Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Major Events/Prefects
|Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Major Event|
|Time Period||throughout the series|
|Important Characters||Percy Weasley, Penelope Clearwater, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy|
Prefects are not, strictly speaking, magical. They are an integral part of the power structure of any school run on the English model; a Prefect is a member of the student body who is deemed more responsible than other students, and as such is given additional powers (the ability to give detentions, for instance) and additional responsibilities (prefects are called upon to aid the teachers in patrolling the halls in a few cases).
Event Details 
Specific tasks and privileges are accorded to Prefects in the Harry Potter books. On the journey to Hogwarts on the Hogwarts Express, prefects have a special compartment at the head of the train; they are expected to gather there at the start of the trip, to receive instructions presumably, and then periodically patrol the corridors of the train to keep the rowdiness down. While they are also presumably expected to do the same during the return trip, no mention is made of this in any of the books, even by Hermione, who at all other times is punctilious about her duties. Prefects are charged with maintaining order in the common rooms as well as in the hallways of the castle, and are also responsible for making sure the lower grades learn their way around the castle in the early part of the year. One privilege of being a Prefect is that you have access to the Prefect's bathroom, as Harry finds out in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Percy Weasley has just been made Prefect, and is inordinately proud of his shiny new Prefect's badge. His (apparently pre-existing) pomposity is increased significantly by this recognition of his "superiority" over the rest of his year group. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Percy is spotted reading a book entitled Prefects who Gained Power, "a study of Hogwarts prefects and their later careers".
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Ron Weasley is appointed Prefect for Gryffindor, much to the amazement of everyone; it had been thought that Harry would be tipped for that job. Of course, nobody is surprised that Hermione becomes a Prefect as well, and there is equally little amazement at the selection of Draco Malfoy for Slytherin House. Other prefects appointed at the same time are Pansy Parkinson from Slytherin, Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbott from Hufflepuff, and Anthony Goldstein and Padma Patil from Ravenclaw.
It is mentioned in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that Remus Lupin had been a prefect at Hogwarts when he, Sirius Black, and Harry's father had been there. We also see, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that Lucius Malfoy was a Slytherin Prefect when Severus Snape, James Potter, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black first arrived at Hogwarts.
Notable Consequences 
Percy has just become a Prefect when we first meet him in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, so we cannot easily judge what he was like before he became a Prefect. From the reaction later when he became Head Boy, one can extrapolate that he was always pompous and always a little ashamed of his family's lack of ambition; his becoming Prefect is part of the process that ends up with him being estranged from his family by Harry's fifth year.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Hermione becomes a prefect, to nobody's surprise. What is a surprise is that Harry is passed over in favour of Ron for the position. Ron's being made a prefect threatens to destroy the friendship between him and Harry, as Harry shares the general feeling that the position ought to have gone to Harry; in the end, though, Harry resolves to make the best of it, and their friendship goes on pretty much as before. Harry's feelings about this office having gone to Ron are somewhat eased by the revelation that Harry's father was passed over for Prefect in his day as well, that "honor" instead going to Remus Lupin. This issue is not completely resolved until the end of the book, however; in his interview with Professor Dumbledore after the Battle at the Department of Mysteries, Dumbledore explains why he had passed over Harry for the position: "I must confess... that I rather thought... you had enough responsibility to be going on with."
Ron's becoming a prefect is designed to give him self-confidence which he has lacked to this point. Ron, an average wizard, feels overshadowed by the alarmingly competent Hermione and the famous Harry Potter, despite their being his best friends. The self-confidence he gains from being selected as a Prefect will enable him to respond to the amorous advances of Lavender, which could be considered rehearsal for his later, and enduring, romance with Hermione.
Ron and Hermione's approach to the office of Prefect shows the two sides of the appointment. Both are extremely glad to get selected, of course; but Ron makes extensive use of the privileges, bossing the younger kids around, where Hermione is greatly taken up with the responsibilities, trying to keep the common room in order (and being thwarted repeatedly by the Weasley twins). Malfoy's prefect style is an almost grotesque increase in ugliness over Ron's; he is not ashamed to use his powers to get anything he wants for himself. What little we see of Malfoy's tenure as Prefect simply screams "Abuse of Power". On the other hand, Percy's stuffiness as a prefect is equally as extreme, but in the opposite direction; Percy's natural pompousness seems to expand into an over-inflated sense of his own importance in the scheme of things.
The dynamic of the story requires, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, that Percy should have some secret that he prefers Ginny not reveal. The obvious one would be that Percy has a girlfriend, which turns out to be Penelope Clearwater. When she gets Petrified, there has to be a reason that Percy gets distraught, other than the fact that she is his girlfriend, to keep that secret concealed for a few more weeks; the author uses Percy's apparent belief in Prefect invulnerability (as put forward by George Weasley) as explanation for his dismay.
There is some question as to whether prefects are allowed to dock house points. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Ron seems to believe that prefects cannot dock house points; Draco Malfoy agrees, but then goes on to say that members of the Inquisitorial Squad, specially appointed by the High Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge can, and then goes on to do that. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Percy does dock House points from Gryffindor, and he is only a prefect at that point. While the author has stated that Percy was more likely right than Ron was, it is equally likely that Percy in fact was overstepping his authority, and though he said he was removing house points from Gryffindor, his statement had no real effect.
- Would you have chosen Percy for prefect? Why?
- Would you have chosen Harry for prefect? Why?
- Professor Dumbledore's comments at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix lead us to believe that he has at least some control over appointment of prefects. Why do you think he allowed Draco Malfoy to be appointed a prefect?
Greater Picture 
Though not mentioned in the Notable Consequences section, it should be mentioned that the self-confidence engendered in Ron by this appointment will be of importance in the final book as well. It is perhaps because of his increased self-confidence that he is able to walk away from Harry and Hermione when he gets tired of the lack of progress. It is certainly true that he has matured greatly when he returns to the Trio shortly after Christmas, and this maturation is likely due to the separation. Ron, as written, could not mature significantly in the presence of Harry and Hermione, so we speculate that the separation and reunion are vital to his role in the story, and while he perhaps would also have left the Trio out of anger without the additional confidence granted him by his time as Prefect, we suggest that he would not have attempted to return to the Trio without the confidence that he has gained.