Death Eaters – Part 2: Voldemort’s Resurrection
This is the second part of a series about the Death Eaters – here’s Part 1 if you’d like to start from the beginning.
We are first introduced to the Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and that is the book where Jo does a lot of the heavy lifting in crafting these characters (among the bazillion other things she did in Goblet of Fire… The more time goes by, the more I am in awe of how much Jo accomplished in that book). 100 pages into the book, we’ve never even heard of Death Eaters – the term is introduced and explained on page 142. A scant 500 pages later, Jo populates a scene with them, and despite dropping a dozen names, only one of them is new to us at that point. It’s astounding.
A Numbers Issue
If minor characters are one of Jo’s strengths, numbers remain one of her weaknesses. One of the frustrating numerical quandaries of the Potter books is how many Death Eaters were present at Voldemort’s rebirth. We get several conflicting sources within the text.
During the scene in question, Harry considers himself “outnumbered by at least thirty to one” (GoF 660), implying there are 30 Death Eaters present.
However, eight months later, Harry says that there were “a dozen-odd Death Eaters there” (OotP 566). In the same vein, Sirius says, “He’s certainly not going to try and take on the Ministry of Magic with only a dozen Death Eaters” (OotP 93).
Sirius’s remark can be brushed off as figurative language, but Harry’s retort to Rita Skeeter makes less sense as a lowballed estimate – if he’s trying to make the point that plenty of Death Eaters witnessed Voldemort’s return, why reduce the number to a third?
The real answer, of course, is that Jo is terrible at math, and we shouldn’t think too hard about it. But if the fandom has spent two decades feverishly debating the number of students at Hogwarts, I think it’s worthwhile to look at this question because we can extrapolate a lot about Voldemort’s second ascent to power based on how many followers he has: There’s a world of difference between a dozen Death Eaters at his command and 30.
I’m inclined to believe the number hews closer to 30. First, because primary sources (Harry’s narration in the moment) are more reliable than off-the-cuff numbers thrown out in conversation months later. But also because the Quidditch World Cup makes it seem like there are far more than a dozen Death Eaters running amok there.
Just about the entire might of the Ministry is present at the World Cup – folks are either spectating or working, but most of them are there. When the Dark Mark is cast, Harry registers “the arrival of twenty wizards” (GoF 129), and I’m guessing that is not absolutely everyone who’s on-site to deal with a crowd of 100,000 wizards. If the Death Eaters were so severely outnumbered, they would have been easier to deal with.
A chilling possibility, brought to my attention by my editor Sophia, is that the Respectables were joined by civilian wizards who wanted to indulge their sadistic impulses. However, I think the text implies otherwise. Arthur Weasley says, “I suppose they had a few drinks tonight and couldn’t resist reminding us all that lots of them are still at large” (GoF 143). If Arthur thought there were only a dozen Respectables out there, it would be odd to use the word “lots.” “A bunch” or “quite a few” would be more fitting. And the entire conversation is focused on the Respectables with no indication that other terrible people joined in. So I think the World Cup is a fairly conclusive data point in favor of a larger Death Eater roster.
So with that number established – 30 Respectables, give or take – let’s see how many we can name. For this, we will go through all the names dropped in Goblet of Fire. We are introduced to 19 Death Eaters total in the fourth book, and it’s masterfully done with Jo displaying her deftness at planting clues and names in mystery novels.
Sirius proves to be a font of information on Death Eaters throughout the book. First up: “’Karkaroff,’ said Sirius. ‘Harry, he was a Death Eater'” (GoF 332). This will also make a terrific trivia question one day: Who is the first character officially named as a Death Eater? But that is but a precursor to all the information we get in “Padfoot Returns.”
Sirius reveals that Barty Crouch, Jr. “was caught with a group of Death Eaters,” though he’s unwilling to confirm that Junior himself was a Death Eater (GoF 527). Sirius also refuses to name Snape as a Death Eater in this scene, which is very decent of him considering their mutual animosity and the ease of jumping to a conclusion the kids would have taken as gospel.
Sirius rattles off a few Death Eaters who were in “a gang of Slytherins who nearly all turned out to be Death Eaters” (GoF 531). Note that this does not mean they were at school at the same time as Snape – that would be anachronistic for Bellatrix, given the dates on the Black family tree. I always took that to mean it was a school gang with shifting membership over the years. A Voldemort Youth Club, if you will. (We’ll delve further into the chronology of the gang in a future installment.)
- “Rosier and Wilkes – they were both killed by Aurors the year before Voldemort fell.”
- “The Lestranges – they’re a married couple – they’re in Azkaban.”
- “Avery – from what I’ve heard he wormed his way out of trouble by saying he’d been acting under the Imperius Curse – he’s still at large.”
We next expand the list of Death Eaters by diving into Dumbledore’s memories of the trials following Vold War I. Igor Karkaroff has some names to offer the Ministry of Magic (GoF 589–90):
- “Antonin Dolohov. I – I saw him torture countless Muggles and – and non-supporters of the Dark Lord.” – Dolohov was already in Azkaban, caught shortly after Karkaroff.
- “Evan Rosier.” / “Rosier is dead. […] He preferred to fight rather than come quietly and was killed in the struggle.” – Rosier is the first dead Death Eater we hear about, and he was killed by Mad-Eye Moody (and took a chunk of Moody’s nose in the duel).
- “Travers – he helped murder the McKinnons!” – Travers has already been caught and is in Azkaban.
- “Mulciber – he specialized in the Imperius Curse, forced countless people to do horrific things!” – Mulciber has already been caught and is in Azkaban.
- “[Augustus] Rookwood, who was a spy, and passed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named useful information from inside the Ministry itself!” – This is the valuable name that Karkaroff provides: Rookwood is a spy in the Department of Mysteries (which proves highly relevant in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).
- “Severus Snape is a Death Eater!” – Karkaroff confirms this, but then Dumbledore vouches for Snape’s change in loyalties.
Later in this chapter, we see the three Lestranges on trial – Rabastan, “a thickset man who stared blankly up at Crouch”; Rodolphus, “a thinner and more nervous-looking man, whose eyes were darting around the crowd”; and Bellatrix, “a woman […] who was sitting in the chained chair as though it were a throne” (GoF 594). None of them are named as Death Eaters in this scene, but it’s a hell of an entrance.
Karkaroff’s trial also introduces the idea that the Death Eaters have specialties and distinct roles. Some excel at torture (Dolohov), some at the Imperius Curse (Mulciber), and some are renowned for murders (Travers). The triptych of those Death Eaters reflects the Unforgivable Curses very neatly, reiterating Moody’s lesson that they were popular during Voldemort’s first rise to power (GoF 213–15). Other Death Eaters are more focused on political or tactical importance, like Rookwood.
This level of differentiation is very uncommon among a dark lord’s minions. Usually, they all just do bad stuff, and we call it a day. But the Death Eaters are all individually horrible in addition to being a terrible organization.
Here we can see how Jo is imperceptibly building her roster of Death Eaters. Most of the names Sirius mentioned crop up again here (aside from Avery and Wilkes), and we get four new ones. The pacing here is incredible: Jo never introduces more than four names at a time, yet we soon have enough Death Eaters for both a monologue and an action set piece.
Voldemort’s Rebirth – The Respectables
The first time we see the Death Eaters assembled en masse is in the chapter appropriately titled “The Death Eaters.” All the Death Eaters present are the Respectables, who managed to stay out of Azkaban despite their guilt. It should also be noted that everyone here is a full-fledged Death Eater with a Dark Mark since that’s how Voldemort summons them.
- Avery – The Death Eater who (bravely?) begs forgiveness from Voldemort on behalf of the Respectables. Perhaps he is the closest thing the Death Eaters have to an HR department or a union rep. He is Crucioed for his efforts (GoF 648).
- Lucius Malfoy – Voldemort calls Lucius “my slippery friend” and confirms that he was among the crew running amok at the Quidditch World Cup (GoF 650). Lucius is the highest ranking of the Respectables, having been entrusted with the diarycrux, but his esteemed status won’t last long. We are also told Lucius used to “take the lead in a spot of Muggle-torture,” which makes sense with what we saw at the World Cup.
- Macnair – We already met Macnair as a minor villain in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and it makes perfect sense that he’s a Death Eater. Voldemort confirms that he’s “destroying dangerous beasts for the Ministry of Magic now, Wormtail tells me” (GoF 651). (And Wormtail would know since he escaped the same night Macnair was swinging his ax around Hogwarts.)
- Crabbe (GoF 651)
- Goyle (GoF 651)
- Nott (GoF 651)
Avery was mentioned in “Padfoot Returns” as a Death Eater. Lucius and Macnair we are familiar with as prior antagonists, but this is official confirmation that they’re Death Eaters. Crabbe, Sr. and Goyle, Sr. have never been mentioned before, but it’s not a big stretch for the reader to cast Crabbe’s and Goyle’s parents as similar goons with Dark Marks. So the only new Death Eater we meet here is Nott, Sr.
To Harry’s credit, he is able to rattle off all six of the Respectables who are mentioned by name later that night.
‘Lucius Malfoy -‘
[…] ‘Malfoy was cleared!’ said Fudge, visibly affronted. ‘A very old family – donations to excellent causes -‘
‘Macnair!’ Harry continued.
‘Also cleared! Now working for the Ministry!’
‘Avery – Nott – Crabbe – Goyle -‘” (GoF 706)
Voldemort’s Rebirth – The Unnamed Attendees
We do get confirmation of three more Respectables in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, namely in “Spinner’s End” when Snape excuses his status as a Respectable by pointing out he’s not alone.
You ask why I did not attempt to find him when he vanished. For the same reason that Avery, Yaxley, the Carrows, Greyback, Lucius, […] and many others did not attempt to find him.” (HBP 26)
Clearly, the names given here are all Respectables. Avery and Lucius we already knew about – this provides us with helpful context. But Yaxley and the Carrows are new to us in this scene. (So is Greyback, but he comes with asterisks… We’ll get to him later in this essay series.) We can infer that Yaxley and the Carrows were among the Death Eaters present for Voldemort’s rebirth in Goblet of Fire.
There are four other Death Eaters who may be present, but we don’t know enough to say one way or the other. But the possible attendees (consider them to have RSVP’d “maybe”) are Gibbon, Jugson, Rowle, and Selwyn – and if those names don’t ring as many bells, just keep reading.
Voldemort’s Rebirth – The Gaps
All the Death Eaters we meet in person at Voldy’s rebirth are Respectables, but Voldemort helpfully monologues about the absentees. And we can actually learn quite a bit here.
Voldemort moved on, and stopped, staring at the space – large enough for two people – that separated Malfoy and the next man.
‘The Lestranges should stand here,’ said Voldemort quietly. ‘But they are entombed in Azkaban. They were faithful.'” (GoF 650)
The curious bit here is there are actually three Lestranges in Azkaban – Rodolphus, Rabastan, and Bellatrix – who all were faithful and looked for Voldemort after his downfall. It’s unclear which two Voldemort is referring to, though I’d hazard a guess at Bellatrix and Rodolphus because they are the two Lestranges that Sirius refers to when enumerating Death Eaters (GoF 531). People seem to always forget about Rabastan – #RespectForRabastan.
‘And here we have six missing Death Eaters … three dead in my service. One, too cowardly to return … he will pay. One, who I believe has left me forever … he will be killed, of course … and one, who remains my most faithful servant, and who has already reentered my service.'” (GoF 651)
Ah, this is one of the early book passages that has been analyzed and picked over endlessly as we tried to parse out its meaning. But with the benefit of hindsight, we can tell with certainty who the three missing living Death Eaters are.
- Igor Karkaroff – the one “too cowardly to return.” Karkaroff’s cowardice is often mentioned in the text (“You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff” – Dumbledore, DH 680), and he does indeed pay with his life a year later.
- Severus Snape – the one Voldemort “believe[s] has left me forever.” The key is “believe” – Voldemort is uncertain, at this time, whether Snape has truly abandoned him or not. If it turns out Snape did leave, he would have been killed, but luckily, Snape was able to persuade Voldemort otherwise a few hours after this speech was delivered.
- Barty Crouch, Jr. – the “most faithful servant,” obviously
This quote could be spun any number of ways to refer to different Death Eaters (Slughorn? Regulus? Maybe Snape is the faithful one?). But I always tend toward Occam’s razor and will accept the straightforward explanation here as the correct one.
As to the three dead in Voldemort’s service, we know two of them. As has been established, Jo is mostly referring to previously mentioned Death Eaters in this scene so as not to overwhelm the reader. It so happens that there are two dead Death Eaters we already know about. Sirius had mentioned Rosier and Wilkes, who were killed by Aurors – they are two of the three. (Rosier was reiterated in Karkaroff’s trial.) So the remaining mystery here is who the third dead Death Eater is.
So we are missing one dead Death Eater and 21 living ones from the guest list (17 living ones if all the Maybes actually showed up). But I’m an evil-cult-half-full kind of guy, so I’ll marvel at how much we did know about the Death Eaters after one book.
Next up: Part 3 considers who was at the Battle of the Tower.