Why Draco Malfoy is one of the Most Underrated Characters in ‘Harry Potter’

Unarguably, one of the most fantastical and magical series introduced in the past two decades is the Harry Potter series. These books are unique not only because of the vast magical world imagined and created by J.K. Rowling; but also because the series can flood readers and viewers with emotion. By way of similarity to ourselves, we identify with characters and their journeys as they grow. Readers and viewers see significant character development, especially for the main characters. However, there are peripheral characters in Harry Potter whose journeys are often forgotten, one being Draco Malfoy. Many remember him as the skinny blonde shouting “my father will hear about this!” but being constantly overshadowed by Harry left Draco’s story neglected by the audience. A thorough analysis of Draco’s past shows the struggles of breaking from the grips of evil to show that he is, in fact, a character who deals with almost as much turmoil as “The Boy Who Lived”.

Draco’s Privileged Years

Draco Malfoy was born as a wizard into a privileged, pure-blood, wealthy family on the brink of Voldemort’s rise. His parents were active supporters of Voldemort’s movement to cleanse the magical world of non-pure-blood magical folk, and they inflicted these beliefs upon Draco as soon as he was born. With Voldemort’s demise after attempting, but failing, to kill the baby Harry Potter, his followers formed a strong resentment towards Harry, “The Boy Who Lived”. By the time Draco reached the age to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, him and his friends, by diffusion, also had an intense, learned hatred towards Harry 1.

Upon arriving at Hogwarts, he was sorted into Slytherin House, along with his friends, and as his parents Lucius and Narcissa were. Slytherin House was founded in the belief that the magical world should exist of pure-bloods exclusively, and that non-pure-bloods were not to be trusted. As a result, Slytherin House consisted of only pure-blood students with a similar mindset. Before Harry arrived at Hogwarts to start his first year, Rubeus Hagrid, one of Harry’s most trusted friends explained that “there’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin” 2, seemingly foreshadowing Draco’s fate. Slytherin House acted as an agent of socialization, outside of his parents, that further fostered his pro-Voldemort mentality. Draco was surrounded by peers that condoned a pro-Voldemort attitude, thus making it easier to form a hate group against Harry and his friends. By his first year at Hogwarts, Draco embodied the anti-Harry, pro-Voldemort mindset that his fellow Slytherins had.

Draco as a Bully

As Harry Potter and friends settled in at school, Draco represented the “anti-Harry” well. He became Harry’s rival by bullying him and purposefully finding Harry in troubling situations. Draco proceeded to torment Harry’s friends and caused rivalries with the Gryffindor students. He even went so far as to shame Hermione for having non-magical blood by taunting her with demeaning names. In their third year, he teased Harry’s intense fear and susceptibility to Dementor attacks and in their fourth year, mocked Harry for his participation in the Triwizard Tournament at which the end resulted in the return of Voldemort, only known by the Death Eaters and Harry Potter.

Malfoy and his cronies pretend to be dementors
Malfoy and his cronies pretend to be Dementors. Film still from ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’, 2004.

These years at Hogwarts showed little depth to Draco’s character; his blind hatred for Harry rendered him superficial and one-dimensional. Nonetheless, Draco’s unchecked behaviour was no doubt accepted by his friends, his family and any other Voldemort supporters at Hogwarts. Clearly empowered by this, he became exceptionally good at consistently bringing anguish to Harry and his friends. Draco was the leader of anti-Harry movements at Hogwarts.

Draco Becomes a Death Eater

At the arrival of Harry and Draco’s sixth year at Hogwarts, Voldemort takes Draco under his wing to become a Death Eater. By definition, these are followers of Voldemort that inflict pain and fear to non-pure-blood magic folk or non-compliers. They prove their loyalty and support through aggression and scare tactics, and by the age of 16, Voldemort desired Draco to become one. His assigned mission was to kill Dumbledore, and in his multiple attempts to do so, his true feelings are unveiled. He exclaims “I haven’t got any options! I’ve got to do it! [Voldemort]’ll kill me!” 3 as the pressure builds to carry out his assigned tasks.

Malfoy struggles to kill Dumbledore
Malfoy struggles to kill Dumbledore. Film still from ‘Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince’, 2009.

These failures turned the confident, privileged pure-blood supremacist into a brooding, anguished teen. Draco’s fixation to complete his task stopped him from what he had done the earlier five years at Hogwarts- tormenting Harry. Though Draco becomes a Death Eater, his morals do not align with what Voldemort desires, and he faces serious internal conflict. He elicits instinctual behavioural and emotional responses such as fear, loyalty to his family and obedience to a person of power. Draco’s prophesied role of being Harry’s tormentor becomes insignificant, and as he takes on the unimaginable stress of Voldemort’s demands, he becomes a multi-faceted individual governed by human instinct.

Draco Matures

The next year, Draco redeems himself for the earlier years of harassment by saving Harry’s life. When Harry, Hermione and Ron are captured by Death Eaters while attempting to hide from Voldemort, Hermione hits Harry with a Stinging Jinx. This hex temporarily disfigures his face, making it difficult to recognize Harry or his famous scar. When taken to Malfoy Manor, Draco’s childhood home, Draco is asked to confirm the identities of each Ron, Harry and Hermione. Knowing well that it is them (as he was the one to torment them the past six years) he does not positively confirm their identities.

Malfoy fails to identify Harry. Film still from 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows', 2010.
Malfoy fails to identify Harry. Film still from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, 2010.

For whatever reason (likely atonement) he provided Harry and his friends some time to escape, narrowly missing death. After this incident, possibly to reciprocate Draco’s kindness at Malfoy Manor, Harry saves Draco from death twice at the Battle of Hogwarts. These two characters who once used to rival each other become the ones who save each other’s lives.

In content written by J.K. Rowling on Pottermore, after Voldemort and the Death Eaters’ annihilation, Draco marries a witch raised similarly to himself, her parents both followers of Voldemort 4. The couple raises their only son in a loving, caring, non-oppressive environment, opposite from both their upbringing. Draco learns acceptance and equality of non-pure-bloods and though his parents do not approve, Harry does. In the epilogue of the last book in the Harry Potter series, Harry and Draco see each other 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. They exchange “curt nods” 5as they send their children off to school at Hogwarts. Their pleasantness towards each other indicates that Harry and Draco have overcome their complicated past; a sign that Draco has become respectable.

And with that brings the close of Draco’s dramatic journey. Draco Malfoy, underestimated by his audience and overshadowed by Harry, becomes a likeable, and even respectable character years after he leaves Hogwarts. It would seem that Harry Potter as the protagonist should represent hope, decency and survival for humanity, but Draco Malfoy embodies these same characteristics- years after Harry does- but undergoes it no less. Draco becomes a symbol for overcoming the power of negative influences, a power-hungry tyrant and constant conditioning to overcome what he was prophesied to be by his parents, himself, his friends, and Harry; his autonomy breaks through barriers, not easily done by others. Whether meant to or not, he is loved by readers and viewers through his struggles. Draco’s personal journey embodies what it means to be truly good in a world where darkness and terror seem to reign.

Works Cited

  1. Rowling, J.K. Draco Malfoy. Pottermore. Pottermore Limited. Web. 06 July 2016.
  2. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997. Print.
  3. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. Print.
  4.  Rowling, J.K. Draco Malfoy. Pottermore. Pottermore Limited. Web. 06 July 2016.
  5. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, 2007. Print.

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  1. Maryjane

    As a Draco Malfoy enthusiast (I hope to never start a sentence like that again. >.< ), I can't speak for everyone, but in my opinion, I like him because he can be an example for the idea that not everyone who is bad is irredeemable. In HBP, he couldn't kill Dumbledore, and had the Death Eaters not made their way up the tower, he might have surrendered to Dumbledore.

    Not saying that his past behavior is inexcusable, but would you have fared better? Being raised in a cold, racist household, constantly trying to win your Father's approval, and being told you are better than everyone else simply because of your last name and bank account. You see that even in the real world. How many celebrities do we see that can't handle the fact that the regular rules apply to them as well?

    And yet, he still couldn't kill. He was raised in a household where his Father and Aunt Bellatrix had murdered people before, and was told that 'Mudbloods and Muggle-Lovers' were the scum of the earth, and yet, he had the Head Muggle-Lover at wandpoint, and couldn't do it. He knew it was wrong, and couldn't do it.

    Those are some of the reasons I like the idea of what Draco Malfoy could be.

  2. I’m not particularly a fan of Draco, but re-reading the books as an adult made me appreciate how amazingly clever his insults were.

  3. Two words: Tom Felton.

  4. I haven’t had a chance to read The Cursed Child yet, but I’m interested to see how Draco’s character has developed in that story.

  5. danielle577

    At first glance, he seems to be a truly “ugly,” person, yet his actions toward the close of the series prove quite different. He’s really just a bully using terms and being mean in ways he’s not truly understanding quite how serious the subject matter is yet. But, as a bully, he sees how much it gets to Harry, so, he wins! Nice article, and definitely a refreshing change of pace…not quite sure of read anything quite like it before!

  6. Draco was a great student, albeit a wee bit biased. He was creepy and bigoted throughout most of the series, and I honestly think that he thought that he deserved some of Harry’s attention.

  7. Draco is a whiny wimp.

  8. Elvia Ho

    My thinking is that people are actually in love with the handsome actor who played Draco, and not the character himself.

  9. MeanBoy

    The appeal of the ‘bay boy’ who redeems himself. What is there not to like.

    • Yes, apart from the “bad boy”, it’s also the fact that he comes from a very noble and wealthy family. He is like a “spoiled prince” who falls from grace in book 7 and begins to show remorse when faced with a gritty reality.

  10. Jazmine

    Tom Felton is handsome.

  11. Great article on Draco, he is very relatable. From his point of view, he’s done everything right and still not come out on top. He spent his whole life being told how to act and what to think by his Death Eater father.

    He finally gets to go to Hogwarts and make his family proud. He meets Harry Potter on the train, and approaches him exactly how he’d been taught. He offers friendship and assistance to Harry, thinking that he was doing him a favour. Then Harry rejects his offer and humiliates him in front of Ron, whose father is a long-time rival of Mr. Malfoy’s. Draco continues to hold to his values, as taught to him by his parents. Draco does what he thinks is right and gets shit on for it at every turn. Of course WE think that he’s an asshole, we disagree with what he’s been taught! If Voldemort had won and the books were from the perspective of one of the DE’s kids, the Order would seem like a terrorist group.

  12. The best part about Draco is that he’s interesting. Boring characters are annoying.

  13. LilyaRider

    Fantastic article! It took me a while to realize just how wonderful a character Draco is, but especially after this article, I feel like I just read so much further into his character

  14. Everyone loves a bad boy. They think they can fix him. Like Sawyer/Kate from Lost.

  15. Jerrie Neff

    I don’t like Draco as a person/character, but I do like how well he plays as a foil to Harry. Besides, I also like how JK could have redeemed him fully in several places (first book when they have detention in the Forest and later on when he’s a Death Eater and still acts like a self-serving weasel even if he’s not really “evil”).

  16. I think he has that bad boy appeal. Rereading the books right now and he’s being a pretty insufferable 12 year old but we also know he went through some pretty tough stuff, so despite his horrible behaviour I feel a little compassionate for him, especially towards the end of the series. Personally, I cant help but to like him. And besides, a person doesnt have to be likeable to be a great character.

    As for the movie side of things… Tom Felton.

    • There is definitely a little bit of the bad boy appeal, but also preteens are quite susceptible to the “popular appeal.” Draco is undoubtedly popular among Slytherins in the early books and is, at the very least, infamous among the other houses. Preteens have a tendency to crave acceptance from individuals like these, and some types of readers transfer this craving when they self-insert in big fantasy settings/series.

  17. Draco is built up so that he can break and grow.

  18. The anti-hero genre will always be my favorite!

  19. Honestly, I feel for him because I think his parents’ hatred and bigotry corrupted him. It’s the same for any person who was abused growing up. To a certain point, they are the victim. After a certain point, they become the perpetrators of the next generation of victims of abuse. The way I interpret it, Draco made that shift within the 6th and 7th books from potential abuser to non-abuser of the next generation. He was heavily conflicted in book 6. He eventually openly supported the side against Voldemort in book 7. This change, this nearly impossible and overwhelming change, is where he turned from villain to not villain.

    If Draco can change, anybody can change.

    • Stephanie M.

      Good point. I’m not that far into the series yet (although I basically know what goes on because there are spoilers everywhere). But I am eager to see how Draco develops. I love what you said about him as a victim vs. perpetuator of abuse. Someone once said they picture Draco as an adult, waving his son or daughter off to Hogwarts and wishing them all the fun in the world because he never had it. Kinda made me misty…

  20. I’ve always had the impression he was pretty intelligent and that tied into how arrogant he was.

  21. I think Draco was actually a pretty decent student while he attended Hogwarts.

  22. Draco is one of the most entertaining characters in the books to me. Every time he shows up I just get this delicious feeling. Just like Snape, he’s always ready to diss and it’s always on point. The only reason why he “loses” his verbal battles is because the plot demands it so that Harry doesn’t look inferior, but I felt Draco was sharper.

  23. Yes and even though it received a lukewarm reception, The Cursed Child throws light on a few never-seen-before aspects of Draco Malfoy which shows how nicely the character has developed throughout the Harry Potter series.

  24. Draco is basically the epitome of a troubled child, a lot of what he does is clearly desperation for attention, and I think it’s fascinating to see how this affects the way he changes over the courses of the series, learning that most of the attention he was getting was not.. healthy, to say the least.

  25. I absolutely LOVE Tom Felton. He was secretly one of my crushes as a little girl. As for his character, Draco, I always thought that he was the most misunderstood character in the Harry Potter series. I feel like all he really wanted was recognition. In one of the movies, Slytherin had the most points and was supposed to get the cup but Dumbledore added points to Gryffindor at the end so Gryffindor ended up winning. Draco was so disappointed and it’s easy to see why. If he was shown a bit more love and attention, I feel like his character wouldn’t have been so bitter and angry.

  26. I don’t think Draco is necessarily an underrated character, but as the character he is and how he was written it J.K. Rowling should get props for creating such a perfect description of a person caught in the middle of wanting to do the right thing and also having to follow orders from the higher power, Voldemort, and the respect he had for his parents. More so his mother rather than his father. Plus Tom Felton probably me some collided emotions with playing his character so props to him as well.

  27. An interesting perspective on an almost overlooked character growth.

  28. I’ve never been a big Malfoy fan, and I’m still not, but I do agree with what this article is trying to say. Everyone grows up differently. Some people have pressure from their family to be a certain way, some have families who could care less what they did, and some grow up in a loving household. Unfortunately for Malfoy he didn’t have friends like Ron and Hermione to make him see the good in the world.

  29. I’ve always been a huge Malfoy fan, understanding that there was more to him then the bullying arse we’ve all come to love. I love that despite that J.K herself doesn’t want people to love him, you’ve given us all the more to love him. He was just a boy, as Harry was, who was faced with choices that would impact those he loved. It’s hard not to fall in love and even relate to someone who is just trying to please those he’s been told to please.

  30. Draco is a great, because you can definitely see his character develop as he grows throughout the story. He shows great courage to go against “The Dark Lord”, and help his sworn enemy (Harry) in the long run.

  31. Enjoyed this in depth analysis of a Harry Potter villain, if you would. Draco Malfoy is a much more complex character than first perceived. Thank you for your interesting perspective of such character.

  32. Enjoyed this in depth analysis of a Harry Potter villain, if you would. Draco Malfoy is a much more complex character than first perceived. Thank you for your interesting perspective of such character.

  33. This just changed the idea I had of Draco, but Snape is still my favorite character.

  34. Without him who would harry potter be?

  35. Very interesting topic of exploration.

    Admittedly, I hated the whiny Malfoy from the start (a good sign of a well-developed enemy,) but I grew to respect him as the crisis of conscience emerged. That said, he never sticks out in my mind looking at the saga as a whole. Your article, however, has caused me to reassess where his character lands on my radar within the series.

    Very thought provoking article. It makes me want to write characters with the same sort of depth.

    Thank you much.

  36. I think Malfoy was an essential character of the series. Malfoy and Harry fed off each other, to the point that their mutual hatred was almost an obsession. Consider Malfoy’s obsession with Harry as evidenced by his visit to Borgin and Burke’s with his father and the conversation Harry overheard concerning himself. Or Harry’s obsession with finding out what Malfoy was up to in the Half Blood Prince because he wasn’t his usual tormenting self. It reminds me a lot of Joker and Batman’s relationship, which in the Dark Knight Rises Joker raises the point of both him and Batman living for the other.

  37. Emily Schiemann

    First of all, I’m a huge sucker for a redemption arc, and Draco Malfoy’s is one of my favorites. Draco did start out as a whiny brat, but I completely agree that his attitudes and behaviors were mostly learned in his upbringing. I think part of it came from the fact that his life was planned out for him from the beginning, with his Death Eater parents offering him up as a pawn for Voldemort. That’ll mess anyone up.

    I think it’s also important to note that none of this really excuses his earlier behavior. The redemption is all about him improving himself, making up for his past actions, and not trying to justify them, which makes it even more impressive and valid.

  38. I’m not sure that I would say Draco is entirely redeemed at the end of the series–after all, he only exchanges a nod with Harry at Platform 9 3/4. There’s no other mention of the two getting along, or of Draco leading a respectable life. On top of that, Ron tells Rose that she’s to beat Scorpius on every test, indicating that there’s at least some tension still there between old enemies.

    In many ways, Draco’s arc is less about becoming good than it is about being strong enough to shake off his worst traits. In the epilogue, Draco hasn’t become a beacon of tolerance or respectability–he’s likely as arrogant, privileged, and prejudiced a man as he was a boy. But what’s most important is that he’s bad, not evil. Sure, he might still think Muggle-Borns are beneath him and that Harry is a threat to proper wizarding society, but he doesn’t act on that in the way true Death Eaters did. He couldn’t bring himself to kill a man whom he and his family actively demeaned and considered a disgrace to wizards. He couldn’t bring himself to turn over turn boy whom he long hated and envied. What makes Draco an interesting character is that he’s a terrible person, but not in the same way that Voldemort is. He might be filled with terrible qualities, but he manages to stifle them. Draco falls somewhere in the middle of a morality spectrum, and this is what makes the Harry Potter books so powerful; aside from Voldemort and Bellatrix, even the worst characters have redeeming qualities and moments (and even the best characters, like Dumbledore, have foibles). Draco is arguably the best example of this in the series, and his development in the last three books in particular is worth looking at closely when reading them.

  39. Francesca Turauskis

    What is also interesting to think about is that Draco tried to befriend Harry at the start of school, and got turned down – he’s just feeling the burn for so many years!

    • Good point. Draco’s elitist personality initially encompasses Harry because of the celebrity that comes with being “The Boy Who Lived.” However, Harry’s polite refusal of it bruises Draco’s pride and he makes him pay for it for all those years afterward. I love how Draco’s emotions become more fleshed out in The Half-Blood Prince when he’s actually forced to make a difficult choice. Before, he was just playing at being a Death Eater under the safe confines of the Slytherin House at Hogwarts. I felt a lot of sympathy for him at that point.

  40. Jenae

    Someone once tweeted at JK Rowling saying how in love they were with Draco Malfoy and JK Rowling replied saying no one should love the bad boy and that Tom Felton ruined the character with his good looks. I don’t have the link, but it happened! This kills me because Draco and his family are always on whatever side they think is going to win. That’s their only criteria for joining a side. When they see the side they’ve been supporting is going downhill, they switch as fast as they can. The Malfoy’s bother me a lot, and this is just one reason.

  41. I don’t think Draco is that underrated of a character. He is a complex character because all of J.K Rowlings’ chracters are complex, even minor characters (except for in The Cursed Child). Draco’s character does exactly what he is supposed to do , he is a foil for Harry and a minor antagonist in the novels. I think this in-depth analysis is more focused on how the movies portray him rather than the actual books.

  42. I agree with this!

  43. I especially liked your study of “Draco’s Privileged Years” – very valid argument

  44. Yes! I think it was interesting how both Draco and Astoria agree to raise Scorpius the opposite way they were.

  45. Danielle

    I love who Draco Malfoy is in terms of a complex character -in real life I would probably think he is irritating.

    For me, he is unapologetically who he is. For his early years, you summed it up perfectly.
    I feel like I have to put that Lucuias Malfoy did have any friends,so I don’t think Draco grew up knowing how to make friends or even want friends seeing as he idealized his father at the age of 11 – father had allies and minions and so did Draco.

    I think that the Malfoy family was actually quite loving in their own way to one another. Narcissa and Luciuas loved each other as seen by how effected she was by his sentencing to askaban. Narcissa loved Draco as seen through the lying to Voldemort and his father seemed to love him – he was the heir and a carbon copy of Luciuas at the age of 11. For all Narcissa pride of being a Black, I can’t see her being abused or allowing Luciuas to abuse Draco. Discipline -yes; Abuse – no.

    For me, Draco in way is a consist character – I don’t expect him to do some heroic stuff and he doesn’t. I don’t think he accepts muggle borns and muggles; I think he just becomes so indifferent to them. After the war, while he may still hold his prejudices as seen by him marry one of the Sacred 28, who other people are become so irrelevant to him that he can’t be bothered to teach his son about it.

  46. Good point

  47. This article is well written and I appreciate this take on Draco Malfoy.

  48. Stephanie M.

    I’m not what you’d call a Draco fan by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he’s the kind of student that would have driven me bonkers in school. Having said that, it’s always interesting and worthwhile to probe into the antagonist’s story. It’s said “history is written by the winners,” and the same is true for fiction. Antagonist-centered fiction opens up tons of new perspectives across fandoms (check out Disney’s Descendants series for another example, although those aren’t as nuanced as HP).

  49. As someone who first picked up the Harry Potter series as a child and continued to go back to it for a read growing up, my opinions on characters have changed dramatically. I think its something that comes with age and understanding peoples motives and emotions. Re-reading the stories and being able to understand the characters with a higher knowledge and understanding helped to appreciate those who I once couldn’t. One of those characters being Draco Malfoy.

  50. Joseph Cernik

    A good essay. I enjoy reading different ways of looking at the Harry Potter series, since I read all of them to my children.

  51. Draco Malfoy is a clear missed opportunity for Rowling to build a prominent redemption character arch that wasn’t just implied in the background using three words “19 years later”. I do understand this decision though, as there is a bigger need for redemption arches and anti-heroes today than it was 20 something years ago.

  52. The bully that could not become a real villain… It doesn’t sound like an actual redemption to me.

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