Snakes on a Train

Rather than deal with Draco Malfoy in short spurts, I’ve carved out a little bit of space where we can talk a bit more expansively about our snaky Slytherin’s pre-Hogwarts encounters with Harry Potter.

I mentioned in Beyond the Leaky Cauldron that Draco is “a bit of a blood-prejudiced prat (and more than a little like Dudley Dursley)” – to which arithmancer replied:

I had some sympathy for Draco from the start. To me it seemed clear his approach to Harry in the robe shop was friendly. Since he did not know Harry’s mother was Muggleborn, or Hagrid was his first wizard friend, the things he said were, while revealing of the prejudices he had obviously already acquired, not intended to put off Harry in any way. He was just trying to start up a conversation with another boy who would be going to Hogwarts.

Okay. She’s got a point. The conversation in Madam Malkin’s opens with the pale, pointy-faced boy’s “Hello. Hogwarts too?” and continues with the boy rattling on about racing brooms, Quidditch, school Houses, Hagrid, and Wizarding blood. Draco (the boy) is not, at any point, intending to put Harry off. He’s just carrying on what he considers to be light conversation. The problem lies in what Draco considers to be light conversation.

As arithmancer mentions, Draco’s conversation shows the “prejudices he had obviously already acquired.” We don’t know it yet, but the parents Draco mentions (the father who is buying his books and the mother who is looking at wands) both come from wealthy pureblood families – the Malfoys and the Blacks.

Though not all purebloods engage in blood prejudice (witness the Weasleys!), both the Malfoy and Black families boast long lines of blood supremacy ideologues with long histories of despising Muggles and Muggle-borns. In fact, in Dumbledore’s notes to Beedle the Bard we find that Brutus Malfoy, one of Lucius’ ancestors, edited an anti-Muggle periodical dating back at least to 1675, when Brutus wrote:

This we may state with certainty: Any wizard who shows fondness for the society of Muggles is of low intelligence, with magic so feeble and pitiful that he can only feel himself superior if surrounded by Muggle pig-men.

Nothing is a surer sign of weak magic than a weakness for non-magical company.

In addition to inheriting a most virulent strain of blood prejudice from his ancestors, Draco’s father is an impenitent Death Eater who continues to practice Dark Magic in secret. Draco, in other words, starts from a deficit of character and empathy – despite his family wealth.

Inside Madam Malkin’s

In his first discussion with Harry Potter, here are some of the ways Draco manages not to win friends and influence people:

On the question of racing brooms:
“I don’t see why first years can’t have their own. I think I’ll bully father into getting me one and I’ll smuggle it in somehow.”

On the question of playing Quidditch:
“I [play] – Father says it’s a crime if I’m not picked to play for my house, and I must say, I agree.”

On the question of school Houses:
“Imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?”

On the question of Hagrid:
“Oh… I’ve heard of him. He’s sort of a servant, isn’t he?…. I heard he’s sort of savage – lives in a hut on the school grounds and every now and then he gets drunk, tries to do magic, and ends up setting fire to his bed.”

On the question of Harry’s parents being dead:
“Oh, sorry,” said [Draco], not sounding sorry at all. “But they were our kind, weren’t they?”

On the question of Muggle-borns:
“I really don’t think they should let the other sort in, do you? They’re just not the same, they’ve never been brought up to know our ways. Some of them have never even heard of Hogwarts until they get the letter, imagine. I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families. What’s your surname, anyway?”

Does Draco have any clue at all on how to make friends with strangers?

As arithmancer pointed out, none of this is intended to be rude. But much of it is rude. And what’s not rude is often disturbing.

From the moment Draco brags about bullying his father and smuggling in a broom, Harry is reminded of Dudley, and that is emphatically not a good thing. Draco is full of himself, bragging about his Quidditch-playing ability, emphasizing his social superiority over those he deems servants, expressly showing a lack of empathy over the fact the boy he’s speaking with is orphaned, and (of course) demonstrating the blood prejudice that he has absorbed from his parents – all without bothering once to find out the actual views of the boy he’s talking with, or anything else about the boy. Had he bothered, he might have had a better idea about how to proceed, but Draco just starts talking. Only when he realizes that he needs to find out whether or not this boy is from one of the old Wizarding families does he bother to ask Harry for any relevant information about himself.

Now, it’s not really possible to determine whether his narcissistic behavior is an innate character flaw or a sort of self-absorption that he has had ingrained in him as a result of his upbringing. But regardless, Harry is hardly impressed.

On the Hogwarts Express

Things get worse, though, on the Hogwarts Express – so bad, in fact, that by the time Harry puts the Sorting Hat on his head, he is begging to be put into any House besides Draco’s.

It all starts when Draco comes into the famous Harry Potter’s compartment and (in excellent Slughorn style!) starts trying to “collect” him, perhaps even bask a little in Harry’s reflected glory. But in a remark aimed precisely at Ron Weasley, Draco makes his fatal mistake… if he wishes to create a positive impression on the famous boy:

“You’ll soon find some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.”

Oh, the arrogance! The unutterable arrogance! Harry has spent the last several hours forming a bond with Ron Weasly. What could possess young Malfoy to think that Harry would favor Draco over this new friend?

Perhaps we could say, charitably, that Draco is still something of an extension of his parents. He is only 11. He has not really reached an age where kids start to separate their own beliefs from their parents’ beliefs. But when Harry rebuffs the offer, this young extension of parental prejudice gives a positively chilling reply:

“I’d be careful if I were you, Potter,” he said slowly. “Unless you’re a bit politer, you’ll go the same way as your parents. They didn’t know what was good for them, either. You hang around with riffraff like the Weasleys and that Hagrid, and it’ll rub off on you.”

You have just been introduced to a Death Eater perspective of James’ and Lily’s deaths. Significantly, Draco is accompanied by foils Crabbe and Goyle (both sons of Death Eaters), who will go with him into Slytherin – the House that has had a blood prejudice bent since Salazar Slytherin left a Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, the House that has become Death Eater Central since Voldemort began to raise an army.

By filling their son with such venom, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy have inflicted  damage on this “unfortunate boy” as appalling as any of the damage Dumbledore later sees in Dudley.

Yet just as there is hope for Dudley, there is hope for Draco. The wand that chose “the poor Malfoy boy” has a unicorn hair core. Somewhere deep down, there is still a core of innocence and purity in Draco, despite external appearances. We shall see if he fulfills that promise.