Duels with Death Eaters
By Nina de Boo and Ann Skinner
The Death Eaters; Voldemort’s private army and elite force. We first meet them at the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where they cause a riot, trampling and blowing up tents and reveling in the torture of a Muggle family. Startled out of sleep by Mr. Weasley's warning shout, Harry stumbles outside to be confronted by a dire sight:
A crowd of wizards, tightly packed and moving together with wands pointing straight upward, was marching slowly across the field. Harry squinted at them….They didn't seem to have faces….Then he realized that their heads were hooded and their faces masked.1
Harry doesn’t know who the wizards in masks could be, but Bill Weasley explains to him that they are probably Death Eaters - “It’s what You-Know-Who’s supporters called themselves […] I think we saw what’s left of them tonight—the ones who managed to keep themselves out of Azkaban anyway.”2 After Voldemort’s near defeat and disappearance on Halloween 1981, many of them were hunted down by Aurors and sent to Azkaban. Some of them were killed. Several, however, managed to avoid being imprisoned, claiming they had been acting under the Imperius curse, or buying their way out of prison by becoming informers for the ministry.
It is these Death Eaters that we get to meet personally at the graveyard in Little Hangleton. A newly risen Voldemort summons them to his side by touching the image of a skull with a snake protruding from its mouth branded on Peter Pettigrew’s left forearm. Each Death Eater has this Dark Mark branded on his arm, which functions as a homing beacon: when their master touches the mark on a Death Eater’s arm, all the others know they should instantly Apparate to his side. At the graveyard, Harry learns that the fathers of his Slytherin classmates Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle are active Voldemort supporters, as well as Macnair, the executioner employed by the Ministry who had previously been sent to execute Buckbeak the hippogriff.
How many Death Eaters there are is unknown. Of the ones at the graveyard, only Avery and Nott are mentioned by name—apart from the aforementioned—but there are several that Voldemort does not speak to. Furthermore, not all of them joined the “rebirthing party”3 at the Riddle grave. Voldemort explains that Sirius Black’s cousin Bellatrix Lestrange and her husband Rudolphus are in Azkaban because of the faith they showed him after his downfall, and will be “honored beyond their dreams”4 when they get out. We know there are several more Death Eaters in Azkaban as the following year, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, no less than ten Death Eaters break out of the wizarding prison. Among them there are Rodolphus’ brother Rastaban, Antonin Dolohov and Augustus Rookwood, former Ministry employee. Others that were captured by Aurors after the First Wizarding War are Travers and Mulciber.
Voldemort goes on to deliberate that there is “one [who is] too cowardly to return … he will pay.”5 This most likely is Igor Karkaroff, the Durmstrang headmaster. Karkaroff betrayed many Death Eaters after Voldemort’s fall in order to try and save himself from prison. The night that Voldemort rose again, he fled in fear of retribution. Voldemort kept his word: Karkaroff was later found dead with a Dark Mark set above him. Then there is “one, who I believe has left me for ever … he will be killed, of course.”6 This almost certainly refers to Severus Snape. Snape was a Death Eater during the First Wizarding War and he still bears the mark to prove it. It was Snape who overheard at least part of the prophecy and relayed it to the Dark Lord. However, he is believed to have returned to the good side when he realized how Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy and had gone after the Potters and their infant son. Dumbledore believed this to be “the greatest regret of his life.”7 With Snape, however, Voldemort does not follow through on his threat. Snape manages to convince the Dark Lord once again of his loyalty and returns to his service a few hours after his resurrection. Finally, Voldemort explains there is “one, who remains my most faithful servant, and who has already re-entered my service.”8 We later find out that this must be Barty Crouch Jr., who, disguised as Alastor Moody, is teaching at Hogwarts, and helps Harry win the Triwizard Cup in order to deliver him to Voldemort at the end of the final task.
It is obvious that Voldemort is not an easy master to serve. As Sirius explains to Harry: “you don’t just hand in your resignation to Voldemort. It’s a lifetime of service or death.”9 Deserters, like Karkaroff and Sirius’ brother, Regulus, are swiftly dealt with, hunted down and murdered. Voldemort does not forgive, nor does he forget.10 He expects loyalty, though he trusts no one, but this loyalty is only rewarded in the most extreme cases. Rather, Voldemort seems swift to punish disobedience or failure; through a vision, Harry is witness to the punishment of Wormtail following Crouch Sr.’s escape, and also feels the punishment of Avery, who had provided inaccurate information in the pursuit of the prophecy. Voldemort seems to control his followers mainly through intimidation and fear.
A Motley Collection
The Death Eaters originated long before Tom Marvolo Riddle became Lord Voldemort. While going through Voldemort’s background, Dumbledore recounts to Harry that, when young Tom was a student at Hogwarts,
“He gathered about him a group of dedicated friends; I call them that, for want of a better term, although as I have already indicated, Riddle undoubtedly felt no affection for any of them. This group had a kind of dark glamour within the castle. They were a motley collection; a mixture of the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish, gravitating towards a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty. In other words, they were the forerunners of the Death Eaters, and indeed some of them became the first Death Eaters after leaving Hogwarts.”11
Among these friends were Avery, and a Lestrange progenitor. What happened to them after they left Hogwarts is uncertain, but they must have stayed together and followed Tom Riddle during his slow transformation into Voldemort. According to J.K. Rowling, she had originally called them the Knights of Walpurgis,12 a play on the pagan holiday the Night of Walpurgis named for St. Walpurga, the protectress against witchcraft and sorcery. However, just over ten years after Tom left Hogwarts, when he returned to the school to apply for the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, his “motley” collection of “friends” were already known as the Death Eaters.13 Among them are Nott, Rosier, Mulciber and Dolohov. They sank back into obscurity for at least another ten years until they finally reemerged with Voldemort, now unrecognizable as the once handsome Tom Riddle, as their undisputed leader. Voldemort then quickly rose to power, spreading terror wherever he went, holding the wizarding world in an icy grasp for eleven years, until he was finally defeated by a defenseless infant boy.