Lucius Malfoy was an odious character. He was slimy, sneaky, vain and cruel – to name a few of his most… charming behaviours. However, one of the most infuriating things about him was how his personality reinforced the idea that Slytherin is an evil house, which isn’t true. For every Lucius, there’s also a Scorpius, Slughorn, Andromeda, Merlin and even Snape. Slytherins might be known for their cunning and their ambition, but those qualities on their own aren’t a bad thing. It is what those witches and wizards choose to do with those attributes that determine whether they end up on a dark path. Lucius Malfoy was certainly someone who chose to go down that route and twisted those attributes into their worst forms.
Firstly, we must mention Lucius Malfoy’s pure-blood mania. There are plenty of Slytherins who do not share Voldemort’s worldview, but the most vocal supporters are often from this house. Slytherins have an unfortunate legacy of being anti-Muggle – which stretches right back to Salazar Slytherin and his Chamber of Secrets. It also doesn’t help that Voldemort was one. Lucius Malfoy did nothing to dispel this hateful impression and was a fully signed up supporter of pure-blood supremacy.
In fact, he was in Lord Voldemort’s closest circle as a Death Eater. He despised Muggles, Muggle-borns, those he saw as blood traitors and tried to instil those values in his family. Those beliefs certainly fed his ego, as he thought himself to be superior to those who did not share his background. There is no doubt that his views were abhorrent, but he went beyond rhetoric and helped Voldemort in his quest to ‘purify’ the wizarding world. He was at Voldemort’s side during both of his attempts to seize power and was instrumental in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. His nasty attitude exemplified the worst kinds of witches and wizards that are found in Slytherin, and he only helped to tarnish its name.
One of the most dominant traits in Slytherin house is ambition. While there are many that use that for good – such as Scorpius Malfoy who channelled his into academic pursuits – others like Lucius Malfoy twisted it into something rather unpleasant. Lucius’s aspirations focussed on power, influence and furthering his own position in the wizarding world. He certainly didn’t do anything that didn’t benefit him personally. He snaked his way into Cornelius Fudge’s good graces (no doubt capitalising on how weak Fudge was) to make sure he could influence Ministry decisions. He made sure to get on the board of governors at Hogwarts to try and keep control of the school and get rid of those he did not care for. His ambition certainly fed into his controlling nature, and he didn’t care about who he hurt to get what he wanted.
Like a lot of Slytherins, Lucius was very sure of himself. Nevertheless, unlike many of them, he failed to tread the line between being self-assured and being conceited. While having confidence in your own abilities is a good thing, wanting to make others feel small because of your perceived success is just unpleasant. Lucius loved to do this. He was constantly showing off – and the inherited wealth he had from previous generations of Malfoy’s certainly helped him with that. Old Lucius was very fond of splashing the cash to reinforce his reputation. Who can forget how he bought the entire Slytherin Quidditch team new broomsticks to give them an advantage? Or how he sneered at the Weasleys and their lack of money? Or how he boasted about having such good seats at the Quidditch World Cup Final? He was always looking for an excuse to rub what he saw as his stellar social status in other people’s faces. Not only did this all make him unbearably smug, but it also made him vain.
Lucius was an incredibly slippery fellow and had a talent for saving his own skin. He managed to lie his way out of trouble after Voldemort’s first attempt at a coup by saying he had been under the Imperius Curse. He also did it again after Voldemort was defeated for a second time. He turned on the other Death Eaters, provided evidence against them and avoided being sent to prison. Lucius did not have a loyal bone in his body and refused to face up to the consequences of his actions. While his beliefs were foul, his readiness to abandon them whenever he came close to facing the music was just pure cowardice.
There are plenty of Slytherins who wouldn’t have acted like Lucius. They wouldn’t have thrown others under the bus or behaved selfishly in the name of self-preservation. While Severus Snape was an incredibly complex character, he was willing to risk his life as a spy. Sirius’s brother Regulus managed to steal a Horcrux from Voldemort knowing it would probably cost him his life. Leta Lestrange sacrificed herself to cause a distraction (which helped Newt and Theseus) in Crimes of Grindelwald. They were nothing like Lucius.
While Lucius was repugnant, he was intelligent. All of the things we have previously mentioned, from his ambition to his social status to his instinct for looking out for number one, came as a result of that discerning nature. Yet, he frequently used it to plot horrible and underhand schemes. One major example had to be when he slipped Tom Riddle’s diary into Ginny Weasley’s book. While he didn’t know the true nature of the diary, he did it purely to cause harm to Arthur Weasley and his family. It was a petty move driven by his overwhelming need to be vindictive. It also enabled him to bully the governors into temporarily ousting Dumbledore from the school. Lucius used a natural talent for being astute and distorted it into something ugly yet again. So, if you want an example of how not to be a Slytherin, you needn’t look any further than Lucius Malfoy.