“Don’t be a fool,” snarled the face. “Better save your own life and join me… or you’ll meet the same end as your parents…. “They died begging me for mercy….”
“LIAR!” Harry shouted suddenly.
Quirrell was walking backward at him, so that Voldemort could still see him. The evil face was now smiling.
“How touching…” it hissed. “I always value bravery…. Yes, boy, your parents were brave…. I killed your father first, and he put up a courageous fight… but your mother needn’t have died… she was trying to protect you…. Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain.”
We expect the lie from Voldemort, just as we expect defiance from Harry. Voldemort lies in claiming…
- That Harry’s parents died begging for mercy
- That he values bravery
- That Harry’s father put up a courageous fight
In actuality, Harry’s father rushed at Voldemort without a wand in his hand, Voldemort cast the curse, and…
James Potter fell like a marionette whose strings were cut….”
In context, fear has failed to motivate Harry to give Voldemort what he wants, so Voldemort reverts to flattery, reciting the key Gryffindor quality of bravery. And no doubt, James Potter bravely rushed at the Dark Lord. But put up a courageous fight? There was no fight.
Voldemort’s lie about Harry’s father, however, is ultimately less destructive than Albus Dumbledore’s. Once the Stone has been saved, Dumbledore promises Harry to answer whatever questions he can… without, of course, lying. But when Harry asks if it’s true that Snape hates him because he hated his father, Dumbledore replies:
“Well, they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy. And then, your father did something Snape could never forgive.”
“He saved his life.”
That’s not exactly true. James Potter got cold feet on a Marauders prank that would have gotten Severus killed, and James intervened to stop it.
But Severus never believed that James’ primary intention was to save his life. He believed that James’ intent was merely to save himself and the other Marauders from getting expelled.
(And when we see what James did to Severus shortly afterward in the SWM, who can blame Severus for denying James any benevolent intent?)
But the question of James’ intent is not at the core of Dumbledore’s lie. It’s in his claim that Snape, in essence, was angry over owing James a life debt – a life debt that Severus never believed he owed. In framing Snape’s hatred in those terms, Dumbledore glosses over the true source of Snape’s fury: severe, public humiliation and abuse in SWM (what I would call a form of gang rape, frankly). And then, the worst of all possible humiliations: James winning Lily’s hand.
Yes, I know why Dumbledore might feel compelled to lie on this matter. Snape swore him to secrecy, admonishing Dumbledore never to reveal his [Snape’s] motives for protecting Harry – and putting Dumbledore in a bit of a bind. So it’s possible that Dumbledore invents an alternate scenario to explain Snape’s protection (i.e., attempting to retire the life debt) while at the same time honoring his word to Severus.
But the lie doesn’t help. It doesn’t really explain anything about Severus’ antipathy toward James to Harry. It merely helps to escalate the tension between Harry and Snape. And a couple of years later, Harry uses the lie when he throws his father’s life-saving “courage” right back in Snape’s face.
So my question is: How conscious is Dumbledore that he’s telling a lie? Has he, like Harry, created some ideal “James” in his head? Or is he deliberately misleading Harry in order to protect Severus’ secret? Or what?
I await your comments.