When I read the Harry Potter books, I found the horcrux chase annoying, because it sent the plot off the rails. From a plot standpoint, it’s clearly busy work manufactured to keep Harry, Ron, and Herminone running around for a couple of books while the rest of the plot churns. But the real appeal of J.K. Rowling’s alternate universe is not its convoluted plot, it’s the ways that the books’ events and themes resonate with actual lives in this universe—and the idea of a horcrux is something I’ve found myself coming back to and thinking a lot about lately.
In the world of Harry Potter, a horcrux is formed when a wizard commits a murder and, in the process, shears off a piece of his own soul to install in a physical object of special significance. The concept resonates because people who have experienced actual trauma know that feeling: like a part of you has been sunken forever into a thing, a place, or even a person. That part of you is gone, but also somehow still connected.
I think of the ways that vets talk about war: you sense that a part of them will always be there in the Mekong Delta, or the Afghan steppes. Or people who have experienced a terrible accident—a sight or a sound can send them instantly back. I have my own history of trauma that I’ve made peace with.
Breakups can form horcruxes too. Not every breakup—but some people connect with you in such a way that you give them a part of you that you’ll never get back. Years can pass, you can move on and find new happiness, and you can make peace with that broken relationship in the way that people make peace with any loss. But when you’ve loved deeply and been deeply hurt, there’s a shard of your soul that remains…not necessarily with the person who remains, your ex, but with the person your ex was when you were in love, with what it was that you shared.
J.K. Rowling isn’t the only writer who gets this—so does Neil LaBute. In his play Some Girl(s), the character “Guy” confronts four women whom he’s horcruxed, and all of them explain to him, in different ways, what they’ve experienced. “When you do what you do,” one ex tells him, “people get hurt. Injured. A bit of them, some piece…it dies. They lose something that will never come back. Not ever.”