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The Knave of Spades
Some Thoughts about Draco’s Character Development in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
By Yamato


Two of spades: conflict. Seven of spades: an ill omen. Ten of spades: violence. Knave of spades: a dark young man, possibly troubled, one who dislikes the questioner – 1

After reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix I was a little worried that Draco might slowly and gradually fade out of Harry’s (and therefore the reader’s) consciousness. Draco doesn’t really develop much in the first five books of the series; he struts around the castle, insults Harry and his friends, and thinks up ridiculous little plots that are bound to fail most of the time. True, once in a while he does manage to get under Harry’s skin, but fewer and fewer of these moments occur as Harry grows older and has to deal with far more dangerous threats than a schoolboy grudge. By the end of Order of the Phoenix it becomes unmistakably clear that Draco is no match for Harry. If he stays the way he is, he will fade away.

Yet he doesn’t. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince brings completely new aspects to Draco’s character, and a development that comes as a surprise to most readers. We often wondered whether Draco would follow in his father’s footsteps or come round to the good side. We explored the different possibilities thoroughly in our fan fiction; however, most of us never guessed that Draco’s character would have such a prominent role in one of the books, and that J.K. Rowling would give him so much thought and detail after she warned us not to become too attached to him.

This essay follows Draco’s steps throughout Half-Blood Prince and uses Trelawney’s prediction about “The Knave of Spades” as a step-ladder. Trelawney’s forecasts in class may be frauds to impress an audience, but the mutterings about “The Knave of Spades” are only to herself (accidentally overheard by Harry), and we know how much J.K. Rowling likes to give us important information in passing. So I pondered about the meaning of these few sentences and came up with the idea of applying them to Draco.


Two of Spades: Conflict

What has changed Draco so much in such a short time? I think the first step of the ladder was the arrest of his father. Lucius has always played a prominent role in Draco’s life, but now he is gone and the childhood world shatters. Draco can no longer rely on him for support, and he’s used to someone showing him the way. Also, although Lucius raised Draco to be a proud pure-blood, he never seemed to be particularly keen on letting him in on his darker secrets. Throughout the books, Draco shows no particular skills concerning duelling or the Dark Arts; he is easily defeated by Harry and his friends over and over again. Either Lucius doesn’t think Draco capable of mastering the Dark Arts, or he tries to keep him out of “Dark Lord business” to protect him; maybe a mixture of both.

But Lucius is gone now, and here comes Aunt Bellatrix, who takes a far more aggressive view on things:

“I know what you’re doing, I’m not stupid, but it won’t work – I can stop you!”

There was a pause and then Snape said quietly, “Ah … Aunt Bellatrix has been teaching you Occlumency, I see.” 2

Probably Occlumency isn’t the only thing Draco was taught during his summer holidays. The fight with Harry in the bathroom shows he’s made considerable progress in dueling as well. Draco and Harry face each other as equals now while at the end of Order of the Phoenix, Draco didn’t even get his wand out in time. He also received some training in the Unforgivables; we don’t know whether he himself put the Imperius Curse on Rosmerta, but he sure tries to use Cruciatus against Harry in the middle of their duel. That’s a lot of magical achievement in such a short time; it appears Bella has worked him day and night to improve his skills. The days of the pampered little prince are finally over.

At first, Draco seems to welcome his chance to prove himself and to finally play with the big guys. He is important now; he’s a man with a mission:

“I will say this for Draco: he isn’t shrinking away from his duty, he seems glad of a chance to prove himself, excited at the prospect –”

[…] “That’s because he is sixteen and has no idea what lies in store!” 3

Draco boasts about his mission on the Hogwarts Express, although he almost certainly knows an enemy is present and listening to every word he says. Is he really as confident as he seems? Or does he secretly hope that Harry will talk to Dumbledore about what he overheard and that the Headmaster will put a stop to it? Or is he still so innocent that he thinks what he’s about to do is no different from the school pranks he used to plot? I imagine he has killed Harry, Ron and Hermione a hundred times over in his daydreams.

We don’t know, but Draco will soon find out that his mission is not as easy as he thought it would be and what lies ahead, if he should fail.


Seven of Spades: An Ill Omen

Being in the service of the Dark Lord is not a game like shouting out insults to Muggle-borns and trying to cheat at Quidditch. Slowly, Draco realizes that he has maybe bitten off more than he can chew. The pressure on him increases as he tries to set his plan in motion and things don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.

This brings up one question that is being thoroughly discussed in the fandom: is Draco branded with the Dark Mark or not? I think the evidence points towards yes in this matter.

“Perhaps this will make you more confident.”

He moved towards Borgin and was blocked from view by the cabinet. Harry, Ron and Hermione shuffled sideways to try and keep him in sight, but all they could see was Borgin, looking very frightened.

“Tell anyone,” said Malfoy, “and there will be retribution. You know Fenrir Greyback?” 4

There’s another scene at Madam Malkin’s shop, only a few pages earlier where Draco flinches when Madam Malkin touches his left arm as she pins his new robes. Possibly the Mark is still fresh and the arm hurts; after all Draco would have received it only a short while ago.

A possible counter theory might be that Draco has a fresh bite on his arm, because he was turned into a werewolf by Fenrir Greyback who likes to “bite them young.” 5 Also, Draco shows some of the signs Remus showed during third year; he disappears at certain intervals and looks ill.

Harry stared at Malfoy. It was not the sucking up that intrigued him; he had watched Malfoy do that to Snape for a long time. It was the fact that Malfoy did, after all, look a little ill. This was the first time he had seen Malfoy close up for ages; he now saw that Malfoy had dark shadows under his eyes and a distinctly greyish tinge to his skin.6

I think the Dark Mark theory is the more plausible one of the two, Werewolf!Draco being too much of a fanfiction creation. The shadows under Draco’s eyes and his greyish skin probably derive from a mixture of fear, lack of sleep, and much, much brooding over the broken cabinet. When school first started he neglected his studies, his prefect duties, Quidditch and his usual taunts of Harry because he believed he was moving on to bigger and better things, but by this point, he has realized that his old life is gone and there is no returning to it.

He grows ever more desperate as time passes and he still doesn’t achieve his goal. How does Voldemort manage to increase pressure on him? At Hogwarts, Draco is relatively safe from physical attack; the Dark Lord wouldn’t need him if he could enter the castle on his own. The Dark Mark, however, would give him special powers over Draco. He could control him, perhaps even kill him from afar. Although he can’t use it to make Draco Apparate to his side, we don’t know how many other uses the Dark Mark has.

“I can’t do it … I can’t … it won’t work … and unless I do it soon … he says he’ll kill me.” 7

This certainly sounds like Voldemort does have the power to kill Draco at Hogwarts and the Dark Mark could possibly give him such power. But while Draco is worried about losing his life for his failure, the reader, remembering Narcissa’s words from the second chapter, wonders if he was meant to succeed in the first place.

“Then I am right, he has chosen Draco in revenge!” choked Narcissa. “He does not mean him to succeed, he wants him to be killed trying!” 8


Ten of Spades: Violence

Draco is no stranger to violence. During his first five school years he enjoys insulting, bullying and hexing other students. He also shows considerable glee at the prospect of Muggle-born students getting killed by the basilisk.

“But I know one thing: last time the Chamber of Secrets was opened, a Mudblood died. So I bet it’s a matter of time before one of them’s killed this time … I hope it’s Granger,” he said with relish.9

At first, it seems that actually killing another person does not pose much of a problem for Draco. According to Bellatrix’s words, he is excited about the mission the Dark Lord has given him and he is eager to prove himself. He intends to kill Dumbledore, although he does not think he can do the task alone. So, he plans to open Hogwarts to the Death Eaters in order to have some back-up.

But as he continues to fail to repair the cabinet, Draco thinks up several plans to kill Dumbledore himself and soon finds out that killing is a very different thing from talking about killing. He still carries on with his plan despite all the pressure, rejects Snape’s repeated offers of help, and tries to smuggle a cursed locket and a poisoned drink into Hogwarts, which almost kill two of the students.

In both cases, it’s sheer dumb luck that Draco does not become responsible for another’s death; it’s difficult for me to understand that Dumbledore, who cherishes his students above all else, still counts him among the innocent. Draco does not kill anybody face-to-face, but he does risk other students’ lives to achieve his goal and Dumbledore lets it happen. And I wonder, would Harry still feel pity for Draco, if Ron hadn’t survived the poisoned mead?

However, there’s another side to this:

And Harry realised, with a shock so huge it seemed to root him to the spot, that Malfoy was crying – actually crying – tears streaming down his pale face into the grimy basin.10

So Draco secretly withdraws to the bathroom to cry whenever the pressure becomes overwhelming. This is viewed by many fans as proof of his softer side, but we shouldn’t forget that he has cried several times when he has been hurt (just remember Buckbeak and the ferret episode). Also, we don’t know if his tears truly have something to do with remorse, or if it’s simply the fear for his own life that prompts them.

What is remarkable, however, is that he does not use his tears for personal gain this time; he hides them from everyone and this is a clear sign of true emotion. He finally realizes what he has gotten himself into.

And as the battle of Hogwarts takes place, Draco for the first time is truly confronted with death. He stumbles over Bill’s unconscious body (believing him dead) and proceeds to find Dumbledore. He achieved the goal of his mission despite all the obstacles in his way, but now he isn’t able to take the final step. Draco may be a lot of things, but he isn’t a killer after all, at least not face-to-face. He even starts to feel remorse for letting the Death Eaters into the school, after he realizes what Fenrir’s presence means for the children, and he still can’t carry it through. He looks into Dumbledore’s eyes and just can’t do it.

He’s reached a true turning point in his life and as Dumbledore offers him help, he’s ready to take it, ready to turn his back on his past and come over to the side of good. This is the first time we actually see a redeemed Draco in canon, and his story is told skillfully, believably, and above all, heartbreakingly.

Because the sad thing is that Draco never gets his chance.


Knave of Spades: A Dark Young Man, Possibly Troubled, One Who Dislikes the Questioner

In Tarot, the Knave of Spades (also known as Knave of Swords, Blades, Leaves, or Feathers) stands for inner conflict, a quarrel between old and new ideas inside a person’s soul. The new ideas often come from an outside source, an opportunity, another path you could take in life. In my opinion, this is a symbolic description for Draco’s development in Half-Blood Prince so Sybill Trelawney could well be talking about Draco with these lines.

Since the sword is traditionally a Gryffindor symbol in the Potterverse, I also tried to apply Trelawney’s words to Harry, but this theory didn’t seem to fit as well as it does for Draco. Draco is a dark young man, he is troubled, and as for the questioner, there could be several possibilities. My first guess was Voldemort, since he set Draco out to do the task, but the phrase could also refer to Snape or Dumbledore. Both try to influence Draco’s life during the story; both try to show him another path. But in the very same moment that Draco lowers his wand and considers Dumbledore’s path, this opportunity is taken away from him.

Dumbledore is gone and Draco is once again with the Death Eaters. It is possible that Dumbledore’s words have stirred something within Draco’s heart and that he reconsiders his decision to join the Dark Lord. But how can he set those ideas in motion? Even if he did decide to become one of the good guys, where would he turn? The Ministry? His crimes are enough to earn him a life sentence in Azkaban; he can expect no help from people like Rufus Scrimgeour. The Order of the Phoenix? He doesn’t know them very well, let alone trust them. Would they simply forgive him everything and take him in with open arms? After he brought Death Eaters into the school, endangered the life of all the students and is partly responsible for Dumbledore’s death? It’s not very likely.

He could run, of course, and last a few days like Regulus Black did. But Draco was never one to willingly sacrifice his life for a noble cause, and he would also endanger the lives of his parents by an action such as this.

Severus and Narcissa will certainly do everything in their power to protect Draco, but that power is limited. Draco wouldn’t want his mother to get involved, wouldn’t want her to get killed. As for Severus, he can try to protect Draco’s life, but it’s not sure whether he can help Draco turn away from Voldemort. For one thing, he cannot try to win Draco over with arguments, because this would mean blowing his cover and he can’t do that, not after all his sacrifices. Revealing his true identity to Draco is a risk he simply can’t take. What if Draco turns him in, and it was all for nothing?

If Severus tries to save Draco he must be very subtle about it. He could ask Voldemort to be given the responsibility for the boy and then try to assign him tasks that keep him out of battle, and also try to keep him from committing more crimes. Yet, that plan is not very likely to work. For one thing, it will lead to a conflict with Bellatrix, who, of course, would want Draco back under her wing. For now, Bellatrix is likely to suffer defeat, because Severus’s status with the Dark Lord is much better than hers, especially after Dumbledore’s murder. But that’s no guarantee that Severus would be granted his request. Voldemort is quite moody about such things. And the question remains as to what he himself has planned for Draco. Will he allow Draco to be kept out of battle?

Actually, I don’t think this is the case. On one hand Draco has proven very valuable to Voldemort, maybe valuable enough to be considered for his inner circle. He alone managed to find a way to let the Death Eaters into the castle, something that even Voldemort himself has never achieved. He, a boy of seventeen, and not even a fully-trained wizard managed to carry out his assigned task while many of the Dark Lord’s best men were thwarted by teenagers and failed.

With his clever mind and ability to work well under pressure, Draco is certainly an acquisition. But he has one huge weakness in Voldemort’s eyes, and that weakness is his inability to kill. To make him a useful servant, this weakness needs to be removed and Voldemort will see that it’s done. Either he will train Draco himself or he will delegate the task to one of his people, most likely Severus or Bellatrix. And while Severus might try to keep Draco away from killing, the Dark Lord will want to see results. And again it’s Severus’s cover at stake.

Everything points to the same conclusion: if Jo doesn’t come up with another brilliant piece of plot (which I hope she does), Draco will stay with the Dark Lord. He will receive more lessons from Aunt Bellatrix, he will follow his master’s orders, and with the constant threat to his life and family, he will finally lose the last bit of his innocence and learn to kill.

Harry did not believe that Malfoy would have killed Dumbledore. He despised Malfoy still for his infatuation with the Dark Arts, but now the tiniest drop of pity mingled with his dislike. Where, Harry wondered, was Malfoy now, and what was Voldemort making him do under the threat of killing him and his parents?11

When Harry meets Draco again in the last book of the series, he will probably have to face a full-fledged Death Eater.

Notes

1. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 185.

2.Ibid., 302.

3. Ibid., 38.

4. Ibid., 121.

5. Ibid., 314.

6. Ibid., 301.

7. Ibid., 488.

8. Ibid., 39.

9. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 167.

10. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 488.

11.Ibid., 596.


Bibliography

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.

———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.


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