“My Lord, I have good news on that score. I have – with difficulty, and after great
effort – succeeded in placing an Imperius Curse upon Pius Thicknesse.”
Many of those sitting around Yaxley looked impressed; his neighbor, Dolohov, a
man with a long, twisted face, clapped him on the back.
“It is a start,” said Voldemort. “But Thicknesse is only one man. Scrimgeour must
be surrounded by our people before I act. One failed attempt on the Minister’s life will
set me back a long way.”
“Yes – my Lord, that is true – but you know, as Head of the Department of
Magical Law Enforcement, Thicknesse has regular contact not only with the Minister
himself, but also with the Heads of all the other Ministry departments. It will, I think, be
easy now that we have such a high-ranking official under our control, to subjugate the
others, and then they can all work together to bring Scrimgeour down.”
“As long as our friend Thicknesse is not discovered before he has converted the
rest,” said Voldemort. “At any rate, it remains unlikely that the Ministry will be mine
before next Saturday. If we cannot touch the boy at his destination, then it must be done
while he travels.”
“We are at an advantage there, my Lord,” said Yaxley, who seemed determined to
receive some portion of approval. “We now have several people planted within the
Department of Magical Transport. If Potter Apparates or uses the Floo Network, we shall
“He will not do either,” said Snape. “The Order is eschewing any form of
transport that is controlled or regulated by the Ministry; they mistrust everything to do
with the place.”
“All the better,” said Voldemort. “He will have to move in the open. Easier to
take, by far.”
Again, Voldemort looked up at the slowly revolving body as he went on, “I shall
attend to the boy in person. There have been too many mistakes where Harry Potter is
concerned. Some of them have been my own. That Potter lives is due more to my errors
than to his triumphs.”
The company around the table watched Voldemort apprehensively, each of them,
by his or her expression, afraid that they might be blamed for Harry Potter’s continued
existence. Voldemort, however, seemed to be speaking more to himself than to any of
them, still addressing the unconscious body above him.
“I have been careless, and so have been thwarted by luck and chance, those
wreckers of all but the best-laid plans. But I know better now. I understand those things
that I did not understand before. I must be the one to kill Harry Potter, and I shall be.”
At these words, seemingly in response to them, a sudden wail sounded, a terrible,
drawn-out cry of misery and pain. Many of those at the table looked downward, startled,
for the sound had seemed to issue from below their feet.
“Wormtail,” said Voldemort, with no change in his quiet, thoughtful tone, and
without removing his eyes from the revolving body above, “have I not spoken to you
about keeping our prisoner quiet?”
“Yes, m-my Lord,” gasped a small man halfway down the table, who had been
sitting so low in his chair that it appeared, at first glance, to be unoccupied. Now he
scrambled from his seat and scurried from the room, leaving nothing behind him but a
curious gleam of silver.
“As I was saying,” continued Voldemort, looking again at the tense faces of his
followers, “I understand better now. I shall need, for instance, to borrow a wand from one
of you before I go to kill Potter.”
The faces around him displayed nothing but shock; he might have announced that
he wanted to borrow one of their arms.
“No volunteers?” said Voldemort. “Let’s see … Lucius, I see no reason for you to
have a wand anymore.”
Lucius Malfoy looked up. His skin appeared yellowish and waxy in the firelight,
and his eyes were sunken and shadowed. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse.
“Your wand, Lucius. I require your wand.”
Malfoy glanced sideways at his wife. She was staring straight ahead, quite as pale
as he was, her long blonde hair hanging down her back, but beneath the table her slim
fingers closed briefly on his wrist. At her touch, Malfoy put his hand into his robes,
withdrew a wand, and passed it along to Voldemort, who held it up in front of his red
eyes, examining it closely.
“What is it?”
“Elm, my Lord,” whispered Malfoy.
“And the core?”
“Dragon – dragon heartstring.”
“Good,” said Voldemort. He drew out his wand and compared the lengths. Lucius
Malfoy made an involuntary movement; for a fraction of a second, it seemed he expected
to receive Voldemort’s wand in exchange for his own. The gesture was not missed by
Voldemort, whose eyes widened maliciously.
“Give you my wand, Lucius? My wand?”
Some of the throng sniggered.
“I have given you your liberty, Lucius, is that not enough for you? But I have
noticed that you and your family seem less than happy of late … What is it about my
presence in your home that displaces you, Lucius?”
“Nothing – nothing, my Lord!”
“Such lies Lucius … “
The soft voice seemed to hiss on even after the cruel mouth had stopped moving.
One or two of the wizards barely repressed a shudder as the hissing grew louder;
something heavy could be heard sliding across the floor beneath the table.
The huge snake emerged to climb slowly up Voldemort’s chair. It rose, seemingly
endlessly, and came to rest across Voldemort’s shoulders: its neck the thickness of a
man’s thigh; its eyes, with their vertical slits for pupils, unblinking. Voldemort stroked
the creature absently with long thin fingers, still looking at Lucius Malfoy.
“Why do the Malfoys look so unhappy with their lot? Is my return, my rise to
power, not the very thing they professed to desire for so many years?”
“Of course, my Lord,” said Lucius Malfoy. His hand shook as he wiped sweat
from his upper lip. “We did desire it – we do.”
To Malfoy’s left, his wife made an odd, stiff nod, her eyes averted from
Voldemort and the snake. To his right, his son, Draco, who had been gazing up at the
inert body overhead, glanced quickly at Voldemort and away again, terrified to make eye
“My Lord,” said a dark woman halfway down the table, her voice constricted with
emotion, “it is an honor to have you here, in our family’s house. There can be no higher
She sat beside her sister, as unlike her in looks, with her dark hair and heavily
lidded eyes, as she was in bearing and demeanor; where Narcissa sat rigid and impassive,
Bellatrix leaned toward Voldemort, for mere words could not demonstrate her longing for
“No higher pleasure,” repeated Voldemort, his head tilted a little to one side as he
considered Bellatrix. “That means a great deal, Bellatrix, from you.”
Her face flooded with color; her eyes welled with tears of delight.
“My Lord knows I speak nothing but the truth!”
“No higher pleasure … even compared with the happy event that, I hear, has
taken place in your family this week?”
She stared at him, her lips parted, evidently confused.
“I don’t know what you mean, my Lord.”
“I’m talking about your niece, Bellatrix. And yours, Lucius and Narcissa. She has
just married the werewolf, Remus Lupin. You must be so proud.”
There was an eruption of jeering laughter from around the table. Many leaned
forward to exchange gleeful looks; a few thumped the table with their fists. The giant
snake, disliking the disturbance, opened its mouth wide and hissed angrily, but the Death
Eaters did not hear it, so jubilant were they at Bellatrix and the Malfoys’ humiliation.
Bellatrix’s face, so recently flushed wit happiness, had turned an ugly, blotchy red.
“She is no niece of ours, my Lord,” she cried over the outpouring of mirth. “We –
Narcissa and I – have never set eyes on our sister since she married the Mudblood. This
brat has nothing to do with either of us, nor any beast she marries.”
“What say you, Draco?” asked Voldemort, and though his voice was quiet, it
carried clearly through the catcalls and jeers. “Will you babysit the cubs?”
The hilarity mounted; Draco Malfoy looked in terror at his father, who was
staring down into his own lap, then caught his mother’s eye. She shook her head almost
imperceptibly, then resumed her own deadpan stare at the opposite wall.
“Enough,” said Voldemort, stroking the angry snake. “Enough.”
And the laughter died at once.
“Many of our oldest family trees become a little diseased over time,” he said as
Bellatrix gazed at him, breathless and imploring, “You must prune yours, must you not,
to keep it healthy? Cut away those parts that threaten the health of the rest.”
“Yes, my Lord,” whispered Bellatrix, and her eyes swam with tears of gratitude
again. “At the first chance!”
“You shall have it,” said Voldemort. “And in your family, so in the world … we
shall cut away the canker that infects us until only those of the true blood remain …”
Voldemort raised Lucius Malfoy’s wand, pointed it directly at the slowly
revolving figure suspended over the table, and gave it a tiny flick. The figure came to life
with a groan and began to struggle against invisible bonds.
“Do you recognize our guest, Severus?” asked Voldemort.
Snape raised his eyes to the upside down face. All of the Death Eaters were
looking up at the captive now, as though they had been given permission to show
curiosity. As she revolved to face the firelight, the woman said in a cracked and terrified
voice, “Severus! Help me!”
“Ah, yes,” said Snape as the prisoner turned slowly away again.
“And you, Draco?” asked Voldemort, stroking the snake’s snout with his wand-
free hand. Draco shook his head jerkily. Now that the woman had woken, he seemed
unable to look at her anymore.
“But you would not have taken her classes,” said Voldemort. “For those of you
who do not know, we are joined here tonight by Charity Burbage who, until recently,
taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
There were small noises of comprehension around the table. A broad, hunched
woman with pointed teeth cackled.
“Yes … Professor Burbage taught the children of witches and wizards all about
Muggles … how they are not so different from us … “
One of the Death Eaters spat on the floor. Charity Burbage revolved to face Snape
“Severus … please … please … “
“Silence,” said Voldemort, with another twitch of Malfoy’s wand, and Charity fell
silent as if gagged. “Not content with corrupting and polluting the minds of Wizarding
children, last week Professor Burbage wrote an impassioned defense of Mudbloods in the
Daily Prophet. Wizards, she says, must accept these thieves of their knowledge and
magic. The dwindling of the purebloods is, says Professor Burbage, a most desirable
circumstance … She would have us all mate with Muggles … or, no doubt, werewolves
Nobody laughed this time. There was no mistaking the anger and contempt in
Voldemort’s voice. For the third time, Charity Burbage revolved to face Snape. Tears
were pouring from her eyes into her hair. Snape looked back at her, quite impassive, as
she turned slowly away from him again.
The flash of green light illuminated every corner of the room. Charity fell, with a
resounding crash, onto the table below, which trembled and creaked. Several of the Death
Eaters leapt back in their chairs. Draco fell out of his onto the floor.
“Dinner, Nagini,” said Voldemort softly, and the great snake swayed and slithered
from his shoulders onto the polished wood.