly have been well aware that Harry would probably not be in a position to have Voldemort subjected to the Dementor’s Kiss.

Finally, we should consider whether Horcruxes themselves might protect against the Dementor’s Kiss. Given that Dementor’s Kisses and Horcruxes seem to each be quite rare on their own, it wouldn’t be surprising if a Dementor’s Kiss had never been performed on someone with Horcruxes. As it is, it doesn’t seem that much is known about the Dementor’s Kiss — witness Lupin’s remarks quoted above where he supposes that they have some kind of mouth. While he does claim to not be an expert on dementors, as a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we would expect his knowledge of dementors to be relatively proficient.

Given that Horcruxes safely house portions of one’s soul outside the body, it is not unreasonable to suspect that one could be restored in some form after a dementor removes the piece of soul housed in the body. Thus, we could suggest that Dumbledore (and Harry) either didn’t know how a Dementor’s kiss would interact with Horcruxes, or they knew that it wouldn’t work.

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