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The Trope Namer
The trope is named for Draco Malfoy, The Rival of Harry Potter at Hogwarts. Canonically, Malfoy is a smug, arrogant, elitist, racist, spoiled, cowardly bully who actively makes life harder for Harry and his allies throughout the books. Malfoy does all of this out of a petty grudge towards Harry and/or wanting to save his own neck. Also, Malfoy talks a big game, but can never back up any of his boasting, and was written with the intention that the readers/audience would hate his guts. In spite of these facts, some fans treat Malfoy like Mr. Fanservice, a Jerkass Woobie, or a secretly sensitive, suave playboy. This attitude is so widespread that you'd be hard-pressed to find a fan who actively hates Malfoy. Despite that, he has slowly started to become more polarising, due to his popularity.
- A big part of it is his portrayal in the films. When all the fans knew about him came from the books, people generally saw him for what he was and didn't like him at all. The "leather pants" really didn't come into play until people saw him on the screen. Among other things:
- His actor was a cute kid in the first few films who grew up to be a handsome man by the later films, leading to Adaptational Attractiveness. Viewers were suddenly a lot more willing to ignore the character's negative traits because he's good-looking. J. K. Rowling addressed the phenomenon herself in an interview:It amuses me. It honestly amuses me. People have been waxing lyrical [in letters] about Draco Malfoy, and I think that's the only time when it stopped amusing me and started almost worrying me. I'm trying to clearly distinguish between Tom Felton, who is a good-looking young boy, and Draco, who, whatever he looks like, is not a nice man. It's a romantic, but unhealthy, and unfortunately all-too-common delusion of — delusion, there you go — of girls, and you (nods to Melissa) will know this, that they are going to change someone. And that persists through many women's lives, till their death bed, and it is uncomfortable and unhealthy and it actually worried me a little bit, to see young girls swearing undying devotion to this really imperfect character, because there must be an element in there, that "I'd be the one who [changes him]." I mean, I understand the psychology of it, but it is pretty unhealthy. So, a couple of times I have written back, possibly quite sharply, saying (laughter), "You want to rethink your priorities here."
- The films portray him as a lot more confident and suave than the books do. In general, the books make it a point that he can only really confront Harry when he can hide behind someone else, and his goons Crabbe and Goyle basically exist for this purpose. For instance, when he first introduces himself to Harry, in the film he talks to him in front of all the first years, but in the books he condescendingly talks to him in private and panics when he realizes who Harry really is. And when he and Harry fight over Neville's Remembrall, in the film he never loses his cool, but in the book he starts panicking when an unfazed Harry follows him into the air.
- Some of Malfoy's worse actions from the books aren't included in the films for timing reasons. For instance, in Goblet of Fire, we only see his "Potter Stinks" buttons for a brief moment in the film, but in the book it's part of a long harassment campaign against Harry designed to turn the school against him.
- And for the film of Chamber of Secrets, Jason Isaacs, who played Draco's father Lucius Malfoy, felt that Draco's character needed some sympathy, and resolved for Lucius to be absolutely horrible to him.
- His actor was a cute kid in the first few films who grew up to be a handsome man by the later films, leading to Adaptational Attractiveness. Viewers were suddenly a lot more willing to ignore the character's negative traits because he's good-looking. J. K. Rowling addressed the phenomenon herself in an interview:
- Many readers/viewers give Malfoy a Freudian Excuse, given that his parents were hard-core Death Eaters who really wanted him to follow in their footsteps and likely wouldn't have tolerated any deviation, accounting for his prejudices and nastiness. Even in the books, he becomes a little more confident by Half-Blood Prince when Voldemort makes him a Death Eater, but a lot of that has to do with not disappointing his parents and trying to make his peers proud of him. And when he winds up having to kill Dumbledore, he has trouble going through with it before Snape handles the task. Fans got the sense that Malfoy could simply never admit what he was really feeling. Even Rowling herself (through his Pottermore profile) noted that he became an accomplished Occlumens thanks to his skill at Emotion Suppression, and he eventually realizes that the people who were kindest to him were Dumbledore, Snape, and Harry. This does help him ease out of his old prejudices and raise his own son far better than Lucius raised him. But the difference is that he never became a particularly good person and is canonically, a Jerkass Woobie at best. Still, part of the fandom thinks of him as an Anti-Hero, which is not the same thing.
- In Fan Fic, the telltale sign of whether Malfoy has leather pants is when he's not referred to as "Malfoy" at all, but rather as "Draco". The books nearly always refer to him as "Malfoy", through Harry's narratorial voice, which he only really does to professors or people he doesn't likenote , and he really doesn't like Malfoy. There's a reason the trope isn't called "Malfoy in Leather Pants". The other telltale sign is if the whole point of the fic is to pair him up with someone, especially someone who in canon hates his guts (like Hermione, Ginny, or Luna), which would be a Crack Pairing if the author wasn't totally serious about it. But some Fan Fics which portray him positively do it in interesting fashion:
- The trope first gained prominence thanks to The Draco Trilogy, but the whole focus on the trilogy was to show his HeelFace Turn and thus went into great detail about what he's thinking and why he's decided to hang out with the good guys. Most fics of this type just portray him as a good guy all along with no real reason.
- In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Draco is a genuinely likable boy who just happens to have been raised by a Darth Vader-esque Lucius. Harry's first interaction with him is quite different than it went in canon, and instead of an immediate politically-charged rivalry, we get a less immediate, still politically-charged, tenuous alliance. He later gets to be an occasional viewpoint character, and although he still believes Dumbledore to be evil and doesn't trust him, he doesn't think the same way as his father but really doesn't want to admit it. When he finally admits his feelings to another character, they think "his father will skin him alive and turn him into trousers."
- Another Life portrays an alternate universe where Voldemort tries to use baby Draco in a dark ritual, his parents object, and Voldemort kills them for it. Draco is sent to live with his White Sheep relatives and doesn't grow up indoctrinated in pureblood supremacy. This makes him a very different and more positive character, practically as a necessity.
- A few try to do this straight and botch it magnificently:
- In The Prayer Warriors, Draco is a "secret Christian" at Hogwarts who breaks with his allies, gets baptized, and joins the heroes. The problem is that the heroes are on a crusade to exterminate non-believers, so while the author wants him to be more sympathetic than in canon, he winds up being even more of an asshole. Highlights include his random objection to Ebony's plan to sleep with Harry to get his key, his desire to kill Dumbledore for allowing gay sex, and his threats to kill anyone who doesn't want to help him kill Wawa, the Titan of Water.
- My Immortal portrays him as the protagonist's boyfriend. The aim is to make him the ideal sensitive guy, which given the author's esoteric standards means he's a whiny, emotionally unstable doormat.
- Child Of Grace has Draco and the other Slytherins saying that they were actually nice people and were always being treated as the bad guys, due to their parents being Death Eaters. But he and the other Slytherins attack anyone who bothers Holly, even causing Ginny and Colin Creevy to be sent to the hospital wing. Holly, however, thinks that Draco and his friends were in the right to do so.
- And the phenomenon is occasionally parodied by other Fan Works:
- In the Potter Puppet Pals episode "Draco Puppet", Harry responds to the numerous fan requests that they introduce a Puppet Pal Draco by portraying him as being about as evil as he is in canon and sarcastically responding as the fans do:Draco Puppet: I'm Draco! I'm really rich, and I'm really proud of the fact that I'm pureblooded white! I mean wizard! Tee hee!
Harry: Wow, what a wonderful person!
- The crossover fanfic Harry Tano amusingly references the trope with an about-to-defect Draco wearing trousers made from Hungarian Horntail hide — so a literal Draco in leather pants.
- In the Potter Puppet Pals episode "Draco Puppet", Harry responds to the numerous fan requests that they introduce a Puppet Pal Draco by portraying him as being about as evil as he is in canon and sarcastically responding as the fans do:
- Lord Voldemort is the Big Bad of the series, but some fans insist that he isn't as horrible as people think. Some people see that his mother abandoned him in an Orphanage of Fear, and he grew up to become a powerful wizard who wanted respect and was unable to understand love. J. K. Rowling has been very insistent that he's a really nasty kid, and much of Half-Blood Prince was an exploration of his history, showing that the orphanage was so horrible because of him, that he was a fanatic pureblood supremacist who resented his mixed blood, that he sought power at any cost — including his own soul, and that he saw love as an aspect of that power and sought only to exploit it. Interestingly, being The Sociopath, part of his modus operandi was to tap into people's innate sense of sympathy for a poor orphan boy, which worked so well it even caught the readers.
- Some fanfics choose not to redeem Voldemort as he is in the present, but rather resurrect Tom Riddle using the diary horcrux. Upon resurrection, he is always horrified by what his future self has gotten up to and quickly agrees to join the heroes to defeat him. Moratorium provides an interesting spin on this — Tom isn't horrified by his future self being evil, but by the fact his future self has fallen straight into the For the Evulz and Stupid Evil tropes.
- In My Immortal, he is the central antagonist, but his past self is given a sympathetic portrayal and its Ebony's job to "sedouce" him. Then it turns out his past self was a disguised future self and Evil All Along.
- Lucius Malfoy usually doesn't get this treatment, partly because by being an Abusive Parent it makes it easy to give Draco his Freudian Excuse, and partly because fans tend to appreciate him for the aristocratic, pimp cane accessorized bastard that he is. He's honestly more abusive in Fan Fic than he is in canon, where his only redeeming quality seems to be that he cares about his wife and son. note But still, some fanfic writers ignore all that because he's a Long-Haired Pretty Boy, possibly because they're so taken in by Draco that they think he was Good All Along, so his dad should be too.
- In My Immortal, this is exactly how he's portrayed; Draco was always a good guy, and he's Draco's dad, so he's a good guy too. He frequently buys cars for Draco, and in the past, he was in a band with Snape and the Marauders. (He also lost one of his arms, for some reason.)
- Rarely, a fic will decide that Lucius is the one deserving of this trope, and accomplish it by doubling down on Draco's unlikable traits and having Lucius be horrified by the Complete Monster his son is becoming.
- Bellatrix Lestrange gets this treatment for a number of reasons:
- Like Malfoy, she's portrayed in the films by an actress people are attracted to, even though her character is Ax-Crazy and is portrayed as unkempt with bad teeth (who also, you know, killed Sirius Black). People either think Evil Is Sexy or claim she's not evil at all. As we don't know much about her backstory, this can be easily accomplished by giving her a Dark and Troubled Past, featuring Brainwashing, Rape as Backstory, Cold-Blooded Torture, Abusive Parents, or all of the above — she just snapped, and she's really just a Woobie doing what Voldemort told her to do.
- She has a strange Misaimed Fandom among "feminist fangirls" who see her as a "role model" because she's not a housewife and doesn't have children, unlike other characters like Molly Weasley. They even celebrate her attempt to kill Ginny and decry Molly killing her in retaliation to protect her children. They conveniently ignore the fact that while she is married, she has a dangerous crush on Voldemort (who doesn't give a damn about her), openly said that if she had children she would sacrifice them to Voldemort, and that she was in Azkaban to begin with for torturing Neville's parents into insanity.
- A few Slytherin characters got this treatment because they were mentioned only in passing, making them prime fodder for fanfic writers who want to create a sympathetic Slytherin character without spitting in the face of the canon. It doesn't always work out:
- Blaise Zabini was a Slytherin boy in Harry's year who, up until Half-Blood Prince, was mentioned so tangentially that some fans thought he was a girl. Then he was revealed to be a buddy of Malfoy's who was every bit as bigoted and jerkish as that association suggests, a development which some fans have chosen to ignore and others have tried to justify.
- Cassius Warrington was mentioned in Goblet of Fire as a Slytherin candidate for Hogwarts champion. A popular Tumblr post in 2015 wondered what would have happened had he won, envisioning Warrington as an honourable and upstanding young man who would have done everything Cedric did in the real book — helped Harry figure out the Second Task, touched the trophy with him, and died at Voldemort's hands. His death would have turned much of Slytherin House against Voldemort and rallied them in the Battle of Hogwarts. But Warrington did turn up again in Order of the Phoenix — as a member of Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squad.
- When dilping any of the Death Eaters or other dark wizards like the above, a lot of authors like to invoke Dark Is Not Evil with the concept of dark magic. In these fics, dark magic is just another side of the coin as apposed to white/light magic, not unlike some Fanon about the Force in Star Wars. Very frequently one or most of the canonically good characters will be treated as fantastic racist for trying to fight it. The problem is that dark magic is defined as magic that can only be used for evil or requires evil acts to perform (much like canon regarding The Dark Side in Star Wars). There really isn't any evidence for the whole Light side/Dark side thing either, as there is no mention of the magic the heroes use as being white/light magic.
- Salazar Slytherin, the founder of Slytherin House, is portrayed in canon mostly as the guy who built a secret underground chamber in which he put a deadly snake which would murder Muggle-born students. But there's room to make him more sympathetic — the books also point out that he and Godric Gryffindor were best of friends before falling out. So some people try to make him more sympathetic while working within the canon. They suggest that he was the victim of an in-universe Historical Villain Upgrade, may have built the Chamber of Secrets as a practical defense against a particularly magic-hating Muggle population, or wasn't responsible for the basilisk's homicidal tendencies (with Tom Riddle, the future Voldemort, being responsible for that).
- Severus Snape gets put in leather pants a lot, often (but not always) by fangirls who want to know him carnally. It helps that he's written as an extreme Jerk with a Heart of Gold who, in the end, wound up on the good guys' side, culminating in a Heroic Sacrifice and Harry respecting him so much, he named one of his kids after him. But it's important to remember that Snape was a total dick to Harry for most of the series, and he's not a nice guy in general, so it makes no sense to turn him into a target for the fangirls' lust.
- Scabior the Snatcher has a minimal role in the book of Deathly Hallows. In the film, he's portrayed by attractive actor Nick Moran. The number of women who admire the character is frightening, especially given that one of the few things he did was sniff Hermione's hair. He's got a fandom in Russia that refers to him as "Sexy Eater".
- The Dursleys are an odd case. They're certainly not nice people, given that they openly despise Harry and his magic and basically made him live in a closet when he grew up. Almost nobody is out there trying to redeem Vernon, in many respects the embodiment of everything JK Rowling thinks is wrong with British society, but Petunia and Dudley might be redeemable. Most fans focus on Petunia, whom they portray as The Unfavorite compared to her magically inclined sister Lily (who is often thrown under the bus as a snobbish bully). JK Rowling, incidentally, thinks it's Dudley who can be redeemed, feeling that while he's certainly an asshole, most of his actions are a result of bad parenting (Dumbledore even calls out his parents for it).
- Barty Crouch, Jr. was already given a Tragic Villain backstory in the book when the film had him portrayed by David Tennant. This led to his actions in Goblet of Fire (which included his critical role in resurrecting Voldemort and firing the Dark Mark at the rioting Death Eaters at the World Cup for not being evil enough) being glossed over to ship him with characters nearly twenty years younger than him.
- Fenrir Greyback, a cannibalistic werewolf whose modus operandi is to maul and infect children with lycanthropy in canon, is often portrayed in fanfic as a big protective dog who's only looking out for the best interests of his clan, or more often his mate (often Hermione).
- Gellert Grindelwald often gets this due to his Offstage Villainy and his Ho Yay with Dumbledore. This even extends to his article on the HP wiki.
- Dolores Umbridge, despite being a Sadist Teacher who embodies the worst aspects of any authority figure you can think of, and who becomes as hated (in and out of universe) as Voldemort himself, occasionally gets this treatment (without much success). Many such writers approach this from a "feminist" angle and see her as a strong woman in power and thus a positive figure. This pisses off the rest of the fanbase so much that they've written whole essays explaining that they hate her because she's a pure-evil bitch with the heart of Satan.
- After the reveal in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald that Voldemort's Familiar Nagini was once a beautiful human woman who was doomed via a curse to metamorphose into a snake, people have been hitting her with this trope, to the point of (albeit at least half-jokingly) demonizing Neville for killing her, despite the fact that there's no way he could've known that she was once human and that killing her was necessary to defeating Voldemort.
- Merope Gaunt, mother of Voldemort is treated by much of the fandom as the series biggest Woobie, ignoring the fact that she is canonically a rapist who used a love potion to have Tom Riddle Sr impregnate her against his will.