Pain and Penalties


"Err, Professor?"

"Yes, Harry?" asked Dumbledore.

"Why can't… why can't we just ask for a trial for Sirius? He said he never got one? I mean, doesn't that mean he's not guilty of any crimes?"

At this, Albus Dumbledore leaned back in his seat, frowning.

"Harry… sometimes the Wizarding World is not fair. In fact, it is quite ugly."


"Sirius is correct, in that he never received a trial. This does not change his guilt in the eyes of the law."

"What? But to be guilty, I mean, you need a trial, right?"

"No," replied Dumbledore. He leaned forward, and set down his half-moon glasses. He clasped his hands in front of him, his knuckles white with pressure for an instant, but this too passed. "I'm afraid we will need to spend some time in the weeds of parliamentary procedure, but I assume, Harry, that you are aware of the difference between a bill and a law, correct?"

"A bill is something that can be turned into a law by Parliament."

"Correct. The Muggle government has a House of Commons and a House of Lords, however the Wizarding government has only the Wizengamot. They share a common root, as they are both English, and share a multitude of pomp and ceremony, as well as process and procedures. If you further your muggle history education, you may come across this topic in regards to Oliver Cromwell, especially in regards to how he disposed of his enemies."

"He's the one who overthrew the King, right?"

"Correct, Mister Potter, during the English Civil War. The topic of interest, however, is known as a 'bill of pain and penalties.' In more recent times, it is called a writ or bill of attainder. To explain, it is the duty of a parliament, such as the Wizengamot, to make laws, along with penalties for breaking those laws, correct?"


"Then, would it be wrong to not write a law stating that someone had broken the law?"

"Err… wait, what?"

"It's simple. I have a law that states a person broke the law."

"But… what if they didn't break the law?"

"No, Harry. You misunderstand. The parliament wrote a bill stating an individual broke the law."

It dawned on Harry.

"You mean… the Wizengamot passed a bill stating Sirius Black betrayed my family?"

"Yes. They did. They wrote a bill of attainder stating Sirius Black betrayed the Potters to Voldemort, that he murdered Peter Pettigrew, and that he murdered twelve muggles. In the old term for this bill, that was the pain. And as penalty, they declared him sentenced for life to Azkaban."

Harry rocked back in his chair.

"I'm sorry Harry. Getting the Wizengamot to admit to wrongdoing… to admit that they were wrong… even I cannot achieve such a monumental task."


Author's Notes: Bills of Attainder are still legal under UK law, but no reported bill has been passed since 1820. Winston Churchill supposedly advocated for summary execution of Nazi leadership post-WWII using Bills of Attainder as the legal justification, but both the United States and the Soviet Union wanted trials.

In the United States, these bills are banned from Federal Law (Article 1, Section 9) and under State Law (Article 1, Section 10), because the Founders said "We are not having this bullshit in our country."

The whole "Sirius needs a trial" thing bugged me, and this eventually clicked into place.

Other Notes: Yes, I am still alive. No, I have not finished anything. I want to get back to writing either Jamie Evans or Elsewhere/Elsewhen, but as can be seen, my brain has been elsewhere.