First off, dear readers, I hope you guys are staying home and staying safe. And if you’re a healthcare professional, EMT, grocery store worker — thank you guys for everything you’re doing.
I haven’t left the house in God-knows-how-long, I am going a little crazy, and I am fired up, so I gotta get this out.
Draco Malfoy deserved better.
Yeah, I said what I said.
I wrote a Twitter thread a few months ago defending Draco, that I’ll eventually link to here. Essentially, I said that in spite of the way Draco was raised, with all those fucked-up views towards Muggles and Muggleborns and people of other social classes, in the end, Draco chose good over evil. I mean, some could say “good” is a stretch — but he chose to NOT act on the orders he was given by Voldemort/the Death Eaters/his family. In Book 6, he chose not to kill Dumbledore, even though he had been ordered to do so by Voldemort, and even knowing what was at stake for him and his family if he DIDN’T comply with Voldemort’s demands. In Book 7, he chose to not rat out Harry and his friends’ true identities at Malfoy Manor. He didn’t want to be a Death Eater, once he realized what being a Death Eater truly meant. He didn’t want to be on Voldemort’s side, once he came to truly understand what Voldemort stood for.
I don’t think Draco was inherently a bad person. I think he’s a lot like Ben Solo — he put faith in the wrong people; he looked up to the wrong people, most of who did not have his best interests at heart and who were not good themselves. With Ben Solo, he felt abandoned by the people he looked up to most (his mother, father, uncle), so it was easy for Snoke to manipulate Ben into trusting him. With Draco, he grew up with authority figures who were terrible people. He didn’t have the right role models. Lucius Malfoy is literally the definition of an arrogant, selfish prick. Narcissa Malfoy, while she loved her son — and we see this throughout the books, in Book 6 when she makes the Unbreakable Vow with Snape, and in Book 7 when she lies to Voldemort about Harry’s death so she could go into the castle to find Draco — nonetheless, Narcissa was still someone who chose to side with Voldemort, and being a part of the Black family, she was also arrogant and grew up thinking Muggles and Muggleborns were beneath her. I mean, Draco was RAISED by people who strongly believed these ideas. He was surrounded by these ideas. And his parents — the people you learn from the most, the people you’re supposed to trust the most — his parents taught Draco that believing those things was right. Draco only thought Muggleborns were less than purebloods because that’s all he was taught; that’s all he knew.
I also imagine that the way Draco grew up wasn’t the total opposite of how Harry grew up; I imagine that Draco had his own struggles, too. Harry grew up abused by the Dursleys, but I don’t think Draco wasn’t abused. I think Draco grew up the way a lot of only children grow up — and people don’t necessarily realize this about only children. Draco likely grew up doted on, but also with an immense amount of pressure to uphold the family honor, to not screw up (because there are no other siblings that can be the do-over), to be the perfect son. And having both that love, but also that great deal of pressure, can be really harmful. It affects you more than you think it would. And it affected Draco. Despite being afraid, and wanting to leave, Draco chose to stay with the Death Eaters due to family pressure — both because he feared what would happen to his family if he broke away, and also because he felt like the only way to help his family redeem themselves was to regain good standing within the Death Eaters.
You might ask, why did Harry grow up to be a good, kind person, even with the Dursleys “raising” him? Well, because the Dursleys mistreated Harry, as weird as that sounds. It’s like when people don’t leave emotionally abusive relationships — if the relationship was all bad, it would be so obvious, so easy, to leave. The Dursleys were never kind to Harry. At best, they tolerated him and didn’t berate him. But most of the time, they were awful to him. It was obvious to Harry that these people did not care for him. So it was easy for Harry to know not to be like these people. He didn’t look up to them. He simply tolerated them back, and hoped for better days.
With Draco, it’s more complicated. Lucius and Narcissa spoiled him; they doted on him. They made sure he got everything he needed; hell, everything he wanted. It was less easy for Draco to see that his parents were in the wrong, that his parents were bigoted and arrogant and just not great people. Why would he think that? They took great care of him. And, even if his parents weren’t always kind to him — even if they put a ton of pressure on him, even if they berated him — it’s much, much harder to realize that your caretakers are bad people if they’re not always bad. Just like it’s hard to leave emotionally abusive relationships because there are good times, it’s hard to break away from parental figures when they DO take care of you, even if sometimes (or many times) they hurt you.
Moreover, while Harry was raised by the Dursleys, once he got to Hogwarts, he was surrounded by people who cared for him. Hagrid, Dumbledore, the Weasleys, Sirius. Harry had a family. He had people who were good role models, good people, who also cared about him. And a support system really does influence the choices you make, the way you interact with the world, the way you navigate relationships. I don’t think Draco necessarily had the same support system that Harry did. Harry could literally talk to Dumbledore, or Sirius, or Remus, or Hagrid, whenever he was in doubt. I don’t think Draco had any sort of authority figure he could open up to in this way, whenever he was in doubt. (Some might say Snape, but I don’t think Snape was much for heart-to-hearts and advice. I think Snape looked after Draco in some way in Book 6, but perhaps not in the way Draco was receptive to.) I think when people looked at Draco, they saw his family; they saw rich, stuck-up Voldemort-supporters. And, I mean, they weren’t wrong — but if you consider the fact that the same people who loved and cared for Harry, hated Draco….one can see how that reinforces the ideas Draco grew up with. One can see how it reinforces the hatred towards these people that Draco’s family taught him.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure Draco had any real friends at Hogwarts. Harry had Ron, Hermione, Fred (RIP, still not over it), George, Neville. Who did Draco have? Crabbe and Goyle? Pansy Parkinson? I think Crabbe and Goyle liked Draco about as much as Draco liked them — not much, basically. It was a relationship of utility, and not much else. Same with Pansy Parkinson. I don’t think Draco had great examples of love and friendship growing up, and so when it came to forming his own friendships, he didn’t really know how to. He only knew social hierarchy, and finding people who could be useful to you in some way, or make you look better.
I’m not condoning any of Draco’s actions, by any means. He was still a bully. He was still HELLA arrogant. He was still someone I’d probably be really annoyed by if I went to school with him. But, consider this — James Potter was also a bully when he was at Hogwarts. And if anything, he was much worse than Draco. Draco was all talk, but James…..I mean, let’s not forget “Who wants to see me take off Snivelly’s trousers?” He straight-up tormented Snape for years. YEARS. It wasn’t a rivalry, like it was between Harry and Draco. James was the bully, and Snape was the victim. But, we somehow gloss over this because in seventh year, James “grew up” and became a good guy. Well, in seventh year, Draco also grew up, arguably more than James did. He saw, firsthand, the evils that his family had been involved in for years. And in spite of everything he was taught, in spite of his fear of the consequences, he did choose differently. And most importantly, he made the right choice.
With all that said, I think JKR should have given Draco more of a redemption arc. People love redemption arcs. People love a bad-guy-turned-good. Severus Snape, Ben Solo, Spike from BtVS, Damon Salvatore from TVD — those characters are memorable, and they’re integral to the stories we love. Like I said in my Twitter thread, and like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, a redemption arc gives people hope. We’re not the hero in the story. We’re the character who’s flawed. Who makes mistakes, but who learns and grows from them. When we see a redemption arc, it gives us hope that we are worthy of redemption. That even if we make mistakes, even if we fall, even if we’re painfully aware of how flawed we are — that we can have a place in the story that is good. That we can have some sort of happily ever after. That in spite of our flaws, our darkness, our doubts — we are worthy of forgiveness. We can still love fiercely, and be loved back.
I realize that the Potter books are told from Harry’s (biased-ass, pro-Gryffindor, fratty AF) point-of-view, so there’s not as much room to show character growth with the less-central characters. I am glad that Draco got some sort of redemption arc, and that his character noticeably grew from Book 1 to Book 7. But I would have loved to see more. Draco’s character is a great opportunity to explore a really interesting, complex arc. I’d love if JKR wrote a book from Draco’s point-of-view. How he felt at Hogwarts. His fear when he realized that he had been on the wrong side all along, and his fear for how to get out of this alive. His atonement after the Battle of Hogwarts. His process for unlearning everything he was taught, and learning how to be a better person than he’d been before. How he taught his son to be better than he was. How his opinion of Harry was affected, in light of his character growth. There’s so much that could be unpacked, and I really hope that in some way, JKR gives readers this opportunity to really see Draco’s character growth in more detail than we were given in the original seven books. For now, I guess I’ll have to settle for Dramione fan-fiction. Just kidding. But seriously.