Who Is Responsible for the Deaths of Lily and James Potter?
Over the course of the Harry Potter series, a puzzle of cause and effect is unraveled, helping to shed light on what led to the events in Godric’s Hollow on October 31, 1981. In the first chapters, we learn that a couple called Lily and James Potter has been killed by a mysterious Dark Lord. By the end of the seventh book, it is clear that this was no ordinary murder, and there are several people who have had a hand in this dreadful fate.
But who is to blame? Who is responsible for the deaths of the Potters, two brave and noble sorcerers who were so dearly loved? We’re taking a poll on social media today to find out what our readers think. Read the arguments below, then head over to Twitter to weigh in and cast your vote.
James and Lily were in the original Order of the Phoenix and therefore knew they were risking their lives in the war against Voldemort. Still, the Dark Lord’s whole reason for trying to kill them all was to eliminate the threat posed by a certain prophecy. If Sybill Trelawney remembered the words she spoke in her Hogwarts interview, she would have surely felt responsible for what happened that Halloween night in 1981.
The Potters’ Secret-Keeper is perhaps the most obvious choice, somehow deserving more blame for their deaths than even Voldemort. Wormtail’s betrayal was so unexpected that it was overlooked for 12 years. James and Lily died not knowing exactly what led to Voldemort finding them, but they knew that Peter was involved, whether voluntarily or unwillingly. Because they trusted him with the Fidelius Charm, they must have believed him a sincere and steadfast friend. It’s unclear if they had enough time to recognize the depth of his betrayal before they met their end.
The Potters might not have needed to go into hiding at all had the prophecy never reached Voldemort’s ears. Like Peter, Severus was at one time a very dear friend to Lily. This makes his role in her death so much more tragic, no matter how you feel about him as a person. Much had changed between the two by the time they had come of age, but Severus certainly never would have hoped to bring about her death. Even so, he should have realized what could happen when he shared a prophecy about a couple and their baby with his Dark Lord.
For a Gryffindor, Dumbledore is a very calculating, cunning man. With his knack for X-raying Harry and seemingly reading his mind, it seems unlikely that the headmaster would fail to see that Wormtail was not the right man for the job of Secret-Keeper. Why couldn’t Dumbledore assume the role, as he did for 12 Grimmauld Place? Some have speculated that he allowed events to unfold on purpose. Having heard the prophecy in full, perhaps he pushed Harry into Voldemort’s path in order for the child to be “marked as his equal” and given the tools to end the Dark Lord once and for all (OoTP 841). Were James and Lily collateral damage for this plan?
When readers first meet Sirius, he readily admits that Lily and James’s deaths were his own fault. He blames himself and has carried the weight of his best friends’ deaths, along with the trauma of being imprisoned, for over a decade. His self-placed blame lies in his decision to make Peter the Secret-Keeper and in trusting the rat. Sirius has given the whole thing a lot of thought with nothing but time on his hands, and he has concluded that he could have and should have prevented this catastrophe by either being Secret-Keeper himself or at the very least sharing the decision with Remus and Dumbledore.
From the readers’ perspective, Lily Potter was admired in different ways by all who knew her, from classmates to teachers. Horace Slughorn was very impressed by the young Gryffindor. Like his successor, the old Potions Master played a role in the Potters’ demise. Tom Riddle’s rise to power hinges on the power of his Horcruxes, and if he was headed to the Potters’ with the intention of splitting his soul yet again, it stands to reason that the whole situation could have been avoided if Slughorn, who reluctantly provided guidance for Riddle’s Horcruxes, was removed from the story.
If we assume that we are all masters of our own actions and no one can force or influence us to do anything, then Voldemort himself truly holds the blame for killing James and Lily. Harry ensured that in his final moments, the Dark Lord would be seen as what he really was: human. Tom Riddle was just as capable of different paths and powers as anyone else present at his death, and so we should not look at him as some infinitely evil being devoid of responsibility. After all, he cast the Killing Curse.
It’s clear that it’s not exactly easy to put the blame for the Potters’ deaths solely on any one person. There are several characters whose actions and decisions played a part in bringing about this fate. Whoever you decide deserves the most blame is up to you. Weigh in and cast your vote on our social media accounts today.