Draco Malfoy is a brat. He’s been a brat ever since he first showed up in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and presumably he’s still a brat today. Were it not for the fact that he carries a wand and can curse people, he’d be at home in every schoolyard on the planet, basking in the glow of knowing that he was both disliked and feared by most who crossed his path.
Brats are allowed to be brats because there are no consequences for their actions. If they have a problem with a teacher, mom or dad calls the school and it soon becomes the teacher’s problem. If they don’t make first-string on the Quidditch team, daddy pulls some strings and makes a donation, and suddenly there’s an opening at seeker. They get what they want, and anyone who stands in their path deserves no more sympathy than Snape shows to Gryffindor.
While nobody likes a brat, they are more annoying than dangerous, because there is a line that they do not cross. They will get you detention or suspended from school, but not expelled. If you get expelled, they lose their power over you, which defeats the purpose of brattiness. It’s hard to lord status over someone who isn’t there.
Malfoy grows up
For the first five books and movies of the Harry Potter franchise, that’s all Malfoy, played by Tom Felton, is, which makes him nothing more than the stock bully and therefore boring. He is irritatingly ineffective even in the petty mischief he tries to inflict. While he’s of great importance to the students at Hogwarts, the universe of Harry Potter fans can safely dismiss him as a storybook villain like in every other book of young adult fiction on the shelves.
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That all changes in “Half-Blood Prince,” because it’s the book where Malfoy has to start growing up. By losing some of the protections that give him his sense of confidence at the same time he’s given the most challenging assignment possible, Malfoy becomes at once more dangerous and more sympathetic. Where before he was the little snot that everyone wanted to practice their Cruciatus Curses on, now he’s bitten off more than he can chew, and more than he really wants to.
That makes him more dangerous in the Potter universe, but also more compelling in this one.
“Half-Blood Prince” is Malfoy’s coming out party, and at a great time. By this point, Harry and his friends are at their most boring point of the series. Yeah, yeah, they’re doing good and fighting evil, and falling in love, and … zzzzz. It’s easy to guess what they’ll be doing at any given time — whatever is good and heroic.
But for Malfoy, this is a new era that’s both exciting and scary due to changing circumstances. Unlike Harry, Malfoy has spent the first five books, and indeed his entire life, protected by those who are close to him. Malfoy Manor may not have been Club Med, but with mom and dad around to guide him and house elves to pick up his messes, he had it a lot better than Potter living under the Dursley stairs.
At Hogwarts, he’s had his influential father always ready to step in, plus Snape to make sure he avoids any serious harm. As long as he doesn’t actually break out the Avada Kedavra on a fellow student, the worst punishment he faces is the occasional detention and points taken from his House.
Pushed into a corner
But “Half-Blood Prince” finds Malfoy in a different light. His father is in Azkaban. Voldemort has given Malfoy a terrible mission that has little chance of success. And Malfoy no longer trusts Snape, leaving him alone except for his two loser friends Crabbe and Goyle, who mostly get in the way.
Now, instead of being just a brat, Malfoy is a teenager trying to decide what and who he wants to be. Nobody understands him, all the adults are getting up in his business, an uninvited werewolf is crashing his Hogwarts party, and his homework is to kill the headmaster. He even has to bail on the Quidditch team because of that stupid after-school job.
His initial response is to look for the easiest and most passive way of accomplishing the job. He sets plots in motion but relies on others to actually deliver the goods, with predictably poor results. When it becomes clear that he might actually have to do the assigned work, he withdraws into his room (well, the Room of Requirement) and mopes. Anyone with a teenager in the family will find this a distressingly familiar routine.
Finally, he has to do the un-brat like measure of growing up. It’s the moment where the light bulb goes on and he realizes that, wait a minute, bad guys actually kill people, not just make slugs come out of their mouths or pick on the unpopular kids. And he doesn’t expect anyone to be there to bail him out, so for the first time we see the weight on his shoulders that Harry has carried for his entire life.
Sure, he still has bratty tendencies. But as the premiere date for “Half-Blood Prince” looms, for the first time his character is actually worth watching.
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