Saturday, December 15, 2012

Probable Cause in the Wizarding World

“Odi et amo.” These short yet powerful words, from the Latin poet Catullus, can be expressed almost as succinctly in English: I love and I hate.

Catullus wrote two millennia ago. Yet such strong emotion is inevitably appealing, then and now. Small wonder that the self-promoting entertainer Cher once borrowed them to promote a concert tour.

Certainly such primal feelings are one of the key drivers of the hugely popular Harry Potter books and movies. Harry loves his friends, particularly Ron and Hermione and, later in the series, Ginny.

But he also hates his enemies: Voldemort, who killed his parents, and, on scene at Hogwarts, Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy.


Last night, I watched The Half-Blood Prince on DVD for the second time. Midway through the film, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, along with other students, are returning to Hogwarts from a visit to the nearby village. Suddenly, a student walking up ahead, Katy Bell, is swept up into the air, clearly possessed in some way.

Katy had been cursed with a spell (a form of assault) and made to carry a necklace intended to kill Prof. Dumbledore, the beloved Hogwarts headmaster. Beloved, at least, by all who truly live in the light.

The dark arts are fully unleashed, however, with Voldemort’s return. Harry Potter’s classmate Draco Malfoy is drawn, or chooses, to do the “dark lord’s” bidding.

After five years of tangles with Malfoy (and Malfoy’s father), Harry has deep-seated personal reasons to suspect Draco of committing the crime of cursing Katy. But standing before the highly rational and fair-minded Professor McGonagall and the saturnine Snape, he struggles to articulate his reasons.

McGonagall asks who could have done it. Harry blurts out that it was Malfoy. Snape challenges him to state his evidence. But Harry can reply only, “I just know.”

Even in the wizarding world, probable cause requires more than that.

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