|"Well, I think we should put it back in order for them, don't you?"|
- Voldemort: "You do not seek to kill me, Dumbledore? Above such brutality, are you?"
- Albus Dumbledore: "We both know there are other ways of destroying a man, Tom. Merely taking your life would not satisfy me, I admit"
- 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."
- — Lord Voldemort and Albus Dumbledore discussing death[src]
Death is the end of a living organism's life, technically defined in humans as the permanent termination of brain activity.
- "Its the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more."
- —Albus Dumbledore
Death, defined in magical terms, is 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 has some substantial differences with death in the non-magical world. Some magical creatures have unusual relationships with death, namely the Phoenix and the Thestral. The power of death and related concepts are deeply foundational issues within Magic, and some of the most important unchanneled magic witches and wizards can perform rely on death as an organising principle. It is obviously a major factor in Dark Magic, but, somewhat surprisingly, its importance is just as evident in the unwritten laws of Magic as a force for good.
Death is as permanent and irreversible in the magical world as outside of it, though the wall separating death and life is in general much more porous due to the effects of magic: ghosts can be left by living things as a permanent imprint of themselves after death, portraits of dead witches and wizards maintain their personalities and some of their memories, powerful magic like that of Priori Incantatem, Horcruxes, and the Resurrection Stone can recall substantial memories of the dead temporarily into the midst of the living, there is an archway on a dais in the Department of Mysteries that forms a physical portal between life and death, and it is 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.
Death in species
Muggles can and do die as a result of magic, usually used deliberately by witches and wizards. All things considered, in their world, there is a much more clearly demarcated and impenetrable line between living and death (or 'beyond'), than in the magical world.
Humans (Witches and Wizards)
Due to the cruciality of death in the forces of magic, it plays 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, it appears wizards are rarely or never killed by mundane or non-magical forces, whether non-magical diseases and disorders or accidental collisions, drownings, falls, etc. Indeed, many witches and wizards of extremely advanced age (at least by Muggle standards) are mentioned: Albus Dumbledore, Nicolas Flamel, and Auntie Muriel. But the magical world is nevertheless very dangerous and deadly, and if the story of the Second Wizarding War is any indication, witches and wizards are more likely by far to suffer violent deaths than Muggles.
Non-human magical creatures
All living things with magical powers, as do those without them, die, and all except the Phoenix are, as individuals, permanently dead thereafter. The Phoenix dies in a burst of flame, due to old age or if subjected to lethal force, and is reborn in a pile of its own ashes moments later (and thus is a contiguous individual organism, and in a sense, immortal). The Phoenix is a powerful symbol of the cycle of life and death and the sense in which an individual can live on, and as such is used as the namesake of the Order of the Phoenix, an organization diametrically opposed to the Death Eaters' view of the matter. This profound power may also be the reason its tail feathers are used as wand cores.
Four other magical creatures that have interesting relationships with death are the Thestral, Basilisk, Mandrake, and Dementor. Thestrals, scaly, winged ungulates, are invisible to all witches and wizards (and perhaps other living creatures too) unless they have witnessed death. The Basilisk, a giant serpent, kills any living thing with whom it makes direct eye contact. Mandrakes, on the other hand, kill any who hear their cries. Dementors cannot be killed by lethal forces, and as far as the books describe, can only be killed by starvation from their food source, which is human emotions. They also cause an aberrancy of death: the removal of a soul from its body before bodily death. The soulless body can remain, in no sense alive except for the continuance of its vital functions, until it dies some time later. The soul is said to be immortal, so it is unknown if the Dementor's act of 'sucking' the soul out of the body damages it in any way, or simply pulls it through to 'beyond' earlier than expected.
Non-living sentient beings
Ghosts can be left behind, seemingly on purpose or accidentally, as imprints of the departed body of a dead witch or wizard, which seem to be occupied by the individual's soul, left behind in the living world. The ghost exhibits the personality, emotions, and purposeful action of a being with a soul, and can be seen, can speak, can be wafted on breezes of air, and can manipulate fluids.
They can participate in the events of the living by serving as messengers or creating distractions, but cannot affect the physical world in many other ways. It also seems they are confined by some power to a limited selection of places- the Hogwarts ghosts cannot leave the castle, and Myrtle Warren describes being forced to return to it when she attempted to follow Olive Hornby. The exact mechanism by which a witch or wizard becomes a ghost is unclear, but the two causes described are fearfulness or aversion to passing on, and determination to haunt someone left alive. Some ghosts profess to regret their status, as 'beyond' seems like it would be a more natural and comfortable place for their soul to inhabit. Becoming a ghost is something of an aberration of the normal process of death, in which a body dies, a soul leaves it, and moves 'on'.
- "The poltergeist is an invisible entity that moves objects, slams doors and creates other audible, kinetic disturbances."
- —Description of a Poltergeist[src]
Poltergeists are not alive and thus cannot be killed, are selectively permeable to matter and thus can choose to pass through solids or apply force to them at will, and can apparently think, feel, and plan. The one thing it appears they cannot do is leave their place of habitation, from which they were created magically out of the emotions felt within; Peeves uses these powers purely for indiscriminate mayhem.
Witches and wizards use 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 appears to describe beings that appear neither ghost nor - the teenage Tom Riddle that emerges from his diary horcrux, the victims of Voldemort's wand that appear during Priori Incantatem, and the protective group of Harry's loved ones summoned using the Resurrection Stone. They are described as "less substantial than a living body but much more than any ghost..." In all cases they depict dead people, and have the power to impact the physical world: the Riddle memory raises Harry's wand and controls the Basilisk, the memories created with Priori Incantatem supply Harry with a plan of action to escape the graveyard and provide cover while he escapes, and the memories from the Resurrection Stone rustle twigs and leaves around Harry's feet. On the other hand, however, these shadows are tangible only to those who recall them.
- "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]
Inferi are corpses that have been reanimated by Dark Magic that do the bidding of the spell caster / animator. Inferi are not alive or dead, they are puppets for evil wizards and witches to use. They are said to prefer cool dark peaceful places and recoil from any source of light (especially fire). In ways Inferi are zombies in their appearances and actions.
Wizarding portraits and photos
Though often not classified as beings due to their limited scope of motion, encompassing only their own, neighbouring, and alternative portraits (wherever they may be), people depicted in Wizarding photos and portraits very much toe the line between normal life and death. Though photos appear 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 seem to capture quite a bit more of the soul of the person in question.
Portrait people can do a variety of actions within their painted world, perhaps cycling between many aspects of their personality or habits, as is said to be an aspiration of Muggle fine portrait artists. They can also participate in the world of the living. They can serve as messengers or intermediaries. The Fat Lady sentiently guards 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 is dubious, the Fat Lady proves 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 slumber (though often this is a ruse as they pay careful attention to goings-on in the office), but describe themselves as 'duty bound to assist and counsel the current head whenever called upon'. The portrait of Dumbledore continues to interact with Headmaster Snape in the same way and for the same purposes as the living Dumbledore, and seems to be a vital organiser of their continued implementation. This is a remarkable degree of power to relegate to the realm of 'inanimate objects'.
Causes of death
- Harry Potter: "Does it hurt?"
- Sirius Black: "Dying? Not at all, Quicker and easier than falling asleep"
- — Harry Potter to Sirius Black, after using the Resurrection Stone
There are no accounts of non-magical forces bringing about the deaths of witches and wizards. Heart attacks, strokes, and cancer are unheard of. Lethal run-ins with water, deoxygenated air, crushing forces and the like also seem not to happen without magical forces being involved. Most likely this has more to do with the innate rather than deliberately used powers of magical humans (for example, children without wands often do 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 a window), as such protective magic probably prevents mundane accidents and self-repairs diseases and damage. Deliberately performed magic, like that of Healers and Aurors, also probably can stave off such deaths.
As far as natural deaths go, it seems it is possible for aged witches and wizards to die of old age, and they certainly become more vulnerable to common magical ailments like dragon pox.
Magical accidents are described as having killed two people, Kendra Dumbledore, killed by the uncontrolled magic of her disabled daughter, Ariana, and Luna Lovegood's mother, killed by an accident with an experimental charm. Other magical accidents, such as the explosion of an Erumpent Horn, Quidditch accidents, and misused magic, are also clearly capable of causing death, and Quidditch accidents in particular are 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 is banned in sporting-level duels, it is understood by all participants that death may result, and that it would be neither an accident nor murder.
There are 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 is 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), despite the penalty in effectiveness, 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 carry the death penalty, in which criminals of a certain severity is lawfully executed, which would not (in legal terms) be considered as murder or manslaughter. While no such system exists in the modern magical community for wizard criminals, magical animals who are deemed a threat can face execution as well.
Manslaughter and murder
Manslaughter is the use of what turns 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 can be killed by magic besides the Avada Kedavra curse, such as the curse used by Bellatrix Lestrange to force Sirius Black through the veil in the Death Chamber and to his death, and the death of Bellatrix herself when Molly Weasley used the same spell against her.
Murder is the act to intentionally induce death in another individual. The main magical instruments of murder are the Avada Kedavra curse, the placing of fatal curses upon objects, and poisons. The Avada Kedavra is designed for bringing about death (which in most cases would be classified as murder), and clearly has no other possible purpose. It is therefore illegal, 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 is an eminent example of a slippery slope.
In a similar sense to new-minted Muggle soldiers and criminal gang members finding it hard to kill on purpose, it is said to be very difficult for a relatively 'innocent' witch or wizard to use this curse. Professor Moody confidently predicted that if every single student in his Defense 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 requires not only powerful magic and concentration but an utter disregard for the sanctity of life to be used effectively.
The other two means of attempting murder, cursed objects and poisons, are both much less likely to succeed, more haphazard, and in that sense betray a greater hesitancy to kill. Draco Malfoy tries 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. 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.
The act of ending a person's life is considered to be an act of supreme evil, such a level that the murderer's soul would be torn apart; this is a consequence that violates the very law of nature, in addition to being against the law. It seems that one's motives of ending another's life can 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 is not coincidental, then, that murder is 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 is the very essence of a mutilated soul.
Staking one's life
Magic's power can be greatly increased when one stakes one's own life. The Unbreakable Vow is a Dark covenant that, if violated, results in the death of the violator. While this is a sinister way of maintaining trust, it is certainly effective. In the opposite direction, the power of Love can be amplified by the decision to deliberately sacrifice one's life in an attempt to save another. Such a sacrifice, willingly made, can create a lasting protection powerful enough to deflect even the otherwise unblockable Avada Kedavra curse, and which lingers in the blood of those protected indefinitely, rendering them untouchable by and uninhabitable for powers maimed and disfigured by inhumanity.
While the purely physical aspect of death is fully understood, the nature of what lies beyond it is a mystery to wizards, witches, and Muggles alike beyond the fact that there is indeed some sort of afterlife. When a wizard or witch dies, unlike a Muggle, he or she can choose to leave behind an imprint of their soul in the mortal world in the form of a ghost. Few opt to become ghosts, however, as it means they will never "go on" like most people do.
Limbo is an afterlife-related plane that exists in-between the physical world and the true afterlife; its contents are apparently subjective. Living people and the dead rarely spend time there. When Harry visits limbo, he is able to summon Albus Dumbledore to counsel and console him. But when Voldemort, his soul maimed and mutilated by "tampering so inadvisably" with such evil as Horcruxes and the Avada Kedavra curse, arrived in the afterlife, he was trapped in limbo, unable to go onward or go back.
Immortality and Resurrection
- "No spell can reawaken the dead."
- —Albus Dumbledore[src]
There is no known way to magically reunite a person's soul with their body once they have died. Many young witches and wizards discovered this through the story of Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump (in which the protagonist Babbitty is blackmailed by a charlatan to perform magic for a king, but doesn't bother raising her wand when the king attempts to raise a dog from the dead.) During the six centuries have elapsed since Beedle wrote the tale, innumerable ways have been devised to maintain the illusion of the continuing presence of one's loved ones. For example, wizarding photographs and portraits move and (in the case of the latter) talk just like their subjects.
Similarly, the Mirror of Erised may also reveal more than a static image of a lost loved one. Ghosts are translucent, sentient images of wizards and witches who decided, for whatever reason, to remain on earth. The closest to resurrecting the dead would be the Resurrection Stone, which can recall someone who has died from the beyond, but they will return only in a semi-corporeal form, "less substantial" than a living body but "much more" than a ghost.
Despite this, wizards have still not found a way of reuniting body and soul once death has 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 Reintegration of Essence and Matter, during which he stated that reversing death would never be physically possible. Phoenixes are the sole exception to the rules of death, as they can be reborn from their ashes without any restraints or assistance.
However, while there exists no known method of reversing death once it has occurred, there are certain things a witch or wizard can 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 is made from the Philosopher's Stone, will grant a person extended life for as long as they continue to consume it. However, because the only known Philosopher's Stone in existence at the time was destroyed in 1992, this method is not currently available.Unicorn blood can keep alive a person who is near death, but unicorns are such pure, defenceless creatures that a person who kills one and drinks its blood will have "but a half-life." A wizard or witch who rips their soul through an act of murder can place that torn fragment inside of an external object called a Horcrux.
By binding a part of their soul to the earth, the Horcrux prevents the wizard or witch from dying, even if their body is injured or completely destroyed. However, there is 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 has been trapped in during the destruction of his physical body. There is a potion which enables the Horcrux-creator's body to be reconstructed in the latter scenario. Overall, however, many wizards and witches would prefer death over such a pitiful state of existence. It seems if this potion is used, and the wizard is returned to a resurrected body, they seem to be unable to die until all of the Horcruxes are 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 damages the soul in such a way that if the user dies after all their anchors are destroyed, then the soul would remain trapped in limbo in a terrible state, never to return as a ghost nor move on.
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]
There is a chamber in the Department of Mysteries where witches and wizards study the mysteries of death. In this chamber is the Veil, an ancient stone archway, which is a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead. People standing around the Veil may hear voices from the other side depending on their level of faith in an afterlife. A person whose body passes through the Veil will die.
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.
Although many fear death due to the unknown that lies 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 are two known methods of immortalising one's existence in the plane of living, but the former has dire consequences that few would ever want it, while the latter means entrapment for eternity that only those who fear or have deep bonds would choose it. Lord Voldemort considered death to be the ultimate humiliation of defeat, that nothing is worse than it, and was his greatest fear as a result; his fear of death and lack of understanding of the soul's well-being's importance led him to the extreme lengths of creating seven Horcruxes to evade death. Albus Dumbledore saw Voldemort's fear of death as his greatest weakness, as there are fates worse than death, and that anyone who can truly understand that and accept the inevitability of death can be considered to be a "Master of Death".
In the Muggle world, certain countries employ the death penalty, which is to kill convicted criminals for committing crimes of a certain level of severity. Vernon Dursley advocates the death penalty, claiming that "...hanging's the only way to deal with these people", showing a harsh view on criminal justice. Although wizarding authorities are sometimes permitted to kill criminals for resisting arrest, there seems to be no actual death penalty for captured convicts in the wizarding world. On the other hand, for magical animals deemed dangerous by the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures, they are executed by beheading, one known executioner was Walden Macnair.
Behind the Scenes
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 all these deaths, exactly zero were natural. It is hard to actually think of one that isn't violent in some way. The deaths of eleven 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.
- "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
- List of deaths
- Angel of Death
- Death (The Tale of the Three Brothers)
- Master of Death
- Death Chamber
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (First appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (film)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (film)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (film) (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (film)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (video game)
- LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4
- LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard
- Pottermore (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter: The Character Vault (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter: The Creature Vault (Mentioned only)
Notes and references
- ↑ "Death" on Wikipedia
- ↑ 2003 interview at Royal Albert Hall on Accio! Quote
- ↑ F.A.Q. question on JKRowling.com
- ↑ 2004 Edinburgh Book Festival on JKRowling.com
- ↑ Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 21
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 38
- ↑ Half-Blood Prince, Ch. 21
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 The Tales of Beedle the Bard, page 79
- ↑ Deathly Hallows, Ch. 34
- ↑ Philosopher's Stone, Ch. 13
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 Philosopher's Stone, Ch. 17
- ↑ Philosopher's Stone, Ch. 15
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 Half-Blood Prince, Ch. 23
- ↑ Cite error: Invalid
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- ↑ Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 34
- ↑ Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 35
- ↑ Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 1