The grim-faced Durmstrang head was nobody’s hero. But his actions, in the end, arguably did more good than bad.
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It’s been observed that Igor Karkaroff’s smile never touched his cold, shrewd little eyes. That his teeth were yellow and his chin was weak, unflatteringly dressed in a goatee which affected a curl as much through agitated fussing as vanity.

One should never judge a crook by his cover, of course. Though, by all accounts, Karkaroff’s rotten exterior reflected quite fairly the sorry, cynical, snivelling soul inside.

But… is a bad guy who turns an even worse guy in to the authorities perhaps, in a roundabout way, a force for good?

When Karkaroff – a Death Eater – was dragged before the Wizengamot to stand trial he’d already spent time pondering his life choices with the Dementors of Azkaban. As such, when the opportunity came to bargain for his freedom, he desperately threw several former associates under the proverbial bus.

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To his horror, of course, Karkaroff’s preselected scapegoats of Dolohov, Rosier, Travers, Mulciber and Snape were of no interest to the baying jury. Only when he played his high-value card – that of Ministry of Magic infiltrator Augustus Rookwood – did the esteemed assembly take notice. After a further period of reflection with his old friends the Dementors, Karkaroff was set free and the pernicious spy Rookwood ousted from his position in the highly sensitive Department of Mysteries, and sentenced to life in Azkaban.

Turncoat. Betrayer. Those are among the worst accusations you can level at a person. And to be sure, in time Karkaroff got his comeuppance.

Yet in the intervening years he industriously rose to become the head of Durmstrang, a controversial but undeniably eminent North European school of witchcraft and wizardry.

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By no means should we shy away from talking about his harsh rule of that ancient seat of learning. Parents were known to pull their children out of Durmstrang – which always had a reputation as a hotbed of Dark wizardry anyway – due to Karkaroff’s perceived egotism and unprincipled behaviour. He maintained the strict blood-purity policy of never admitting Muggle-borns – consider how he sneered when his favourite, Viktor Krum, made eyes at Hermione Granger during the Triwizard Tournament.

But once in the post, he demonstrated a good degree of respect for the institutions he found himself leader of. When he first arrived at Hogwarts for the Tournament he seemed genuinely pleased to be there, and greeted Albus Dumbledore warmly as an equal. He later said he was ‘proud’ to ‘protect’ the integrity of Durmstrang. When Harry Potter was unexpectedly nominated as an unprecedented fourth competitor in the Tournament, Karkaroff took his – really quite legitimate – grievance directly to Dumbledore, complaining that the Hogwarts Headmaster’s ‘talk of closer international wizarding links, of rebuilding old ties, of forgetting old differences’ was a sham.

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The remainder of Karkaroff’s time at Hogwarts was marred by anxiety over the return of Voldemort. As his Dark Mark tattoo darkened, and eventually burned, he fled. Clearly no slouch when it came to magic, he survived a full year in the wilderness before the Death Eaters tracked him down and took their vengeance on him.

We can only speculate, of course, how events might have played out had Rookwood remained embedded in the Ministry. But it can probably safely be argued that Voldemort’s progress was at least hampered when his mole was extricated and dispatched to Azkaban on Karkaroff’s word. And had the Dark Lord not returned for the final time, Karkaroff could well have continued to be a noble head of Durmstrang, and his worthy champion Viktor Krum may well have taken the Triwizard Cup back to the icy wastes of Northern Europe.

Who doesn’t love a reformed villain?

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Each month Pottermore will try to defend the more… questionable characters from the Harry Potter stories. Come back next month when we make the case for Rita Skeeter.

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