If Necklaces Could Kill
“I think Draco Malfoy gave Katie that necklace, Professor.”
– Harry Potter to Professor McGonagall, p. 238, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Ah, though I have read the series over twenty times, it has been awhile since I have revisited the Potter world. When thinking about what logical argument to use, this one popped into my head almost instantly. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the sixth instalment or even Harry Potter in general, I will provide some background information to the logical argument I am about to discuss. This does not contain any major plot spoilers (if, by any chance, you hadn’t been spoiled years ago)!
A grim, unfortunate chain of events takes place at the wizarding school where Harry attends. This chain starts off with an anonymous person giving a female student a cursed necklace, which she touches and gets badly hurt. His archenemy since he started school there, Draco Malfoy, is someone he believes to be responsible. Near the start of the book, Harry saw the necklace in a window of a store in which the owner was having a conversation with Malfoy.
So, why does Harry automatically assume that Malfoy was the giver of the necklace?
Here is a syllogism to represent Harry’s thought process.
- I overheard Malfoy arrange a purchase with the necklace storeowner.
- The necklace got to Hogwarts and cursed a female student.
- Therefore, Malfoy is the culprit.
Not a bad job, Harry: this argument is factually correct. All of the premises are true, but they do not “necessitate the truth of the conclusion” (Jackson, 2014): In the story, this is indirectly pointed out by the receiver of Harry’s argument: Professor McGonagall.
She states in Half-Blood Prince that “[they] cannot point the finger of blame at … Malfoy purely because he visited the shop where this necklace might have been purchased” (p. 239). He is not the only person to have ever bought something in that shop, so that is why the first premise does not support his conclusion.
If the first premise did support the conclusion, then the second one would as well. Yes, the necklace was brought to Hogwarts, and a girl was cursed by it, but Harry is unable to say or prove that Malfoy brought the necklace in, or that Malfoy cursed the girl.
Literally everyone in the story, including the profs, detest that Draco is a cruel brat, so McGonagall thanks Harry for the input, but cannot use her authority to inflict punishment because the argument is indubitably not sound.
The logical lesson to be learned from Harry’s assumption is this: if one attempts to seek justice by using an argument without sound, the consequence is that they will not be believed.