By Nadia M
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we see Draco Malfoy transform from bully to victim as he became a Death Eater. Though being the son of a Death Eater meant protection, he realizes too late that being a Death Eater himself is not what he expected. In his own house, he watches innocent people get tortured and killed. Sometimes, he has to torture others himself. His resentment towards the Death Eaters and his fear of Voldemort make for a miserable situation, providing Draco with plenty of reasons to move to the good side, or at least help the good side.
What reasons would Draco have for helping out the good side? And why aren’t these reasons enough to motivate him? He has several opportunities throughout Deathly Hallows to do the right thing, but cannot bring himself to do it.
It is clear from the beginning of Deathly Hallows that Draco does not like murder and torture. He is highly disturbed by Charity Burbage hanging from the ceiling, while the other Death Eaters are not.1 This contrast of Draco to the rest of the Death Eaters immediately establishes that he is different, that he suffers from a conscience. He does not think and feel like the other Death Eaters do. Through one of Harry’s visions, we see Draco being forced to torture Rowle.2 Most Death Eaters willingly torture because they like it. Draco does not want to torture anyone, as shown by his “gaunt, petrified face” Harry sees in the vision.
Voldemort not only forces Draco to torture people, but he humiliates Lucius and Narcissa.3 Draco used to be proud of his family’s status, but now they are the joke of the Death Eaters.4 He used to brag about his family and their wealth.
“I’m the new Slytherin Seeker, Weasley,” said Malfoy, smugly. “Everyone’s just been admiring the brooms my father’s bought our team.”
Ron gaped, openmouthed, at the seven superb broomsticks in front of him.
“Good, aren’t they?” said Malfoy smoothly. “But perhaps the Gryffindor team will be able to raise some gold and get new brooms, too. You could raffle off those Cleansweep Fives; I expect a museum would bid for them.” 5
In Deathly Hallows, the Malfoys are considered an embarrassment to the good side and Death Eaters alike. Voldemort took away the pride Draco’s family gave him.
But his life as a Death Eater is not a new thing. He has been suffering through this for a long time. Draco begins to regret being a Death Eater in his sixth year. Voldemort sets Draco the difficult task of killing Dumbledore, largely as a way to punish to Draco’s father.6 Draco’s mission is not going as well as he thought it would. He has already made two failed attempts to kill Dumbledore.7 Draco is growing upset and even turns to Moaning Myrtle for comfort:
Draco Malfoy was standing with his back to the door, his hands clutching either side of the sink, his white-blond head bowed.
“Don’t,” crooned Moaning Myrtle’s voice from one of the cubicles. “Don’t … tell me what’s wrong … I can help you ….”
“No one can help me,” said Malfoy. His whole body was shaking. “I can’t do it …. I can’t …. It won’t work … and unless I do it soon … he says he’ll kill me….” 8
This scene that Harry overhears reveals to the reader several problems that Draco is dealing with. “No one can help me” shows that Draco feels isolated and hopeless. This makes sense because he is working on this mission in secret. None of his peers, while they may help him, have the huge responsibility that he has. At first, Draco boasts about being a Death Eater and having such an important task from Voldemort himself.9 But now, as this task is more difficult than he imagined (“I can’t do it….I can’t….It won’t work”), it has become a burden. He cannot talk about his stress with Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy, or his other Slytherin friends. Draco fears that they would think him to be weak. He also has a bigger fear at hand. Voldemort will kill him if he fails to kill Dumbledore (“And unless I do it soon … he says he’ll kill me”).
Draco feels lonely and endangered as a Death Eater. Instead of a protector, Voldemort has become his enemy. Draco is only loyal to the Death Eaters out of fear, not true allegiance. Therefore, he has no real connection to them and no reason to trust them. By the time the Death Eaters and Voldemort move into his house, his resentment towards the Death Eaters and Voldemort has been building up for almost a year.
In Deathly Hallows, Malfoy Manor has been made into headquarters for Voldemort and his followers. He cannot get away from Death Eaters; they are always around. His home has been taken over by people who rule with fear. Draco is uncomfortable in his own home, which Harry can see when he is captured and taken to Malfoy Manor.10 The Death Eaters have taken over his house like they have taken over his life.
Draco’s distressing situation should have been enough motivation to help out the Order. Then there is the fact that it was so easy to at least help Harry, Ron and Hermione. Draco is responsible for identifying them to the Death Eaters.
“Well, Draco?” said Lucius Malfoy. He sounded avid. “Is it? Is it Harry Potter?”
“I can’t—I can’t be sure,” said Draco. He was keeping his distance from Greyback, and seemed as scared of looking at Harry as Harry was of looking at him.
“Draco, come here, look properly! What do you think?”
Harry saw Draco’s face up close now, right beside his father’s. They were extraordinarily alike, except that while his father looked beside himself with excitement, Draco’s expression was full of reluctance, even fear.
“I don’t know,” he said, and he walked away toward the fireplace where his mother stood watching.
“Look, Draco, isn’t it the Granger girl?”
“I … maybe … yeah.”
“Draco, look at him, isn’t it Arthur Weasley’s son, what’s his name—?
“Yeah,” said Draco again, his back to the prisoners. “It could be.” 11
He wants to protect them, but he is also heavily oppressed by the Death Eaters. He fears punishment so much that he does not realize that he could get away with it. He is going through an internal struggle before he answers (“I can’t – I can’t be sure,”) and he wants to escape the whole situation by walking away from them and towards his mother. After more pressure from his father, he gradually and reluctantly agrees that it is Harry, Ron, and Hermione he sees. He still has his back to them, though. His reluctance to give them away is shown in his body language. He could have defiantly argued that it was not them. He is the most trusted to know what they look like. He did not, though, because he is scared to defy the Death Eaters, even though it is likely he could have gotten away with it.
Although the fear of Voldemort and his followers is motivation to leave and help the good side, it is also what keeps him there. He lives in fear by staying a Death Eater, but he cannot face his fear of leaving the Death Eaters. Draco must do everything Voldemort tells him to because Voldemort has had the threat of death hovering over the Malfoy family since Lucius failed to get the prophecy in Order of the Phoenix.12 Voldemort could kill Draco. He could kill his family as a punishment to Draco.
Draco is torn between his fear of punishment of the Death Eaters and his desire to no longer be a Death Eater. Like Dumbledore says in Goblet of Fire, Draco has to choose “between what is right, and what is easy.” 13 While Dumbledore’s words are powerful, Draco is just not a strong enough person to follow this advice. He has led a sheltered life until he becomes a Death Eater, where he is emotionally tortured. He is not brave enough to get past his fear of Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
Draco’s first opportunity to help the trio is fairly risky, considering he is with several Death Eaters, including his parents. But during his second opportunity, when he is ordered to get Griphook from the dungeon, he is alone. He does not have Death Eaters surrounding him, making him scared.
But he did not do anything to help the prisoners. He still did not have the courage.
He could hear someone scuttling down the cellar steps; next moment, Draco’s shaking voice spoke from behind the door.
“Stand back. Line up against the back wall. Don’t try anything, or I’ll kill you!” 14
Despite the fact that he is alone, Draco still does not dare to help the good side. He is on a specific order from his father to go and get Griphook from the dungeon.15 His mind is focused on obeying, so he is more afraid than usual. Another opportunity to do the right thing arises for Draco, but he cannot overpower his fear of Voldemort.
Draco has immense motivation to help the good side. He does not share the cruel attitude of the Death Eaters and resents being surrounded by Death Eaters. He just wants himself and his family to stay alive and well. When he is presented with the perfect opportunity to help the good side, he is too scared of being punished by Voldemort and the other Death Eaters. He is not a brave enough person to overcome the immense fear that Voldemort instills in his followers as well as his enemies. To Draco, the need for his family’s well-being and keeping alive far outweigh the consequences of doing the right thing for the good side.
So, Draco decides again and again to stay a Death Eater. He succeeds in keeping himself and his family safe and he is free from the Death Eaters when Voldemort dies. His lack of courage does not have severe consequences. However, it is up to the reader to judge Draco’s actions. How does Draco feel as an adult? Does he feel guilty for not helping the good side? Or just grateful that his cowardice was not more consequential?
1. Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 3.
2. Ibid., 174.
3. Ibid., 10.
4. Ibid., Sorcerer’s Stone, 108.
5. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 112
6. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 33.
7. Ibid., 587.
8. Ibid., 521-2.
9. Ibid., 151.
10. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 457.
11. Ibid., 458-9
12. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 34.
13. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 724.
14. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 467.
15. Ibid., 467.
J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.