The Phoenix Files #14: Draco Malfoy

By Christopher Stephen

Salutations, loyal readers and TPF newbies alike! I know, I know…long time, no post. I have an explanation, but I hope you’ll forgive me for postponing it for a bit to dive right into the File.

Draco Malfoy: love him, hate him, love to hate him, or hate to love him, he is one of the most interesting characters in the HP series.

Jo has this fantastic ability as a writer to develop her characters. By now, she knows each of her characters’ actions (even Mark Evans’s role as Big D’s punching bag or Alice Longbottom’s wrapper-giving) will be scrutinized by millions of slightly-obsessive fans the world over as though they were living, breathing creatures. She paints such a vivid world with her descriptions that we feel as though Ron and Hermione are our best friends, and Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange are our schools’ bullies, our overbearing professors, or our annoying bosses (or insert other villain here). As such, we want to know what makes them tick, and Jo has created a complicated history as well as complex motives for her characters to keep us satisfied.

So, that said, what do Draco Malfoy and Ginny Weasley have in common? No, despite what many, erm, alternative fanfic authors have claimed, it is not a burning desire for one another. They are both somewhat-central, somewhat-outside characters that have been intensely developed (i.e., they have grown and matured) by JKR throughout the series.

Let’s focus on Draco. Obviously, I cannot possibly touch on every aspect of Master Malfoy; there have been many, many editorials and other comments written on the subject by loyal MuggleNetters, ranging from Ron’s secret lover to his role in Book Seven. I intend to look at how Jo has developed his character and motives throughout the series and use this information to predict what impact, if any, he will have on the series finale.

In Book One, we meet Draco in Madam Malkin’s. He is a snobby, rich, only child (we assume, since “Cissy” tells Snape “my only son…” in Spinner’s End) whose surname gets him pretty much anything he wishes in life. He has a manor, a house-elf, and a (somehow) well-respected, school governor of a father in the Ministry. What more could a kid want?

Well, a posse at Hogwarts, one of the best wizarding schools in Europe, wouldn’t be too bad. Neither would a place in history as the youngest Quidditch player in a century. And you know, I bet he could use a little bit of fame and glory for himself (and not just his father), too.

Draco’s problem is that Harry beats him to all of these (unless you can count Crabbe and Goyle a “posse”). Harry comes into the school way more famous than poor Draco can ever hope to become. He then proceeds to fit in fairly well with his fellow Gryffindors, especially Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, and Neville, while Draco hangs out with a pair of trolls in the dungeons. After spending the past ten-plus years in a Muggle household, Potter snatches a Seeker position instead of being expelled, when Draco surely had shown his skill in flying. And Harry becomes even more famous throughout the series.

Then, while strutting around the school in Book Two (when he has resorted to terror as his only way to gain recognition…a popular means of achieving fame in our world, too), a monstrous thing happens. No, not Aragog. Not even the Basilisk. His dad gets sacked as school governor! Draco no longer practically owns one-twelfth (or the whole, if Lucius had some spare pocket Galleons) of the school.

Enter Book Three. Young Malfoy no longer struts around the school but can still whip up plenty of trouble nonetheless. Draco, who is so used to getting his way, seems to achieve the same result when Buckbeak is sentenced to death. Then, though, he escapes right under Macnair’s axe (with the help of Harry & Co., of course).

Please note how throughout the first three books, Draco’s situation has evolved from “on top of the world” to “just another student.” This continues in GOF. Harry is chosen as fourth champion (typical), and, for the first time, Draco can do nothing but flash “Potter Stinks” at him across the dungeon and assist Rita Skeeter in the stories she was going to print anyway. Even when he attempts to curse Harry, he ends up as a bouncing ferret…and the wand was used by a Death Eater! As much as he wants to think otherwise, Draco was highly ineffective by his own standards in Book Four.

Then, in OotP, it gets even worse. In the first half of the book, the only thing Draco was able to do was slip in that snide comment about Sirius. Since Harry had pointed the finger at his father, Draco had to lie low and let Umbridge work her magic (haha…that’s nearly oxymoronic). He trips up Harry in his escape from the DA’s foiled meeting in the RoR and drains the Gryffindor hourglass as a member of the Inquisitorial Squad. Yet notice how he ends up on the receiving end of an “excellent” Bat-Bogey Hex. The book closes with him oozing home on the Hogwarts Express for the second time.

By this time, if I were Draco, I would be getting a little fed up with things. To add insult to injury, his father, once so well-respected and powerful, lands a cell in Azzy. Despite my best efforts, Harry seems to be thriving at Hogwarts and escaping DEs and LV at every turn. And, I’ve become “just another student” at Hogwarts. My family is broken up, we’re minus a house-elf (thanks to Potter), and if I’m not careful, I’m going to start becoming sympathetic to the Good Side. It’s time to take matters into my own hands.

We interrupt this File for a brief word from our author.

Okay everyone, I apologize once again, but in post-HBP weeks it’s been crazy in my little corner of the institution. I received over 200 e-mails from people wanting to discuss HBP (some of which I still haven’t returned…sorry!). I had to prepare for my return to college; I went on a week-long, laptop-free family vacation; and I wrapped up my summer job. All in all, I’ve been extremely busy.

In addition, I regret to inform you that The Phoenix Files may or may not be posted as regularly as it once was (every other Monday). But I do have some good news. I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching…just kidding.

The good news: it may not be as regular (even with Metamucil) because I’m going to be writing up post-HBP additions to all existing fourteen Files after I finish my current HBP re-read! Also, I plan on opening up the other Files for readers’ additions, beginning, I believe, with James Potter’s.

There is one last thing. While I promise to continue to read every post in the CoS Forums and every e-mail sent my way, I may or may not be able to reply to them. I will try my best, especially in the CoS Forums, but it may be days at a time before I can finish playing catch-up. As The Phoenix Files become more and more popular on MuggleNet, I’m unfortunately going to be unable to continue the intimate relationship I so treasure with some of my readers. Rest assured, however, that if you have a comment, it will be heard. Remember that flooding my inbox only distracts me further from replying.

We now return you to our normally scheduled broadcast.

As I have attempted to show, Draco evolves from snob to pain-in-the-rear to barely effective antagonist in the first five books. Clearly, his goal is to become a seriously snobby threat to Harry & Co. How does one achieve that? Why, get in close with Lord Voldything, of course!

July 16, 2005. Enter HBP. Everything changes for Draco. I mean everything.

We can assume that Lord Voldemort went to the Malfoys and, erm, asked Draco to perform this duty, rather than Draco going to Voldemort all gung-ho and saying, “Oh, Dark Lord, sir, dude, lemme try to do the impossible!” (However, this attitude, taking in the past events, would have made sense. But Voldemort wanted “payment” for Lucius’s mistakes at the Ministry at the end of Book Five.) But Draco, since he probably wanted to be in the Dark Lord’s pocket all along, says, “Alrighty, sure. Sounds good, tell me what you want me to do.”

So Draco gets the “assignment.” Kill Dumbledore. We see him working the plan prior to going back to Hogwarts. (The Trio spies on him in Knockturn Alley, particularly Borgin & Burkes.) Then, attempting to be his brave, egotistical self, he attempts to brag without giving too much away on the train to school.

Draco has always been fairly smart, and he gets smarter in Book Six. While Harry was pretty clumsy and basically gave himself away on the train, Draco does him in pretty well. Breaking a person’s nose and then hiding them under an Invisibility Cloak does seem pretty…foolproof. Had Tonks not come to save Harry, he wouldn’t have met Dumbledore at all (at least for a while).

Meanwhile, Draco is busy finding other ways to kill Dumbledore. Obviously, his main plan is to let the Death Eaters in via Vanishing Cabinets. But when this is not going well, he turns to other more drastic, less likely methods. Katie and the necklace and Ron and the mead prove, however, that Draco was excellent in one thing: staying undercover. While it was increasingly obvious to Dumbledore, Harry didn’t have a clue what was going on (and just wanted to blame Malfoy…and it ended up he was finally right!), and Ron and Hermione were even more baffled, convinced Malfoy wasn’t up to anything important. As such, Draco escapes detection from the people that “matter”: those who would try to thwart his attempts or expel him from school.

But things get tricky. Snape gets in the way (typical). Draco’s weaker attempts do not succeed, and he doesn’t seem to be making much progress with the Vanishing Cabinets. In the end, however, he gets the job done.

Until the scene atop the tower, that is. Draco has a real problem. He can’t do the task he was assigned to do, even though everything else had gone perfectly so far. Why not?

This is the main question with regard to Draco’s character at this point in the series. Why couldn’t he kill Dumbledore? He had pretty much every reason to: his own life was endangered, Dumbledore hadn’t done anything for him except continued to educate him (so did Draco “owe” Dumbledore his education, as I suggested in TPF #2?). Is Draco really “good”? Is he on “our” side?

Well, like Snape, this is a tricky question. He certainly had some pause when Dumbledore suggested a sanctuary for him and his family. Now that Dumbledore is dead, will he feel like his only chance to turn “good” is gone? Or will he use this as more reason to stray from the Death Eaters?

It’s very confusing, I know. I get headaches, too, just thinking about HBP.

Perhaps a more important question than Draco’s ultimate disposition, though, is what type of role he and his family are going to play in Book Seven. He will obviously appear again (if just in passing mention as killed by Lord Voldemort or his followers). He will probably appear attempting to be brave, stuck-up, and annoying as usual. But I see him and his family fading into the backdrop against the pitted battle ahead. I don’t believe he or his family will have a huge role in Book Seven, unless Draco becomes “good” and tells all he knows about LV and the DEs. Even then, it is unlikely he will know a lot (much less than Snape). As such, in closing, we need to hope for Snape’s eventual redemption more than Draco’s (even if he is played by Tom Felton).

Thanks for reading; remember to send your comments to christopherstephened at hotmail dot com, and I promise I will read them and reply to as many as possible. Enjoy the small break to re-read HBP and GOF in anticipation for November!