The Serpentine Perspective: Slytherin War Heroes

Harry Potter Book

This week happens to be a 3 posts week because on the first weekend of the month I will be teaming up with Rory of According to Rory once again on our favourite literary subjects and more. This month, to celebrate the battle of Hogwarts which happened on the 2nd of May 1998, we are looking at the narrative that J.K. Rowling wrote and talking about our Slytherin War Heroes. I will be looking at the redemption story of the Malfoys, in particular Narcissa and Draco because, let’s be honest, Lucius ended up a bit of a loser in this whole thing. The post contains spoilers of the final 3 books in the saga.The well-established prejudice against all Slytherin characters presents the defection of the Malfoys as a last-minute decision done out of fears for their lives, so many of you who are familiar with the story will be thinking “Do they really qualify as war heroes?”. Perhaps not, but I think there is more courage behind their decision than it is implied by the author. Why? Because she has littered clues to what was coming all over the books 5-7, and it seems clear to me that both Narcissa and Draco have reluctantly gone along with the decisions made by the patriarch of the family. If anything, what surprises me is how long they managed to last before turning sides.  

Neither mother or son appears to have a particular ideological attachment to the whole programme that Voldemort was trying to bring to fruition, and they only really seem to be intent on blood purity (which was a minor aspect of the Death Eater’s agenda). Narcissa’s actions have all been driven by her love of her son, and Draco’s actions are mostly an attempt to gain validation in the eyes of his father. When Lucius fell from grace and he had to step up in Voldemort’s ranks, he grew away from the cocky boy of the first few books and showed weaknesses and vulnerabilities. He hesitates to do everything he is given, and his mother probably expects that when she entrusts the result of the biggest mission to Severus Snape.

Going back to the battle of Hogwarts itself, the increasingly uninfluential Draco had his life saved more than once by one of the golden trio, but he also contributed to Harry getting out of the Room of Requirements alive. Yes, he did so because allegedly Voldemort wanted Harry alive, but he stood up to a bloodthirsty Crabbe so was it really just out of fear for the consequences if they had to let Voldemort know Harry had died? It seems a bit cynical, it’s not like Crabbe couldn’t have attacked him as well as Harry. Anyway, later on, it turns out that his cowardice, when tasked to kill Dumbledore, was key to Harry’s ultimate victory. It was him, and not Voldemort, who had the right to control the Elder’s Wand, bringing him to defeat his opponent. While not heroic in his actions during the war, he was indeed a key player in the narrative and this deserves to be recognised.

Narcissa, however, deserves the title of heroine for one simple action that came at a potentially great cost. She lied about Harry being dead to Voldemort. Far from being the action of someone turning to the winning side because scared for her life, it could have resulted in her death if Voldemort had realised what she had done. At that time in the narrative, the war could have ended positively for the Death Eaters, especially if Harry had actually died. He was the one on which all hopes had been put, and the loss of morale alone would have been a huge blow. While, in the end, someone else’s action too (and not Harry’s alone) would be what brings an end to the war, Harry’s death would have likely meant that she was, while having lesser influence than in the past, on the right side of history. To openly defy the master, with so many ready to punish her without any hesitation if she was found out, was an act that required a lot of courage and which simply wanting to save her family may not fully explain. She had no guarantee that she could trust to get out without punishment from the other side, either. I see no material benefit to defecting at that point in the story, and the idea they only did it to save their lives rests on too many assumptions about the magnanimity of the eventual winners.

At the end of the day, only J.K. Rowlings knows the truth of their decision, although many writers will be adamant that their characters are people of their own mind who take the story in directions they never expected, so maybe she doesn’t know either. Still, I think there is more to their switching sides than fear, and either way, their roles in the story seem to have been way more than superficial side villains, so I was happy to comply when Rory suggested this as my prompt for this month. 

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