In Chapter 33 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Voldemort apparently knows which Death Eaters usually stood where.

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.

How did Voldy know which Death Eaters should have stood there? Did the Death Eaters all have pre-assigned spaces to stand in? Who decided these places? When did they practice?

If they didn't have a seating chart, how did Voldy know who was who under the mask?

How did Voldemort know which Death Eaters were missing?

Inspired by this tumblr post.

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    Speculation and this a comment; Voldermort is highly acomplished at mind reading, so it's possible he could read the minds of the death eaters to see who was behind the mask. He also understands wand lore so he might have been able to sense the wand and relate that to an owner
    – gabe3886
    Feb 29, 2016 at 13:53
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    @gabe3886 "He also understands wand lore"? Sounds like you and I read two entirely different series of Harry Potter books! Voldemort definitely does not understand wand lore at that point in the books, and arguably never truly understands it at any point before his death. Feb 29, 2016 at 15:41
  • @AnthonyGrist Thinking further, I'm mis-remembering about want lore. I thought he detected the core of Lucius Malfoy's wand, but he asks him what the core is. My mistake there. My assumption was that if he could detect the core in a wand, he could use that to identify death eaters
    – gabe3886
    Feb 29, 2016 at 15:46
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    A superior sense of smell. Mar 18, 2017 at 9:06
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    Apart from it being a good question, I really like the way it's put. Now I'm thinking of that kids' game when you need to make a line in order depending on your birthdate... was always a mess. You do need some practice to perform it smoothly. And now - how do they tell each other apart under those masks? "Sorry, I have to stay left from Nott" - "I'm not Nott, I'm Traverse"- "Pardon, you put on some weight, my apologies" - "There he looks like Nott" - "No, it's Crabbe, I've already asked"...
    – Shana Tar
    Oct 29, 2018 at 14:58

4 Answers 4


I don’t believe that there is any direct canon answer to this question, so please be aware that my answer is purely speculative (within the spirit of canon).

The simplest answer is the old Voldy is shown throughout the series to be a character who needs to be in control, whether it be by pulling strings in the background (Pius Thicknesse becoming Minister upon the assassination of Rufus Scrimgeour) or by directly controlling those around him (either through fear and intimidation or the imperious curse). That being said it is not that far fetched to suggest that Voldemort would be controlling to the point of assigning his death eaters specific places, or a particular order, to stand in upon being summoned.

Based on where a particular death eater is assigned to stand may indicate prominence and/or rank within the death eater order. For instance, in the beginning of the Deathly Hallows, Snape is afforded a seat of prominence, emphasis is my own:

"Severus, here," said Voldemort, indicating the seat on his immediate right." "Yaxley – beside Dolohov."

The two men took their allotted places.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, page 3, US Hardcover Edition

As we can see in the italicized part of the quote, Snape is given the seat on Voldemort’s right hand, which is typically regarded is a prominent spot, that would seem to have been saved particularly for Snape. Yaxley, on the other hand was assigned a seat elsewhere at the table. The boldface text shows that seats were indeed assigned to Death Eaters, and based on the preceding text, we can easily assume that it was Voldemort himself that assigned the seats, instead of say Malfoy who owned the manor.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon that in the military (or even militia armies) that soldiers assemble in a given order, generally by rank. As the death eater order is the closest thing we see to a trained army/militia in the Harry Potter series, it makes sense that they would operate and assemble in a similar manner.

And just to cover all of my bases here, before anyone can say that Voldemort would be completely ignorant of military history/formations, let’s remember that for the first eleven years of his life, Tom Riddle was raised in a Muggle orphanage and presumably attended a muggle school during this time. I’m not so sure about the English education system, but here in the States, we do start learning a bit of military history, particularly WWI and WWII in primary school. A very basic knowledge of Muggle armies could have planted a seed in Tom Riddle’s head, long before he became Voldemort, on how armies assemble, attack, defend, and ultimately achieve victory, or lose in battle.

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    Young Riddle would definitely have learnt about WWI. Remember, he was born in 1926 and thus lived in the orphanage in the early 1930s when WWI was still quite fresh in the public memory and the political climate in Germany was starting to build up towards what would eventually become WWII. I too have always read the GoF chapter as implying, if not actually stating outright, that each Death Eater had their own, specific place. I assume part of the magic behind the Dark Mark is that they always Apparate to where Voldemort wants them, in this case in their own spot in the circle. Feb 29, 2016 at 6:03
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    I don't see why muggle military history is relevant. You can have or create a hierarchy without copying one from the muggle world. Feb 29, 2016 at 7:53
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    @JanusBahsJacquet So Voldemort could have retired in one more year if Harry hadn't killed him... how sad.
    – TylerH
    Feb 29, 2016 at 17:23

In canon Voldemort is a Legilimens of great skill, capable of basically reading minds. (Basically, Snape goes on a decent rant about it.)

"The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by any invader. The mind is a complex and many-layered thing... It is true, however, that those who have mastered Legilimency are able, under certain conditions, to delve into the minds of their victims and to interpret their findings correctly."

-- Severus Snape

Voldemort is known for overpowering weak minds, I can't imagine many of his followers could withstand his Legilimency.

While it is never directly addressed in the books, it's probable that Voldemort can tell the difference between his followers very easily.

Edit: I suppose my point was that he knew which ones were there, and he was certainly an authoritative enough fellow to simply call out the missing as he came upon a gap; assuming he didn't remember the seating chart I assume he assigned because he's a control freak.

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    How exactly does this answer the question? What does Legilimency have to do with anything? We know that Voldemort is perfectly capable of telling the difference between his Death Eaters, just like he and anyone else is perfectly capable of telling the difference between any other people they know personally… you don’t have to read someone’s mind to recognise them. The question here is why he is able to put specific names to specific gaps in a circle of people. This answer seems… completely unrelated. Feb 29, 2016 at 17:35
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    I suppose this is meant to address the implication in the question that the Death Eaters conceal their identities when "on the job". If the identities are concealed and Voldemort hadn't assigned spots in the first place (e.g. perhaps the Death Eaters self-organized but kept their own chosen spots from meeting to meeting), you'd wonder how he would have known who used to stand in those spaces back when they were there - and the answer, of course, could be Legilimency. (I don't find that whole chain of reasoning very convincing though.)
    – David Z
    Feb 29, 2016 at 18:35

It seems pretty clear that there were assigned places. The Death Eaters, with no prompting from Voldemort, formed a circle and left empty spaces in it:

The Death Eaters behind him did the same; each of them approaching Voldemort on his knees and kissing his robes, before backing away and standing up, forming a silent circle, which enclosed Tom Riddle's grave, Harry, Voldemort, and the sobbing and twitching heap that was Wormtail. Yet they left gaps in the circle, as though waiting for more people.

They didn't just leave gaps, though. Each gap was a specific size:

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.


He had reached the largest gap of all, and he stood surveying it with his blank, red eyes, as though he could see people standing there.

"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."

Now why does Voldemort associate the specific spaces with specific Death Eaters? What makes the two-person space next to the Malfoys the place where the Lestranges would be? What makes six-person space be for the people Voldemort lists? Maybe two of the six spaces are for the Lestranges and the two-person space next to Malfoy is for the coward and the deserter?

The simplest answer is that there were assigned spots. The Lestranges always stood next to Malfoy, and the six mentioned by Voldemort always stood in those six spaces. That is how the Death Eaters knew to leave specifically two spaces next to Malfoy and specifically six spaces in the other gap, and that is why Voldemort associated each space with a specific Death Eater.

Once there was a specific layout that was used at such get-togethers, it is no surprise that Voldemort would know which Death Eater was in each space. It wouldn't be too hard for him to memorize, especially if he was the one who set up the arrangement in the first place.

  • He's a Legilimens, so he can read their minds and recognize them;
  • he is a control freak, and rules with fear and all that, so he needs to move people or place them based on rank so that they are always fearing him;
  • and, if he can summon people with a tattoo, I'm just gonna assume that he knows who he summoned that came and who didn't.
    He probably also can figure out why by reading the other Death Eaters' minds when he mentioned who is missing.

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