The Dark Lord Ascending
Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The Dark Lord Ascending
There is a momentary silence. Then Snape and Yaxley Apparate in simultaneously, each aiming his wand at the other. Recognizing one another, they then head for Malfoy Manor, Voldemort's new headquarters, where he and his Death Eaters have gathered. Inside, Snape informs Voldemort that the Order of the Phoenix is moving Harry Potter from the Dursley home to a secret location the following Saturday, at sunset. Snape reports that the information comes, "from the source [they] discussed." This contradicts the information that Yaxley obtained from Dawlish, an Auror, but that is determined to be unreliable. Snape suspects the Ministry has been infiltrated, and is feeding them false information. Yaxley reports that he has succeeded in placing Pius Thicknesse, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, under the Imperius curse, a major step in taking over the Ministry of Magic. However, Voldemort says that Thicknesse is only one man, "and Scrimgeour must be completely surrounded by our people before I act." Voldemort mentions that his wand, having the same magical core as Harry Potter's wand, could prove ineffective against Harry. During the discussions a prisoner is heard wailing from below; Voldemort sends Wormtail to quiet him.
Above the table Voldemort and his followers are seated at, a bound, unconscious figure is suspended upside down, slowly rotating. Voldemort demands Lucius' wand, claiming Malfoy no longer needs it and that he and his wife were unfaithful to the Dark Lord. Bellatrix Lestrange boasts that she, unlike her sister, Narcissa, has always been faithful, though Voldemort japes about her niece having recently married a Werewolf. The captive, awake and sobbing, pleads for help from an impassive Snape. Voldemort casts a killing curse at the woman, Professor Charity Burbage, the Muggle Studies instructor at Hogwarts, for teaching the subject and for publishing an opinion suggesting that the declining pure-blooded wizard population is actually beneficial and that blood purity should no longer matter. Her body is given to Nagini as her "dinner".
Although Voldemort has gathered key supporters around him, there is little solidarity among them, showing a major difference between Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix. The Death Eaters constantly compete with one another to ascend in the Dark Lord's eyes. Some are affronted that Snape, who is still regarded with suspicion by others, is invited to sit at Voldemort's right hand while the Malfoys now occupy a lower position at the foot of the table; this is obviously galling to them and shows how far and how quickly they have fallen from favor, particularly Lucius Malfoy, whose arrogance and wealth have, until now, shielded his rather weak character. Now the Malfoys must endure this latest humiliation, though they apparently still retain hope to somehow redeem themselves to the Dark Lord. This will likely prove difficult, as Voldemort has shown that he demands absolute loyalty and servitude while offering his followers little in return. Any failure is severely punished and unforgiven. This has created an atmosphere where disharmony and rebellion can quickly set in, prompting Voldemort's followers to seek their own reward any way they can, possibly resorting to treachery against one another. Even his most ardent follower, Bellatrix Lestrange, is taunted by Voldemort, who likely considers her "tainted" for her familial relationships to the Malfoys (her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew) and to the Tonks clan (through her other sister, Andromeda Black Tonks). Voldemort may come to doubt Bellatrix's loyalty if he should ever kill one of her closest kin, which may be one reason the Malfoys remain alive, at least for now. In the Order, however, the organization rallies around Harry in a unified goal to protect him and defeat Voldemort; this is far more important than material gains or an individual's status within their group, and it serves to strengthen, rather than divide them.
The one character whose true motives and loyalty have never been clearly defined throughout the entire series is Snape. Is he a reformed Death Eater secretly carrying out Dumbledore's orders as a double-agent, or was he merely biding his time, gathering information, awaiting the Dark Lord's resurrection? Now Snape is deeply embedded in the Death Eaters' inner council and has become a trusted Voldemort confidante. He also acts as a conduit for information about the Order. It is unknown whether Snape's information is accurate or how he obtained it. Voldemort is likely attempting to read Snape's mind using Legilimency and thus judge how reliable the information is, though Snape is skilled in Occlumency, and, conceivably, could block Voldemort's intrusions. Disputes over Snape's loyalty had seemed resolved after Snape killed Dumbledore (at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). Yet, Dumbledore steadfastly maintained unwavering trust in him. Also, the circumstances surrounding Dumbledore's death are ambiguous, and some readers have speculated that Snape killing Dumbledore was actually some prearranged plan between them. And while many questions go unanswered, it is doubtful that Voldemort and other Death Eaters will ever completely trust Snape. The old adage, "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer" may very well apply here, and it could equally have applied to Dumbledore just as it does to Voldemort. Also, many fans believe that Dumbledore may not actually be dead, though the author is adamant he did die in the previous book. Whatever Snape's actual course or motives may be, it remains unknown until the book's end.
Also, some critics may feel that waiting until the last book to introduce the Charity Burbage character solely to kill her off is literary laziness by the author. However, it serves to demonstrate just how bloodthirsty Death Eaters are, which makes murdering a helpless victim logical to the plot. That she is a Hogwarts professor re-enforces that the school is not as sacrosanct as it once seemed. And who better to kill than the Muggle Studies instructor? However, this scene might have had more emotional impact if readers had been introduced to Professor Burbage when Hermione was taking her class during her third year.
Killing Burbage may also have been a means for Voldemort to test Snape's loyalty by gauging his reaction to it, seeing if he registers any emotion or attempts to intervene in any way, for any reason, to spare Burbage's life. If Snape is loyal to Dumbledore, readers can only imagine what he must be thinking and feeling, not only as he witnesses Burbage, a fellow Hogwarts teacher, being so horribly murdered, but also helplessly listening to her desperate pleas to him for her life. If he is a traitor, then this cruel act shows how evil and vile he truly is.
- Why has Lucius Malfoy lost favor with the Dark Lord? Having lost that favor, why would Voldemort want him returned from Azkaban Prison?
- Even though Voldemort's wand may be ineffective against Harry, it is not so hindered in acting against Professor Burbage. In that case, why would Voldemort use Lucius' wand rather than his own to kill the Muggle Studies instructor?
- Who might be the 'source' that Snape and Voldemort refer to?
- Lucius Malfoy was sentenced to Azkaban Prison at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Yet, he has returned. There was no news of any breakouts at Azkaban during Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. How was Malfoy released from prison, and what does that say about the Ministry of Magic?
- Who might the prisoner in the cellar be, and why would Voldemort be holding him there? Why is it Pettigrew who is sent to quiet him?
- Compare and contrast how and why Death Eaters and Order of the Phoenix members show loyalty to their respective causes.
- Why did Voldemort murder Charity Burbage? Was it also for something other than his obvious stated reasons? Also, what might the author be attemptng to show with her murder? Explain.
- Why would the pure-blooded wizard population be declining?
During Voldemort's meeting with his Death Eaters, Peter Pettigrew (Wormtail) is dismissed to attend to a prisoner, who is evidently disrupting the proceedings. While it is never confirmed who this prisoner is, it is learned later that Mr. Ollivander, the wand maker, is being held captive in the house.
Snape's information about the Order's set dates to move Harry is accurate, though he apparently lacks the plan's full details. Later, it is discovered that Snape not only knows the complete plan, but it was he who planted the additional details into Mundungus' thoughts so that he could suggest them to Mad Eye Moody. However, we are still unaware of that information, and this chapter seems to reinforce the belief that Snape is loyal to the Dark side.
It is revealed much later, that Snape is, and has been, an extremely talented actor for as long as we have known him. Though Snape rarely shows any emotion, and his relationship with Burbage was likely mostly professional, his ability to suppress any reaction as he witnesses a long-time colleague's brutal murder shows extreme self-control and dedication to his mission.