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The Secrets of the Fidelius Charm

by Christine Kendrick

The Fidelius Charm is a powerful charm that is central to the Harry Potter tale. The house at Godric's Hollow, 12 Grimmauld Place, and Shell Cottage are three properties that are protected by the Fidelius Charm, three properties that have been secured against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. But within each property we see differences in the way the Fidelius Charm works.

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Reader Comments: (Page 3)

Dobby´s grave was inside the boundaries of the Fidelius Charm. I´ve just been rereading those parts of the book, and I think this became clear in the scene where Harry, Ron, Hermione and Griphook were leaving Shell Cottage. So, they could have cast the Fidelius Charm while Harry was digging the grave. I think it took some time to dig it. Or, if the charm was cast before Harry apparated there with Griphook and Dobby, then Dobby must have guided them, though he was wounded. In that case, Bill, who was the secret-keeper, could have told Dobby how to get in.

Posted by Sara from Finland on September 29, 2007 1:55 PM

Dave, I disagree with you. I think showing Harry the note was just ONE way to bring him in on the secret. but I bet there are a ton of other ways they could of told him about 12 Grimmauld Place, as I think there are a couple possible ways Harry could of found out about Shell Cottage. One, he could be in the area when the spell was cast. Two, Bill or Fluer told him when they saw him. Three, there may be a way in the carm to be able to say who you want to be able to see the area with out telling them in person. Great job!

Posted by Amy D from California on September 29, 2007 3:52 PM

I agree with the comment posted by Ariadna from Mexico. I think that JK must have made some mistake. She is human, it happens. Trying to analyse it to this degree is trying to find something that is not there.

Posted by thermos from Edmonton, Canada on September 29, 2007 4:22 PM

I think you just have to let it go that jk made a mistake in her writing. maybe not a mistake, but she probably didn't think the fidelius charm was too important to the story, and so she didn't spend too much time thinking it through. or maybe she made the fidelius charm come in parts, like wizards can choose which protections to put on their homes, maybe some or all of them. it could be like a whole section of magic, like transfiguration or charms. there are many different fidelius spells, and the whole operation is just called the fidelius charm.

Posted by kristina from new jersey on September 29, 2007 5:32 PM

I admit that, at first, it seemed to me that JKR over a period of 10-17 years of planning and writing the HP series simply changed her ideas about what kept the Fidelius Charm functioning, how it could end, etc. I don't think she EVER considered (in the beginning, at least) how obsessive her fans would become and how every detail would be scrutinized as though it were an integral part of the functioning universe!

That said, I wonder if she didn't just see the charm as a sort of Wizard security system; meant to protect a place and everything and everyone in it unless the installer or the owners confide in a friend or friends certain details like passwords and codes that would dilute or remove the effectiveness of the system. If the system is compromised, a criminal could get past it, commit a burglary or worse. The secret keeper or owner of such a device could allow certain people in, keep others out; choose an extensive system or a more moderate one. Just like with the Muggle version.

In this regard, I tend to agree with kristina from new jersey that the charm may have had parts and the caster chose which of the parts were needed to protect his property.

Overall, with only a brief rereading of the references to the Fidelius Charm, it seems to me that each time Jo refers to it, she gives us different details but I don't think the new details actually negate previous details. I think they add to what we know. Yet, I have the feeling that we don't know everything there is to know, even now, and so it just appears that there are contradictions.

Flitwick gives us lots of initial information in PoA except he doesn't explain what happens to the secret if the caster s. Harry, who can see the ruins, which incidentally can only be seen by wizards, believes the protection d with his parents. Well, it must have as he could not have been rescued by Hagrid if the charm was still in place. In OotP, we assume the caster wasn't Dumbledore but it didn't have to be Snape. In DH, we're told that 20 secret-keepers dilute the charm--well of course! There are twenty chances that "loose lips [] sink ships". Hermione thought she gave Yaxley the secret by bringing him into the protection of the charm and Harry privately agreed. But, she never told Yaxley so he probably didn't know the secret. He may have seen where they had been hiding but couldn't get in again on his own. The trio didn't return based on their assumption so we don't know for sure.

As for Shell Cottage, I believe the charm was cast sometime while Ron was staying with Bill and Fleur. Dobby getting in was, as someone above stated, due to the fact that elves have their own brand of magic. And, let's not forget, Ron told him the location.

Maybe, the Fidelius Charm is not as flawed as it appeared to begin with.

Posted by Hannah from Los Angeles on September 29, 2007 10:57 PM

kristina - I disagree that the Fidelius Charm was not 'too important to the story' - the charm is integral to the plot.
The charm revolves around trust, betrayal, secrets, and lies - which is complex enough in itself. If Snape had never told Dumbledore then no charm would have been cast - if no charm had been cast then the Potter's would perhaps not have been caught off guard, wandless and vunerable. Lily may never have been given the chance to live.
Without the charm Sirius Black would not have spent 12yrs in Azkaban falsely accused of the of Pettigrew and hated by his former friends for a betrayal he did not do. If Sirius Black had not spent 12yrs in Azkaban he would not have been the man he was - reckless, tortured - destroyed.

Also - regarding the charm being placed on Shell Cottage. The charm could not have been in place before Harry & Ron went there with Dobby, because Bill is the secret-keeper and it doesn't matter one jot how many people know where Shell Cottage is - only the Secret Keeper can reveal it. Consider Bellatrix LeStrange at the beginning of HBP berating Snape on his lack of information regarding the headquarters of the Order, whilst he knows exactly where it is - knows how to get there, has been there on countless ocassions he tell Bellatrix: 'I am not the Secret Keeper, I cannot speak the name of the place. You understand how the enchantment works, I think?' (HBP, uk hb p.35). Therefore Ron would not have been able to tell a soul about Shell Cottage if the charm had already been cast. Secondly the charm was not put on the cottage until the Weasley's discovered that the Eaters knew Ron was with Harry - and this did not happen until Malfoy Manor. Plus, it is Harry who apparates to Shell Cottage - he takes Dobby, not vice versa:

'Harry siezed Dobby's hand and he spun on the spot to Disapparate.....
Bill and Fleur's... Shell Cottage... Bill and Fleur's...
He disappeared into the unknown; all he could do was repeat the name of the destination and hope that it would suffice to take him there.' (DH uk 384)
If the charm had already been cast he would not have been able to Disapparate there, because if he could then all Voldemort ever had to do was say 'The Potter's... Godrics Hollow...'

Posted by Orlando from England on September 30, 2007 02:14 AM

What if when Harry went to Shell Cotage, he landed just outside the Fidelius Charm and the Bill told Harry, which is how he got in. Or maybe Dobby along with Harry went to shell cotage while Dobby knew how to get in.

Posted by Meg from round rock texas on September 30, 2007 12:39 PM

About Dobby getting to Shell Cottage, there are two ways. One is that Ron knew how to get in because Bill told him how when he was staying there, and the other is that since Dobby is a house-elf, he would be able to get in with his kind of magic.

I think it does make sense that the Fidelius Charm was cast on the Potters, themselves, as long as they were in the house. A weird thought just came to me: if th Fidelius Charm still worked, and Harry went inside the house later with Ron and Hermione, wouldn't he disappear? "Harry! Where are you?"

Posted by C.J. from Utah on September 30, 2007 2:15 PM

That's a great article, and I'm amazed by the quality of the discussions, in this topic as well as in other ones.

Just a few comments:

Speaking of Godric's Hollow, I think it depends on how the charm was cast. Maybe, the sentence was: "the Potter are hiding in the first house on the right side of the church". Then, the charm applied to both the house and the Potter family, you could see the house, but not the Potters inside the house.

The article seems to me very logical and would lead to the right conclusion if Jo's writing was flawless and perfectly logical. Unfortunately, there are many examples showing that Jo didn't make it perfectly logical. The first books were very carefully written, but then she contradicted herself in many occasions.

Posted by herve from strasbourg on October 1, 2007 12:35 AM

Could it be that Harry uningly showed Hermione the house, and the visitors knew because of knowledge passed down through families?

Posted by The Forest Moon on October 1, 2007 04:40 AM

Obviously, Jo extended the rules of Fidelius Charm towards what would be useful for her plot. I don't think she really tried to be perfectly consistant.

For instance, take alone DH, her writing is unconsistant: Arthur Weasley (was it Arthur?) tells the trio that Dumbledore's extends the secret keeping to anyone who knew 12 Grimmault Place's location. Then, Snape could reveal the location to any Eater. That could be done by simply writing on a piece of paper. Why then did Arthur act as if Snape was the only one able to step in? Why did he put devices inside the house, that would work against Snape? Why did Hermione consider that revealing the place to Yaxley would make it more dangerous? On one hand, Snape is a secret keeper, on the other hand, he's not supposed to be able to reveal the secret to the whole bunch of Eaters. And as he obviously did not, Hermione should guess that Snape wasn't on the Eaters' side.

Posted by herve from strasbourg on October 1, 2007 07:36 AM

This is confusing me: I thought the Fidelius Charm on Godric's Hollow was broken because Peter Pettigrew told Voldemort the secret he was supposed to keep?
I thought the charm breaks when the keeper reveals the secret it contains?

Posted by Siena from Leeds, UK on October 1, 2007 07:49 AM

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