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This comment by Slytherincess got me thinking a bit philosophically (hey, I’ve got six hours to kill in an airport—it happens).

There are several characters in the Harry Potter series that are fairly unilaterally portrayed as being quite vicious, malevolent, cruel, or just plain evil (*cough* Umbridge *cough*). Some of these include:

  • the Dursleys
  • Dudley
  • Umbridge
  • Snape
  • Draco Malfoy
  • Lucius Malfoy
  • Voldemort (duh)

Some of these never change and end up every bit as evil as they began; others are, over the course of the series, portrayed in somewhat mollified ways, particularly towards the very end: Draco (discussed in the comments that sparked this question) and Dudley both end up in not-quite-evil-just-a-bit-of-a-prat territory, for example, and we all know (hopefully) how Snape’s portrayal changes.

But are there any characters who start out being portrayed as a real ‘bad guy’,1 and end up firmly in the ‘good guys’ camp, being completely redeemed?

The only three I can think of are Snape, Sirius, and Kreacher. Of these,

  • Snape is not truly redeemed—despite his actual allegiance and loyalty to Dumbledore, and despite working to save the world from Voldemort, he remains an anti-hero, a bully, and not a very nice person; he is never portrayed as an actual good person except briefly in the Pensieve flashbacks where we see him alone with Lily
  • Sirius ends up being portrayed as almost a saint (through Harry’s eyes at least—not quite so much from others’ viewpoints); but he was never actually portrayed as evil to begin with. He was described secondhand as someone who everyone knew was evil; but he is never described ‘on-stage’ as being or doing anything evil (except perhaps breaking Ron’s leg), just sometimes misguided
  • Kreacher is probably the best example I can think of, but being the house elf of a Dark family (with all the limitations that brings with it), he is almost exonerated of his initial wicked ways by his extreme conditioning (one might even call it brainwashing—imagine being cooped up with that horrid old painting for years and years!) to be like that2

So are there any characters whose initial portrayal paints them as thoroughly, unconditionally wicked, but whose later/final portrayal show them as thoroughly good?

 


1 By which I mean properly mean and evil; not just like Hermione who in the beginning is portrayed none too kindly as an annoying know-it-all. She’s never portrayed as having an actual evil bone in her body (except perhaps a little bit with Rita Skeeter).

2 Only almost, though: Dobby had much the same background, but he was never conditioned and affected to the same extent.

share|improve this question
    
<comments removed> Please keep the comments on topic of trying to improve the question. – user1027 Jan 22 at 21:21
    
When did Sirius break Ron's leg? – maguirenumber6 Mar 31 at 11:46
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@maguirenumber6 When he (as a dog) dragged him into the tunnel under the Whomping Willow towards the Shrieking Shack. Ron tries to hold back by wrapping his foot around a tree root or something like that, but Sirius pulls him so hard that his ankle (I’m guessing) snaps. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 31 at 11:48
    
Can't... resist... Must... link... tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GoodIsNotNice – Tobia Tesan Apr 2 at 17:21
up vote 90 down vote accepted

I'd say Regulus Black did a 180 on being evil, more so than any other character.

From JKR:

Hayleyhaha: Why did regulus have a change of heart

J.K. Rowling: He was not prepared for the reality of life as a Death Eater. It was Voldemort’s attempted murder of Kreacher that really turned him

He was one of Voldemort's inner circle, one of the closest Death Eaters. Then he became one of the people closest to actually defeating Voldemort, by gaining possession of one of the horcruxes.

As far as he knew, that was the only horcrux that Voldemort had made, and was under the assumption that Kreacher would find a way to destroy it when he told him to escape from the cave.

If Regulus had been right about these things, Voldemort would have actually been defeated the night he attacked Harry in Godric's Hollow. Regulus would have been the biggest contributor to defeating the Dark Lord, and he died believing that.

It should be added that he tried to defeat Voldemort without anyone else ever knowing what he had done, and if his plan had succeeded no one ever would have. These are the actions of a true hero. He left a message that only Voldemort would have been able to understand who it was from (Harry had no idea who R.A.B was until he happened upon the name in Grimmauld Place).

He turned from evil to good also for a noble and virtuous reason: protecting Kreacher. Voldemort's attempt to kill him (or at least leave him for dead) was the reason for Regulus' defection. An old friend (one who was treated as less than anyone else) being in danger is likely one of the most virtuous reasons to turn from evil to good.

He also protected the house-elf by drinking the potion in his stead, rather than making him go through the ordeal of drinking the poison again. He could have saved himself, but he sacrificed his life in order to save another that most others would not have thought to save, thus showing that he was good in the end.


Perhaps also Igor Karkaroff to an extent, another of Voldemort's inner circle, who turned in a great deal of other Death Eaters and helped to clear the streets of a lot of dark wizards.

However his actions were for less than noble reasons, as he acted more out of cowardice and selfishness than any other reason, ensuring that he got a much shorter stint in Azkaban for turning in others. However, he also did not return to Voldemort when he was resurrected, meaning he was not evil at the end.

Edit: On rereading the question, I realized the question was asking specifically about portrayal as opposed to actions. However as there is further discussion about this character in the comment's, I'll leave it in, with the footnote that his actions change from evil to good, but his character remains consistent.

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+1 for Regulus! An excellent answer—hadn't considered him at all. I don't agree with Karkaroff, though; he would gladly have gone back to Voldemort if he hadn’t been so busy running for his life, knowing full well that being found by Voldemort or any of his followers would mean certain death (as indeed it did some time during Half-Blood Prince or Deathly Hallows if I'm not mistaken). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 22 at 10:26
    
@JanusBahsJacquet wow, I had no idea Karkaroff was killed by Voldemort's followers. I assumed he went into hiding after GoF and was alive at the end of the story. I definitely need to read the books again! Though depending on one's interpretation, he may have never been evil to begin with, perhaps he was just so cowardly he picked the side he thought would win, and as soon as he was proven wrong he flipped to the other side, but then could never return because of his betrayal. Based on his actions though, he did start off doing evil, then eventually did good, no matter what his reasons were. – Mike.C.Ford Jan 22 at 10:34
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I'm not entirely sure either, but I seem to recall someone telling someone that “they found Karkaroff”, the implication being that he's dead (or maybe it's even explicit?). But again, even if some of his actions had a positive effect, he is never portrayed as being any kind of good, even while doing those same actions. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 22 at 10:37
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@JanusBahsJaquet "And they've found Igor Karkaroff's body in a shack up north. The Dark Mark had been set over it... well, frankly, I'm surprised he stayed alive for even a year after deserting the Death Eaters; Sirius's brother, Regulus, only managed a few days as far as I can remember." - Half Blood Prince, Draco's Detour. – DavidS Jan 22 at 10:47
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One of the most telling things about Regulus is the fact that he cared about Kreacher, a house elf. Even the "good guys" have less regard for them than they should, and the Dark side lot are quite content to disdain them and torture them without thought. – DavidS Jan 22 at 10:50

One character I'd like to point out is Rufus Scrimgeour. He was appointed Minister for Magic at the start of Half Blood Prince (HBP). Scrimgeour, while not exactly evil or villainous, is constantly at odds with Dumbledore and then with Harry. In HBP, there are reports of a fight between Dumbledore and Scrimgeour. Dumbledore also mentions to Harry about Scrimgeour wanting to talk to him (Harry) and Dumbledore not allowing it. Scrimgeour then puts a tail on Dumbledore to find out where he is when not in Hogwarts.

Scrimgeour is also at odds with Harry a lot. He gate crashes the Weasleys' Christmas lunch in HBP, in order to finally talk to Harry, and leaves in a huff when Harry points out how the Ministry were acting towards him the previous year. Even in Deathly Hallows (DH), Scrimgeour arrives at the Burrow on Harry's birthday and the hostility between him and Harry, Ron and Hermione is very evident. There is no love lost at all between the two parties. In fact that conversation where Dumbledore's will was to be enforced ends with quite a bit of shouting and wands raised at each other.

However, when Lupin arrives at Grimmauld Place in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 11: The Bribe, he says:

"Arthur heard a rumor that they tried to torture your whereabouts out of Scrimgeour before they killed him; if it’s true, he didn’t give you away.”

Harry looked at Ron and Hermione; their expressions reflected the mingled shock and gratitude he felt. He had never liked Scrimgeour much, but if what Lupin said was true, the man’s final act had been to try to protect Harry.

There is redemption for Scrimgeour, as echoed by Harry's feelings in the above paragraph.

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Good thinking there. Not full 180-redemption since, as you say, Scrimgeour was never really portrayed as being evil (just political, self-centred, and not a particularly nice person); but one I hadn't thought of at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 22 at 6:39

Rowling seems to imply that Dudley and Petunia were eventually redeemed, but not Vernon:

However, I know that after Dudley’s brave attempt at reconciliation at the start of Deathly Hallows, the two cousins would have remained on ‘Christmas Card’ terms for the rest of their lives, and that Harry would have taken his family to visit Dudley’s when they were in the neighbourhood (occasions dreaded by James, Albus and Lily).
(old jkrowling.com)


I wanted to suggest, in the final book, that something decent (a long-forgotten but dimly burning love of her sister; the realisation that she might never see Lily's eyes again) almost struggled out of Aunt Petunia when she said goodbye to Harry for the last time, but that she is not able to admit to it, or show those long-buried feelings. Although some readers wanted more from Aunt Petunia during this farewell, I still think that I have her behave in a way that is most consistent with her thoughts and feelings throughout the previous seven books.

Nobody ever seemed to expect any better from Uncle Vernon, so they were not disappointed.
(Pottermore)

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Gellert Grindelwald and Narcissa Malfoy

None of them have much screen time, but at the end of HP and the Deathly Hallows they are willing to sacrifice themselves and are put in a much better light than before.

Gellert Grindelwald

From the Philosopher's Stone, chapter 6, Dumbledore's Chocolate Frog Card:

"ALBUS DUMBLEDORE CURRENTLY HEADMASTER OF HOGWARTS Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times, Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945 (...)"

Later, in the Deathly Hallows, we learn that he once was friends with Albus Dumbledore, and that he was remorseful of his actions -- both by Dumbledore's account and by Harry's vision, when he refuses to help Voldemort in his quest:

From chapter 35:

Harry Potter: “Grindelwald tried to stop Voldemort going after the wand. He lied, you know, pretended he had never had it.” Dumbledore: “They say he showed remorse in later years, alone in his cell at Nurmengard. I hope that it is true. I would like to think he did feel the horror and shame of what he had done. Perhaps that lie to Voldemort was his attempt to make amends… to prevent Voldemort from taking the Hallow…”

And from chapter 23:

Grindelwald: “So, you have come. I thought you would . . . one day. But your journey was pointless. I never had it.” (...) Grindelwald:“Kill me, then!” demanded the old man. “You will not win, you cannot win! That wand will never, ever be yours – ”

Narcissa Malfoy

Wife of Lucius Malfoy, her name alone misguide us on thinking of someone that cares only for herself, but in both books 6 and 7 Cissy take many risks and gives up everything for her son -- not unlike Lily Evans did years earlier. (worth mention, however, that Narcissa does spoil Draco a bit since the very first book -- foreshadowing)

From the Philosopher's Stone, chapter 6:

"I've heard of his family," said Ron darkly. "They were some of the first to come back to our side after You-Know-Who disappeared. Said they'd been bewitched. My dad doesn't believe it.

The-Half-Blood Prince, chapter 2:

"Cissy, you must not do this, you can't trust him--" "The Dark Lord trusts him, doesn't he?" "The Dark Lord is... I believe... mistaken," Bella panted, and her eyes gleamed momentarily under her hood as she looked around to check that they were indeed alone. "In any case, we were told not to speak of the plan to anyone. This is a betrayal of the Dark Lord's--"

Deathly Hallows, chapter 24:

"As Ron ran to pull Hermione out of the wreckage, Harry took the chance: He leapt over an armchair and wrested the three wands from Draco’s grip, pointed all of them at Greyback, and yelled, 'Stupefy!' The werewolf was lifted off his feet by the triple spell, flew up to the ceiling and then smashed to the ground. As Narcissa dragged Draco out of the way of further harm, Bellatrix sprang to her feet, her hair flying as she brandished the silver knife; but Narcissa had directed her wand at the doorway."

Deathly Hallows, chapter 36:

"Hands, softer than he had been expecting, touched Harry's face, and felt his heart. He could hear the woman's fast breathing, her pounding of life against his ribs. 'Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?' The whisper was barely audible, her lips were an inch from his car, her head bent so low that her long hair shielded his face from the onlookers. 'Yes,' he breathed back. He felt the hand on his chest contract: her nails pierced him. Then it was withdrawn. She had sat up. 'He is dead!' Narcissa Malfoy called to the watchers.

As a final point, I'll add that she was not with Draco during the Death Eater riot at the Quidditch World Cup Final [GoF], but that was her top priority at the Hogwart's Battle -- a 180º shift.

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Is Narcissa ever really portrayed as being actually wicked, though? She's condescending and a snob, and quite unbearably overbearing with Draco—but is there really anything that ever, on the good–bad spectrum, puts her much more than a bit on the bad side of neutral? She definitely improves, but is there enough of a change to call it a total 180-redemption? (I +1’ed for Grindelwald, though, an excellent point. Might I suggest adding Klum’s description of Grindelwald’s regime to emphasise his wicked past?) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 22 at 10:22
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Narcissa strikes me the same as Draco - they did what they did because they were cowards, not because they were being "redeemed". – DavidS Jan 22 at 10:25
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@DavidS I don't know about that… Narcissa betrays Voldemort’s trust by making the Unbreakable Vow with Snape to protect her son; she lies to Voldemort’s face (requiring a great deal of Occlumency no doubt), saving Harry’s life in order to get to Draco. I don't think she was a coward, not when her son was at stake. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 22 at 10:29
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@JanusBahsJacquet It's a matter of perspective, I guess. I agree she was brave by betraying him, but she's also being cowardly by betraying her friends and allies repeatedly whenever she is threatened. The Malfoys in general have no courage of their convictions. – DavidS Jan 22 at 10:43
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I disagree with Narcissa because she did what she did for entirely selfish reasons. I suspect that once she discovered Harry had survived Voldemort's Avada Kedavra for a second time she realised that Voldemort wasn't going to win, so she sided with the side she thought had the most chance of seeing her reunited with her son. If Draco had been dead? Maybe she would have told Voldemort that Harry wasn't. – Anthony Grist Jan 22 at 13:51

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