20

I was under the impression that the Head Boy and Head Girl were always chosen from among the prefects, however...

"No one would have made me a prefect, I spent too much time in detention with James. Lupin was the good boy, he got the badge."

— Sirius Black to Harry, Order of the Phoenix

So James Potter was not a prefect. But...

"Now, yer mum an' dad were as good a witch an' wizard as I ever knew. Head Boy an' Girl at Hogwarts in their day!"

— Hagrid to Harry, Sorcerer's Stone

How does one get to be Head Boy without first being a prefect? If James' time in detention disqualified him from being a prefect, why did it not disqualify him from being Head Boy?

  • 1
    Maybe the prefects were chosen by the faculty and the head boys and girls were chosen by the students? – Xantec Oct 25 '11 at 11:57
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+50

We know that James Potter was a talented Quidditch player. It is a bit far-fetched, but we might assume that he was a Quidditch Captain as well, which is almost like being a Prefect:

The day after this rather gloomy birthday tea, their letters and booklists arrived from Hogwarts. Harry's included a surprise: he had been made Quidditch Captain.
"That gives you equal status with prefects!" cried Hermione happily. "You can use our special bathroom now and everything!"
- chapter 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Perhaps not only Prefects but also Quidditch Captains (or even all Hogwarts students in general) were considered by Dumbledore when there was a time to choose a Head Boy and a Head Girl.

Other versions:

  • [real world] J.K.Rowling changed her vision of James' character when writing the books. In the first book, James was a role model for Harry, but this idealised vision couldn't last long.

  • James was not actually Head Boy; it was a Hagrid's mistake / tongue-slip / exaggeration.

8

According to Harry Potter Wikia,

At the beginning of the school year, the Headmaster appoints new Prefects, as well as one Head Boy and one Head Girl from all of the seventh-year students. These students are chosen because of their academic achievement, outstanding reputation as a student, and an honest, good, and hard-working personality. It should be noted that being a Prefect is not a prequisite to being appointed a Head Boy or Head Girl.

This clarifies the point that being a Prefect isn't a prerequisite for being appointed Head Boy/Girl, and the Headmaster might choose anyone who he thinks is the right candidate to lead the entire student body!

  • 2
    The wiki is a fan-written resource. There is nothing to back up that statement they make other than James Potter, so using it to prove James Potter is circular reasoning. – ibid Mar 21 at 18:15
  • 1
    @ibid - the fact provided by Hagrid in book 1 is that James was Head Boy. Similarly, Sirius in book 5 provides the fact that Lupin was their year's Gryffindor male prefect. Ergo, the books directly state that there have been Head Boys who were not prefects. How do you not understand this? – Jeff Mar 22 at 12:47
  • @Jeff - If someone asks how some quotes from the book make sense and you answer by repeating those exact quotes back then you haven't answered the question. If you disguise this by quoting something exclusively based on those quotes you haven't answered the question either. – ibid Mar 24 at 0:46
5

I don't think there was ever any discussion of why anybody became a prefect or head boy/girl.

My only thoughts are that James Potter was a great student, he was obviously very skilled and commanded respect from his fellow students. Same with Lily.

Giving head boy or girl to someone who is disliked or does not have a lot of popularity could reduce their effectiveness in the position. Same with any type of manager or team leader in real life in fact.

4

IIRC, the selection of the Head Boy and Head Girl are not given much detail in the books. They're always 7th Years, and the system seems to favor if not require prefect status. The two Gryffindor prefects we know of (Ron and Hermione) abandon school to follow Harry before they'd have had a shot at it. Besides, with Snape as Headmaster and the Malfoys out of favor, it would be likely we wouldn't be very familiar with whatever Slytherin boy and girl were picked; perhaps Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini.

Anyway, there are a few different ways it could work that make at least some sense. Here's the most sensical system IMHO: Two prefects (one boy, one girl) per House, per year are chosen from the 5th, 6th and 7th years. One Head Boy and Head Girl are chosen from the combination of the four 7th-year Prefects of that gender (one from each House) and any serving Quidditch Captains.

This would allow James Potter, who didn't make prefect in 5th year but was likely good enough on the Quidditch pitch in the later years to be named Captain, a chance at Head Boy. With Dumbledore as the headmaster and thus a slight bias to Gryffindors, James and Lily (who, it's implied, was the Hermione Granger of her day) would be shoo-ins.

Another possibility is that James wasn't originally a prefect, but somehow a spot opened up (hey, Voldemort was very active at that time) and James had deflated his ego enough to be named a replacement. James is never explicitly stated as EVER being a prefect, but if Captains aren't considered, the only way is for him to have gotten Prefect status later on after his 5th year.

The last possibility is, out-of-universe, that JK simply hadn't given much thought to how Head Boy and Girl would work, or to the childhood characters of James and Lily, so when it came time to paint James with the same brush as the Weasley twins (maybe worse), Hagrid's quip of naming James as Head Boy was conveniently ignored.

  • “With Dumbledore as the headmaster and thus a slight bias to Gryffindors, James and Lily (who, it's implied, was the Hermione Granger of her day) would be shoo-ins.” I agree with this very much and Prefects and Quidditch captain are also considered when selecting the Head boys and Head girls. Harry had joined Hogwards after defeating Voldemort because most of the students were in hiding. So it is more likely that Harry Potter and Hermoine Granger were made the Head boy and The Head girl respectivly. And never would Draco be Head boy because everyone he was a death eater by then. – user3273 Nov 4 '11 at 18:15

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