The Harry Potter Reread can think of nothing that would appropriately prepare us all for the oncoming sad-storm, so it’s probably best to just have at it.
This week we will learn what it is like to be robbed of happiness. By Voldemort, who else. We’re on chapters 32 and 33 of The Goblet of Fire—Flesh, Blood, and Bone and The Death Eaters.
Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.
Chapter 32—Flesh, Blood, and Bone
Harry and Cedric arrive in a graveyard by a large old house, both confused that the Triwizard Cup turned out to be a Portkey. Cedric suggests that they take their wands out in case there are more trials ahead. A figure is making its way to the graveyard, carrying a bundle of some sort. Harry starts to feel an unbearable amount of pain in his scar, dropping to his knees. A voice says “Kill the spare,” the figure shouts the killing curse…
…and Cedric Diggory is dead.
Harry is dragged to a large marble headstone with the name Tom Riddle engraved on it. Once he’s tied to the thing, he realizes that the figure doing all of this is Wormtail. He is not speaking. Harry is gagged, bound so tightly that he can see only what’s directly in front of him: Cedric’s body, Harry’s wand on the ground beside him, the bundle that Wormtail has deposited on the ground. A great snake encircles Harry, and Wormtail drags over a huge stone cauldron. He lights a fire beneath it and works some magic on the liquid inside. The snake leaves Harry, moving toward the scene.
The voice from the bundle is in a hurry, and Wormtail finally releases it from its rags, revealing a raw, snakelike, baby-sized creature that Wormtail deposits in the cauldron. He takes bone dust from the grave and drops it in the cauldron, then cuts off his hand and puts it in the cauldron, then cuts Harry’s arm and collects his blood to pour into the cauldron. It’s all bright light and sparks, which then die down into mist. Harry prays the whole thing hasn’t worked, but then a tall, thin figure rises from the cauldron. Wormtail puts robes on him and the figure steps out, eyes red, nose flat like a snake’s.
Voldemort is returned.
This is bad news. We already know it’s bad news. We know that not knowing something big was going to happen when they touched the cup is bad news, and we know that being in a graveyard is bad news, and we know that the figure coming toward them is bad news. We can figure out pretty quickly that this is Wormtail and Voldemort because we’ve been given the impression that Voldemort is this small, toteable entity in Harry’s daymares. It’s about to go down, and you just sort of hold your breath, the way you always do.
And then Voldemort says, “Kill the spare,” and suddenly, everything is different.
Oh, Harry Potter is this cute children’s series about a boy who goes to a magic school where—
Kill the spare.
These books are so funny and fast-paced and light—
Kill the spare.
The stakes of this universe probably won’t get all that high, when the end of every book—
Kill the spare. No name, not a person, just a car part, or a fly that got in through a ripped screen. Oh, this doesn’t belong here—get rid of it.
This is a game changer. And for how clever these books are, the Harry Potter series still doesn’t have many of those. It’s fine that it doesn’t. It’s fine because when they happen, they occur for very specific reasons. And this moment is eye-opening in so many ways. Here’s a short list of the realizations that might have struck you on the first read:
- No one is safe anymore.
- Nice, good people aren’t safe at all.
- War is no longer a possibility. It is here, it has started, and its first victim was a stunned, scared, seventeen-year-old boy.
- Harry’s first real experience in this war is being present for the murder of one of his peers.
- Everything’s about to get extremely ugly, and there’s no going back.
And it could have been avoided, perhaps, if Harry alone had touched the cup (Voldemort would have almost certainly ordered Cedric’s death if he’d showed up by himself)… but the chances of that happening were slim. Basically, it would have required Harry to be more selfish, and that’s supposed to be the super-awful irony that ruins everything. If only Harry had been feeling extra-spiteful and taken Cedric’s generous offer. But no, he had to be all noble, and this is their joint reward for fair play.
Appropriately, Harry doesn’t get long to dwell on the death—there’s too much going on, and it’s hard to process these things in middle of other high stresses. Being tied to the gravestone of the father of the guy who killed your whole family might do that. Being used in a creepy ritual might do that. Helping (without your personal consent) to revive one the world’s worst dark wizards might do that. Harry has every possible disadvantage here: bad leg, completely caught off guard, already edgy and disoriented from the maze.
There’s a yew tree in the graveyard, which is a clever tie-in. Yew is associated with death, and also the same type of wood that makes up Voldemort’s wand. According to the Potterverse, a yew wand is meant to confer the power of life and death to its user. This does not mean that the person who wields one is automatically evil; in fact, it could be precisely the opposite, that they are a great protector of life. But yew wands do have a tendency to choose epic personalities. And they have reputations for dueling and curses.
Harry’s blood is used because Voldemort knows that it will effectively remove the boundary between them that existed in the first book. What he doesn’t realize is that it’s a catch-22 any way he cuts it. He is capable of hitting Harry with curses once this ritual is complete, yes, but because Harry’s blood resides in Voldemort from this point on, Harry is now tethered to life so long as Voldemort lives.
There is a lot of confusion over this plot point, mostly due to the fact that the magical elements that combine and allow Harry to vanquish Voldemort are multi-layered (perhaps in the extreme). But the key takeaway in the long run is this: Voldemort is still as bad at this “ancient love magic stuff” as he was the night he came to kill Harry. He thinks he’s got a handle on it, but his unwillingness to pay it the reverence that it deserves will be his downfall.
Chapter 33—The Death Eaters
Voldemort draws his wand from his robes and sends Wormtail flying into the headstone. Wormtail is begging Voldemort to do something about his severed hand, but his master ignores that in favor of pushing up Wormtail’s other sleeve and revealing a tattoo-like mark there—the Dark Mark. He touches the mark, paining both Harry and Wormtail, making it turn black. Voldemort wonders aloud how many will be brave enough to return with the mark at full strength… and who would dare to stay away.
Voldemort goes on about the grave Harry is tied to, the grave of his Muggle father. He mentions that Muggles can be useful: Harry’s mother died to protect him, and Voldemort killed his father, which made him awfully useful in this little revival ritual. He claims that his mother lived in this same village, but that Riddle abandoned her when he discovered that she had magic, that his father didn’t like magic. Because his mother died in childbirth, he was raised in an orphanage. He vowed to get revenge on his father, whom he was named for.
The Death Eaters begin to arrive. They are astounded, shocked; one of them falls to his knees and kisses Voldemort’s robes. Everyone else follows the example and then they form a circle around the little scene. Voldemort is unimpressed with them, however. He points out that many of them denounced their ways once he was vanquished. He questions them for ever losing faith in him. Conveys his deepest disappointment in the lot. The Death Eater Avery throws himself at the Dark Lord’s feet, begging forgiveness, and is hit with the Cruciatus Curse for his blubbering. Voldemort says he will not forgive them their 13 years of denial until he receives 13 years of service from them all. He points out that Wormtail has repaid some of this debt (though he returned out of fear of Remus and Sirius, not out of loyalty), but not nearly enough.
Still, Wormtail was instrumental to his resurrection, and should be rewarded. Voldemort gifts him with a brand new magical hand, silver and strong. Voldemort berates Lucius Malfoy next, pointing out that his night of fun at the Quidditch World Cup would have been better served in searching for him instead. Lucius insists that he never lost hope that the Dark Lord would return, and would have been at his side had he heard even the slightest whisper. Voldemort points out that he ran from the Dark Mark at the World Cup. There are gaps in the ranks of the circle. The Lestranges are in Azkaban and Voldemort plans to reward them for never renouncing him. He demands that other Death Eaters do better, such as Crabbe, Goyle, and Nott.
He says that he will bring the Dementors to their cause (as they are “natural allies”), recall the giants, and create a terrifying army. There are other gaps in the ranks. Some are dead. One, says Voldemort, is too frightened to return. Another has left him, and will be killed. And still another is his most faithful servant, already returned to his service. That servant is at Hogwarts, and because of his efforts, Harry is there tonight.
Lucius Malfoy asks how Voldemort managed to survive what happened in Harry’s home that night, and Voldemort explains what Dumbledore told Harry before; when Lily Potter sacrificed herself to save Harry, it left a protective mark on the infant, causing the killing curse to rebound. He calls it “old magic.” But now he can touch Harry, and he proves it. The pain is practically more than Harry can bear.
Voldemort talks of how he was ripped from his body, but he did not die… due to a few experiments he had tried prior. He could not perform the necessary magic to reconstitute himself because he had no corporeal form, and therefore could not use his wand. He had expected one of the Death Eaters to come find him, but no one appeared. He was able to possess bodies, but did not dare to try this in inhabited human areas because Aurors were still searching. So, he often took the bodies of snakes, which he wore out quite quickly. Then Quirrell came to the forest. Voldemort rode him back to Hogwarts, but was unable to get his hands on the Philosopher’s Stone. He went back to the Albanian forest where he’d resided before, concerned for the first time that he might never regain power again.
Then Wormtail fled Hogwarts to escape his friends. By communicating with other rats, he found out where Voldemort was hiding. He stopped at an inn on the edge of the forest to get food and met up with Bertha Jorkins. This might have gotten him caught, but he persuaded Bertha to come for a walk with him, overpowered her and brought her to Voldemort. She turned out to be a wealth of information to the Dark Lord, knowing about the Triwizard Tournament and a former Death Eater who would be only too happy to help with the cause if the Dark Lord could reach him. Voldemort had to break powerful Memory Charms on her to get the information, which left Bertha destroyed. Voldemort could not possess Wormtail because he was presumed dead, so he had the man help with a spell that would create him a rudimentary body while he awaited resurrection, using unicorn blood and venom from his snake Nagini.
Voldemort knew that the Philosopher’s Stone would be long gone, so he decided to settle for a new body for now. The spell that returned him demanded flesh of a servant, bone of the father, and blood of a foe. Wormtail thought an enemy would do, but Voldemort wanted Harry specifically. It was difficult because Harry has protections on him that he is unaware of; there is protection over the Dursleys house, and too many Ministry wizards were present at the Quidditch World Cup. So Voldemort used Bertha Jorkins’ information. He stationed his special Death Eater at Hogwarts, and that servant ensured everything. That Death Eater put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire, made certain that Harry would be the first to touch the cup-turned-Portkey.
Voldemort casts the Cruciatus Curse on Harry. When he stops, he tells his followers that clearly Harry is no match for him. But he wants them to be sure. So he plans to kill him in a fair fight. He tells Wormtail to untie Harry and give the boy his wand.
Voldemort tells Harry the story of his parents, but he doesn’t have the whole measure of it, as we will later learn. The most relevant part that he is unaware of provides the true reason for his father’s abandonment: That his mother was dosing Tom Riddle with love potions for the majority of their relationship, and Riddle fled when no longer under their influence. It is doubtful that this knowledge would have changed Voldemort’s mind about Muggles overmuch, but one has to wonder what he’d make of that. Knowing that he was the product of a forced union might have altered his narrative somewhat.
The revelation that Voldemort is a half-blood wizard who nevertheless advocates blood purity is a clear likening to ideologies favored by dictators like Hitler (who famously extolled the virtue of “Nordic” peoples with blond hair and blue eyes when he himself looked nothing like his supposed ideal). It’s not much of a surprise, but I doubt that Rowling meant for it to be. Since the Potter series was aimed at a younger readership to begin with, it’s likely that she hoped these similarities would spark conversation and create certain teaching points in the series.
The Death Eaters arrive, and there is a clear order to things as they fill the graveyard. They form a circle around the Voldemort, but there are gaps left in the ranks for those who are missing. It’s a cult-like atmosphere, with a textbook progression; everyone knows what is expected of them, where they stand, who they keep company with, when to speak and when to hold back. They know because Voldemort establishes strict boundaries in every sense—the first Death Eater to grovel for forgiveness before he is given leave to speak is immediately tortured, and it’s safe to assume that this is the norm.
We learn the names of most of the Death Eaters, and of course, Lucius Malfoy is among them. Narcissa is not, on the other hand, which brings me to the point that there are very few female Death Eaters, officially speaking. There is Bellatrix Lestrange, and also Alecto Carrow, who comes as a package deal with her brother. Outside of that, I am fairly certain that all of the named Death Eaters are men. (I am not saying that plenty of women are not bound up in the doings of Voldemort and his followers, but I find it interesting that very few of them are “initiated,” as it were.)
According to Rowling, the original name of the Death Eaters was the Knights of Walpurgis. This is relevant in its relation to an actual German feast day, Walpurgisnacht, meant to honor Saint Walpurgia, an abbess in the 8th century. This date is major for Satanism, being the anniversary of the founding of their church. In German folklore, it is the night of a witch meeting on the highest peak of the Harz Mountains.
Voldemort speaks of the Death Eaters who are not present. The Lestranges will be rewarded for staying true, but he speaks of three others. His most loyal is Barty Crouch Jr., of course. The one too afraid to return, we later realize is Igor Karkaroff. The one who he claims has abandoned him forever is meant to be Snape, which will be negated in a couple hours when Snape shows up and explains his double agent status to appease him. Of course, he goes on about the work his spy has done, and we’re only missing the name at this point. It seems odd that Voldemort doesn’t just tell the Death Eaters who is at Hogwarts, but perhaps he’s enjoying the game of keeping them in suspense. Most of them wouldn’t know Barty was still alive, after all.
We actually get a vague mention of Horcruxes here, which makes it likely that Rowling hadn’t considered the specifics of how they would work out, but knew where the plot was ultimately going. He says that there were some “experiments” he’d been working on that clearly kept him alive once his curse bounced off Harry, and that’s the only thing he could possibly mean.
So, Voldemort isn’t exactly a stable guy, but I frequently wonder exactly how calculated his moves are. He’s definitely a schemer, for the most part. And once he’d decided to go the Triwizard Cup route, it occurred to me… maybe this whole show here is the point. It seems over-thought to your average not-megalomaniac (But… you could have nabbed him any time! Have Crouch kidnap him! Get it done!), but it seems to me that this is exactly what Voldemort wanted. He wanted Harry to be at a high point before he nabbed him—Kid, you just won the Triwizard Tournament! Psych! You are going to be tortured and then die. Congrats. It makes all of this seem a lot more necessary, even if it’s not exactly smart in achieving Voldy’s goals in a quick and easy manner.
Voldemort knows about the protection surrounding the Dursleys’ home, but I’m curious as to how… did he stop by and check the place out? He probably had to have Wormtail do it for him. It does beg the question of exactly how the protection on the Dursley house makes itself known; it’s not the same as the Secret-Keeper charm, after all. It’s tied to the blood-magic protecting Harry. But there are other protections, according to Voldemort, and those are deliberately unclear. It could be anything, really. He sort of categorizes it under “Dumbledore has this locked down.” Which makes it more clear than anything else he says just how much the old guy frightens him.
And because he’s so obsessed with everyone thinking well of him, he’s got to fight Harry in front of the Death Eater crew. This, by itself, is an obvious play. His followers did lose respect; they did go back to their former lives; they did think him defeated by an infant. It’s not pure vanity at work here—Voldemort wants to restart his rise to power by reasserting his awe-worthy-ness. Now Harry just needs to get to his feet and oblige.
Fortunately, the plans of master villains rarely go so smooth.