Spoiler warning: This article contains info on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Yes, Draco Malfoy was abhorrent at Hogwarts. Yes, he was cocky. Yes, he was awful to Harry, got mixed up in a very dark crowd, and was generally just, as Ron would call him, a git. All of these things are very fair to say.
However, was all of this behaviour down to influences in Draco’s life? If he’d made better choices, made better friends, could things have been different for him? Could he then have been friends with someone like Harry, if he had the capability of being a better person? If his parents had been kinder, maybe he would’ve been kinder? And maybe then, when he met Harry in Madam Malkin’s shop in Diagon Alley for the first time, would he have seemed more attractive to Harry as a companion?
The signs were there that this could have been. Very much a product of his parents’ making, (just look at how frequently Draco brought up his father...) Draco strutted around Hogwarts with his cronies boasting about how great it was being rich, being in Slytherin, and being pure-blood. But these are all things he was taught to be proud of. Draco’s ideologies were very much passed on by mum and dad, Lucius and Narcissa, who, in turn, absorbed these ideologies from their own families: the Malfoys and the Blacks respectively.
Both families dabbled in Dark magic and the idea that to be a Muggle, or have non-magical blood, or to be ‘half’ in some way, was wrong. It is no surprise that a lot of family members on both sides were connected to Lord Voldemort. Arguably, Draco was simply too enveloped in this world to think any differently, and within this general mindset, came a lot of cruelty, anger and coldness – which all began to shape his personality.
But what does all of this have to do with being friends with Harry? Well, it was Draco’s general demeanour that repelled Harry in the first place. And there are examples of wizards who came from Dark wizarding families who did choose different company to become better people. Sirius Black is probably the best example of this – running away from his pure-blood loving family that he didn't agree with to find kinder company. Sirius’s bravery led him to the Hogwarts house Gryffindor (the rest of his family were usually Slytherins) and there he found his like-minded friends, James Potter and Remus Lupin. So Sirius broke the cycle of the rest of his family, and spent the rest of his life fighting against the darker side of the Wizarding World, rather than joining it.
Draco could've chosen different friends and a different attitude at Hogwarts, just like Sirius, but Draco was always dogged by fear and insecurity. In later books, we began to learn that Draco was terrified of his Death Eater father’s way of life, despite often bragging about it. Due to Draco’s bravado, which he used as a self-defence mechanism, Harry chose not to be friends with the rude boy he met in Madam Malkin’s, who instantly displayed prejudice towards his half-giant friend Hagrid (something his parents would’ve taught him to feel) and generally exuded bad faith. Even the name ‘Malfoy’ roughly translates to ‘bad faith’ in French!
But it all could have been different. In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a more wholesome Draco emerged. In a post-Voldemort atmosphere, no longer surrounded by the toxicity of his parents, Draco was making better choices, such as marrying someone who did not carry the ideals of his own family. And then there was his son Scorpius, who was naturally compassionate. This surely shows that Draco, like his son, had the potential to be ‘good’, if only he had grown up without such terrible influences. Maybe a more secure Draco would’ve been a little nicer in Madam Malkin’s, and maybe a braver Draco could’ve rejected his family’s ideals, like Sirius did. If he'd been encouraged to be more open-minded, maybe he would've met people who challenged his viewpoints, rather than Crabbe and Goyle, who simply always agreed with him.
Only a very different Draco could’ve been friends with Harry. But it could have been different.
‘You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.’ He held out his hand to shake Harry’s, but Harry didn’t take it.’
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The truth is, Harry was never going to take Draco’s hand on the Hogwarts Express, whether Harry had met Ron Weasley or not. Harry had already got the measure of Draco Malfoy back in Diagon Alley, when Draco had been quick to dismiss Hagrid as a ‘sort of savage’. Hagrid was the first person Harry could really remember being kind to him at all, so that was never going to go down in Draco’s favour when it came to friendship. But there was something else about Malfoy – first in Madam Malkin’s and then later, on the Hogwarts Express, that we argue meant that Harry would never have considered being his friend – Draco liked to make people feel like outsiders.
During his long years with the Dursleys, Harry had been made to feel like the outsider, the poor relation, every single day he spent in the cupboard, rather than a real bedroom. For so many years, Harry had been the ‘wrong sort’ to the Dursleys, who liked to remind him of it at every opportunity. He knew what it was like to be the person other children were nasty about at school, the way Draco gossiped spitefully about Hagrid in Madam Malkin’s. And he also knew what it was like to be constantly told that some people were better than others. The Dursleys constantly compared him to Dudley and told Harry that his cousin was every bit his superior. Harry was never going to take kindly to someone warning him not to make friends, ‘with the wrong sort’ because that kind of attitude had meant that he – Harry – had been friendless and miserable in his school and home life for as long as he could remember.
Draco Malfoy, though he initially offered his hand to Harry, would arguably have been unable to tolerate a friendship with the Boy Who Lived too. It was Draco’s mission in life to tell people how superior he was to them, but that might have become a little tricky if he was best mates with one of the most famous wizards of all time – something even the infinitely humbler, Ron, struggled with. From boasting about his father’s influence at the Ministry to sucking up to Umbridge and becoming a member of the Inquisitorial Squad, Draco tirelessly fought to make himself stand out from his peers. But this was something that Harry had never had to work at – the scar on his forehead marking him out as special from the start. We argue this would have been extremely difficult for Draco to maintain a proper friendship with famous Harry Potter – his ego just couldn’t have coped with it.
Given this intrinsic need to distinguish himself from others, it is no wonder really, that Draco would get sucked into Lord Voldemort’s rhetoric of pure-bloods and power; it fed directly into Draco’s need to feel superior. Harry, on the other hand, was never going to befriend a boy who made others feel small or inferior.
Draco and Harry might have had a shared love for Quidditch, both playing Seeker on their house teams. And indeed, they had a shared experience of being raised by a bully – Lucius for Draco, and the Dursleys for Harry.
But that was never going to be enough to mean these two would ever be friends.