I know it's not the same as Harry saving Draco from the Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement in Deathly Hallows -- Draco's, as JKR puts it¹, "Hi. It's so embarrassing, you saved my life. No one will ever let me forget it" debt. The possible life debt I'm asking about would be subtler than that:

"Well, Draco?" said Lucius Malfoy. He sounded avid. "Is it? Is it Harry Potter?"

"I can’t – I can’t be sure," said Draco. He was keeping his distance from Greyback, and seemed as scared of looking at Harry as Harry was of looking at him.


"Draco, come here, look properly! What do you think?"

Harry saw Draco’s face up close, now, right beside his father’s. They were extraordinarily alike, except that while his father looked beside himself with excitement, Draco’s expression was full of reluctance, even fear.

"I don’t know," he said, and he walked away towards the fireplace where his mother stood watching.

Deathly Hallows - pages 371-372 - UK Hardcover - chapter 23, Malfoy Manor

It would seem that Draco -- while surrounded by his fellow Death Eaters, with his family subjugated and feeling the constant wrath of Voldemort, and clearly scared -- chose not to identify Harry, even though doing so would have been in his and his family's best interest.

Did Draco's actions in any way help save Harry's life when Draco didn't identify Harry to the Death Eaters at Malfoy Manor? I don't have a definitive answer for this -- I see arguments for both positions in canon, for and against Harry owing Draco a life debt. Did Harry owe Draco Malfoy a life debt? Or did the events at Malfoy Manor and the Room of Requirement pretty much cancel each other out?

¹[J.K. ROWLING - CARNEGIE HALL - 10.20.07]

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    Can you even make an assumption that he DID recognize Harry? May 3, 2012 at 3:49
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    @DVK -- Yes. It doesn't mean I'm right, but I can have my premise. :) May 3, 2012 at 4:01
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    One should add that Harry had received a Stinging Hex from Hermione before, so "his face was huge, shiny, and pink, every feature distorted". In my opinion this already explains Draco saying "I can’t be sure". May 3, 2012 at 10:49
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    This incident further emphasizes the fact that Draco is simply a boy that's in over his head. By this point, he's come to grasp what being a Death Eater means and what they do, and he's understandably horrified. Just like what happened in HBP, Draco is confronted with a choice: is he willing to condemn someone to death? Just as with Dumbledore, Draco falters on the side of morality. Even if he didn't recognize Harry due to the Stinging Hex, he could've said it was Harry to gain some esteem within the Death Eater ranks.
    – Steam
    Feb 4, 2013 at 17:10
  • You should self-answer with the quote from scifi.stackexchange.com/a/10657/976 Dec 22, 2014 at 18:08

4 Answers 4


I have to say no. While it was a good deed on Draco's part, it's by no means certain that Harry would have died if Draco had identified him immediately. The Death Eaters wouldn't have killed him; Voldemort had reserved that for himself. It's possible that they would have summoned Voldemort before Bellatrix noticed the sword, but Voldemort failed to kill Harry in the forest, and he most likely would have failed to kill him at Malfoy Manor (the first time, at least).

There are just too many hypotheticals for Draco's actions to constitute a life debt. Imminent death has to be far more certain for that.

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    But then you could extend the question to: do Ron and Hermione owe Draco a life debt ? Because we can be sure they would have been killed. Unless of course, again, Dobby rescued them in time.
    – Pryftan
    Aug 8, 2017 at 0:02

I don't know if they cancel each other, but I remember reading Harry ask Draco in the Room of Requirement, 'Why didn't you tell [Bellatrix]? You knew it was me.'

So I think Draco knew it was Harry, but chose not to give a clear answer to his father. The reason could be anything, but I think it was mostly because Draco was scared that if he identified Harry and Voldemort went on to win the war, Draco's life would not really be better after everything that had happened. After all, Draco grew up spoiled after Voldemort had gone the first time, and his life became a mess when Voldemort returned, and all of his hopes doesn't end out as good as he had imagined with the Dark Lord.

So Draco did not play the hero to save Harry's life; he did what he thought would save his own life. By saying "I can't be sure" or "I don't know", he played it safe. That way, he couldn't be blamed, since he never answered to begin with.

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    I think what you write about Draco's motivations is definitely a possibility. I should point out, though, that the line "Why didn't you tell her? You knew it was me" is from the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and does not appear in the book. Thanks for the answer. Feb 17, 2013 at 21:38
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    The movie version didn't distort his face anywhere near what was described in the book. For the movie watchers, it was still plainly Daniel Radcliffe with a bit of facial swelling. Aug 5, 2016 at 19:29

I think it was an act of self-preservation to be honest. With the extreme distortion of Harry's face due to the hex cast by Hermione, he couldn't be completely sure and he was bound to know how terrible the retribution would have been had he said it was and been found to be wrong. It would be nice to think he did try to save Harry but why would he ... I mean after Harry had saved him in the Room of Requirement, he was seen telling Death Eaters he was on their side. He certainly didn't get involved in the fight to save Hogwarts or Harry and his allies even though they had helped to save him - indeed had risked their lives to do it. In the end, Draco has inherited the more cowardly nature of his father. He wants the glory of being a Death Eater and the power that goes with it but doesn't really have the stomach for the dirty work that is required.


Wasn't Draco actually just trying to protect himself? Imagine if he had told them it was Harry and it had turned out he wasn't. The Death Eaters were extremely scared of that IIRC.

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