*Disclaimer: The following is based on how the characters are depicted in the Harry Potter book series, not in the movies.
There are quite a few villains who make an appearance in the Harry Potter series, and they’re not all adults. In the battle of good vs evil, it would be wrong to neglect that, just as the protagonist must be tested and measured, so must his antagonist. While Lord Voldemort is Harry Potter’s primary foe, Harry was only able to defeat Voldemort with the help of resourceful, devoted, and much more intelligent friends and mentors. Harry could not have ever dreamt of defeating Voldemort alone, without their assistance and protection. His true antithesis and equal throughout the series was actually none other than Draco Malfoy.
Draco Malfoy made his first appearance in the series in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Having heard (as all magical children had) about “The Boy Who Lived”, Draco wanted Harry to abandon impoverished Ronald Weasley in order to be his friend instead. Fans of the series already know that Harry’s father, James, was a serious bully in his school days, so who knows what personality Harry would have had if he hadn’t been raised with Dudley, who in many respects was Draco’s Muggle counterpart. Either way, Harry new precisely what it was like to be looked down on because of circumstances outside of your control, clocked Draco for the bully that he was when they first meet in Madam Malkin’s shop, and later chooses Ron to be his friend, unwittingly sparking a rivalry which would last for years.
Draco Malfoy is the only son of witch and wizard Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy, both descendants of full-blood wizarding families (the Blacks and the Malfoys, respectively), and (like his parents) is incredibly bigoted and entitled because of the fact. One of the primary attributes of both Draco and his parents which have always stood out to me is how incredibly White they are. Blond, blue-eyed, and pale, the three are walking poster children for “Muggle” hate groups such as the Aryan nation and Ku Klux Klan (KKK). While this isn’t noteworthy most of the time, it is an unavoidably uncomfortable piece of information, considering that the Malfoys are advocates for “purity” among the wizarding community, and seek to remove any wizards and witches with non-magical parentage from access to schooling and employment within the wizarding community. Though racial purity isn’t the goal for this genre of purists, their aesthetic coupled with their outspoken bigotry is a reminder to non-magical readers of who they are and what they stand for.
Draco brings this attitude of superiority with him to school, where it is permitted by all and even embraced my most of his Slytherin classmates, but isn’t tolerated by the children of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. Like Dudley, Draco isn’t the least bit concerned with how popular he is and cares more than he is able to assert dominance over a small, core group, namely Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle, whom the series alludes have been lifelong friends of his. Despite this, like many bigoted people who have been sheltered by the company of the like-minded their entire lives, Draco is wildly insecure. In confrontations with Harry, he is clearly jealous of Harry’s popularity. In dealings with Hermione, whom is his (and most of the students’) intellectual superior, he calls her a mud-blood because he deems his presumed advantange in having two magical parents as weapon to be wielded against others. It’s clear early on that Draco keeps Crabbe and Goyle around because he thinks himself better than them as well. Best yet, they never call him out, challenge him, or question him. These “Yes” men are the perfect friends for someone so deeply self-absorbed.
While the beginning of the series hints at Draco’s callous personality, as things progress, we see how vicious he can truly be, rejoicing when the chamber of secrets is opened and terror ripples through Hogwarts. Despite being intelligent, wealthy, and a fairly talented Quidditch player (even if he did bribe his way onto Slytherin’s team), Draco’s bigotry and big mouth not only polarize him, but coupled with his father’s position within the Death Eaters and unintentional hand in the destruction of a horcrux, brings about the unwanted attention of Lord Voldemort as his latest recruit. After Lucius and many other Death Eaters are arrested in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Voldemort and his inner circle take over the Malfoy house, using it as their headquarters and controlling the lives of Draco of his mother entirely.
The Death Eaters are essentially a gang, and like most children raised by gang members and immersed in gang life, neither Draco’s parents, their wealth, or their status can protect him from the wrath of that gang’s leader, or the inherent violence and danger which are membership dues. As is later revealed in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort calls upon Draco to murder Professor Dumbledore, something that he only doesn’t want to do but, given Professor Dumbledore’s age and lifetime of magical experience, a task which Voldemort knows Draco will most likely die trying to accomplish. This book gives us a very different Draco, one who has fallen victim to the very ideas which he espouses, and has become a pawn in the very war which he always hoped for. This Draco is tense, anxious, and terrified. Stuck between two powerful men, with no one to confide in, we see him start to unravel. For the first time in his life, Draco Malfoy was being tested, and failing miserably.
Thankfully, Narcissa Malfoy anticipated her son’s failure and Severus Snape did what he could not, essentially keeping Draco’s hands and conscience clean so that he would not become a killer, and also not be killed by Lord Voldemort. We know that Draco, though far more dangerous than Harry’s cousin could have ever hoped to be, isn’t a killer, which is confirmed when he is alone with a cloaked Harry on the Hogwarts Express in the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but immobilizes and breaks Harry’s nose rather than seize the opportunity to kill him when there are no witnesses present. Later, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he passes up an opportunity to end Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s lives via his aunt, Bellatrix Lestrange, choosing to feign ignorance and spare them in the only way he could. Though Draco had been previously named Slytherin House prefect with Pansy Parkinson, we don’t get much opportunity to witness his intellect until he is called upon to complete this impossible task of assassinating Professor Dumbledore. Though missing his intended target, Draco’s methods proved quite ingenuous, and one can’t help but wonder if he kept failing intentionally.
In the end, like many primary characters in the series, Draco, along with his mother, played a vital hand in keeping Harry alive and thus able to defeat Lord Voldemort. But like most bigots, they don’t change their minds or correct their toxic ideologies until they are faced directly with the danger and destruction which they sought for others. The Malfoy family wanted to be “cleaned” of Muggle-borns, and later bring war to Muggles. But like many agitators, they failed to take into account that there might just be casualties on their own side, within their own family. While it was so very easy to feel sorry for Draco near the end of the Harry Potter series, we never forget, even in his lowest moments, that he is a bigot, and until he was faced with danger, when even his best friends abandon him, and it is his enemies who rescue him from certain death, neither does he.
Draco Malfoy might be one of the most well-written, true to live characters in the Harry Potter series, and most contemporary fiction, for the fact that every single person of colour (PoC) has met a Draco. For us, they are the racist whom, even if less vocal than Draco, fails to see the humanity of people of colour and mixed race individuals until they become of service. This is the person who is now a self-professed “former” racist because a PoC saved their lives, got them out of a tough spot, or was tokenized to the point of being a “friend” or lover. Then and only then can they be bothered to see past their own self-interests, or more accurately, appreciate the utility of PoC in achieving those interests. In the series’ end, Draco is shown as having a tense and brief but cordial interaction with the Potters and Weasleys, but definitely nothing hinting at even a loose acquaintance. Too much damage had been done. While accepted as a member of the wizarding community, Draco isn’t (and shouldn’t be) embraced by them. If this series in general, and Malfoy in particular, teach readers anything, it’s that forgiveness and forgetting do not have to walk hand in hand, and that forgetting the past will always make you vulnerable to reliving it.