Narcissa Malfoy and Regulus Black and the Downfall of Voldemort
Abstract: While at first glance Sirius Black and Andromeda Tonks appear to be the most admirable of the Black cousins, it can be argued that Regulus and Narcissa achieved more for their cause than their relatives who spurned the Black family. Sirius and Andromeda both rejected the Black doctrine to join the anti-Voldemort movement, whereas Regulus and Narcissa did not. However, it was this conformity that allowed them to ultimately ensure Voldemort’s downfall. In this essay, the characters of Regulus and Narcissa are examined to form a picture as to what led to their decisions to betray Voldemort and how they were in a position to be able to achieve this.
Regulus Arcturus Black – 1961-1979
Regulus Arcturus Black is originally introduced in the series as a younger son who ultimately fails in his childhood ambitions to serve his family and Voldemort. According to Order of the Phoenix, Regulus parroted the Black family beliefs in the importance of pure-blood and the dark arts (“‘My parents, with their pure-blood mania, convinced that to be a Black made you practically royal… my idiot brother, soft enough to believe them’” Sirius Black to Harry Potter, Order of the Phoenix, British First Edition, ‘The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’, pp. 104). Regulus upholds the traditional Black family values with such enthusiasm that he joined the Death Eaters at age 16 (“‘Stupid idiot … he joined the Death Eaters’” Sirius Black to Harry Potter, Order of the Phoenix, ‘The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’, pp. 104), which pleased his parents and showed his devotion to furthering the pure-blood cause. It is later illuminated that Regulus became disillusioned by Voldemort’s lust for power and began to seek a way to bring him down, which he eventually achieves by stealing one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes with the help of his devoted house-elf, Kreacher, although it costs him his life. This occurs roughly one year after Regulus joined the Death Eaters, and Regulus died aged just 18.
Much of Regulus’ character can be inferred from the simple observation made by Harry that he was a Seeker on the Slytherin Quidditch team (“‘He played Seeker’… ‘He’s sitting in the middle of the front row, that’s where the Seeker [sits]’” (Deathly Hallows, ‘Kreacher’s Tale’, British First Edition, pp. 155). The role of the Seeker in a game of Quidditch is to wait patiently until the right moment to catch the elusive Golden Snitch, which requires great skill and regularly guarantees a win for the successful Seeker’s team. Regulus spends his whole (albeit short) life conforming to his family’s expectations, and it is only at the last minute that he proves his worth and turns against Voldemort. According to Quidditch through the Ages, Seekers are often able to “[snatch] victory from the jaws of defeat”, and are also “the players who receive the worst injuries” (2009, London, pp. 53). At the height of Voldemort’s first rise to power, Regulus deals him an incredibly heavy blow by stealing a portion of his soul without him even noticing, yet this costs him his life.
Regulus conforms to his family’s wishes in every way – he is the son that Sirius never was and never wanted to be: “‘[Regulus] was a much better son’” (Sirius Black to Harry Potter, Order of the Phoenix, ‘The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’, pp. 104). Upon entering Hogwarts, he is Sorted into Slytherin (“‘I was head of Slytherin… I got [Sirius’] brother Regulus when he came along’” Horace Slughorn to Harry Potter, Half Blood Prince, British First Edition, ‘Horace Slughorn’, pp. 71), and endeavours to advertise that fact by decorating his bedroom in “Slytherin colours of emerald and silver”, as well as painting the Black crest and motto over his bed (Deathly Hallows, ‘Kreacher’s Tale’, pp. 154-155) to further show his devotion to his family. Harry associates the Black family with the Dark Arts as soon as he steps into the house at number 12, Grimmauld Place: “[the] house looked as though it belonged to the Darkest of wizards” (Order of the Phoenix, ‘Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place’, pp. 60). Regulus followed this family line as well. Hermione discovers a collection of old newspaper cuttings which Regulus had collected in his bedroom, which she describes as being “all about Voldemort”, and that “Regulus seem[ed] to have been a fan for a few years before he joined the Death Eaters” (Deathly Hallows, ‘Kreacher’s Tale’, pp. 155).
Despite the blatant anti-Muggle sentiment in the Black household and the support for Voldemort that Regulus obviously displayed, the goodness in Regulus’ character is also evident through his treatment of the family house-elf Kreacher. “Master Regulus always liked Kreacher” intones the elf (Deathly Hallows, ‘Kreacher’s Tale’, pp. 159), and Regulus proves this when he saves Kreacher’s life while he is being attacked by the Inferi surrounding the Horcrux-island by means of giving him the simple command to “come back” (Deathly Hallows, ‘Kreacher’s Tale’, pp. 161). Although this could have been a mere coincidence in the nature of Regulus’ orders to Kreacher when he volunteered Kreacher to serve Voldemort, given Regulus’ evident fondness for Kreacher it was more likely given as a safeguard against the possibility of Kreacher’s non-return to the Black household. In addition, when Kreacher describes to Regulus what happened in the cave, Regulus appears to be “very worried” (Deathly Hallows, ‘Kreacher’s Tale’, pp. 161), which may have been a reaction to the sinister object which Voldemort was placing under such stringent safeguards, or the ill-use to which Regulus’ beloved house-elf had been put. Whatever the reasons behind his worry, Regulus at least recognised that Kreacher would be murdered should Voldemort discover that he had escaped the Inferi and ordered Kreacher to “stay hidden, and not to leave the house” (Deathly Hallows, ‘Kreacher’s Tale’, pp. 161) in order to protect him. Regulus’ final act of kindness to Kreacher, indeed his final act of his life, was to sacrifice himself in a most un-Slytherin-like way in order to save his house-elf and his family, and to strike a blow at his old master. In doing this, Regulus rates Kreacher’s life above his own. House-elves had apparently meant nothing to Voldemort, yet Regulus gives his life in order to spare the life of his elf. He also protects his family, despite their support of Voldemort, by not revealing that he has changed his mind and stolen a piece of Voldemort’s soul in order to keep them safe from Voldemort’s wrath in the event that the truth should come out: “‘Kreacher and Regulus’s family were all safer if they kept to the old pure-blood line. Regulus was trying to protect them all.’” (Hermione Granger to Harry Potter, Deathly Hallows, ‘Kreacher’s Tale’, pp. 163). This is also evidence of Regulus’ essentially selfless character, as had he trumpeted what he was doing he would likely have been heralded as a hero and a martyr by the Order of the Phoenix by putting the life of his house-elf first at the same time as doing all he could to rid Voldemort of his precious Horcrux.
Although Regulus’ Slytherin Sorting is a direct reflection of his choices, it is these same choices that place him in the unique position he finds himself when he decides to defect from the Dark side. His proximity to Voldemort enables him to deduce the existence of Voldemort’s Horcrux (whether he was aware of the existence of more than one is unknown), using an intelligence which seems to be common to the Black family (Sirius is described “very bright… exceptionally bright, in fact” by Professor McGonagall (Prisoner of Azkaban, British Edition, ‘The Marauder’s Map, pp. 152)). He is also in a position to lend his master the services of his house-elf, which leads directly to Regulus being able to find and attempt to destroy the locket-Horcrux (the idea that he was prepared to destroy an heirloom of Slytherin also serves to prove his dedication to bringing down Voldemort). It is only the way Regulus conformed to his family’s expectations that he was able to steal this portion of Voldemort’s soul, as this remarkable occurrence would not have occurred had Regulus made the opposite choices, followed his elder brother Sirius and renounced his family.
Narcissa Malfoy – 1955 - ?
Narcissa Malfoy represents a moderation of both of her sisters, although her sisters hold very different beliefs. This moderation allows her to not only escape from the wizarding war with her life, freedom and family intact, but presents her with the opportunity to betray Voldemort and save Harry’s life.
Narcissa’s eldest sister, Bellatrix, immersed herself in the traditional pure-blood culture that thrived in the Black household, becoming one of the most feared of Voldemort’s supporters and professing herself to be “His most loyal, his most faithful” (Bellatrix Lestrange to Severus Snape, Half-Blood Prince, ‘Spinner’s End’ pp. 34). Andromeda, the next oldest, does the opposite and rejects the family line to marry a Muggle-born (Ted Tonks) (“Andromeda married a Muggle-born, Ted Tonks…” Sirius Black to Harry Potter, Order of the Phoenix, ‘The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’, pp. 105). This act of perceived treason to her family earns her the dubious honour of being blasted off the family tree (‘[Sirius] pointed to a small round burn mark between two names, Bellatrix and Narcissa’ Order of the Phoenix, ‘The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’, pp. 105). While she does not then join the Order of the Phoenix as her cousin Sirius did after leaving home (she is not listed as being a member of the original Order by Mad-Eye Moody in Order of the Phoenix, ‘The Woes of Mrs. Weasley’, pp. 158), she supports her daughter when she becomes an Auror to hunt Dark Wizards, many of whom are members of her own family (“You’re an Auror?”, “Yeah,” Harry Potter and Nymphadora Tonks, Order of the Phoenix, ‘The Advance Guard’, pp. 52). She shows continued support of Nymphadora Tonks when she joins the Order of the Phoenix, to the extent that her house is used as safe house for the Order when they are evacuating Harry from Privet Drive at the start of Deathly Hallows. Moreover, her house is chosen as the destination of Harry himself (“You’ll be going to Tonks’ parents” Made-Eye Moody to Harry Potter, Deathly Hallows, ‘The Seven Potters’, pp. 46), indicating that there were no misgivings about sending him to the home of Bellatrix’s sister and that she and her husband were trusted completely by the Order. Despite not joining the original Order, her actions show that her views were anti-Voldemort and when possible she supported the anti-Voldemort movement.
Narcissa, the youngest of the three sisters, grew up in a household full of conflicting values. On one hand, her sister Bellatrix, who does everything that she possibly can to ingratiation herself with the Dark Arts and Voldemort, and on the other hand her sister Andromeda, who is disowned from the family for rejecting their doctrine and marrying a Muggle-born. Given these influences, it is not surprising that she chose a more restrained outlook.
Narcissa accedes to her family’s expectations in many ways, yet falls short of the mania that inhabited Bellatrix. She makes a pure-blood marriage to Lucius Malfoy sometime in the late 1970s (based on Lucius leaving Hogwarts between mid 1972 and mid 1974, as he was a Prefect and therefore at least fifth year in 1971 (‘…Lucius Malfoy, a prefect badge gleaming upon his chest…’ Deathly Hallows, ‘The Prince’s Tale’, pp. 540), during Voldemort’s first rise to power and thus establishing a firm connection between the Black family and the Malfoy family, both of whom have similar views regarding blood purity and the Dark Arts (please note that it is assumed that Narcissa and Lucius married before Draco was born in 1980, as both of their families have very traditional wizarding views which likely would have extended to a dislike of illegitimate children). This marriage puts Narcissa in a position of considerable power, being the link between two such powerful families. Bellatrix, who also made a pure-blood marriage to Rodolphus Lestrange (‘Bellatrix Black, which was connected by a double line to Rodolphus Lestrange’ Order of the Phoenix, ‘The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’, pp. 106), does not appear to enjoy this luxury as she is rarely seen with her husband (and never alone with him), which indicates that the marriage was one of convenience and that Bellatrix made no effort to forge an alliance between the families. Although she is captured with the two Lestrange brothers in the aftermath of the first war (“Bellatrix and her husband Rodolphus came in with Barty Crouch junior… Rodolphus’s brother Rabastan was with them, too.” Sirius Black to Harry Potter, Order of the Phoenix, ‘The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’, pp. 106), after this she appears to be much closer to her Black and Malfoy relatives, as she appears to be living in Malfoy Manor during Voldemort’s second rise to power without her husband (“My Lord… it is an honour to have you here, in our family’s house.” Bellatrix Lestrange to Voldemort, Deathly Hallows, ‘The Dark Lord Ascending’, pp. 15). Narcissa, on the other hand, forms a family with her husband in the form of her son, Draco. Narcissa’s love for Draco, discussed below, is only present because of the decision that she made to acquiesce to her family’s wishes in regards to her marriage. It is not clear in the novels; however there does not appear to be a great deal of love between the two Malfoys which indicates that their marriage was not a love match. It was this act of co-operation that provided Narcissa with her beloved son.
The birth of Draco may have been a turning point in Narcissa’s character, as her love for him ultimately helped Voldemort’s eventual downfall, however there is evidence to suggest that she never embraced that Dark side of her family. According to J.K. Rowling, Narcissa was never a Death Eater. This is supported by her absence in the graveyard scene at the end of Goblet of Fire, where Voldemort calls all the free Death Eaters to him using their Dark Marks. Narcissa is absent, presumably because she does not have a Dark Mark and therefore is not summoned. However, she has supported her Death Eater husband through the years of Voldemort’s previous rise to power and after his downfall (She is seen with her husband at the Quidditch World Cup final, however appears that she has never met the Minister of Magic before and is therefore not directly connected with her husband’s business dealings: “I don’t think you’ve met my wife, Narcissa” Lucius Malfoy to Cornelius Fudge, Goblet of Fire, ‘The Quidditch World Cup’, British First Edition, pp. 92). She is admitted into Voldemort’s inner circle through her husband Lucius and her sister Bellatrix, both of whom have at one point been high in the Death Eater ranks, despite not being a member herself. This seeming reluctance to join may be a result of seeing the derangement of Bellatrix, or simply distaste for Death Eater antics. While her treatment of Hermione displays her obvious distaste for Muggle-borns (‘“You’re right Draco,” said Narcissa, with a contemptuous glance at Hermione, “now that I know the kind of scum that shop here…”’ Half-Blood Prince, ‘Draco’s Detour’, pp. 112), she does not appear to the enamoured of the more extreme Death Eater actions. Her reluctance to send Draco to Durmstrang (“Father actually considered sending me to Durmstrang rather than Hogwarts… but Mother didn’t like the idea of me going to school so far away” Draco Malfoy, Goblet of Fire, ‘Aboard the Hogwarts Express’, pp. 147), a school renown for its bias towards Dark Magic (“Durmstrang doesn’t admit that sort of riff-raff [Muggle-borns]… Durmstrang student actually learn them [the Dark Arts]” Draco Malfoy, “[Durmstrang] puts a lot of emphasis on the Dark Arts” Hermione Granger, Goblet of Fire, ‘Aboard the Hogwarts Express’, pp. 147), may not have simply been out of love for him but a desire to keep him from being immersed in Dark culture at such a young age – although it is debatable as to whether this wish was achieved. Whatever her reasoning or outlook, Narcissa’s lack of a Dark Mark whilst being an inner member of Voldemort’s circle play a large role in the protection of both her and her family.
Involvement with Voldemort keeps her and her family safe from the Death Eaters, where her sister Andromeda is targeted for leaving the family and marrying a Muggle-born (“We shall cut away the canker that infects us until only those of true blood remain” Voldemort, Deathly Hallows, ‘The Dark Lord Ascending’, pp. 17). This results in the death of her husband, Ted Tonks, and in the death of her only daughter, Nymphadora, both within a year of each other. Narcissa, on the other hand, can count on Voldemort’s protection through her husband and sister. When Lucius is punished by Voldemort and that part of the protection vanishes, it is Narcissa’s lack of a Dark Mark that protects her from Voldemort’s wrath. Not being a Death Eater, she was not ordered to go with the Death Eaters to the Department of Mysteries where Lucius was captured and the prophecy destroyed, and therefore avoided the downfall that affects all involved Death Eaters. This also prevents Voldemort from ordering her on suicide missions as he does Draco. Voldemort’s reluctance to directly punish Narcissa may also be a result of his desire to hold on to the devotion shown by Bellatrix, as torturing and possibly murdering Bellatrix’s favourite sister would not have endeared him to her eyes. Although no doubt Bellatrix would not have dwelt over long over the death of her sister, there is an element of childhood affection between the sisters as they call each other by the nicknames of “Bella” and “Cissy”, the latter of which is used by no other character than Bellatrix (“Cissy – Narcissa – listen to me –”… “Go back, Bella!” Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy, Deathly Hallows, ‘Spinner’s End’, pp. 27). Voldemort instead opts for a more indirect form of punishment by forcing Draco into his servitude and sending him on what is commonly viewed as a suicide mission (“Slow torture for Draco’s parents, while they watch him fail and pay the price.” Severus Snape to Albus Dumbledore, Deathly Hallows, ‘The Prince’s Tale’, pp. 547). Narcissa is able to enlist Snape’s help in this matter, and although Snape accuses Narcissa of committing treason against Voldemort, it would have been a matter of interpretation as Narcissa was evidently not sworn to him (“Had I not been in on the secret, Narcissa, you would have been guilty of great treachery to the Dark Lord” Severus Snape to Narcissa Malfoy, Half-Blood Prince, ‘Spinner’s End’, pp. 37). Although her husband’s failure in his Death Eater position ensured Draco’s fate, it is Narcissa’s unique position that allows her firstly access to Snape’s house, and that allows her to enlist his help to save her son.
Narcissa’s love for Draco is evident from numerous examples throughout the series, the most important of which is when she lends him her wand to use during Deathly Hallows (“Who’s lent you theirs?” “My mother,” Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, Deathly Hallows, ‘The Battle of Hogwarts’, pp. 505). This loan of her wand is likened to the loss of an important limb by the Death Eaters (‘He might have announced that he wanted to borrow one of their arms’ Deathly Hallows, ‘The Dark Lord Ascending’, pp. 14), and places her at the mercy of any witch or wizard who still has possession of his or her wand (which is the majority of the wizarding world). In doing this, Narcissa is giving up her place in the wizarding world by joining the ranks of the ‘wandless’ and losing the respect and protection of many Death Eaters. She is effectively renouncing everything that makes her a witch, to provide her son with a means to protect himself (this is an echo of Lily giving her life to protect Harry). It is also this love that drives her to protect Harry and lie to Voldemort when she is asked to confirm his death ('Narcissa knew that the only way she would be permitted to enter Hogwarts, and find her son, was as part of the conquering army. She no longer cared whether Voldemort won.' Deathly Hallows, ‘The Flaw in the Plan’, pp. 582). Given that Voldemort is ‘the most accomplished Legilimens the world has ever seen’ (Severus Snape to Bellatrix Lestrange, Half-Blood Prince, ‘Spinner’s End’, pp. 31) (although not infallible in this respect, as Snape was able to repeatedly lie to him over a period of many years without detection), the fact that Narcissa is not a Death Eater may be the key to her ability to lie to him. As she does not have a Dark Mark and is not sworn to him, she would feel no guilt over lying and therefore there would be no emotions that Voldemort would normally expect to sense in a liar. Coupled with the fact that she is telling Voldemort exactly what he wants to hear, her lie (although it has disastrous consequences for Voldemort) goes completely undetected. This lie enables Narcissa and Lucius to enter Hogwarts castle, find their son, and escape punishment at the end of the war as it is proven that she had changed sides (“She no longer cared whether Voldemort won.” Deathly Hallows, ‘The Flaw in the Plan’, pp. 582). However, it was her position in Voldemort’s circle even after her husband’s downfall that allowed her to be in the position to make this lie and ensure her family’s safety.
While Narcissa chooses the moderate path when it comes to beliefs (moderate in terms of the Black family at least – her views probably would not have been classed as moderate in the Weasley family), this does not mean that she is less headstrong than either of her sisters. While Bellatrix and Andromeda choose very different pathways and pursue this life with great determination, Narcissa’s pathway does not, at first glance, appear to require such a resolute personality. However, without Narcissa’s admirable determination her unique situation which allowed the downfall of Voldemort would not have existed for any extended period of time. Upon marrying Lucius, she appears to have kept on relatively close terms with her Black relatives – Sirius and Regulus’ house-elf, Kreacher, seems familiar enough with her and Bellatrix to pass them information about Sirius (“He went to the only Black family member for whom he had any respect left… Black’s cousin Narcissa, sister of Bellatrix and wife of Lucius Malfoy.” Order of the Phoenix, ‘The Lost Prophecy’, pp. 731) – especially Bellatrix, as even after years have passes since both of the girls were married and Bellatrix has served a long term in Azkaban they still call each other by their pet nicknames (see above), and Bellatrix feels strongly enough about her sister to attempt to prevent her from committing what she sees as treason to Voldemort (“Cissy, you must not do this, you can’t trust him –” Bellatrix Lestrange to Narcissa Malfoy, Half-Blood Prince, ‘Spinner’s End’, pp. 26). Following Lucius’ downfall, Bellatrix appears to be trying to wrest Narcissa back from her Malfoy family. This is shown through her pursuit of Narcissa to Spinner’s End, and her inclusion of Narcissa with herself when she is defending them from Voldemort’s taunt about Andromeda, Tonks and Lupin’s new family (“We – Narcissa and I – have never set eyes on our sister since she married the Mudblood” Bellatrix Lestrange to Voldemort, Deathly Hallows, ‘The Dark Lord Ascending’, pp. 16). Narcissa, however, remains loyal to her husband and son and defends them against her sister, while never quite driving Bellatrix away (“Don’t you dare speak to Draco like –”… “This is my house, Bella, you don’t give orders in my –” Narcissa Malfoy to Bellatrix Lestrange, Deathly Hallows, ‘Malfoy Manor’, pp. 374). She also does not allow Bellatrix to prevent her seeking help for Draco, and resorts to force to prevent her sister interfering:
“Cissy, your own sister? You wouldn’t –”
“There is nothing I wouldn’t do anymore!” Narcissa breathes, a note of hysteria in her voice, and as she brought down the wand like a knife, there was another flash of light. Bella let go of her sister’s arm as though burned.
(Half-Blood Prince, ‘Spinner’s End, pp. 27)
This careful balancing act requires a determination just as great at that which Andromeda displays in her rejection of the Black family creed, and is successful as Narcissa maintains her balance of power in both the Malfoy family and the Black family through Voldemort’s first rise to power, his downfall and the intervening years, and his second rise to power. Indeed, her will is so strong during his second rise to power that she is able to take command of her family when Lucius fails. Her quote, “There is nothing I wouldn’t do anymore” (Half-Blood Prince, ‘Spinner’s End, pp. 27) perfectly shows her devotion to keeping her family together. She is the one who first of all protects Draco when he is being ill-used by Voldemort (“Will you, Severus Snape, watch over my son Draco as he attempts to fulfil the Dark Lord’s wishes?” Narcissa Malfoy to Severus Snape, Deathly Hallows, ‘Spinner’s End’, pp. 41); she is the one whom both Draco and Lucius turn to when being terrorised by Voldemort in the exposition of Deathly Hallows (“Malfoy glanced sideways at his wife. She was staring straight ahead…beneath the table her slim fingers closed briefly on his wrist. At her touch, Malfoy put his hand into his robes, withdrew a wand and passed it along to Voldemort’ Deathly Hallows, ‘The Dark Lord Ascending’, pp. 14), she is the one who defends their family against Bellatrix when she is attempting to take over at Malfoy Manor (see above), and she is the one who makes the ultimate decision to ensure the safety of her family – to turn against Voldemort and save Harry (see above). Despite this eventual defection, the only reason that Narcissa’s family has been safe for the duration of both wars is due to her ability to keep the balance between two powerful families.
Narcissa’s careful balancing act between her two family ties and her principle of moderation in terms of joining the Death Eaters allow her into a unique position in Voldemort’s inner circle with powerful friends without swearing to him herself. This permits her to turn against him when he threatens her family and ensure his downfall and the continued protection of her family. Her two sisters, whom chose lives that either completely rejected or embraced the Black family creed, did not come out of the second war with their families intact – Andromeda, who rejected the Dark Arts for love and ultimately sided with the Order of the Phoenix, lost her husband and daughter, and Bellatrix, who wholeheartedly embraced the pure-blood creed and Dark Arts to become one of Voldemort’s most dangerous followers, did not even escape with her life. Narcissa, who chose a life of moderation and balance, came out of the war with her husband and son still alive and intact, and the family were not punished for their role in Voldemort’s rise due to her actions.
Regulus and Narcissa are similar in their choices in life. Both opt for the path that their family expects of them: in Regulus’ case, upholding the family creed by joining to Death Eaters, and in Narcissa’s by forming a pure-blood bond between two ancient families and encouraging the pure-blood doctrine. In their separate ways, both characters are presented with situations which enable them to cause or at least aid the downfall of Voldemort – situations which only come into existence because of the choices that they made to remain loyal to their families. In comparison to their close siblings (Sirius, Andromeda and Bellatrix), all of whom took more definitive stances for or against the family, Regulus and Narcissa achieve more than any of them in the fight against Voldemort.