Villains are many things: vile, vicious, vindictive. But they also stick with us. Villains are a driving force in the plot, they compel the protagonist forward, and, if written well, they inspire the audience to confront their own dark sides.
Draco Malfoy is one of the main antagonists from the Harry Potter series. A magical purist, school bully, and our titular hero’s rival, Draco spends his time tormenting the golden trio and continuing to give his fellow Slytherins their bad name. But what if Draco Malfoy was more of a victim than a villain?
In this Villain Profile, we make a case for Draco Malfoy as a person fully deserving of a redemption arc, and even discuss how he grows and redeems himself throughout the seven books and eight films. Read on for an in-depth analysis of one of Harry Potter’s most complex characters.
*image warning for blood and bodily harm in the Half-Blood Prince section
The Sorcerer’s Stone
In the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone book, Draco’s first appearance takes place much earlier in Harry Potter’s adventures. The two young wizards meet in Diagon Alley during Harry’s first major experience in the Wizarding World. This crucial insight into Draco’s honestly cruel personality is explored more fully in our 5 Best Draco Malfoy Moments article, so let’s detour from page to screen to discuss Draco and Harry’s first film interaction instead.
Before the first year Hogwarts students are allowed into the Great Hall for the Sorting Ceremony, they gather on a castle staircase. Draco causes quite the scene by verifying the rumors that “Harry Potter has come to Hogwarts.” Amid whispers and awe, the cunning boy attempts to befriend Harry. Now, we could look at this as a power grab; after all, the Slytherins could benefit from Harry’s alleged legendary magical skills.
However, this seems more like a desperate attempt to be noticed by the Chosen One. Draco doesn’t have friends — he has Crabbe and Coyle, described as his “cronies.” These underlings serve him out of fear, and Draco wants an equal. He makes a poor first impression, though, acting pompous and pretentious like his pure-blood family raised him to be. Due to Draco’s arrogant behavior, Harry refuses to shake his hand. He even calls Draco “the wrong sort,” which appears to genuinely hurt Draco’s feelings. This sparks a long, complicated rivalry that plays out in classrooms as well as on the Quidditch pitch.
Draco’s other notable appearance in The Sorcerer’s Stone occurs when he and Harry get detention. As punishment, these children have to go into the Forbidden Forest with groundskeeper Rubeus Hagrid, and they unfortunately cross paths with a weakened version of Lord Voldemort. In what’s supposed to be a comedic moment, Draco screams and flees while brave Gryffindor Harry remains. Except, Draco’s reaction is perfectly reasonable. It’s also important to show how his so-called cowardly nature may just be instincts of self-preservation found in all Slytherins, and we have to acknowledge how his upbringing, and his abusive father, might contribute to his exaggerated reaction to danger.
The Chamber of Secrets
In Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Draco hasn’t changed much. He’s still a selfish, spoiled brat. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger all despise him – really, he doesn’t give them any reasons not to.
Draco’s biggest scene in this film is in the Slytherin Common Room with Ron and Harry, who have disguised themselves as Crabbe and Goyle. He’s unnecessarily mean to them even though he thinks they’re his friends, telling them how stupid and inferior they are compared to him. The dungeons are a fitting place for him, then, as he bullies people and congratulates whoever is harming “mudbloods” while the Chamber is open.
It’s frightful to see an actual child be this prejudiced. At just 12 years old, Draco harbors extreme conservative ideologies. It could be argued that this biased rant, which foreshadows a major divide in the Wizarding community, is Draco’s most villainous moment. Although he is actively name-calling Hermione throughout the entire series, this rant while he’s alone and at his most confident in his disgusting opinions illustrates just how indoctrinated he already is and how awful he could turn out to be.
The Prisoner of Azkaban
As pictured above, The Prisoner of Azkaban is when Hermione Granger finally snaps on her tormentor. She has every right to, but the way Draco reacts when faced with a physical display of power is telling. He immediately flinches, shuts down, whining like a child would. The audience is supposed to find this funny, but it’s actually quite pitiful; Draco’s reaction here is learned from years of experiencing an unbalanced power dynamic and threats in his own home.
Also, The Prisoner of Azkaban book brings us Draco Malfoy’s best moral moments — in none other than Care of Magical Creatures, a class he hates. Draco knows how to properly and gently open the Monster Book of Monsters. He also respects Buckbeak the hippogriff, speaking to the animal in a way that leads to Buckbeak actually bowing to the young wizard. This still goes awry, of course, but such a gentle moment is a better glimpse into his dynamic character than readers had witnessed thus far.
The Goblet of Fire
Since it’s the fourth installment, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Draco’s bullying is a little tired. He recycles his hateful speech and bullies Harry for being an orphan. His father’s influence shines through consistently and clearly with the iconic “My father will hear about this!” catchphrase. Honestly, he’s even kind of a background character in both the book and movie, appearing to be spiteful or root for the dark Wizarding school Durmstrang and the Bulgarian champion Viktor Krum. If he’s pretty absent or stock in this film, though, it’s because we’re gearing up for some major character development.
The absolute most interesting part of The Goblet of Fire film is an onscreen choice made very early in the story, and you almost don’t notice it during your first watch. It’s a huge alteration from the book, though, and one that speaks to a larger understanding of Draco’s victimhood and learned abusive behavior.
At the Quidditch World Cup, Lucius Malfoy belittles the Weasleys because of their financial class. With a smug smirk and a flip of his hair, the pure-blood wizard waltzes away with his son following him. Draco, however, aims for his father’s approval with another jab at Ron and Arthur, telling them that the Malfoys will be in the Minister of Magic’s box by personal invitation. In one quick motion, Lucius turns and strikes his son in the abdomen with his walking stick (pictured above). This act of physical violence, while brief, is also shocking and helps provide insight — after all, as the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.”
The Order of the Phoenix
Draco is absolutely intolerable in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. He sides with Dolores Umbridge, a villainous member of the Ministry of Magic, to control Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy. But he doesn’t do so to align with her politics or further her pure-blood agenda — he just wants power. All Draco ever does is vie for attention, whether it’s Harry’s, Lucius’, or Voldemort’s. He wants to be the best, but he’s too insecure to do it without undermining other people’s success and confidence to do so.
So in the fifth Harry Potter installment, Draco helps catch troublemakers. In one intriguing scene, he’s finally got Harry and Dumbledore’s Army in Umbridge’s sickeningly pink office.
When Umbridge slaps Harry, however, Draco reacts with shock and distress — not what we’d expect from Harry’s apparent rival. Draco goes from excited about his victory to unsettled by Umbridge’s tactics, showing how Draco is actually good at heart, despite how he’s presenting outwardly.
The Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince could be considered Draco Malfoy’s book, not Harry Potter’s. The Boy Who Lived spends the whole book and movie fully obsessed with Draco, following him by foot and staying up late to track him on the Marauder’s Map. He does this because he’s convinced 16-year-old Draco has become a Death Eater, or a dark wizard sworn to follow Voldemort’s bidding.
What Harry doesn’t consider is how truly distraught Draco is by this decision, and the pressure he faced in the first place to make it. Draco’s indoctrination into an extremist group with warped values has poisoned him body and soul. In The Half-Blood Prince, he’s gaunt and pale, with dark circles under his eyes, and he’s jumpy and aggressive on top of that. When Professor Severus Snape reaches out to help, Draco refuses him outright, too proud — but also too frightened — to involve anyone else in his doomed scheme.
It’s revealed in the novel that Draco spends the majority of his sixth year crying in the bathroom with Moaning Myrtle, or locked up completing a punitive, thankless task in the Room of Requirement. Hidden in an abandoned lavatory, Draco thinks, is the only place he can express his rapidly deteriorating mental and physical states. Bouncing between this release and the misery of his mission, he misses classes and even skips Quidditch. Everything about his individual identity ceases to exist, and we are shown a side of Draco Malfoy that is as broken as the Vanishing Cabinet — and yet far less likely to be mended.
Courageous yet reckless Harry Potter only gets a few pieces of the story before he barrels into a confrontation with Draco. Panicking, Draco attempts to unleash the Cruciatus curse. He misses. Harry, on the other hand, lands Sectumsempra, which severs chunks of flesh from Draco’s torso. Bleeding out on the floor, Draco can only be saved by the creator of the spell, Severus Snape. Yet the emotional and bodily damage will scar him for life.
In the fateful finale of The Half-Blood Prince, Draco sneaks into the Astronomy Tower to murder Albus Dumbledore. Draco Malfoy, however, is no killer. He presents his serpentine Dark Mark, confirming Harry’s suspicions. But he also breaks down sobbing, telling Dumbledore that unless Draco murders him, Draco will be executed, and his family will continue to shoulder blame and shame.
Although given every opportunity to hurt his unarmed headmaster, Draco doesn’t murder Albus. This Slytherin and so-called villain is not a monster, and is clearly unable to stomach even the idea. It’s a turning point for his character for the rest of the Harry Potter series.
The Deathly Hallows
By Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it’s a stretch to call Draco a villain anymore. We just watched — or read — him struggle to reconcile his choices and morals in The Half-Blood Prince. He can no longer justify his actions, and is far more aware of the evil he was born and raised into. This is depicted beautifully in a scene set in Malfoy Manor, Draco’s dark, decrepit home.
When Snatchers bring Hermione, Ron, and Harry in, Bellatrix Lestrange thinks she recognizes Harry despite his jinxed, swollen face. Leading his son by the neck, Lucius Malfoy encourages Draco to positively identify Harry so that the family can turn The Chosen One in and reclaim their pride, station, and status. After enduring severe torment and ridicule from Lord Voldemort, such a deed would really turn the Malfoy family’s fortunes around.
Draco is clearly under a lot of pressure to get this right. Yet in a jaw-dropping display of bravery, Draco refuses to identify Harry. He averts his gaze, telling his family that he “can’t be sure.” We can clearly see the lies and anguish written on his face as he betrays his blood relatives to save the life of his rival. Deep in his heart, then, Draco has recognized that Harry is the hero. Draco knows Harry is the key to creating a safer world for all witches and wizards, and Draco is ready to help and heal. To change.
Speaking of changes — two major differences between the books and movies in regards to the Malfoy family happen during the Battle of Hogwarts. In a dramatic scene, Draco actually becomes a hero. When Harry, revealing that he is still alive, tumbles from Hagrid’s arms to duel Voldemort, he is without a wand. Draco, breaking from the Death Eater ranks, throws a wand to Harry. Without Draco’s help, Harry would never have defeated the Wizarding World’s greatest enemy.
Finally, Lucius, Narcissa, and Draco never fled Hogwarts with the other antagonists and losers. In The Deathly Hallows novel, the Malfoys defect from Voldemort’s army, betraying the other Death Eaters. They are seen by Harry after its all over, silently sitting with other survivors, and its implied all three of them are on their way to self-improvement rather than just hiding out with the winning side. For Draco, only a young man of 17, this is especially significant because we know he can grow into a fundamentally changed and better adult. Draco’s prejudices were inherited and ingrained through emotional and physical abuse. With help, and the desire to do it, he can — and will — heal. And that doesn’t seem very villainous.
What do you think about Draco Malfoy? Is he worth redemption or forever a villain? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!
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