The longer I thought about it over the 3-year summer, the more reasonable it seemed to me to me that Snape had managed to show up for the graveyard muster and take his accustomed place in the circle. In which case it also seemed clear enough to me that it would have been Karkaroff that Voldemort referred to when speaking of the Oathbreaker.
Nevertheless, when his Mark began to return who did he go to? Not to Dumbledore (and why NOT Dumbledore? He knows Dumbledore’s reputation.). He went to Snape, who, from Dumbledore’s testimony at his plea bargain hearing, he now believes to have been a Ministry spy. Which is to say, he went to Snape who he probably believes is the ONLY other person who is in the same boat he is in — that of a genuine ex-Death Eater with something to loose.
And Snape rebuffed him. Had Karkaroff gone to Dumbledore, some provision for his safety might have been made. (Post-HBP we could not be certain that one hadn’t been. He was rather confidently assumed by all to be dead, yet no one admitted to having seen him die. Post DHs this scenario becomes rather unlikely. Post DHs it is also fairly apparent why he did not go to Dumbledore.)
According to Voldemort, the Coward will merely be forced to “pay” for his cowardice. The Oathbreaker will be killed. Given that the DEs know that Karkaroff sold them out in return for his own release from Azkaban, I could not really see Voldemort merely hitting him with a round of Cruciatus and keeping him on a short leash.
If the Oathbreaker was Karkaroff, and the Coward is indeed someone that we had already met by that point in the series, then he was almost sure to be Bagman. It seemed less than probable that the identities of the three missing DEs referred to in the graveyard speech were those of persons who had not yet been introduced by the time the speech was made. I concede that we had absolutely no certainly on this point. Voldemort could have been referring to completely unknown people, but that would be widely regarded as “cheating” on Rowling’s part. (Not that such a possibility is beyond her, as we well know by now. But she wasn’t in the habit of doing it back then.)
Bagman had dodged the bullet at his trial by making himself out to be a simple dupe. Augustus Rookwood, his contact, was already under investigation. Consequently, Bagman betrayed no one, cut no deals and attempted only to save himself. And he did so without ill effect to any other person. The other DEs have no quarrel with him. In point of fact, he may indeed have been no more than a simple dupe — but if he was the “Coward”, he had formerly been admitted into Voldemort’s circle of Marked followers, and he had already been amply demonstrated to be one extremely shifty character. Truthfulness is not his main stock in trade.
Ludo Bagman, like Karkaroff, did a bolt by the end of the TriWizard Tournament, under the very useful — and quite plausible — cover of dodging Goblin enforcers over a little matter of gambling debts. This may all be perfectly true. But it would not be difficult to believe that his real gamble was for another kind of stakes altogether. He had managed to squirm out of a tight spot a dozen years ago, he may very well have decided that he doesn’t want to take any further personal risks, and to just sit this one out. In his case, I could see a bout of Cruciatus and being kept on a short leash as lying within the likely parameters.
I also thought that the relevant clue regarding the probability of Bagman’s involvement was tucked away in OotP’s iteration of the little capsule story of Regulus Black who joined up because there was nothing in his background to give him pause, and didn’t like what he found when he got there — ultimately getting himself killed because of it. Rookwood was a personal friend of Bagman’s father. Ergo; Bagman was from the same demographic that most of the younger DEs were recruited from. He may not have liked what he found, either.
Bagman had his brush with Azkaban some 12–13 years ago and he is not going to take any risks that would put him in that kind of position again. There were probably several attendees of that gathering in Little Hangleton who were far from delighted to have the Dark Lord back in town. But Bagman was the only one of those who was fool enough to run.
Karkaroff, on the other hand, had deliberately sold out to the enemy, and sold out spectacularly. What is more, he stayed sold. He didn’t have a choice. He didn’t dare return. We saw not one action, reaction or statement from him which demonstrates the slightest regret for having made his peace with the British Ministry. He’s a slimy specimen, but he’s not a constant flip-flop. This, I thought, is the one who had “left forever”.
The identity of the Faithful Servant was no mystery. Despite strenuous attempts by some fans to give this one a more “dramatic” spin, the Faithful Servant was clearly Barty Crouch Jr, referred to as such all the way back in Book 4’s first chapter and finally revealed to the reader when he dragged Harry off to his office after the return from the graveyard.
Which means that during the period that Harry was an unwilling guest at the feast Voldemort did not refer to Snape at all.
• • • •
Well. Obviously THAT didn’t pan out.
Oh, okay: Just for the fun of it, I’ll spin you another little scenario. One in which Bagman is NOT the Coward, but IS a Death Eater.
Bagman is pretty obviously a shallow, shifty specimen, and not really a “safe” associate, ex-DE or not. Those summons came at a very bad time for him. There he was, front and center, announcing the bloody Tournament, for all the wizarding world to see, for ghod’s sake. How is he supposed to get away to meet with the Dark Lord? And, worse, get back again without anyone getting suspicious?
Well, he doesn’t dare disobey, so he goes. He shows up at his accustomed place and manages to avoid special notice or to be singled out by name.
And, after the Potter kid makes his escape and the gathering is in an uproar, he just... doesn’t go back. He can’t. Somebody will put his absence at that specific time together with his arrest record and any rumors that might come out of this brouhaha, and his cover will be blown sky high. He’s ruined.
Unless he stays away long enough to allay suspicions by blurring any recollection regarding the timing of his disappearance.
Fortunately, his dealings with the Goblins offer an alternate plausible excuse for him to do a bolt right about now. He was always pretty low in the DE ranks and most of his contacts were usually through an intermediary. He hangs around after the circle is dismissed and explains the situation. Voldemort and Wormtail offer Bagman protection from the Goblins in return for taking up the job of errand boy. Pettigrew cannot be seen in public, and Tom’s extended plans for the evening have gone awry, so Voldemort can no longer depend on his faithful servant’s return. If Bagman is occasionally spotted there won’t be much harm done, since no one is supposedly after him but the Goblins, and Voldemort needs someone directly on hand while he is reestablishing his lines of communication and getting his organization restored.
And for the record: I’m not convinced there may not still be something in this one!
After all we don’t know that it wasn’t Ludo Bagman under one of those masks.