Dark Mark Musings
Something that’s been bugging me since I first read GoF is the matter of the Death Eaters’ identification – the Dark Mark. It seems so odd that no one at the Ministry of Magic, including the Aurors, has noticed that all of Voldemort’s followers have a large black tattoo of the Dark Mark on their forearm. Honestly it seems like a pretty bad idea on Voldemort’s part. He could almost have had all his followers just wear big signs saying “I (heart) Voldemort.”
It seems like the Ministry of Magic could just demand to see a suspect’s arm; then they would know if the person was a Death Eater or not. They could even do random searches of all citizens (if they wanted to be a police state). There have been loads of Death Eaters caught since the last war. Did no one ever notice their common marking?
It could be argued that there is a concealment charm placed upon the Marks to make them invisible to all but other Death Eaters. But that begs the question, how could Harry have seen Snape’s and Karkaroff’s? What about Wormtail’s? Don’t forget that Snape showed his to Fudge at the end of GoF as well. Wouldn’t James and Sirius have seen Wormtail’s mark at some point? It seems that wizard robes have full-length sleeves, but also that they are fairly loose and the sleeves could definitely fall down, exposing the Mark.
Another characteristic of the Mark is that it is clear and dark when Voldemort is strong. Snape and Karkaroff both see it getting stronger; therefore it was indistinct and weak before. It can be assumed that it practically disappeared after Voldemort was vanquished. That raises the question of whether or not it would actually have been visible at all.
If knowledge of the Mark was widespread, it would seem as if the need for the trials would have been eliminated. The question of Barty Crouch Jr.’s allegiance would have been nicely cleared up. Of course, Voldemort’s servants were not only the Marked and chosen Death Eaters. Many people, like the Blacks for instance, supported Voldemort without actively joining him. Others may have done small acts or passed unimportant information for him. There would also be issues surrounding the Imperious Curse, and whether the person was “under the influence” of the curse at the time of the act in question. However, a quick glance to see if they had a Mark would pretty much seal the case. Voldemort’s rebirth scene in GoF had an unspecified number of Death Eaters present; we can assume it was a large gathering even without the dead and missing because they could form a large enough circle for Voldemort and Harry to duel in.
So, on the one hand there could be hypothetically a person guilty of supporting Voldemort, but so unimportant they did not warrant a Mark. This person could be found innocent in a trial in which the judges have knowledge of the Mark. On the other hand, there is Snape. He still has the Mark and he appears to have renounced Voldemort. If the judges only went by the Mark he would be condemned as a Death Eater and never get his second chance. This seems to be a very rare scenario since being a Death Eater is forever or death – you can’t just quit. However, it seems to be true for Snape. He would be found guilty in a trial in which the judges have knowledge of the Mark. Obviously, even knowing about the Dark Mark identification is not a foolproof way to dispense justice.
The only thing having the Mark absolutely proves is that the person WAS a Death Eater. This would not be final evidence for someone like Dumbledore, but I can hardly see Crouch, Sr. in the past or Fudge presently getting too worried about that. Both of those men would immediately pack the Marked person off to Azkaban.
In OotP, Harry even mentions that Sirius could be free soon. He (or Hermione – sorry I’ve had my roommate look for this quote too but we can’t find it) says that it would be obvious Sirius wasn’t a Death Eater because “he doesn’t have the Mark, for one thing”. If Sirius could “get off” now because it would be obvious he wasn’t a Death Eater because he didn’t have the mark, why wouldn’t it have been obvious 14 years ago? They caught tons of Death Eaters in the first war, as evidenced by the trials we see in the Pensieve in GoF. Then again, Crouch didn’t even give him a trial, and there was a lot of hysteria around that time. Wouldn’t the Mark have made it a lot easier for people to know whom to trust? According to Arthur Weasley, the trust issue was one of the scariest things about Voldemort’s reign of terror.
The Dark Mark could still be useful in a trial however, as a piece of evidence. If someone was accused but didn’t have the Mark, that would greatly help their defense. However, the Mark would not be cast-iron evidence one way or the other in a trial of a potential Death Eater.
Why does Harry find out about the existence of the Mark when the whole rest of the wizarding world appears to be ignorant of this obvious identification? The only other person who alludes to it is Fake Moody, Barty Crouch Jr. – and he’s a Death Eater! He tells Snape “there are spots that never come off, you know what I mean?” and Snape spasms and grabs his arm. Perhaps it was the shock that “Moody” knew about the Mark more than the fact that he was specifically talking about Snape having it that so upset Snape. Perhaps no one is supposed to know.
The only people that know are Dumbledore (who I assume has been told by Snape), the Death Eaters themselves, and of course Harry, Hermione, and Ron. They know a secret of the wizarding world that no one else does, it appears. I am so perplexed as to why no one else has noticed! Hopefully JKR will clear this up for us in the next two books.