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Lord Voldemort: "There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!"
Albus Dumbledore: "You are quite wrong. Indeed, your failure to understand there are much worse things than death has always been your weakness."
— Discussion of death[src]

Harry Potter mourns over the dead body of Cedric Diggory

Death is the end of a living organism's life, technically defined in humans as the permanent termination of brain activity.[1] Death has commonly been considered a sad or unpleasant occasion, due to the affection for the being that has died and the termination of social and familial bonds with the deceased. Fear of death is common and many cultures and religions have the idea of an afterlife.

Nature

"It's the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more."
— Albus Dumbledore discussing the uncertainty of death[src]

Death, defined in magical terms, was the end of a body's life due to illness, or injury, and the departure of the soul that occupied it.

Death in the magical world had some substantial differences with death in the non-magical world. Some magical creatures had unusual relationships with death, namely the Phoenix and the Thestral.[2] No spell had been found to render dead flesh impervious to burning, thus rendering the Inferi highly vulnerable to it.[3] The power of death and related concepts were deeply fundamental issues within magic, and some of the most important unchanneled magic that witches and wizards could perform relied on death as an organising principle. It was obviously a major factor in Dark Magic, but, somewhat surprisingly, its importance was just as evident in the unwritten laws of Magic as a force for good.

Death was as permanent and irreversible in the magical world as outside of it, though the wall separating death and life was in general much more porous due to the effects of magic: ghosts could be left by living things as a permanent imprint of themselves after death; portraits of dead witches and wizards maintained their personalities and some of their memories; powerful magic like that of Priori Incantatem, Horcruxes,[4] and the Resurrection Stone could recall substantial memories of the dead temporarily into the midst of the living;[5] there was an archway on a dais in the Department of Mysteries that formed a physical portal between life and death;[6] and it was possible in the rarest of cases for wizards to visit the borderlands between death and life, in a state called Limbo, and return to the world of the living.[7]

Manifestations

It was also believed that death could manifest in physical forms. The Grim, which took in the form of a large black dog, was believed to be an omen of death, and even a cause of death to others, as some people who spotted it died 24 hours later while others believed it would haunt them until they finally died. The Grim was the main omen and manifestation of death which had been prophecied for decades by Seers, and Seers who had the gift of sight but lacked the gift of interpretation, could misinterpret a wizard in an Animagus form similar to the Grim as the Grim itself, which was especially the case for Sybill Trelawney, who mistook Sirius Black's dog Animagus form as the Grim.[8]

Another manifestation of death was a mysterious hooded figure which the three Peverell brothers in The Tale of the Three Brothers allegedly encountered when crossing a road and then a river which was too treacherous to pass. This manifestation and embodiment of Death appeared treacherous and tricked the brothers into using the Deathly Hallows for their own personal gain in revenge for cheating him with their magical powers, knowing that the brothers would eventually be reclaimed by Death as his own. Antioch Peverell was murdered due to the lust created by the Elder Wand, and Cadmus Peverell committed suicide upon seeing the Resurrection Stone's limitations, but Ignotus Peverell, who distrusted that manifestation of Death, alone eluded Death while wearing the Cloak of Invisibility, and after living to a ripe old age, passed the Invisibility Cloak on to his son and departed the living world with Death as an equal.[9][10]

While this mysterious manifestation of death was believed to have appeared in front of the three brothers and presented them with the three Deathly Hallows as gifts, others, like Albus Dumbledore, believed that the three brothers were powerful enough to create the Hallows themselves.[10] This may imply that the three brothers encountered that manifestation of death through creating the Hallows. However, as the story is presented as a wizarding fairy tale, their encounter with Death may have simply been an artistic device.

Regardless of the truth, death seemed to possess a noble side as well. This could be seen with honourable individuals such as Albus Dumbledore and Lily J. Potter. Dumbledore willingly sacrificed himself and arranged his own death at the hands of his close friend Severus Snape,[11] in order to help Snape secretly fight against Tom Riddle in the Second Wizarding War.[12] On 31 October 1981, Lily J. Potter sacrificed herself to protect the life of her infant son Harry Potter, to protect him from Tom Riddle after she was subsequently murdered by him, which resulted in Harry Potter being protected with the power of his mother's love.[13]

This protection was later passed on to Harry's friends and all the Hogwarts's defenders when Harry willingly sacrificed himself to Voldemort[14] despite not dying due to Voldemort's act in taking Harry's blood to restore his body binding Harry to life while Voldemort was still alive.[7] Another evidence of death's more noble side was that the physical appearances of honourable individuals who suffered in life, such as the spirits of Remus Lupin, Sirius Black and Albus Dumbledore, were all rectified after their deaths once they passed into the afterlife.[5][7] It was also death which ensured that Sirius and Remus were both reunited with their other two best friends James and Lily Potter in the afterlife, having both endured downward life spirals after they were murdered by Voldemort.[5]

Death in species

Humans

Muggles could and did die as a result of magic, usually used deliberately by witches and wizards. All things considered, in their world, there was a much more clearly demarcated and impenetrable line between living and death (or 'beyond'), than in the magical world.

The corpse of the deceased Lily Potter

Due to the cruciality of death in the forces of magic, it played a very major role in the lives of witches and wizards, personally, socially, and morally. Due to the protection provided by their innate and deliberately used magic, wizardkind could stave off death from mundane or non-magical forces, whether non-magical diseases and disorders or accidental collisions, drownings, falls, etc. Indeed, many witches and wizards could reach extremely advanced age (at least by Muggle standards), with some like Armando Dippet and Nicolas Flamel living for centuries. But the magical world also contained dangerous threats not commonly encountered by Muggles, such as malevolent spells and deadly Magical Creatures.

At least during the First and Second Wizarding Wars, deaths by violence were relatively common; however it is unknown if this was the case during more ordinary times.

Non-human magical creatures

All living things with magical powers, as did those without them, died, and all except the Phoenix were, as individuals, permanently dead thereafter. The Phoenix died in a burst of flame, due to old age or if subjected to lethal force, and was reborn in a pile of its own ashes moments later (and thus was a contiguous individual organism, and in a sense, immortal).[2] The Phoenix was a powerful symbol of the cycle of life and death and the sense in which an individual could live on, and as such was used as the namesake of the Order of the Phoenix, an organisation diametrically opposed to the Death Eaters' view of the matter. This profound power might also be the reason its tail feathers were used as wand cores.

Dementors

Four other magical beings that had interesting relationships with death are the Thestral[15][16][17][18], Basilisk, Mandrake, and Dementor. Thestrals, scaly winged ungulates, were invisible to all witches and wizards (and perhaps other living creatures) unless they had witnessed death. The Basilisk, a giant serpent, killed any living thing with whom it made direct eye contact.[19] Mandrakes were magical sentient plants whose cries would kill anyone who heard them.[20] Dementors were malevolent non-beings, and were amongst the foulest creatures which walked the earth. Dementors fed on human emotions and could remove the soul of a living being with the Dementor's Kiss.[21][22] Not being living beings, they couldn't die or be killed, but could be fought off and repelled with the Patronus Charm, which was the only known defence against these creatures. They also caused an aberrancy of death: the removal of a soul from its body before bodily death.[23] The soulless body could remain, in no sense alive except for the continuance of its vital functions, until it died some time later. The soul was said to be immortal, so it is unknown if the Dementor's act of 'sucking' the soul out of the body through the Dementor's Kiss damaged it in any way, or simply pulled it through to 'beyond' earlier than expected.

Non-living sentient beings

Ghosts

"A ghost, as I trust that you are all aware by now, is the imprint of a departed soul left upon the earth... and of course, as Potter so wisely tells us, transparent."
Severus Snape explaining what a ghost is[src]

A ghost

Ghosts could be left behind, seemingly on purpose or accidentally, as imprints of the departed body of a dead witch or wizard, which seemed to be occupied by the individual's soul, left behind in the living world. The ghost exhibited the personality, emotions, and purposeful action of a being with a soul, and could be seen, could speak, could be wafted on breezes of air, and could manipulate fluids.

They could participate in the events of the living by serving as messengers or creating distractions, but couldn't affect the physical world in many other ways. It also seemed they were confined by some power to a limited selection of places - the Hogwarts ghosts couldn't leave the castle, and Myrtle Warren described being forced to return to it when she attempted to follow Olive Hornby. The exact mechanism by which a witch or wizard became a ghost is unclear, but the two causes described were fearfulness or aversion to passing on, and determination to haunt someone left alive. Some ghosts professed to regret their status: They knew nothing about the afterlife after they died. They thought that 'beyond' seemed like it would be a more natural and comfortable place for their soul to inhabit. Becoming a ghost was something of an aberration of the normal process of death, in which a body died, a soul left it, and moved 'on'.

Poltergeists

"The poltergeist is an invisible entity that moves objects, slams doors and creates other audible, kinetic disturbances."
— Description of a Poltergeist[src]

Peeves, the resident Poltergeist of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Poltergeists were mischievous spirits whose primary purpose of existence was to cause chaos and trouble for the living. Poltergeists were not alive and thus couldn't be killed, were selectively permeable to matter and thus could choose to pass through solids or apply force to them at will, and could apparently think, feel, and plan. The one thing it appeared they couldn't do was leave their place of habitation, from which they were created magically out of the emotions felt within; Peeves used these powers purely for indiscriminate mayhem.

Substantial Memories

Witches and wizards used the word 'memory' to refer to the same concept as Muggles: a picture or impression formed in the past and held at present in the mind. However, 'memory' also appeared to describe beings that appeared neither ghost nor alive. They were described as "less substantial than a living body but much more than any ghost..." In all cases they depicted dead people, and had the power to impact the physical world: on 24 June 1995, whilst Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort were duelling in the Little Hangleton graveyard, the Reverse Spell effect resulted in the souls of James Potter I, Lily J. Potter, Cedric Diggory and Frank Bryce appear (who had all been murdered by Voldemort),[24] and in on 2 May 1998, the memories from the Resurrection Stone rustled the twigs and leaves around Harry's feet, whilst he was walking through the Forbidden Forest and accepting the death at the hands of Voldemort.[5] On the other hand, however, these shadows were tangible only to those who recalled them.

Inferius

"The Inferius is a corpse that has been reanimated by a Dark wizard's spells. It is not alive, it is merely used like a puppet to do the wizard's bidding."
— Severus Snape regarding Inferi[src]

The Inferi in the cave

The Inferi were corpses that had been reanimated by Dark Magic that did the bidding of the Dark Wizard or Witch who controlled them using Necromancy.[3][25] The magic required to bring about Inferi was complex and difficult. Inferi were not alive nor dead, they were puppets for Dark Wizards and Witches to use. They were said to prefer cool dark peaceful places and recoil from any source of light, and were extremely vulnerable to fire.[3] Tom Riddle was notorious for using Inferi during both Wizarding Wars.[26][27] He murdered so many people that he had an army of Inferi at his disposal,[26] many of which occupied The Cave where he hid Slytherin's Locket, one of his Horcruxes.[28]

Wizarding portraits and photographs

"Hogwarts portraits are able to talk and move around from picture to picture. They behave like their subjects. However, the degree to which they can interact with the people looking at them depends not on the skill of the painter, but on the power of the witch or wizard painted."
— Description of a portrait[src]

A Hogwarts portrait

Though often not classified as beings due to their limited scope of motion, encompassing only their own, neighbouring, and alternative portraits (wherever they might be), people depicted in wizarding photos and portraits very much toed the line between normal life and death. Though photos appeared to be only very brief snapshots of a person's soul, portraying them thinking, feeling, and doing whatever they were at the time the photo was taken, portraits seemed to capture quite a bit more of the soul of the person in question.[29]

Portrait people could do a variety of actions within their painted world, perhaps cycling between many aspects of their personality or habits, as was said to be an aspiration of Muggle fine portrait artists. They could also participate in the world of the living. They could serve as messengers or intermediaries. The Fat Lady sentiently guarded the door of the Gryffindor common room, requiring a password to swing open and allow access, and though her (and her temporary substitute, Sir Cadogan's) ability to recognise and interact with individuals was dubious, the Fat Lady proved perfectly capable of explaining, in detail, an assault upon her by Sirius Black. The former Hogwarts Headmaster and Headmistress portraits in the Head's office usually slumbered (though often this was a ruse as they paid careful attention to goings-on in the office), but described themselves as 'duty bound to assist and counsel the current head whenever called upon'. The portrait of Dumbledore continued to interact with Headmaster Snape in the same way and for the same purposes as the living Dumbledore, and seemed to be a vital organiser of their continued implementation. This was a remarkable degree of power to relegate to the realm of 'inanimate objects'.[29]

Causes of death

Harry Potter: "Does it hurt?"
Sirius Black: "Dying? Not at all, Quicker and easier than falling asleep."
— Discussion of what dying feels like[src]

Bellatrix Lestrange killing Sirius Black in the Death Chamber

There were no accounts of non-magical forces bringing about the deaths of witches and wizards. Heart attacks, strokes, and cancer were unheard of. Lethal run-ins with water, deoxygenated air, crushing forces and the like also seemed not to happen without magical forces being involved. Most likely this had more to do with the innate rather than deliberately used powers of magical humans (for example, children without wands often did magic to protect themselves, like Lily Evans landing gently after launching off a swing, Harry Potter flying to the roof to avoid pursuers, and Neville Longbottom bouncing when thrown out of a window), as such protective magic probably prevented mundane accidents and self-repaired diseases and damage. Deliberately performed magic, like that of Healers and Aurors, also probably could stave off such deaths.

Natural causes

"To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day."
— Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter about the deaths of Nicolas Flamel and his wife.[src]

Nearly all humans were expected to die of old age. As far as natural deaths went, it seemed that aged witches and wizards could die of old age, and they certainly became more vulnerable to common magical ailments like Dragon Pox. Muggles could reach ages of up to a hundred or more years, while wizards could reach exceptional ages.

Notably, Nicolas Flamel and his wife Perenelle lived for over 600 years, thanks to the aid of the Elixir of Life, derived from Nicholas' creation of the Philosopher's Stone. After the stone was destroyed in 1992, both Nicolas and Perenelle died of old age after their supply of elixir was depleted.[13] It is notable, however, that while the elixir extended lifespan, it did not extend youth and the drinkers continued to age at a normal rate. By 1927, Flamel was extremely frail due to his advanced age.[30]

Also notable are Armando Dippet, who lived 355 years[31][32], and Barry Winkle, who reportedly celebrated his 755th birthday in 1991.[33] It is unknown if they achieved such ages naturally or if they also extended their lives through magical means. Even without such extraordinary measures, the Ministry of Divine Health announced in the Daily Prophet in 1995 that the life expectancy of wizards and witches had reached 137¾ years.[34]

Accidents

Harry Potter: "Have you ... I mean, who ... has anyone you’ve known ever died?"
Luna Lovegood: "Yes, my mother. She was a quite extraordinary witch, you know, but she did like to experiment and one of her spells went rather badly wrong one day. I was nine."
— Luna Lovegood regarding her mother's accidental death[src]

Magical accidents were described as having killed two people, Kendra Dumbledore, killed by the uncontrolled magic of her disabled daughter, Ariana,[35] and Pandora Lovegood, killed by an accident with an experimental spell.[36] Other magical accidents, such as the explosion of an Erumpent horn, Quidditch accidents, and misused magic, were also clearly capable of causing death, and Quidditch accidents in particular were described as having done so.

Combat and law enforcement deaths

Deaths caused by Aurors using lethal force against a suspect threatening to kill someone or fleeing after doing so, or battlefield deaths in situations like, for example, the Second Wizarding War, would be misclassified if called murders. Though deliberately using lethal force was banned in sporting-level duels, it was understood by all participants that death might result, and that it would be neither an accident nor murder.

There were fascinating moral dimensions to the use of lethal force in wizarding. During the Second War, the forces of the resistance to Voldemort, in particular the Order of the Phoenix, sustained very heavy casualties, while relatively few Death Eaters died. This was partly because they faced death so much more willingly and fearlessly than their adversaries, and partly because they refused to use some of the greatest powers available to them (Dark Magic, in short), not because of the penalty in effect, but simply because to do so would be evil. While their deaths were tragic, in a sense they were also acts of nobility and love.

In the Muggle world, certain countries also carried the death penalty, in which criminals of a certain severity was lawfully executed, which would not (in legal terms) be considered as murder or manslaughter. While no such system existed in the modern Britain magical community for wizard criminals, magical animals who were deemed a threat could face execution as well. The American magical community did carry the death penalty; violating the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy was a crime that might be punishable by death, as many demanded Dorcus Twelvetrees to be executed, and Newton Scamander and Porpentina Goldstein came very close to being killed had they not managed to escape.

Manslaughter and murder

"The supreme act of evil. By committing murder. Killing rips the soul apart."
Horace Slughorn regarding the effects of murder[src]

Voldemort murders Lily Potter on Hallowe'en 1981

Manslaughter was the use of what turned out to be lethal force against another individual, without a specific intent or plan to kill them, but in full awareness that it was a possible outcome. Witches and wizards could be killed by magic besides the Killing Curse, such as the spell used by Bellatrix Lestrange to force Sirius Black through the veil in the Death Chamber and to his death,[6] and the death of Bellatrix herself when Molly Weasley used the same spell against her.[14]

Murder was the act to intentionally induce death in another individual. The main magical instruments of murder were the Killing Curse, the placing of fatal curses upon objects, and poisons. The Killing Curse was designed for bringing about death (which in most cases would be classified as murder), and clearly had no other possible purpose. It was therefore illegal,[37] though the British Ministry of Magic legalised its use by its own Aurors during the First Wizarding War, in the hope that delimiting them would make them more effective against Death Eaters, and was an eminent example of a slippery slope.[38] Voldemort was a prolific mass murderer, and used the Killing Curse freely and committed so many murders that he used the victims as part of an Inferi army.[26]

In a similar sense to new-minted Muggle soldiers and criminal gang members finding it hard to kill on purpose, it was said to be very difficult for a relatively 'innocent' witch or wizard to use this curse. Bartemius Crouch Junior (disguised as Alastor Moody) confidently predicted that if every single student in his Defence Against the Dark Arts class pointed their wand at him and said the incantation, he wouldn't get 'so much as a nosebleed', as the curse needed not only powerful magic and concentration but also an utter disregard for the sanctity of life to be used effectively.[37]

The other two known means of attempting murder, cursed objects and poisons, were both much less likely to succeed, more haphazard, and in that sense betrayed a greater hesitancy to kill. Draco Malfoy tried both when tasked by Voldemort to assassinate Dumbledore, but the Headmaster correctly read into them a moral aversion, a partially suppressed qualm obstructing the homicidal gesture. Indeed, when Draco was given the opportunity to kill Dumbledore directly to restore his family's honour and to appease Lord Voldemort, he ultimately could not do it. Harry also experienced this when he gave up his chance to kill Sirius Black, who at the time he thought to have brought about the death of his parents and assaulted his friend Ron. Of course, the success of using cursed objects and poison to kill could be as malicious as it was hesitant, as Voldemort used both to great effects, utilising a cursed ring and little known poison to defend and achieve his personal interests.

The act of ending a person's life was considered to be the most supreme act of evil, such a level that the murderer's soul would be torn apart; this was a consequence that violated the very law of nature, in addition to being against the law.[4] It seemed that one's motives of ending another's life could influence whether the soul would be torn apart or not, as Severus Snape's soul remained intact when he gave Albus Dumbledore a mercy killing.

It was not coincidental, then, that murder was the act required of a wizard or witch to create Horcruxes. Callousness in taking the life of others in order to make one's own life harder to take was the very essence of a mutilated soul.[4]

Staking one's life

Harry Potter: "What happens if you break an Unbreakable Vow?"
Ronald Weasley: "You die."
— What happens when you break an Unbreakable Vow[src]

Magic's power could be greatly increased when one staked one's own life. The Unbreakable Vow was a dark covenant that, if violated, resulted in the death of the violator.[39] While this was a sinister way of maintaining trust, it was certainly effective. In the opposite direction, the power of love could be amplified by the decision to deliberately sacrifice one's life in an attempt to save another.[13] Such a sacrifice, willingly made, could create a lasting protection powerful enough to deflect even the Unforgivable Killing Curse, and which lingered in the blood of those protected indefinitely, rendering them untouchable by and uninhabitable for powers maimed and disfigured by inhumanity.

Afterlife

"After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure."
Albus Dumbledore comments on the afterlife[src]

While the purely physical aspect of death was fully understood, the nature of what lied beyond it was a mystery to wizards, witches, and Muggles alike beyond the fact that there was indeed some sort of afterlife. When a wizard or witch died, unlike a Muggle, he or she could choose to leave behind an imprint of their soul in the mortal world in the form of a ghost.[36][40] Few opted to become ghosts, however, as it meant they would never "go on" like most people did.[36]

Limbo was an afterlife-related plane that existed in-between the physical world and the true afterlife; its contents were apparently subjective. Living people and the dead rarely spent time there. When Harry visited limbo, he met Albus Dumbledore, who offered counsel and consoled him. But when Voldemort, his soul maimed and mutilated by "tampering so inadvisably" with such evil as Horcruxes and the Killing Curse, arrived in the afterlife, he was trapped in limbo, unable to go onward or go back.[7]

Immortality and Resurrection

"No spell can reawaken the dead."
— Albus Dumbledore and how death is permanent[src]

There was no known way to magically reunite a person's soul with his/her body once they had died.[41] Many young witches and wizards discovered this through the story of Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump (in which the protagonist Babbitty was blackmailed by a charlatan to perform magic for a king, but did not bother raising her wand when the king tried to raise a dog from the dead.) During the six centuries that had elapsed since Beedle wrote the tale, innumerable ways had been devised to maintain the illusion of the continuing presence of one's loved ones. For example, wizarding photographs and portraits moved and (in the case of the latter) talked just like their subjects.

The Resurrection Stone has the power to bring back "shades" of loved ones

Similarly, the Mirror of Erised might also reveal more than a static image of a lost loved one.[42] Ghosts were translucent, sentient images of wizards and witches who had decided, for whatever reason, to remain on earth.[36] The closest to resurrecting the dead would be the Resurrection Stone, which could recall someone who had died from the beyond, but they would return only in a semi-corporeal form, "less substantial" than a living body but "much more" than a ghost.[5]

Necromancy was the Dark Arts of raising the dead. It had been noted as "a branch of magic that never worked", since reuniting the departed soul to the deceased body was by far impossible. However, Dark Wizards had created pale imitations of resurrection via the creation of Inferi and charmed skeletons, which involved complex spells and curses to accomplish. Such creatures were not truly alive, as they were simply corpse puppets moving based on their creators' design, with no free will nor soul remaining in them.[41]

A dead person could be returned to life by using of Time-Turners, by going back in time to prevent such deaths from occurring, thus changing history into one where the target would remain alive. However, due to the complexity of time, this could easily bring repercussions of such magnitude that could easily cause many more deaths and tragedies than good. An example was when Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy went back in time to prevent Cedric Diggory from being killed, he became a bitter young man who joined the Death Eaters and ended up killing Neville Longbottom, and thus inadvertently kept Lord Voldemort from being killed, which in turn led to Harry Potter's death, and changing the course of history into an age of darkness (which also caused Albus to be un-born).[43]

Despite this, wizards had still not found a way of reuniting body and soul once death had occurred. This subject was covered by eminent wizarding philosopher Bertrand de Pensées-Profondes in his celebrated work A Study into the Possibility of Reversing the Actual and Metaphysical Effects of Natural Death, with Particular Regard to the Reintergration of Essence and Matter, during which he stated that reversing death would never be physically possible.[10] Phoenixes were the sole exception to the rules of death, as they could be reborn from their ashes without any restraints or assistance.[44][45][2]

However, while there existed no known method of reversing death once it had occurred, there were certain things a witch or wizard could do to postpone their death or prolong their life (even further than the longevity which would seem to be granted by magical ability e.g. Albus Dumbledore's health despite his advanced age).

The Elixir of Life, which was made from the Philosopher's Stone, would grant a person extended life for as long as they continued to consume it.[46][13] However, because the only known Philosopher's Stone in existence at the time was destroyed in 1992, this method was not currently available.[13] Unicorn blood could keep alive a person who was near death, but unicorns were such pure, defenceless creatures that a person who killed one and drank its blood would have "but a half-life".[47]

A wizard or witch who ripped their soul through an act of murder could place that torn fragment inside of an external object called a Horcrux.[4] By binding a part of the soul to the earth, the Horcrux prevented the wizard or witch from dying, even if the body was injured or completely destroyed.[4] However, there was a cost to using Horcruxes — as shown in the deterioration of Lord Voldemort's physical condition after repeatedly splitting his soul, as well as the mangled spectral state he had been trapped in during the destruction of his physical body. There was a potion which enabled the Horcrux-creator's body to be reconstructed in the latter scenario.[48] Overall, however, many wizards and witches would prefer death over such a pitiful state of existence. It seemed if this potion was used, and the wizard was returned to a resurrected body, they seemed to be unable to die until all of the Horcruxes were destroyed, as shown with Lord Voldemort during the final battle of Hogwarts, as only when all of his Horcruxes were destroyed was he killed. The creation of Horcruxes damaged the soul in such a way that if the user died after all their anchors were destroyed, then the soul would remain trapped in limbo in a terrible state, never to return as a ghost nor move on.[7]

Study and perception of death

"Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love."
— Albus Dumbledore on death[src]

The Veil in the Death Chamber of the Department of Mysteries

There was a chamber in the Department of Mysteries where witches and wizards studied the mysteries of death.[36] In this chamber was the Veil, an ancient stone archway, which was a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead.[36] People standing around the Veil might hear voices from the other side depending on their level of faith in an afterlife.[36][49] A person whose body passed through the Veil would die.[36][6]

Wizarding philosopher Bertrand de Pensées-Profondes also researched death. He wrote a highly-regarded work on the subject, A Study into the Possibility of Reversing the Actual and Metaphysical Effects of Natural Death, with Particular Regard to the Reintegration of Essence and Matter.[41]

Although many feared death due to the unknown that lied beyond life, few would ever choose to manipulate and damage their own souls to remain behind in a pitiful existence. Horcruxes and remaining as ghosts were two known methods of immortalising one's existence in the plane of living, but the former had dire consequences that few would ever want it, while the latter meant entrapment for eternity that only those who feared or had deep bonds would choose it.[36]

Lord Voldemort considered death to be the ultimate humiliation of defeat, that nothing was worse than it, and it was his greatest fear as a result; his fear of death and lack of understanding of the soul's wellbeing's importance led him to the extreme lengths of creating seven Horcruxes to evade death. He and his host at the time, Quirinus Quirrell, were so fearful of death that they were willing to drink unicorn blood, which would cause them to suffer a cursed half-life. Voldemort even looked down on his own mother for dying, incorrectly believing she was a Muggle for suffering what he regards as a weakness; even discovering she was a witch did not alter his perception of her mortality. Albus Dumbledore saw Voldemort's fear of death as his greatest weakness, as there were fates worse than death, and that anyone who could truly understand that and accept the inevitability of death could be considered to be a true "Master of Death". On the other hand, some people who believed in the existence of the Deathly Hallows incorrectly believed that becoming a Master of Death meant choosing and accepting immortality, and that uniting all three Deathly Hallows would result in another form of immortality.

As Dumbledore stated, there were fates believed to be worse than death, which generally included living under permanent pain, misery, physical and mental incapacitation, or living under an unbreakable curse. There were indeed some wizards and witches who preferred death than such fates. Many inmates of Azkaban went insane after a short time in there due to the depressive effects, and stopped eating, preferring to die. Many people also feared receiving the Dementor's Kiss as a result, preferring death to living in an empty, vegetative state. Tragic tales were told of knowing victims begging for death rather than becoming werewolves, mainly due to the extreme stigma of Lycanthropy in the wizarding community and the accompanying life of poverty and loneliness.[50] As Horace Slughorn mentioned, the existence in a spectral state of a wizard who created a Horcrux would be a fate that very few would desire, and that death was a preferable alternative to such. Ironically, Voldemort, in spite of his extreme fear of death, ended up suffering a fate worse than death after the destruction of his Horcruxes and his death, when his mutilated spirit was trapped as a terrible, stunted form in limbo for all eternity.[7] When Firenze revealed to Harry Potter about the cursed half-life which drinking unicorn blood would cause, Harry stated that death would be better than living a half and potentially painful life.[47]

Merope Riddle, who lived her entire life in misery in her abusive household, lost all will to live after she ceased dosing Tom Riddle Senior with Love Potion and he came to his senses and left her, contrary of her besotted belief that he would stay out of genuine love. Dumbledore noted that she was heavily weakened and lacked the courage to go on after this final heartbreak and would prefer death over living through any more potential unhappiness.[51] Another aspect of this was when Frank and Alice Longbottom were tortured into insanity due to repeated and prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus Curse by Voldemort's Death Eaters. As a result, many people said that death would have been a preferable fate for them, as they were still alive but forced to live under permanent incapacitation at St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, and unable to recognise their only son.[52]

In the Muggle world, certain countries employed the death penalty, which was to kill convicted criminals for committing crimes of a certain level of severity. Vernon Dursley advocated the death penalty, claiming that "...hanging's the only way to deal with these people", showing a harsh view on criminal justice.[53] Although wizarding authorities were sometimes permitted to kill criminals for resisting arrest, there seemed to be no actual death penalty for captured convicts in the wizarding world, with the exception of the Magical Congress of the United States of America, in the 1920s at least, in which they carried out executions by means of the Death potion, wherein a condemned prisoner would be suspended over the potion in a chair and lowered into the potion while being showed their happiest memories and would be enveloped in a sphere and set on fire.[54] Magical animals deemed dangerous by the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures were executed by beheading; one known executioner was Walden Macnair.[55]

See also

Behind the scenes

  • Death is a major subject and theme in the books of Harry Potter. At least one person dies in five out of seven of the Harry Potter books, and the death of a person or people in the past is an important plot element in all seven.
  • During each of the last four books, the body count increases each time, with over a hundred named characters dying during the timeline of the books by the end. Of these deaths, none were natural. It is hard to actually think of one that is not violent in some way. The deaths of twelve characters, Quirinus Quirrell, Frank Bryce, Cedric Diggory, Sirius Black, Albus Dumbledore, Charity Burbage, Peter Pettigrew, Dobby, Fred Weasley, Severus Snape, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Tom Riddle, are described in detail as they happen. Over twice as many are described in detail after they happened.

Author's comments

"Do you absolutely have a sense of how evil it is to take another person’s life? Yes, I think in my book you do. I think you do. I think you see that is a horrific thing. I have enormous respect for human life. I do not think that you would read… the deaths in [my books] and think, yeah, well, he’s gone, off we go. Not at all. I think it’s very clear where my sympathies lie. And here we are dealing with someone, I’m dealing with a villain who does hold human life incredibly cheap. That’s how it happens: one squeeze of the trigger. Gone. Forever. That’s evil. It’s a terrible, terrible thing..."
J. K. Rowling
"Death is just life's next big adventure"
J. K. Rowling
"It is not about striving for immortality, but about accepting mortality."
J. K. Rowling on becoming the Master of Death

Appearances

Notes and references

  1. WP favicon.PNG Death on Wikipedia
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Writing by J.K. Rowling: "Inferi" at Wizarding World
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 23 (Horcruxes)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 34 (The Forest Again)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 35 (Beyond the Veil)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 35 (King's Cross)
  8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 6 (Talons and Tea Leaves)
  9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 21 (The Tale of the Three Brothers)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 The Tales of Beedle the Bard - "The Tale of the Three Brothers"
  11. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 27 (The Lightning-Struck Tower)
  12. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 33 (The Prince's Tale)
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 17 (The Man with Two Faces)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 36 (The Flaw in the Plan)
  15. 2003 interview at Royal Albert Hall on Accio! Quote
  16. F.A.Q. question on JKRowling.com
  17. 2004 Edinburgh Book Festival on JKRowling.com
  18. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 21 (The Eye of the Snake)
  19. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 16 (The Chamber of Secrets)
  20. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 6 (Gilderoy Lockhart)
  21. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 5 (The Dementor)
  22. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 20 (The Dementor's Kiss)
  23. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 36 (The Parting of the Ways)
  24. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 34 (Priori Incantatem)
  25. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 21 (The Unknowable Room)
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 4 (Horace Slughorn)
  27. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 9 (The Half-Blood Prince)
  28. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 26 (The Cave)
  29. 29.0 29.1 Writing by J.K. Rowling: "Hogwarts Portraits" at Wizarding World
  30. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - The Original Screenplay
  31. Harry Potter Limited Edition - The Paintings of Hogwarts: Masterpieces from the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Sets - (1637 - 1992) (see this image)
  32. In the newspaper held up by Snape in the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (film) (set in 1992), an elderly Armando Dippet is said to have been born three hundred and fifty-five years before, in October. This places his date of birth in October 1637.
  33. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (film) - see this image.
  34. The Making of Harry Potter - see this image.
  35. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 28 (The Missing Mirror)
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 36.3 36.4 36.5 36.6 36.7 36.8 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 38 (The Second War Begins)
  37. 37.0 37.1 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 14 (The Unforgivable Curses)
  38. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 27 (Padfoot Returns)
  39. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 16 (A Very Frosty Christmas)
  40. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 21 (The Unknowable Room)
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 The Tales of Beedle the Bard, page 79
  42. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 12 (The Mirror of Erised)
  43. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  44. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 12 (The Polyjuice Potion)
  45. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 36 (The Only One He Ever Feared)
  46. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 13 (Nicolas Flamel)
  47. 47.0 47.1 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 15 (The Forbidden Forest)
  48. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 32 (Flesh, Blood and Bone)
  49. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 34 (The Department of Mysteries)
  50. Writing by J.K. Rowling: "Werewolves" at Wizarding World
  51. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 13 (The Secret Riddle)
  52. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 23 (Christmas on the Closed Ward)
  53. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 2 (Aunt Marge's Big Mistake)
  54. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay
  55. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 16 (Professor Trelawney's Prediction)
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