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In defence of Narcissa Malfoy

Narcissa Malfoy: was she really as bad as her husband, or simply a mother and a wife doing what she needed to survive?

Narcissa at Spinners End
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Narcissa Malfoy certainly wasn’t good; she fell in with a bad crowd, she was haughty, cold and not afraid to be cruel. But she wasn’t all bad either. Her love for Draco was very much her saving grace, and the thing that saved Harry from Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, no less.

A Malfoy through and through

Regardless of Narcissa’s more moral moments, she was a Malfoy through and through. Born into a pure-blood line, it’s clear that Narcissa was brought up to believe in magic over Muggles.

Like her husband Lucius, she clearly believed that Muggle-born wizards were inferior to pure-blood ones, even disowning her sister Andromeda for marrying one. While these beliefs would always go against what Harry and his friends believed in, Narcissa was a part of the Voldemort entourage during the Dark Lord’s final months. Although she was never a Death Eater.

Nonetheless, she certainly followed in Lucius’s footsteps when it came to Harry. Indeed, she ultimately held him and his friends responsible for her husband’s capture and incarceration. In fact, Narcissa disliked Harry, Ron and Hermione so much that when they met in Madam Malkin’s she called them ‘scum’ and threatened Harry with being ‘reunited with dear Sirius’ following his death in the Ministry of Magic. Okay, so not exactly an endearing character so far…

A family photo of Lucius Narcissa Draco and Bellatrix
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

Allegiance

However, it became very obvious throughout the story that Narcissa’s true allegiance was to her family, especially her son. Even if it meant defying Lord Voldemort.

Narcissa might have been part of Voldemort’s inner circle, but only by default. Her husband, sister and brother-in-law were all Death Eaters, as was her cousin Regulus Black but, as far as we know, she never took the Dark Mark herself. She was one of the quieter supporters of the Dark Lord, always by Lucius’s side yet rarely in the middle of the action. In fact, she showed on more than one occasion that she would happily betray Voldemort to save Draco.

With Lucius locked up in Azkaban and the Malfoy name fallen from grace, Draco was given an important mission by Voldemort: to kill Albus Dumbledore. Narcissa knew full well that this ‘honour’ had not been bestowed on Draco as a reward but rather as a punishment for his father’s failure. Narcissa transformed from ice-queen to panicked, protective mother. When Draco was threatened she became ruthless, desperate, and determined to do anything to save her son - even if that meant revealing information about Voldemort’s secret mission.

Bellatrix bonds Narcissa and Snape in an unbreakable vow.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Fortunately for Narcissa, when she and Bella arrived at Spinners End, it transpired that Severus Snape was fully aware of the plan and was willing to aid Draco in his mission. Bellatrix could not understand her sister’s devastation at Voldemort’s instructions - in her mind, it was a great honour. If she had sons, she claimed, she would have been glad to sacrifice them to the Dark Lord’s will. Narcissa’s love for Draco however, triumphed her fear of Voldemort. She pleaded with Snape – the most unfettered emotion we ever saw her display – to make an Unbreakable Vow with her, thereby ensuring Draco’s safety.

Narcissa’s greatest moment however was when she chose to betray Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Not knowing whether Draco was alive or dead, Narcissa chose to lie to the Dark Lord rather than risk losing her son. When Voldemort asked her to check if Harry was dead and she realised he was, in fact, still breathing, Narcissa seized her opportunity. Harry revealed that Draco was still very much alive, and she lied to her master in order to get closer to him.

Narcissa may have concealed the truth from Voldemort to save her son, but she inadvertently helped Harry to victory in doing so.

Narcissa checking if Harry is dead
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Strength

Narcissa’s husband Lucius was a Death Eater, an egotist and a man who seemed to rule the Malfoy household with an iron fist. However, when things took a turn for the worst after his imprisonment, it was Narcissa who took the reins.

You might think that the Malfoy family would have been honoured when Voldemort chose their Manor as his headquarters – but neither Narcissa nor Lucius seemed very happy about it, especially when Voldemort demanded Lucius hand over his wand as well. Lucius hesitated and it was Narcissa he looked to for guidance.

Malfoy glanced sideways at his wife. She was staring straight ahead, quite as pale as he was, her long, blonde hair hanging down her back, but beneath the table her slim fingers closed briefly on his wrist. At her touch, Malfoy put his hand into his robes, withdrew a wand and passed it along to Voldemort.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

It was not only Lucius who sought help from Narcissa - Draco too looked to his mother for guidance.

‘Draco looked in terror at his father, who was staring down into his own lap, then caught his mother’s eye. She shook her head almost imperceptibly, then resumed her own deadpan stare at the opposite wall.’
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Draco and Narcissa face each other
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

Narcissa may have been many things; she was cruel and distant and happy to watch her family return to Lord Voldemort’s side as he rose again, but she was also self-sacrificing; she loved her son and her husband and she thought nothing of putting herself in danger to protect them.

Most of Narcissa’s actions can be traced to her desire to protect her family at all costs. How different is Narcissa Malfoy to Molly Weasley or Lily Potter? In the end, she put love first. Although she wasn't an obvious hero, she did the right thing in the moment that mattered most.

Each month Pottermore will try to defend the more… questionable characters from the Harry Potter stories. Come back next month when we make the case for Gilderoy Lockhart.