Draco Malfoy spent most of the series as one of those characters we just love to hate. He treated most students like they were beneath him, was quick to insult, and often resorted to dirty tactics… but we think maybe there was hope for him yet.
In Deathly Hallows, there was a moment where it felt like all was lost. After months of unsuccessful searches for Voldemort’s Horcruxes, Harry, Ron and Hermione were taken by Snatchers, and transported straight into the belly of the beast, Malfoy Manor.
Harry, who was disguised with a swollen, puffy face thanks to Hermione’s Stinging Jinx, must be identified before he’s given to Lord Voldemort, with the Malfoys, Bellatrix and Fenrir Greyback hungry to present him to the Dark Lord. One word from Draco would seal his fate.
Draco’s parents were alive with ecstasy, with Lucius Malfoy convinced that catching Harry Potter would put him back in favour with Lord Voldemort. But Draco, for the first time in his life, was almost speechless.
’Well, Draco?’ said Lucius Malfoy. He sounded avid. ‘Is it? Is it Harry Potter?’
‘I can’t – I can’t be sure,’ said Draco.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Why did Draco hesitate? He could have got rid of his rival once and for all and restored the Malfoys to their former glory.
But the events of Half-Blood Prince took their toll on Draco. Though he entered sixth year with the usual sneer and swagger, he appeared nervous and dishevelled as time passed. Secretly he’d been initiated into the Death Eaters and told to kill Professor Dumbledore. Draco quickly realised that he was in over his head and began to crack under the pressure.
‘The only people who can see Thestrals… are people who have seen death.’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Seeing death permanently changed the way a person sees the world. Draco witnessed his kindly old headmaster struck down in front of him and and the Muggle Studies teacher Charity Burbage was tortured and killed in his own home.
We forget that Draco was still only a boy and seeing innocent people tortured and killed was not something he was prepared for. Until recently, Draco seemed to have lived a charmed and sheltered life; he’d never been poor like Ron, accused of having ‘dirty blood’ like Hermione or suffered the loss of a loved one like Harry.
It could be said that his childish slurs against Muggle-borns and ‘blood traitors’ came not from a place of hatred so much as one of ignorance. Perhaps if he’d understood the weight of his words Draco would have been more careful about how he wielded them.
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.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Then the moment finally arrived when Draco had the chance to redeem himself. So many thoughts must have been racing through his mind: maybe he felt remorse over helping the Death Eaters, who’d already claimed many innocent lives. He knew all too well what would happen to Harry and his friends if they were handed over, yet his parents would be proud and grateful beyond measure.
Draco was torn between loyalty to his family, fear of Voldemort and worry for his former classmates. But Draco could not just flit from one position to another in one fell swoop – and instead of denying it was Harry completely, settled for a passive, ‘I don’t know.’
We wonder if Draco’s hesitancy in this moment suggested that he had cast aside the boyish fantasy of being a powerful Death Eater; that he finally understood the horrifying reality of serving Voldemort.
It’s tragic that he had to grow up so fast, but we can respect how much he changed. By refusing, Draco finally took a stand and stopped another innocent person being brutalised.
Actions have consequences – Draco learnt that the hard way. Harry would later risk his own life to save Draco from the Fiendfyre. Narcissa Malfoy would then lie to Voldemort – an extremely dangerous person to lie to – and spare Harry to hear that her son is alive. Thanks to all of this, Voldemort would be defeated and peace would return to the wizarding world. Much of this can be traced back to that one pivotal decision in Malfoy Manor.
Draco proved himself to be a stronger, braver and more sympathetic character than most of us gave him credit for, and how terrifying the pressure of his Death Eater father had on his entire life. It made us rethink the path he’d taken and the person he became. Most importantly, it showed us the power of redemption and how we can all learn from our mistakes.
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