Spoilers: All books released to present (addendum written post-HBP)
I admit that while writing this essay, I experienced a sort of crisis of faith. The closer I looked at the pairing, the less I found my own arguments held up, and it came to the point that I actually asked my friends list to remind me why I believe in this ship. In the end, I'm glad that happened, because if there is one thing it reminded me of, it is that there are so many different ways people come to love and believe in this pairing. Harry/Draco is probably the most widely read and written slash pairing in the Harry Potter fandom, and for this reason I think it is also one of the most difficult to pin down. It is not possible for any one person's interpretation of this ship to satisfy one and all, and I'm not even going to try. What I will try to do is to give a bit of an overview of the various popular interpretations as well as my own, in an attempt to represent all factions as fairly as possible. I'm going to quote and link to several people who are not me in order to facilitate this.
First, let's talk about who these boys are. Harry Potter is The Boy Who Lived, the hero of the wizarding world, though as the series begins he has no idea at all what that means. Loved by many (and reviled by some) for something he had no active part in, he is faced with a destiny that few would willingly choose as he struggles to deal with his own realities: a wretched home life, the violent loss of his parents, his life as a wizard, the realization that everything he'd known before age eleven was a lie. At a very young age, he has known both true sorrow and true darkness, yet he does not have enough capacity for cruelty in him to cast Cruciatus on Bellatrix Lestrange, even to save his own life. He has been abandoned, lied to, laughed at and feared, sometimes even by those who he's loved the most, those who he should be able to trust. Still, he remains true to the best of what both his parents gave him. He has his mother's gift for compassion and his father's disregard for rules. He has uncommon talent in defense against the Dark Arts, and he knows how to love. Of course, as a fan devoted to Harry, I love him as much for his faults as for his strengths. He's often secretive and a poor judge of character. He is stubborn and frequently rash. At times, he fails to appreciate the things he has, as he resents what he does not. He is wonderfully human, and that is why he is so easy for us to love. It is Harry who brought me into the fandom, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this.
Draco Malfoy is in many ways everything Harry is not. He is the pampered only son of wealthy, pureblood parents. He has been raised to be sure of his place in the wizarding world. He is both a coward and a bully, who uses the influence of his money and name to keep his cronies loyal to him. He can't stand up to fear or pain. He has been well schooled in Death Eater ideals, if not so well in how to hide these beliefs. We have never seen compassion on his part, though we've often been witness to his own vulnerabilities. His consuming hatred of both Mudbloods and Harry seems to be fueled by jealousy more than anything else. He is terrified of being humiliated, especially in front of his father. He can't stand to be shown up by Harry, or even worse, Hermione. For me, Draco is interesting because of these vulnerabilities, and because they offer us a glimpse of the person he might have been (and possibly could grow to be one day) without his father's influence. It may have been Harry who brought me to the fandom, but it was Draco who brought me to H/D. Draco has been poisoned by his parents, but he is still so much a child in canon that we really haven't seen who he could be on his own. He, unlike Harry, has not known real sorrow, or even real darkness. The kid's all talk. He has never seen anyone killed (as demonstrated by the fact that he can't see Thestrals), and I very much doubt he's ever met Voldemort, or that he has any real idea of what goes on at Death Eater gatherings. He thinks he'd like Mudbloods to die, and most definitely Harry Potter. He can talk about these things with passion and even real longing. But who he really is has not been tested, and that's where I think most of us who ship Harry/Draco are focusing our energy. We want to know what Draco Malfoy could be. We want him to learn something his parents never did. We want him to be better than he's been taught to be, and we want Harry to see that possibility in him too.
Draco's first opportunity to be something more was actually struck down by Harry himself. Harry's refusal to shake his hand on the train to Hogwarts made certain that he would not benefit from knowing Harry. Of course, it also made certain that the worst parts of Draco would not influence Harry, but we'll never know what might have happened there. Since that time, Draco has been obsessed with Harry. He is obsessed with besting him, obsessed with humiliating him. His desperation to hurt Harry is almost painful to watch. It even works some of the time, mostly by getting Harry angry enough that he does something to hurt himself, such as earning detention or getting banned from Quidditch. Harry seems to forget about Draco whenever he is not presenting a direct aggravation, which only makes Draco's efforts more and more desperate.
This is where the ship gets tricky. It is easy to see where Draco's obsession must lead. What's more difficult is getting Harry to the same place, and yet so many of us are consumed with the need to do so. And so we do. When I asked my friends list for help in this area, they came to me with a number of different theories. Most said that it has to come from Draco. Many classic stories employ this means beautifully, such as Ivy's Origins, in which Draco realizes what his own obsession is really about and he is the one who pursues Harry. As for why Harry would or should respond, some thoughts put forth were Draco is Harry's Jungian shadow, Harry is trying to repair the negative aspects of his childhood, Harry needs someone who does not think he's a hero and Draco is the only person who can really understand him. They were even likened to Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade. A couple of people responded that it doesn't work except in our heads, and if we try to analyze it, it falls apart. And maybe this is so. Maybe this is why I had my own doubts as soon as I was forced to pick it apart. As these people posted to me, however, I found myself jumping up to defend my ship. I think Harry does need someone outside his self-made "family", someone who does not see him as a perfect hero to be worshipped or protected. He needs someone who isn't afraid to face his flaws and to fight him when he's letting those flaws get the better of him.
The most beautiful response I got to my request for help came from Aja. She really put her finger on why many of us are here, and I don't think I could say it as well, so I'm going to quote from her:
To me, what H/D all comes down to is love, the sheer force and strength, faith and hope that is present in love, doing battle with everything else in the world--every circumstance of situation, every toil of war, every personal and societal prejudice and prejudice of background and fate-- that could possibly stand up against it. The more the odds are stacked, from that first non-handshake to "I'll have you" and beyond, the more the thing that H/D is at its core is *vital*. Because when you ship something like this you aren't shipping something that is easy, or superficial (the first mistaken assumption non-shippers make about our ship). You are shipping something that becomes more essential even as it's becoming more difficult. All of the things that make it so difficult for us to imagine H/D after OotPare the things that make it necessary that we should ship Harry/Draco even *more* after OotP, because to ship H/D requires getting to the core of prejudice and personal bias, and turning it into something approaching grace and understanding and compassion.
That's it. That is exactly it for me, and for so many. Something else she addressed briefly is something I'd like to talk about here as well. That is the subject of "redeeming" Draco. A lot of H/D shippers see Draco as a dark character who must be redeemed and brought into the light to be worthy of Harry. This is a popular subject of H/D fanfic, and something that I personally do not subscribe to. I see Draco in canon as a child. He is a bully, yes, and someone who spends a lot of time wishing ill on Harry and others. I agree with that completely. What I don't see is darkness. How can a child who hasn't seen darkness himself possibly have that in him? He's certainly been motivated by selfishness and a desire to prove himself and have power over others (something that ultimately backfired in the case of Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squad). You could say the same of almost any kid who seeks praise from his/her elders. I'm not saying he is a sweet little child. I'm saying that he simply is a child, and not a dark wizard or evil being of any sort. The closest thing he's had to a grown-up moment where he's actually had to deal with something truly awful in his life, is his father being sent to Azkaban at the end of book 5. And I think it is obvious how deeply it affects him, though clearly we don't know the extent of what that might mean for him. I honestly don't see at this point how he needs to be redeemed. Not yet, anyway. He needs to be removed from the hateful influence of his family, certainly, but the kid has never even really hurt anyone. He's tried (sort of), but he's mostly talk. On that topic, Aja said this:
Draco has never been as important to Harry as Harry has always been to Draco, but Draco also has never written Harry off the way Harry writes Draco off. For all the emphasis that is given in H/D fics of the way that writers have to "redeem" Draco, or give his character depth to make him seem more kind, compassionate, human, whatever, all of the *real* impetus on change has to be in Harry. It's Harry who couldn't give a damn about Draco, especially by the end of book 5. It's Harry who has no qualms hexing Draco unconscious and shoving him in a luggage bin to ooze. It's Harry who refuses to take Draco seriously--it's also Harry who repeatedly wields the power he has to humiliate Draco, time and again.
The most violent thing we've ever seen Draco do to Harry was shoot a curse at him over his left ear when his back was turned, and we all know what happened next. If there's anything Draco shows towards Harry in canon it's a tendency towards futile threats and a marked restraint towards actually acting on those threats, no matter how many times Harry actually gets the better of him. If anything, the end of OotP marks a change on Draco's part towards actually *acting*, himself, to avenge his father on Harry. GoF seemed to herald a similar threat on Draco's part, but where, "You'll be next, Mudblood!" is remarkably passive, where "I'll have you" is about the most basically active statement we've ever seen Draco make in canon. It's very significant that it's only *Harry* who can create this emotional investment in Draco. But for Harry Draco has never actually appeared to make a mark.
That said, there is a huge amount of fanfic written with this pairing in which Draco is dark, or being redeeemed from such, and I wouldn't be presenting a very balanced view of the fandom if I ignored this fact. One of my favorite stories when I first started reading HP fanfiction, in fact, was Fearless Diva's Tissue of Silver, which absolutely features "redeemed" Draco, and furthermore, represents one version of the oft-maligned "fanon!Draco" who is brilliant and beautiful and occasionally wears leather trousers. This is not the Draco I write, or the one that I most often read, however, when he's done well (as he is by Fearless Diva), I know few H/D shippers who can resist him. The question of whether fanon!Draco is in character or not is one that I've seen bashed around so often that I doubt I need to mention it to anyone, but I will offer my own opinion. I think that especially in the case of post-Hogwarts fics, there can be a hell of a lot lf leeway in the characterizations of any of the HP kids. They are so young in canon, and people change dramatically between the years of fifteen and twenty-five especially. I think an argument can be successfully made for most adult or older teenaged characterizations that deviate from what we currently see in canon. There are limits to that, of course, but in general I think it is difficult to go too far wrong. I certainly hope nobody would wish to condemn me to my fifteen-year-old self, and I have no reason to do it to these poor souls, who are certainly going to experience levels of drama in their lives during those years that I could not have even dreamed of. There are definitely characterizations that I prefer, and there is a lot of fanfiction out there that isn't what I'm looking for in the pairing, but I find myself hard pressed to say that they are wrong.
One of the questions I was asked when writing this essay was what appeal this pairing has for me as a writer, and I think this is directly related to the appeal it has for me as a reader. One thing I love about this pairing is that it takes work, and that's something I'm drawn to as both a reader and a writer. I want to take everything I've talked about above, all the difficulties and challenges in getting these two boys to realize what they could be together and make it work. This is why I prefer to read about that part of their story. Some shippers prefer reading about them after they're already together. They like them happy and loving and having lots of sex. I have no problem with that idea, but it doesn't hold a lot of interest for me. I'd actually rather read or write a story where they don't manage to get together at all than one where they are together without having to do the work to get there. That is what is hard about writing these two, and that is why I'm writing it. I think one of the greatest misconceptions held by those who are new to the pairing is that it is easy to write H/D fic and make it believable. It really isn't. And those who try to get out of the work end up writing stories that ultimately can't make me believe it. It's been suggested that the reason that so many people write Redeemed!Draco is that they find it easier to bring him to Harry, to make Harry see that he is someone that he could love. While I think Harry does need Draco to not be actively fighting alongside Voldemort to ever truly love him, I think Harry has to make as much of a journey as Draco does in order for the relationship to be balanced, which is yet another challenge.
There is so much I love about writing Harry/Draco. I love both characters more than I can possibly express. I love their dynamic at every point in their relationship. I love their failures and their triumphs, and taking them through both. It is such a challenge to bring them past their childish rivalry, even if the story begins with them as adults, and I love taking them on that journey. One thing I've learned in my own life is that the things that are important to us as children often aren't anymore when we're adults, but that it sometimes requires a real shock to make us realize what things we're holding on to only out of habit and what things actually matter. This is something I've enjoyed working with in this pairing, and I think it has helped me recognize those things more easily for myself.
With that in mind, I think there is a lot that any reader can take away from this ship. I think we all enjoy exploring opposites, and what that really means. I have a theory that everyone's greatest strengths are also their greatest weaknesses, that our best traits are simply the flip side of our worst traits, and that you can't have one without the other. I think anyone exploring this pairing for long enough will find that true of both these characters, and also find it to be a theme in their relationship with each other. What are opposites really but two sides of the same coin? I think it appeals to all of us on that level. Also, it keeps us on our toes. It is as challenging to us as it is to them, and I think readers enjoy having their intellects stretched in this way. And honestly, what kind of relationship could be inherently more passionate than this classic love/hate pairing?
This essay is getting lengthy, so I think I should move on to some links and fic recs. The volume of Harry/Draco fic out there is pretty overwhelming, and there are so many different reasons people have for being in this fandom, from a belief in the sheer force of love to the desire to see two Quidditch players getting it on. I'm going to try to present a range of fic that will satisfy everyone, or at least most everyone. (Newer stories and links added 12/30/05 and 10/21/06)
First of all, the classics. These are a few of the stories that everyone links to when asked what first-time readers of the ship should read. Some of them are beloved by me as well, some less so, but I can't deny their importance to the fandom.
Origins by Ivyblossom
Irresistable Poison by Rhysenn
Transfigurations by Resonant
Love Under Will by Aja (WIP)
Beautiful World by Cinnamon
A Season in Hell/After the Flood by Cassandra Claire
Tissue of Silver by Fearless Diva
Underwater Light by Maya
Red by Weatherby
Left My Heart by Emma Grant
A Thousand Beautiful Things by Duinn Fionn
Invisible to See by Pandarus
To this, I will add a few of my particular favorites:
The Reader by Aja
The Way of the World by zionsstarfish
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by November Snowflake
A Suitable Preparation by TromboneBorges
Anatomy of a Dysfuctional Relationship by Zahra
Your Every Wish by Maya
Worlds Collide by franthephoenix
Waking Your Ghost by Circe
Perspective/Where I Am by ljash
Eclipse by Mijan
Transformation by Amalin
Thin as Thimble by Kay Cricketed
The Properties of Being Lost/The Properties of Voyeurism by Aja
The Shadow of His Wings by Mirabella (WIP)
I also want to link to a few recs from others, as the fandom is so big, and my own taste can't begin to cover it.
Reena's favorite Harrys and Dracos in fanfic
Adela711's Harry/Draco long stories
Emma Grant's Post-Hogwarts Harry/Draco fics
For links to multiple H/D recs pages, see Glacia's Directory of Harry/Draco Rec Lists
Some LiveJournal resources: hd_prophet, armchair_slash, harrydraco, serpentinelion, big_bang_hd, hd_discussion, hd_wiki_project
Aja said: The H/D shipper is someone who allows Harry to give that one moment of full attention to Draco. That is the essence of any H/D fic, whether the moment is expanded to turn into love, whether the moment comes as a result of, or precipitates, lots of soul-searching and changing perceptions, or whether that moment comes as a frenzy of passionate quidditch uniform-ripping sex. Shipping H/D does not have to be about whether you see Draco as a reformed angel of light or a leatherclad bad boy with a dark mark on his arm. Shipping H/D is about stripping prejudice and preconceptions away until you are left with a Harry who is willing to see Draco as Draco wants him to see him.
I'll go a step further and say that the H/D shipper is someone who believes that Harry will see Draco, and that he even must see Draco outside of the boy his parents have tried to create in order to fully win his own battle against darkness. So many H/D shippers have said that the pairing became more difficult after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out, because in that book it became clear that Draco does not matter to Harry at all. That may be true, and that may be what we're all battling here. On the other hand, one of the most significant things in that book to me is the song the Sorting Hat sings that year. It sings that the four houses of Hogwarts must unite or crumble from within. By the end of the book, we've seen students from three of those houses learn to work together for a common goal. The house still left out is Slytherin. I think this is important. I think that Slytherin must be brought into the fold in order for Harry to defeat Voldemort. What better vessel for this than Draco Malfoy, the least likely of all?
We can't know what JK Rowling will do in the next two books, though I don't think any Harry/Draco shipper is suffering under the delusion that our ship will become explicity canon ever. Even if she wanted to do that, her publishers would never allow it. I do think, however, that there is a future for Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, that there is hope for them to live out at least a small part of what we wish for them. The common thread in most of the suggestions I received from other shippers while writing this essay was that in the end it simply boils down to faith. Faith that these boys might become the men we know they can be. If H/D shippers are anything, we are passionate about our ship, and whatever happens in canon, I think we'll be around to see it through.
Many thanks to those who helped me find my way through the writing of this essay, including cheshyre, jenish, spiritkitty, aproposofnothin, ashkitty, xnera, florahart, nothingbutfic, lunacy, oneminutemovies, eliminate, malafede, conversant, and of course, bookshop. You all are among the huge number of thoughtful writers and readers that make this ship so worthwhile.
Since the publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I think it is worth noting that JK Rowling has managed to do much of what we H/D 'shippers have been going on about all this time. She has shown Draco true darkness, and challenged him to his breaking point. She has brought Harry's focus back to Draco, and even let him see Draco at his most vulnerable. I recently wrote that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was my favorite H/D fic of 2005, and this was only slightly in jest. I don't feel the need to edit this essay, because it seems to me only strengthened by HBP. Aja said above, "The H/D shipper is someone who allows Harry to give that one moment of full attention to Draco." JK Rowling has now done that. There is a new wealth of fanfiction being written now, much of which is still in-progress. I hope to add a great deal of it to my recommendations here within the next year. For the moment, I will just say that the 'ship has been given new life by HBP, and we continue on, strengthened in our belief that Harry and Draco must learn to really see each other in order to bring about real victory.