In the world of Harry Potter, Lilly Potter reigns as a kind of patron saint to the powerful magic of love. The whole story of Harry Potter begins on the night of Voldemort’s first demise, when it is uncovered that Lilly Potter, in a fit of motherly love, cast herself between Voldemort and her son, attempting to save Harry’s life by losing her own. It is the ultimate sacrifice, something she willingly and selflessly does. In so sacrificing herself, she triggers an ancient magic of protection for Harry, that effectively keeps him safe and hidden from evil forces for nearly fourteen years. Everyone that recalls Lilly remembers her beauty and charm, her intelligence and magical ability, and above all, her eyes. They remember her sacrifice and how it heralded the end of Voldemort’s first reign. Even though she died in her attempt to save her son, she gave him protection that led to Harry’s nickname, “the boy who lived.” Lilly is, to the wizarding world, the ultimate figure of a mother, sacrificial, loving, and perfect. However, she is not the only mother who gives away everything, including her own life, for her son’s safety. There is another mother in the books who mirrors Lilly’s actions, sacrificing herself for her son, and in so doing not only providing protection for her son, but also bringing about the second demise of Voldemort. This mother, though, is often passed over because of the unfortunate company she keeps, and the difficult beliefs she struggles with throughout the story. This mother, of course, is the formidable figure of Narcissa Malfoy.
Narcissa Malfoy is a minor character in the story of Harry Potter. She is mentioned in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, though not by name, and introduced in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where she accompanies her family to the Quidditch World Cup. She is described as tall and pretty, although she is prone to act haughty in the company of those who are not pure-bloods. Narcissa comes from the Black family, and a strong heritage of privilege and extreme interest in bloodlines. Her character builds slowly through the books, always in connection with her son and antagonist Draco, until she is suddenly thrust in the spotlight in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Here she commands an entire chapter pleading to Severus Snape for Draco’s life, and sets in motion what would ultimately be called by Harry the “flaw in Dumbledore’s plan.” In a further attempt to redeem Narcissa’s character, it is worth noting that, although she sympathized with the death eaters and Voldemort’s program and beliefs, we are never told that she herself is a death eater, nor are we told that she ever accepted the Dark Mark on her forearm. In fact, we often see her lurking in the background when dark plans are being created, as if there unwillingly. And up until Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the only things we know about Narcissa come through Harry’s obviously biased commentary, making her out to be the enemy simply because she birthed Draco.
Narcissa, however, is not simply a throwaway character representing old bloodlines and bigoted rhetoric. She is, in some ways, a mirror of Lilly Potter. Narcissa is a mother who desperately loves her son. In fact, her character is only ever developed in direct relation to Draco, just as Lilly’s character is, for most of the story, only developed in relation to her love of Harry. Narcissa’s entire world revolves around Draco, increasingly so as Voldemort focuses in on the Malfoys, forcing them into more and more dangerous situations, testing their loyalty. Narcissa becomes obsessed with Draco’s safety and works a web of deceit to try and protect her only son. Unfortunately for her, and for Draco, the sins of the father are often visited upon the children, and Draco cannot escape the wrathful cunning of Voldemort’s disdain.
The Malfoy’s play a dangerous game through the first five books in the Harry Potter series, trying to be close to Voldemort without giving total allegiance to his cause. However, this finally catches up with Lucius, and as a punishment, Voldemort gives Draco an absurdly impossible task: kill Dumbledore, the most powerful wizard of the age, the only one Voldemort ever feared. It is at this point that we see Narcissa truly, not as Harry sees her (the snobbish mother of his adolescent enemy), but as the mother she truly is. In utter desperation, ready to sacrifice everything, even her own safety and life, she rushes to Snape’s mercy, pleading for him to intervene and save Draco’s life. She is reckless in her grief, offering confidential information, ready to thwart Voldemort’s plans at the last second. Her despair even causes her to turn on her sister, knowing full well how dangerous this could be. This becomes more pronounced by the information we receive in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, where we discover that Bellatrix Lestrange was Voldemort’s lover. By going to Snape with this information, Narcissa has effectively sacrificed her life. As Voldemort’s right-hand man, Snape is in the position to out Narcissa, kill her as a traitor, and plunder her family. By going to Snape, Narcissa’s life is forfeit.
Narcissa pleads with Snape for the life of her child (does Snape catch the irony of the fact that he was once pleading for a life threatened by Voldemort?), and demands from Snape the ultimate sacrifice, that, failing his task, Snape should kill Dumbledore. Her love for her son is not as selfless as Lilly’s love, which drove her to stand before Voldemort herself, but it is no less sacrificial. Narcissa gives away everything to protect her son. Of course, her plan was both successful and disastrous at the same time. Draco’s life was spared, and his soul remained whole, perhaps because of Narcissa’s Unbreakable Bond cast with Snape. However, the bond between Dumbledore and Snape was stronger, and the resulting circumstances of Draco’s life could hardly be said to have any quality to them. Still, Narcissa’s efforts helped secure the life of her child. And Voldemort’s plans were nearly subverted by another mother’s love for her son.
However, Voldemort never learns from his mistakes, and as Dumbledore said, he does not consider those things which he assumes to have no value. He has proved many times before that he does not understand the true power of love. And so, he himself makes the same fatal flaw a second time, and so brings about his second defeat. When he believes Harry Potter is dead in the forest, slain by his wand, Voldemort sends Narcissa to check on Harry’s condition. He should have known about Narcissa’s deepest desire to save her son from harm. He should have recognized that he lost the Malfoy’s allegiance the moment he summoned Draco and gave him a suicide mission. Just as Snape gave Voldemort up to protect his love, just as Lilly Potter gave herself up to protect her love, so Narcissa gives Voldemort up to save her son. Love, it seems, is the most powerful magic after all.
Narcissa approaches Harry, laying on the forest floor, and clutches his heart. She knows he is alive instantly, beyond a doubt. But she does not care. She is not considering Voldemort, his army, or his plans. She does not consider Harry and the struggle of good and evil that has raged throughout the night. No, Narcissa Malfoy asks Harry the simplest question: “Is my son alive?” And as Harry imperceptibly nods his head, Narcissa slips out of Voldemort’s grasp forever. She feeds him a lie, knowing it will get her into the castle, and closer to her son. In one fell swoop she forfeits her life and the plans she has been a part of for nearly twenty years in order to search for her son. Voldemort, underestimating love, fails to see the deception. But Narcissa, knowing Voldemort perfectly, weaponizes her love and coerces Voldemort into a false sense of security. Blinded by a mother’s love, Voldemort acts recklessly, and in so doing, suffers his final defeat.
Just as Lilly’s love protected Harry, causing Voldemort’s curse to rebound on himself, so Narcissa’s love for Draco protected him, causing Voldemort to trust in his tenuous victory. Lilly’s love for Harry brought about Voldemort’s first downfall. Narcissa’s love for Draco brought about Voldemort’s second downfall. Both mothers, in their upmost moment of need and despair, turned not to traditional magic for protection. Both were accomplished witches, capable of formidable magic. Yet both confronted Voldemort while wandless, and defeated his darkest magic through love. Lilly’s love and protection kept Voldemort away from Harry for fourteen years. Narcissa’s love for Draco worked in reverse, lowering Voldemort’s defenses and making him and his snake vulnerable to attack.
Not only were both mothers wandless when they confronted Voldemort, choosing love over magic, in their moment of greatest need they chose not to try to fight Voldemort, but to love instead. Neither performed their action in order to take down the Dark Lord. Instead, they chose their family over any plans. Much to their (and Voldemort’s) surprise, this, above everything else, was what led to his defeat. Narcissa Malfoy, the underrepresented mother of the Harry Potter universe, mirrors Lilly Potter’s sacrificial love. Although she was never given the opportunity to sacrifice her physical live for her son, as Lilly was, we can confidently say that she would have. Instead, she must resort to her skillset, which was to work against Voldemort in plain sight, to deceive the darkest wizard of the age. Narcissa Malfoy deserves her place alongside Lilly Potter as a testament to matriarchal sacrifice, and the ultimate power of love to defeat evil.