Falsehoods, fibs, fabrications and fictions…  but in the wizarding world, a lie sometimes isn’t all it seems to be.

Rita Skeeter and Harry in the broom cupboard
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

‘The truth,’ said Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. ‘It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.’ This piece of wisdom highlights a theme that runs through the whole series – the consequences and morality of dishonesty. If a lie protects good people from evil, is it justifiable?

Sometimes it’s easy to see which side we should be cheering for – Rita Skeeter, for example, was fake news before it was even a thing, and on the other hand Neville Longbottom was one of the most genuine people we’ve ever known of. But on other occasions, it wasn’t always clear who was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Read on and this might even change the way you think about some of your favourite characters…

Harry Potter

‘I dreamed I was watching you lot play Quidditch,’ Harry lied brutally. ‘I was trying to get you to stretch out a bit further to grab the Quaffle.’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

‘The Boy Who Lies’, ran a Daily Prophet headline in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007). It was part of the character assassination the tabloid was conducting on Harry, although he did bend the truth on occasion. But who could blame him? He knew many things he just couldn’t tell other people; plus a good number of those people wanted him locked up or dead, so he was in a difficult position.

But when he wrongly told Ron and Hermione he was still practising Occlumency to block Voldemort from his mind… that was not such a situation. It’s hard to take – he lied to the faces of his two best friends, he kept it going when they suspected the untruth, and it was for self-serving reasons, albeit understandable ones.

(Ironically, the one time Harry got punished for lying, when Dolores Umbridge made him scar himself with the black quill, he was actually telling the truth. Sod’s law.)

Dolores Umbridge in her office
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Hermione Granger

‘I went looking for the troll because I – I thought I could deal with it on my own – you know, because I’ve read all about them.’
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Of all the lies that have ever been told, this may not be the most heinous. But it came from Hermione Granger, who seemed incapable of fibbing (witness her lame attempts at deception in Borgin and Burkes during Half-Blood Prince). It made Ron drop his wand in shock, and it’s a significant moment – by doing so she saved Ron and Harry from punishment, and the bond between the three was forged, along with an unspoken agreement that they’d look out for each other no matter what. So we forgive you, Hermione.

The troll in the girls bathroom
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Narcissa Malfoy

‘He is dead!’ Narcissa Malfoy called to the watchers.
And now they shouted, now they yelled in triumph and stamped their feet, and through his eyelids Harry saw bursts of red and silver light shoot into the air in celebration.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This was a lie so enormous it makes us catch our breath on every read. Having spent the best part of seven books being thoroughly unlikeable, Narcissa Malfoy betrayed Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts and in doing so saved Harry when it seemed like it was curtains for him. Deceiving the Dark Lord put her own life in danger, but her redemption wasn’t complete – the waters were muddied by the fact she only did it to rescue her son Draco. Narcissa’s moral ambiguity is an example of what makes the books such interesting character studies: everyone has the potential to lie, whether it’s for good or bad ends.

Narcissa checking if Harry is dead
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Severus Snape

‘Ah, Professor Snape,’ said Umbridge, smiling widely and standing up again. ‘Yes, I would like another bottle of Veritaserum, as quick as you can, please.’
‘You took my last bottle to interrogate Potter,’ he said, observing her coolly through his greasy curtains of black hair.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Severus Snape was, perhaps, the most nuanced character in the whole series, from when he first glared at Harry during the welcome banquet to his death at the fangs of Nagini, and there were many occasions when we wondered where his loyalties really lay. One minute he was hostile, the next he was honourable; we loved him, then hated him, but never wanted to stop reading about him. By Order of the Phoenix, we had realised that Snape was a complicated chap who still had a problem with Harry, who doesn’t completely trust him. But by lying to Dolores Umbridge about the Truth Potion, he was helping to shield Harry and the whole Order from the attention of the Ministry of Magic, showing us his intentions really were noble, even if he was not always able to show them.

Illustration of Severus Snape casting his doe Patronus from Read the Magic
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd.™ Warner Bros.

Albus Dumbledore

‘It is time,’ he said, ‘for me to tell you what I should have told you five years ago, Harry. Please sit down. I am going to tell you everything.’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

In 1980, the Hogwarts Headmaster sat in the Hog’s Head and listened to Sybill Trelawney recount what would become known as the Lost Prophecy. It was, you might say, pretty important to the life of Harry Potter, given that it explained why the Darkest wizard of all time so badly wanted to kill him (turned out it wasn’t just because he was jealous of his Quidditch skills). However, Dumbledore decided not to pass it on to Harry – not when he started at Hogwarts, not after he had several encounters with Voldemort himself, not even when Harry asked him why Voldemort tried to murder him when he was a baby.

Dumbledore had his reasons, of course, and did what he thought best, but would a bit more information have helped Harry understand the situation in which he found himself? You could argue that withholding the truth is a form of lying: if so Dumbledore dropped one of the biggest whoppers of all time.

Harry and Dumbledore in his office from the Half Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince