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.


6 Answers 6


The process of creating horcruxes requires that he rip his soul into multiple pieces. His living body contains one portion of his soul, but that portion cannot be destroyed while the horcruxes exist (that is the whole point of the horcruxes).

'Well, you split your soul, you see,' said Slughorn, 'and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one's body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged. But, of course, existence in such a form ...'

(Half Blood Prince, Chapter 23, Horcruxes)

Instead, if his body is destroyed while one or more horcruxes still exists, the portion of his soul inhabiting his body will simply become disembodied. This is how he wound up on Quirrell's head in Philosopher's Stone, and from that form he was eventually able to reconstruct himself.

Although this isn't explicitly said in the books, Harry's question to Dumbledore (Chapter 23 of Half Blood Prince again) implies that Voldemort cannot be killed first, and Dumbledore does not contradict this:

Harry sat in thought for a moment, then asked, 'So if all of his Horcruxes are destroyed, Voldemort could be killed?'

'Yes, I think so,' said Dumbledore. 'Without his Horcruxes, Voldemort will be a mortal man with a maimed and diminished soul

Even if the horcruxes were destroyed after his body was destroyed, but before he could form a new body, it is possible that the disembodied soul would persist.

  • 2
    Hmm... interesting theory, but is there any supporting evidence in source material? Nov 4, 2011 at 19:31
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    The first two paragraphs are paraphrased from source material. The last paragraph is speculation on my part based upon the criteria established in the source material (i.e. that the living body must be destroyed last).
    – Beofett
    Nov 4, 2011 at 19:33
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    This must be the answer, but I find it unsatisfying, because it seems the characters simply assume that killing someone for good doesn't just require destroying all containers for their souls. If you killed Voldemort first, he'd be a spirit, but still around because his horcruxes bind him here. If you then destroy them all, why wouldn't that last shred disappear too? Nov 30, 2011 at 18:59
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    @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 Maybe that is exactly what would have happened, but Dumbledore couldn't be certain (as information on horcruxes was sparse, at best), and probably was simply unwilling to take the chance that Voldemort might come back yet again.
    – Beofett
    Nov 30, 2011 at 19:30
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    @vsz Well, its better than nothing, but it is just a temporary solution. Eventually he'd get a new body. Also, by the time the events of the Half Blood Prince took place, the Deatheaters had been alerted to his return, so there's a reasonable chance that he would have found a new body much, much quicker. The Deatheaters had a lot more resources available to them than Quirrell or Wormtail.
    – Beofett
    Jun 27, 2019 at 1:47

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.

  • 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. Jun 30, 2014 at 17:34
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    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. Jun 30, 2014 at 20:34

Isn't that the whole point of a Horcrux? Even if the body in which the master soul (original soul) resides is destroyed, the soul survives and remains earthbound and can reside inside another body.

So even if Voldemort's master soul is hit with Avada Kedavra, he will not die because the horcruxes keep his master soul earth-bound and 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 and Quirrell.

  • 8
    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, 2014 at 9:50
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    Yes but this does not answer the question. Why not kill Voldemort first and THEN all the Horcruxes?
    – Jakob
    Jun 30, 2014 at 9:51
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    @Jakob didnt that just happen during the whole Quirell thing. Jun 30, 2014 at 9:53
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    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, 2014 at 9:54
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    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, 2014 at 12:05

In Chapter Seventeen of Philosopher's Stone Dumbledore tells Harry the following about Voldemort:

He is still out there somewhere, perhaps looking for another body to share... not being truly alive, he cannot be killed.

If we assume that Dumbledore wasn't oversimplifying things for the eleven-year-old, this seems to mean that Voldemort cannot be destroyed while in spirit form. Thus, if Voldemort would be "killed" before all his Horcruxes were destroyed, there would be nothing further that could be done to eliminate him. Subsequently destroying the Horcruxes would apparently not affect Voldemort, because there would still be no catalyst to cause his soul to exit the world. In order to completely defeat him they would need to allow him to regenerate his body yet again, and then kill him again (an extraordinary feat under the best of circumstances), and hope that he hadn't made any new Horcruxes in the meantime.

Thus, in actuality, the only foolproof way to defeat Voldemort would be to engage him in battle after destroying all his Horcruxes but before he realizes that his Horcruxes have been destroyed, hence Dumbledore's statement in Half-Blood Prince.


Well Voldemort can be killed (as demonstrated in the story's pretense) he just has to perform a rebirthing ritual using one of the Horcrux.

The problem is just killing big V is a feat in and of itself. One can't just walk into the Death Eaters' circle and start throwing curses around.


If we killed Voldy first, the Horcruxes would not be destroyed and he could come back from all the time you search for the Horcruxes and destroy them. However, if the Horcruxes are destroyed first, you can kill Voldy and he will not have his sould split into other objects anymore so he would be finished. The Horcruxes are the reason baby Harry didn't kill Voldy the night he gave him the scar.

  • 2
    I think the point of the question isn't that killing Voldemort would somehow destroy the Horcruxes, it's that with Voldemort dead, it would be much easier to destroy the Horcruxes because Voldemort wouldn't be chasing you around trying to prevent it. Since Voldemort has to be killed anyway, what's the reason they can't start by killing Voldemort to make the rest of the process simpler?
    – DavidW
    Feb 22, 2021 at 19:35
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    There's some merit to having him in his own body — you don't know who he's possessing otherwise! I suppose there's also the argument that he's a very skilled wizard even when human. If you've got rid of the Horcruxes, you need one lucky shot to kill him. If you get rid of him first, and then have to do it again, you need two lucky shots. Feb 23, 2021 at 10:05
  • @BeginTheBeguine The average heroes would regenerate Voldemort themselves through that dark ritual with foolproof confinement magic and then kill him immediately. But I guess JKR's heroes are too noble to 1). perform dark rituals like the regeneration thing 2). plan cold-blooded murder of even Voldemort. Mar 6, 2021 at 7:58

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