The Color of a Soul: Is Harry Potter a Better Person Than Draco Malfoy?
by C.R. Windsor
Everyone knows Draco Malfoy as the obnoxious twerp whom Harry Potter loves to hate. Malfoy is sleazy, arrogant, conniving, foul-mouthed and vicious… but is Harry really a better person than Malfoy? It could be argued that, based on Harry’s tendency to break rules, or on his personal feelings toward Malfoy as a peer, he may rank even lower on the scale of humanitarianism than does Malfoy. (Harry, after only a very short time, is led to actually hate Malfoy; and it certainly cannot be said that either is more or less inclined to follow or break rules.) However, if one focuses solely on the manners in which Harry and Malfoy each treat the people around them, and how others, in turn, treat them, that person will likely find Harry is the more sociologically advanced individual. Based on what Harry and Malfoy value as ‘Codes of Acceptance,’ the reader can perceive more about their personalities. While having good people skills certainly does not make one a heroic character, when accompanied by his or her thoughts, actions, and emotions, as Harry Potter’s are provided to the readers, they can speak volumes about the color of a person’s soul.
To begin with, one should compare and contrast the ways in which Harry and Malfoy use the ‘Code of Acceptance’ upon first meetings with various people. Harry accepts Hagrid as a friend at once, without question. He does not judge Hagrid by his odd appearance; rather, he seems to relish this strange man, because his appearance offends the Dursleys. All that Harry knows about Hagrid is that the latter has come to rescue him from his residence with a family who despises him. He sees Hagrid as a sort of gallant savior, and is gracious and polite with him; Hagrid, in turn, shows Harry nothing but goodwill from his entrance.
When Malfoy sees Hagrid for the first time and learns through Harry who he is, the first thing he says is, “‘Oh… I’ve heard of him. He’s a sort of servant, isn’t he?… I heard he’s a sort of savage-lives in a hut on the school grounds and every now and then he gets drunk, tries to do magic, and ends up setting fire to his bed'” (78, SS). Malfoy’s instinct is to judge Hagrid, whom he has never met, and jump at the chance to spread gossip to Harry, whom he does not know.
Harry is cold and short with Malfoy almost immediately. In his case, however, he is not trying to judge Malfoy; he wishes only to defend Hagrid, who is, at this moment, the only friend he has. When Malfoy refers to Hagrid as a servant, Harry responds with, “‘He’s the gamekeeper'” (78, SS). The book goes on to say, “He was liking the boy less and less every second” (78, SS). Then, after Malfoy’s bit about Hagrid setting his bed on fire:
“‘I think he’s brilliant,’ said Harry coldly.
‘Do you?” said the boy, with a slight sneer. ‘Why is he with you? Where are your parents?’
‘They’re dead,’ said Harry shortly. He didn’t feel much like going into the matter with this boy.
‘Oh, sorry,’ said the other, not sounding sorry at all. ‘But they were our kind, weren’t they?’
‘They were a witch and wizard, if that’s what you mean.'”
Harry is attempting to defend his friend, while Malfoy is simultaneously judging him and Hagrid. Malfoy is not polite enough to even bother introducing himself or express any interest at all in Harry’s background, until he asks in a roundabout, nonchalant sort of way, “‘What’s your surname, anyway?'” (78, SS). His only curiosity here is to determine whether Harry is one whom he feels worthy to enter Hogwarts, as he has just been explaining that he thinks, “‘they should keep it in the old wizarding families'” (78, SS).
The most important thing to note here is that, after Malfoy’s spiel about pestering his father into buying him a broom, and his subsequent wish to smuggle it into school (it is illegal for students in their year to have them), the book states that, “Harry was strongly reminded of Dudley” (77, SS). But although Harry’s first impression of Malfoy is a reminder of someone whom he resents, he does not show Malfoy any ill feeling until after Malfoy’s verbal persecution of Hagrid.
One might argue that Harry and Malfoy each choose to be sociable with only those students who are in their same Houses, and for that reason, but this is not the case. Harry and Ron, for example, have gotten on quite nicely, well before anyone is Sorted. Malfoy, likewise, has already befriended Crabbe and Goyle. Therefore, it is not where the students are Sorted that determines who will be their friends; rather, it seems as though friends are placed in the same Houses, probably due to the fact that people tend to befriend others with similar interests as themselves.
When Harry first converses with Ron on the train ride to school, Ron – like everyone else – shows a deep fascination in Harry, but tries respectfully to hide it. “[Ron] sat and stared at Harry for a few moments, then, as though he had suddenly realized what he was doing, he looked quickly out of the window again” (99, SS). Harry, being a genial person, also politely inquires into Ron’s life. “‘Are all your family wizards?’ asked Harry, who found Ron just as interesting as Ron found him” (99, SS). In this way, Harry and Ron’s discussion carries on until they have grown quite chummy. Harry even finds he is able to confide in Ron. “‘I’ve got loads to learn…. I bet,’ he added, voicing for the first time something that had been worrying him a lot lately, ‘I bet I’m the worst in the class'” (100, SS). Ron immediately quells his fear by informing him that many people come to the school without knowing anything at all; Harry will not be alone.
When the woman with the cart full of sweets appears at their door, Harry is provided with the opportunity to share with his new friend. He purchases everything off the cart and instantly offers some to Ron. “‘Go on, have a pasty,’ said Harry, who had never had anything to share before or, indeed, anyone to share it with. It was a nice feeling, sitting there with Ron, eating their way through all Harry’s pasties, cakes, and candies” (102, SS). It is through talking with Ron and actually taking an interest in him that Harry discovers he comes from an entire wizard family. “The Weasleys were clearly one of those old wizarding families the pale boy in Diagon Alley had talked about” (99, SS). What is ironic is that Malfoy still looks down upon them, just because they are penniless.
Harry finally rejects Malfoy later on the train journey when Malfoy gives him an ultimatum-Harry can either be his friend, or Ron’s. Malfoy shows up in their compartment and looks at Harry “with a lot more interest than he’d shown back in Diagon Alley” (108, SS). This seemingly is merely because he now realizes that Harry is famous. He still exhibits no real interest in his own friends: “‘Oh, this is Crabbe and this is Goyle,’ said the pale boy carelessly, noticing where Harry was looking. ‘And my name’s Malfoy, Draco Malfoy'” (108, SS). This demonstrates to the reader that Malfoy does not even care about Harry as a person-he only cares about what he is known for. He doesn’t act like he is particularly fond of his friends.
Harry rejects Malfoy by coming to Ron’s defense against him; Malfoy has just insulted Ron’s family by saying that his family was not a proper wizarding one because they are poor, and because they have more children than they can handle. “He held out his hand to shake Harry’s, but Harry didn’t take it. ‘I think I can tell the wrong sort for myself, thanks,’ he said coolly” (108, SS). We find that Harry, unlike Malfoy, is loyal to his friends. In the next paragraph, Malfoy does something very interesting. “‘I’d be careful if I were you, Potter,’ he said slowly. ‘Unless you’re a bit politer you’ll go the same way as your parents. They didn’t know what was good for them, either. You hang around with riffraff like the Weasleys and that Hagrid, and it’ll rub off on you'” (109, SS). Malfoy is threatening Harry, after a feeble attempt to befriend him. That, if nothing else, shows how deep his sincerity truly lies.
It is now established that how Harry interacts with his friends, as opposed to how Malfoy interacts with his, are completely different. As the novel progresses, Harry and Malfoy’s ‘Codes of Denial’ arise even more. A feeling that began as disgust toward one another has grown into one of utmost loathing. Harry, meanwhile, still lives up to his values as far as defending his friends go. Perhaps Malfoy does as well, but his morals are questionable. When Harry breaks school rules by venturing out of the castle at night to visit Hagrid, it is because he is concerned for Hagrid’s well being. Malfoy, on the other hand, sneaks out of the castle with the simple motive of attempting to get Harry in trouble. “‘You don’t understand, Professor. Harry Potter’s coming-he’s got a dragon!'”(240, SS). This passage shows his desperation, not to ensure that Harry is okay, but to implicate him.
Harry has proven himself to be loyal to his friends; he sticks up for them, and he helps them when they need it. Malfoy, on the other hand, is disrespectful to his friends and only looks out for himself. Harry and Malfoy deny each other as friends because of their own separate ‘Codes of Friendship’-and Harry’s is obviously sociologically superior to Malfoy’s. Harry Potter must be great-he did, after all, defeat “The-Man-Who-Let-The-Boy-Live.”
This was where the original editorial ended. But there was something important I left out, and that was the power of the soul to reform. I stand by everything I said in the beginning. But since reading HBP, I do feel that Malfoy is well on his way to reforming, and here’s why.
HBP Malfoy seems, in some ways, more mature than HBP Harry, at least until the end. Harry, not without good reason, becomes simply obsessed by trying to find out what Malfoy is up to. Even his friends grow sick of him whenever he brings up the subject, and adult figures are likewise quick to hush his accusations. Malfoy, on the other hand, no longer seems to care very much about Harry because he has an objective of his own, one which is taking up all of his time. The little things, like trying to beat Harry at Quidditch, don’t matter to him at all anymore. Since joining the major league of the Death Eaters, Malfoy tends to ignore Harry, except for those instances when Harry is showing off in class or being a direct nuisance to him. Malfoy has ceased to worry about Harry, and Harry’s friends have stopped fretting about Malfoy. Only Harry seems determined to continue their elementary squabbling, giving the impression that Harry is maturing, in some ways, more slowly than his peers.
None of this suggests that Draco has reformed in any way; it simply shows that he is mature enough to put petty differences behind him, and by the end of the book, I believe Harry has finally reached that point, as well. Harry is completely resolved in his plan, and calmly accepting of the knowledge that this plan does not include Hogwarts.
“‘I’m not coming back even if it does reopen,’ said Harry.
Ron gaped at him, but Hermione said sadly, ‘I knew you were going to say that. But then what will you do?'”
This sounds awfully familiar to another scene toward the beginning of the book:
“Malfoy yawned ostentatiously. ‘I mean, I might not even be at Hogwarts next year, what’s it matter to me if some fat old has-been likes me or not?’
‘What do you mean, you might not be at Hogwarts next year?’ said Pansy indignantly, ceasing grooming Malfoy at once.
‘Well, you never know,’ said Malfoy with the ghost of a smirk. ‘I might have-er-moved on to bigger and better things.'”
By the end of the book, Harry and Malfoy appear to be on exactly the same page as far as maturity levels; neither one of them any longer seems to care one whit about their petty, middle school antics. This opens the door for them to become-perhaps not friends, but maybe each reluctantly respectful of the other, should they end up working alongside one another in the future, which definitely appears that it will be the case, based on the character Malfoy shows in this book.
On page 521, Harry is again searching the Map for Malfoy, when he spots his quarry in a bathroom with Moaning Myrtle. “Harry only stopped staring at this unlikely coupling when he walked right into a suit of armor.” Of course the coupling is unlikely. Here’s Malfoy, the elitist little Pureblood, too good even for his own Pureblood friends, and he is sharing the company of the ghost of a little Muggleborn girl, and an odd one, at that. Malfoy wouldn’t have been caught dead around Myrtle had she been alive, and here he is, apparently conversing with her ghost. This, apart from anything, demonstrates that Malfoy has humbled himself somewhat; he no longer cares much if he is sharing his company with Purebloods. He cares about his main goal-protecting his family by whatever means necessary.
So Harry steps inside, and we are met with a dazzling display of emotions from Malfoy. Here he is, “standing with his back to the door, his hands clutching either side of the sink, his white-blond head bowed” (521, HBP). And then “Harry realized, with a shock so huge it seemed to root him to the spot, that Malfoy was crying-actually crying-tears streaming down his pale face into the grimy basin” (522, HBP). Malfoy honestly appears to have a conscience-and, therefore, a soul-a soul that is capable of being altered and improved.
And then, of course, there is Moaning Myrtle herself, and her description of Malfoy, long before anyone is supposed to know that it is he to whom she is referring. She is disappointed to see Harry and Ron, because she was expecting Malfoy, who had told her he would return to visit again, and so he did.
“‘But I thought he liked me,’ she said plaintively. [Interesting that Malfoy, of all people, should give off any impression of the sort, particularly in given company.] …We had lots in common…. I’m sure he felt it….’
And she looked hopefully toward the door.
‘When you say you had lots in common,’ said Ron, sounding rather amused now, ‘d’you mean he lives in an S-bend too?’
‘No,’ said Myrtle defiantly, her voice echoing loudly around the old tiled bathroom. ‘I mean he’s sensitive, people bully him too, and he feels lonely and hasn’t got anybody to talk to, and he’s not afraid to show his feelings and cry!'”
Finally, we have the telling scene in the Lightning-Struck Tower, in which Dumbledore repeatedly insists that Malfoy is not a killer. And Malfoy argues vehemently with Dumbledore, desperate as he is, to prove that he is a killer-to convince Dumbledore that he is, to convince himself even, because even he is not certain he can carry out the atrocity. Malfoy is far more pleased with having gotten away with so much behind Dumbledore’s back than at the thought of actually killing him, actually acting as Voldemort wants.
“‘But there were times,’ Dumbledore went on, ‘weren’t there, when you were not sure you would succeed? […] And you resorted to crude and badly judged measures such as sending me a cursed necklace that was bound to reach the wrong hands… poisoning mead there was only the slightest chance I might drink….’
‘Yeah, well, you still didn’t realize who was behind that stuff, did you?’ sneered Malfoy.”
A nice diversion of topic, but Dumbledore brings it right back again a few minutes later.
“‘As for being about to kill me, Draco, you have had several long minutes now, we are quite alone, I am more defenseless than you can have dreamed of finding me, and still you have not acted….’
Malfoy’s mouth contorted involuntarily, as though he had tasted something very bitter.”
It looks as though Malfoy has no real desire to kill Dumbledore; instead, he shows desperation, but his conscience overrides it until the end. “‘I haven’t got any options!’ said Malfoy, and he was suddenly white as Dumbledore. ‘I’ve got to do it! He’ll kill me! He’ll kill my whole family!'” (591, HBP) He appears to be pleading with Dumbledore, not only to understand him, but possibly to help him find a way out. Indeed, as Dumbledore proceeds to do just that, Malfoy’s actions become slower, less deliberate, as he stares at Dumbledore, most likely truly considering coming over to the side of good. In fact, just before the Death Eaters fatefully arrive on the scene, Malfoy appears to have just decided to join Dumbledore. The last thing Harry sees is Malfoy, at a complete loss for words, drop his trembling wand hand by a fraction (592, HBP).
Even when the bloodthirsty werewolf arrives on the scene, he displays shock at the idea of his presence in the school, shame at his having anything to do with this man who would surely kill his friends without a thought. He is rightly cowed when Dumbledore points this out, and admits that he had nothing to do with it.
In short, either one is or is not a killer, and Malfoy demonstrates quite plainly that he is not. This leaves him with what alternative? Stay with the Death Eaters and be immediately singled out for execution by the Dark Lord? Or run away (with Snape?) and come out of hiding only to help the good side? The evidence certainly points to the latter.