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Limbo DH2

Harry Potter's interpretation of limbo

"He lay in a bright mist, though it was not like mist he had ever experienced before. His surroundings were not hidden by cloudy vapour; rather the cloudy vapour had not yet formed into surroundings. The floor on which he lay seemed to be white, neither warm nor cold, but simply there, a flat, blank something on which to be."
— Description[src]

Limbo was a state of being that existed between life and death. Limbo came to being inside a person's mind, making it both real and unreal. Its appearance was different for each person who visited it. Some limbo experiences involve loved ones or acquaintances.[1]


Harry Potter: "Tell me one last thing. Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"
Albus Dumbledore: "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
— Harry Potter's time spent in limbo[src]

On 2 May 1998, Harry Potter allowed himself to be struck by a Killing Curse cast by Lord Voldemort in an attempt to protect his friends and loved ones and to destroy the piece of Voldemort's soul that resided within him. What neither he nor Voldemort realised, however, was that when Voldemort used Harry's blood in his resurrection in 1995, he unsuspectingly took Lily Potter's magical protection of Harry into himself as well, thereby tethering Harry's life to his own.[2]

Harry and Dumbledore in limbo

Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter in limbo

Harry awoke in limbo to find himself lying naked in a formless mist. As he adjusted to his surroundings, he wished to himself that he were clothed. This wish came true, a short ways away a pile of clean fresh clothes appeared. After putting the clothes on, the mist began to take shape into a copy of King's Cross Station. Harry then saw a stunted whimpering child-like form (the last piece of Voldemort's soul)[3] lying on the ground, for which he felt both pity and revulsion. He also saw the deceased Albus Dumbledore, and the two had a long talk in which Dumbledore answered many of Harry's questions and told him that he was not actually dead. Harry was given the choice to return to the world of the living to finally stop Voldemort, or to metaphorically "board a train" and go into the afterlife. He chose to live, bidding farewell to Dumbledore.[2] 

When he had returned and stood against Voldemort in Hogwarts's Great Hall, Harry warned him that he had seen what fate awaited Riddle when he finally died, unless he were to attempt to mend his broken soul through remorse. Voldemort, being ignorant of such a fate along with the importance of his soul's well-being, as well as arrogantly believing that he would not die, ignored the warning and proceeded to attack.[2]

Voldemort's mutilated soul

"Something which is beyond either of our help..."

With the destruction of all of his Horcruxes, when Voldemort's Killing Curse rebounded and finally ended his life once and for all, his broken and mangled soul[4] was forced to exist in the stunted form Harry saw in King's Cross. He was unable to move on or return as a ghost, nor having any chance of repairing himself any further or being helped by anyone in any way.[5] This was a consequence of violating the nature of life and death through the nature of his curses and his creation of Horcruxes.


In Dante Alighieri's Inferno, limbo is the first circle of Hell. It's where pagans who were good people go, because they didn't believe in the Judeo-Christian God. The word itself derives from the Latin word, limbus, meaning "edge, border". So Latin "in limbo" came to mean "in a condition of neglect or oblivion". The word is entirely unrelated to the Muggle dancing game, limbo, which derives from West Indian roots (same as "limber").

Behind the scenes[]

  • It isn't specified if all souls of the dead pass through limbo before moving on, or if Harry's visit there was due to the unique circumstances that tethered both Voldemort and himself to life.
    • It is possible that limbo is the place at which a recently–deceased person can make the decision whether to move on or return to the mortal world as a ghost, assuming they have not eroded their souls via creating Horcruxes. Indeed, Harry was offered a choice to either return to the world of the living or board a train, to go "on".
  • When Graham Montague was trapped in the broken Vanishing Cabinet, he was described as being in limbo. However, that term doesn't refer to this place, but rather being stuck between Hogwarts Castle and Borgin and Burkes, unable to pass into either.
  • When asked if Harry died, Rowling said she wrote it so it could be interpreted in two ways. Either Harry fell unconscious and his subconscious in the form of Dumbledore tells Harry information Harry already knew deep inside, or that he travelled to a place between life and death that both Harry and Dumbledore would leave in opposite directions.[6][7]
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Harry wakes up in limbo in his clothes (without the jacket he was wearing while in the Forbidden Forest) rather than being naked like in the book. This was likely done for censorship reasons.
    • Also in the film, Voldemort's soul in limbo greatly resembles the rudimentary body that Voldemort used during the film version of Goblet of Fire. Whether this is a coincidence or intentional on the filmmakers' part is unknown. Although, based on the description in the fourth and seventh novels, the appearance of Voldemort's stunted form does match.
  • It's unknown if the mangled form of Voldemort's soul was a standard fate that all Horcrux creators (such as Herpo the Foul) were given at death, or if it was unique in Voldemort's case as he created multiple Horcruxes.
    • Seeing that a ghost takes on the form of the wizard/witch's appearance at the time of death, it's most likely that Voldemort's soul is indeed a reflection of his rudimentary form.


Notes and references[]