Prior to re-reading the Half-Blood Prince, I always saw Draco Malfoy as just a bully to Harry and his friends. This stuck-up, wealthy little kid who thought that he could say whatever he wanted and do whatever he wanted without consequence and that he could use his money and his family’s pure-blood status to get to wherever he wanted in life. But it is also clear, in my opinion, that he solely the product of his upbringing. And that’s especially true in this book.
When we were first introduced to Draco in the Philosopher’s Stone, he greets Harry and announces his stance on wizard blood status. But Draco only believes this because of his family’s history and high position in the Wizarding World. In the Chamber of Secrets, he clearly supports the idea of harming muggle-born wizards and witches and preserving pure-bloods only within the Wizarding community.
However, let us be clear. For however much Draco bullies Harry and however much he supports the oppression of those who are not pureblood, I truly believe that Draco is the kind of person who is mostly talk and not as much action. Had the Second Wizarding War not occurred, I feel that Draco would be content with continuing to spout his opinions and associate with others who shared the same views. He might end up in positions of power, kind of like his father, where he would enforce rules that continued to promote this kind of separation and hand money off to the people who would turn his ideas into physical laws in the Wizarding World.
Like Dumbledore said, Draco is not a murderer. This is the first book that made me truly feel sorry for Draco. He’s not a Death Eater, and I don’t think he would be if he were given the chance. In retrospect, it is never indicated in the books that he has any clear interest in the Dark Arts or wanting to be involved in the Dark forces. I don’t think it’s really in him to be the kind of person to physically harm, murder, or torture people because he truly believes they are lesser and deserve it. It is clear from the beginning of Half-Blood Prince that Voldemort is using Draco to kill Dumbledore as revenge for his father’s failings, and we find out later in the book that if Draco fails he, and maybe his family, too, will be killed.
As much as I tend to dislike Draco as a person, I don’t think I could sit here and say that he deserves what he has been put into in this novel. He is obviously terrified of being in this situation and he is only in that position because his father is a Death Eater. He didn’t willingly volunteer himself to Voldemort- he is just another unwilling pawn in Voldemort’s game.If anything, this reveals more about Voldemort’s character. Voldemort doesn’t care about who he hurts and he doesn’t care about other people’s feelings. He only cares about what he wants for himself and he’s willing to go through any length to ensure that he is successful.
Like Dumbledore said, Voldemort has no friends, only servants, many of whom follow him out of fear as opposed to loyalty. He is independent. He is secretive. He is cunning. He is ruthless. I don’t know how many of the Death Eaters were deluded into thinking that being around Voldemort made them safe. I am sure that after this incident neither Lucius nor Draco were under the false pretense that they were on Voldemort’s good side- where being associated with him meant that they were safe (I don’t think Narcissa was ever really on board, more just going along with the ride). If you fail, there are consequences, and Voldemort doesn’t care if that consequence means your death. He will just find another person to do it for him. I think after this incident, the entire Malfoy family probably cared more about keeping their family together and alive as opposed to caring about Voldemort and his mission.