For a long time I was torn on including Pansy Parkinson in my "in defense of" series. She is undeniably a bully and a cruel one, and the idea of “defending” a bully sets my teeth on edge.
But hopefully the story that resulted isn’t arguing that bullies are inherently redeemable, or that they deserve forgiveness, or even that I think Pansy deserves anyone’s forgiveness. What finally convinced me to give her story a try was realizing that Pansy is a bully, but she is a bully in the Harry Potter universe, which practically fuels itself on forgiving them—and she, alone in that story, is not forgiven, or even complicated.
More specifically, it was this quote:
"And who did [Draco] marry? It wasn’t Pansy right, or was it?"
JKR: “No! God, it wasn’t Pansy Parkinson. I loathe Pansy Parkinson. I don’t love Draco but I really dislike her. She’s every girl who ever teased me at school. She’s the Anti-Hermione. I loathe her.” (link)
James Potter is a hero and a martyr, transformed by off-screen character development and Lily’s love. Draco is at the very least pitiable. Snape is cruel and slimy, an adult man in a position of trusted authority who verbally abuses the children in his care—but in the end he is brave and that is enough to earn him an honored place in a young boy’s name.
It is not an inherent right of bullies to be forgiven or even sympathized with, even if they grow out of bullying—and especially if they don’t. But the narrative of Harry Potter holds up forgiveness as one of its tenets. JKR has stated that the only irredeemable major character of the franchise is Tom Riddle—but Pansy, ugly, pug-faced Pansy with her shrill schoolgirl taunts, is not just vilified but dismissed.
I didn’t want to excuse Pansy’s bullying in my story and I hope I didn’t. I would cheer, frankly, if Neville shunned Ms. Parkinson for the rest of his life. But I will stand and defend a young girl from the claim that her cruelties were somehow worse than Draco’s bullying, which happened right beside her own, or somehow less redeemable than all of Professor Snape’s irresponsible, petty cruelties.
She does not deserve her victims’ forgiveness, though they may choose to give it. She does, however, deserve the same consideration that her universe, her author, and her audience gives to every other young, petty child who spat out cruel words in the Hogwarts corridors and classrooms. James Potter got the chance to grow up, but Pansy never did. Draco, “unlovable” though he may be, was given an ending and an epilogue. Pansy drifts off the page, wreathed in smug contempt.
So I wrote her a story.