The son of a long line of wizards, Malfoy is the opposite of Harry in his familiarity with the Hogwarts experience, his sense of entitlement, his snobbery, and his generally unpleasant character. Rowling includes Malfoy in the story partly as a foil to Harry’s character; in seeing how unlikable Malfoy is, we appreciate all the more Harry’s kindness and generosity of spirit. For example, right after Malfoy insults Ron’s poverty on the train ride to Hogwarts, Harry buys double the number of pastries that he needs and shares them with Ron. Malfoy’s snobbish insistence on only socializing with children of the best families, his selfishness, and his overwhelming aura of superiority all resemble similar characteristics in Dudley Dursley, Harry’s nemesis in the Muggle world. The similarity between Malfoy and Dudley is important in reminding us that Harry’s new life will not be an escape from his old problems. Malfoy’s presence throughout the preparatory stages of Harry’s educational adventure is a rude awakening to the realities of the wizards’ world, which includes detestable characters like Malfoy. At Hogwarts, Harry will not be surrounded simply by kindness, but will have to face unpleasantness as well, just as he has earlier in his life.
But Malfoy also plays a somewhat deeper role in the story, at least symbolically. He is mean-spirited and nasty, but there are hints that in time he may become far worse than nasty; he may blossom into a truly evil character like Voldemort. The Latin word draco means “dragon,” and the French words mal and foi mean “bad faith.” We sometimes suspect that Draco Malfoy may indeed be a “bad faith dragon,” a monster of ill will. Perhaps he is a dragon still being incubated, like Hagrid’s baby dragon that will soon grow into a destructive monster. Malfoy belongs to the darkly powerful house of Slytherin, as did Voldemort. His total lack of redeeming features makes him almost as flat a villain as Voldemort. Like Voldemort, Malfoy is not so much a realistic character as a caricature of badness. Of course, we do not know what Malfoy will become in the future. But his presence at Hogwarts reminds us that every generation will have its heroes and its villains, and that the struggle between right and wrong will always continue.