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.
- 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.