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I understand this topic has been analysed repeated and extrapolated on. Nearly every conceivable conspiracy theory has been rolled out to explain why Sirius (and James) escaped any kind of justice for what is essentially attempted murder, except of course, the one theory that no-one was willing to write down: maybe nobody cared enough to do anything.

I explain:

  • Why wizards attitudes to child protection are different to muggles

  • Why it would be more surprising if James and Sirus had been called to account.

The simplest explanation is most likely to be true. Certainly the theory that no one really cared about the werewolf incident is no less believable than the other conspiracy theories.

The reason this theory has no supporters is because as readers we consciously and unconsciously project our own world views onto a fantasy adventure set in a completely different society. In our world view violence, abuse and endangerment of children is not acceptable and must be punished.

I have written before about how Wizarding society is not a parallel world to modern Britain. Demographically and culturally it resembles a pre-industrial society more than modern Britain but as it has magic, it appears more “advanced” (A Pre-Industrial Society). There is no reason to believe that the wizarding world’s attitude to children and childhood is anywhere near as idealistic and caring as our own.

We must remember that the concept and practice of child protection is a very recent one. The idea of childhood being a “special” time is a 19th century invention. Before wizarding seclusion in the 17th century, children were regarded as sinful beings that needed discipline not protection. Moreover, children were the property and responsibility of only their parents. Society as whole had no place poking its nose into childrens’ welfare inside or outside the home as it was a private matter. The wizarding world appears to have carried this attitude on with them when seclusion came and unlike modern Britain they never lost this notion.

The most obvious example of the Wizarding world’s relatively “callous” attitude to children is the sheer number of dangerous and downright cruel incidents of bullying at Hogwarts not just between the students but also by members of staff. This is not just tolerated, but also condoned by the staff, the governors and presumably the Ministry of Magic. If OFSTED (the current organisation responsible for inspecting British schools) ever visited Hogwarts it would be shut down before the inspection ever finished.

There is no room for plausible deniability on behalf of adults about the dangerous incidents at Hogwarts. The staff live full time in the school. They are not blind, deaf and stupid. In fact they fully participate in humiliating, and sometimes physically manhandling their students. Even Flitwick makes Seamus write out humiliating lines for a momentary lapse in concentration. The governors are parents of children in the school, the Ministry of Magic is populated by parents and ex-pupils. Everyone from the Minister to Stan Shunpike knows exactly what is happening at Hogwarts and nobody cares.

Clearly child protection, as we understand it, does not feature on anyone’s agenda. Hogwarts operates on a “as long as no one dies anything goes” philosophy and the only reason anyone even cares about students dying is the ensuing fuss their parents will make.

Not only is the prevailing attitude of adults unconcerned about childrens’ welfare, the children accept violence, bullying, humiliation and intimidation as the norm. Throughout the book we have hardly any incidences of children actually reporting abuse unless they had an ulterior motive. Hardly any cases of bullying/abuse are actually dealt with in a fashion that would be acceptable in a modern British school.

When Neville Longbottom is physically punched unconscious by Crabbe and Goyle during a first year quidditch match, there is no evidence of the case being reported to or dealt with by a qualified member of staff. Even when Snape was informed that Montague had reappeared out of the Vanishing cupboard after the child had been missing for days, there was no internal or external investigation despite the fact Montague clearly suffered some kind of brain damage. The twins
were never bought to account even though they planned to endanger Montague’s life.

The prevailing attitude at Hogwarts appears to be a deep opposition to involving staff members in private disputes between students. The staff themselves must know far more than they ever say or act upon. They only step forwards to dispense discipline if their lessons are being disrupted or they catch the culprit so red-handed they are obliged to do something right then and there. Otherwise they are distant authority figures who are happy to let all manner of dangerous incidents slide into obscurity.

Based on this pattern of events, it seems much more likely that the werewolf incident was simply allowed to slide into obscurity without any kind of appropriate action being taken. I highly doubt the proud and aloft teenage Severus would voluntarily involve the staff even though it was in fact attempted murder. It is almost a matter of honour that he extracts his own revenge. I am sure the staff knew what had happened,

Whilst this sounds barbaric to our modern tastes: I direct you to the book Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Although it is a work of fiction it does accurately describe life at a 19th century boarding in England.  In fact the whole atmosphere of the boarding school sounds exactly like Hogwarts without the magic. There is one particularly horrific incident where Tom is held against a fire and has his back almost completely charred but specifically refused to tell any of the staff who did it, intending to extract his own revenge.

If we look at the werewolf incident not through our own modern worldview but in the context of all the other children endangerment incidents that have occurred at Hogwarts, we shouldn’t be surprised that Sirius and James were never punished, or that James Potter became head boy. It is entirely in keeping with how almost all incidents of this nature are handled by Hogwarts. It was swept under the proverbial rug.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 1st, 2015 08:52 am (UTC)
Eminently possible, I believe. Good work. :)
(no subject) - bbbbbaran - Jul. 1st, 2015 09:36 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 1st, 2015 04:40 pm (UTC)
I have a book around the house called Boys Together, a nonfiction work about actual day-to-day life in schools like Eton, Harrow, and Rugby in the mid-nineteenth century. The atmosphere was very like Hogwarts; the boys more-or-less ran their own lives (in between lessons) and got up to stunts that would get their modern descendants thrown into juvie, or whatever's the British equivalent.
Jul. 2nd, 2015 03:46 pm (UTC)
24 June 2015 - 2 July 2015
User metanewsmods referenced to your post from 24 June 2015 - 2 July 2015 saying: [...] arrypotter, topic:psychology Getting Away with Murder: Snape, Sirius, and the Warewolf Incident [...]
Jul. 16th, 2015 11:41 am (UTC)
I always assumed that the whole affair was swept under the rug because of Remus. Aside from James certainly wouldn't have gotten punished for saving Severus live (he was not in on the prank after all), if Sirius had been punished, for example expelled, the whole affair would have become public, which would have exposed Remus which in turn would have caused parents to insist that he gets removed from the school. So in the end Remus, the most innocent in this set-up, would have gotten the harshest punishment.
So if James matured later on, why shouldn't he have become headboy? Again, he was not the one who pointed Severus to the Willow, Sirius was, James was the one who went and prevented a real catastrophe from happening. And Sirius...I am sure that Dumbledore had an interest in keeping him at Hogwarts and away from his family.
Sep. 11th, 2015 04:38 am (UTC)
I enjoyed your observations about the lack of child safety social standards in wizarding society -- certainly when we read in book 1 that Harry thought Dumbledore was giving him a chance to face Voldemort on his own at the age of 11 out of some kind of sense of fair play, we were given fair warning that the hugely inappropriate endangerment of children would be par for the course in this series.

I don't think this was really an intentional or coherent decision on the author's part, though, and I find it puzzlingly inconsistent throughout the books. I mean, there seems to be incidental evidence in the books that wizarding society might have more restrictions against child endangerment than this essay suggests. There is, for example, the insistence by all staff members at the Battle of Hogwarts that no minors (under 17 year olds, in wizarding society) will be allowed to fight, even should they wish to. There is a similar age reservation placed on entrants into the TriWizard tournament. In Deathly Hallows, Aberforth asks Harry whether he thinks that the job Dumbledore gave him to do was a safe or appropriate one for a 17 year old, implying that Aberforth had higher standards for child safety than his brother did.

There is even some puzzling inconsistency in the werewolf incident itself and the issues surrounding it. As others have noted above, it seems strange that Dumbledore was so protective of Lupin and so dismissive of Snape. It was not simply a case of him ignoring what happened because he didn't care to get involved in student rivalries-- he got quite decisively involved. Lupin says of Snape: "He was forbidden by Dumbledore to tell anybody." So, he is almost murdered, and the headmaster calls him in and tells him that not only is nothing going to be done about it, but he is not allowed ever to tell anyone what happened, not just his parents or authorities but his fellow students as well. Snape doesn't seem to have told Lily, given what she says in the flashbacks in Deathly Hallows. I can only assume that Dumbledore threatened him with expulsion if he opened his mouth. That doesn't seem like staying aloof and letting boyhood rivalries play out amongst the students, it seems like taking sides.

Also, look at the adult Lupin. He was so ashamed, in retrospect, that he had broken the security measures Dumbledore had set up for him by going out with his Animagus friends that he COULD NOT bring himself to confess to these reckless teenage expeditions even twenty years later WHEN PEOPLE'S LIVES were obviously at stake. If he told Dumbledore that Sirius was an Animagus, he would have to tell him that they used to run around the grounds and routinely had close calls wherein he nearly bit people, and Lupin considers that a total betrayal of Dumbledore's trust and cannot bring himself to confess it. So it seems like he doesn't think that Dumbledore wouldn't care about something like that. He assumes, instead, that it is such a shameful secret that it's better to just keep quiet and hope that Sirius's Animagi abilities have nothing to do with how he's breaking into the castle grounds and trying to murder Harry. Which...is crazy. But it seems, again, to imply that Lupin felt he had violated important wizarding norms of safety in his youth. Which implies, in turn, that there are some.

Edited at 2015-09-11 04:39 am (UTC)
Oct. 28th, 2015 06:32 am (UTC)
Another fascinating essay...
...I can always rely on you to write something good :^) thoughtful. It's after 2 am where I am so I'm just going to record random thoughts that may or may not be coherent.

1. Yes I agree, nothing happened because no one cared. But the relevant question is WHY didn't anyone care?

2. You've answered that partly by saying that wizard children aren't as easily seriously injured and that everyone is walking around armed anyway. Also, that they are operating on a pre-Industrial mindset.

3. I think a more precise explanation is that everything operates on the basis of POWER. Although the official ethos is one thing - we're all magical beings together so we're all equal, tra-la-la, the reality is might makes right. Say what you want about Voldemort, but when it came to how wizard society should be run he was ruthlessly honest - which was probably part of his appeal.

To be continued...
Oct. 28th, 2015 06:34 am (UTC)
Part 2

4. I have a whole head canon that I flatter myself into thinking makes sense of this insane world. It goes as follows:

-- This is in many ways a patchwork society and the different patches are at war with themselves. Swythv, whose wonderful essay series seems to have mostly disappeared from the web, posited that the war actually had three fronts: the Merlinists who consisted of Dumbledore's party (and essentially were monarchists with Nicholas Flamel as the essentially immortal king), the Mordred-ists who were Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and the Modernists who supported the Ministry (Delores Umbridge et al). Brilliant theory. She gave me permission to use it in my fanon. So my twist on that is that those parties also operate in different cultural time zones. The Merlinists are medieval. The Modernists inhabit a historical range somewhere between the Victorian Age at the earliest and either post-WWI or the 1930s at the latest. The Death Eaters actually go all the way back to the Pagan era when human sacrifice (and the savagery that accompanied it) was a cultural and religious norm.

--Not everyone has a wand and this is normal. Whatever Rowling intended, I cannot look at folks like Stan Shunpike (and bus driver Ernie), Tom who runs the Leaky Cauldron or the Trolley Lady who sells the snacks on the train and believe they actually went to Hogwarts. While I can conceive of Tome having a wand, my brain refuses to believe that Stan, Ernie or Trolley Lady have one. And if you didn't have one, you didn't go to Hogwarts or you flunked out like Hagrid did. Yet Hagrid still has pieces of his wand that he can't resist using. I highly doubt anyone who flunked wouldn't have held onto their broken wand (we're told the wand is broken not confiscated). So to me there is a whole cadre of folks out there who are not Muggles and not Squibs. They have enough magic to not be squibs but not enough to attend Hogwarts. This makes them less than full citizens and they get treated accordingly. In other words this is a society that sees vast power differentials as a matter of course. When that happens ALWAYS expect to see a lot of violence in every day life as a matter of course. Which means children will of course be brutalized. (As I've aged I've lost all patience with people who say do it for the children or who try to make a crime or disaster sound worse because it involves children. Really? The reality is that if adults brutalize each other they will ABSOLUTELY brutalize their own or others' children. Why? It's a power problem. Children can NEVER escape adult power. And those in power will ALWAYS lie and victimize others to protect that power. All that other talk about do it for the kids is straight up bullsh*t. And I will never believe that children will be treated well until we ALL start treating each other well at any age...)

--Having magic creates a moral dilemma that strikes right to the heart of being human. The worse sin humans have is trying to push God (Goddess, gods, the third law of thermodynamics, whatever one considers to be the supreme authority) off His throne. Call it hubris. Call it harmartia. Call it the fatal flaw. Call it original sin. Whatever. The point is, in my view, the basis if of humanity is that we are LIMITED. We are limited to the point that we HAVE to depend on someone else at some point in time in order to survive and be fully human. If we ever get a taste of or access to power that obscures that reality, we start to lose our humanity and begin to think we are God. Look at Voldemort. It is fundamental for humans to die. Yet he thought he thought he could beat that. Pure hubris. But this is the problem with magic. It confers so much godlike power even in little ways that it's easy to confuse oneself with God. At that point, your foot starts sliding toward the abyss. I believe this problem sits at the heart of wizard society and was only exacerbated by the statue of secrecy and the separation and hiding away from the muggle population.

To be continued...
Oct. 28th, 2015 06:35 am (UTC)
Part 3

-- In my fanon, magic was something that was available to everyone at the dawn of humanity. Some people could wield it individually with the help of natural elements (like the wizards who use wands today). Some did it through group participation in rituals like the covens. At some point, however, this universal access to magic disappeared. Whether that disappearance was natural or man made, it happened. At the same type, the culture changed to embrace religions that forbade its use and campaigned to stamp it out. I can't imagine that kind of, well, what amounts to a genocide (the Cathars anyone?) had a salutary effect on the wizard community's collective psyche. Callousness and brutality would be a natural by product.

Okay enough of that. I gotta get me some sleep...
Apr. 8th, 2016 01:53 pm (UTC)
Sirius and the Blacks
I have my theory why Sirius wasn't punished. The most common explanation in fanfics is Dumbledore's favouritism of Gryffindors. But leave that alone for Snape-fangirls, Dumbledore-bashers.

The key is in whos grandson Sirius was. His paternal grandfather - Arcturus Black, was a guy who according to date had the ministry in his pocket. Sirius' maternal grandfather was Pollux Black, probably also an important citizen, not some Arthur Weasley. The Black family was one of the most important in wizarding Britain, rich, influential.

So even if Dumbledore would try to expell Sirius. There are two ways, but both have the same outcome.
1. He just expeled Sirius, but not gave any official reasons. So the Blacks would ask questions why their heir was expaled. And the answer would be: he tried to feed other student to a werewolf. So there would be an outrage, what did the werewolf do at Hogwarts. So Dumbledore might even loose his post.
2. Dumbledore would expell Sirius, and send a letter to his family, about Sirius' deed. So the Black would ask an question: what did werewolf do at Hogwarts? And the outcome be the same as above.

Also Sirius expulsion wouldn't cause his wand snapped. He was from too influential family, they just send him to other school, Durmstrang or Beaxubattom. He wasn't Hagrid, some half-giat with a shaddy ancenstry, he was a Black :)
Aug. 22nd, 2016 03:35 am (UTC)
RE: Sirius and the Blacks
With respect, you are forgetting that this incident took place the same year that Sirius ran away from home and was ceremoniously disowned by his family. I really can't imagine them rushing in to shield Sirius and cover up his mess a la the Malfoys. And I would like to ask how do we know Sirius wasn't punished? Other then James saving Snape and Snape being sworn to secrecy with regards to Remus we know nothing about the aftermath of this whole affair.
Aug. 22nd, 2016 03:13 pm (UTC)
RE: Sirius and the Blacks
With respect, you are forgetting that this incident took place the same year that Sirius ran away from home and was ceremoniously disowned by his family. I really can't imagine them rushing in to shield Sirius and cover up his mess a la the Malfoys. And I would like to ask how do we know Sirius wasn't punished? Other then James saving Snape and Snape being sworn to secrecy with regards to Remus we know nothing about the aftermath of this whole affair.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )



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