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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 9)

Dave, I thoroughly enjoy reading your thoughts and ideas about everything HP. I have a few comments on this one though.

1. I do not think that the of the spell caster reveal the secret, but rather the of the secret's subject, such as the Potters. However there is the opposing argument to that because Harry hadn't d. But that is hard to argue either way because we do not know exactly how he fit into the charm. He may have just been included as someone who the secret was told to.

2. I agree with a response you gave to a comment about side along apparition. A person probably can apparate someone else into the secret place but the extra person still does not officially know the secret, and could not find the place again later. This would help explain the whole Dobby thing with Harry. Ron told Dobby about where Shell Cottage was, allowing Dobby to take the others to the boundary of the charm. Then Bill could have run out and told them all the secret, which allowed Dobby to come back with Harry in tow. Then at any point in time Bill could have told Harry the secret allowing him to come and go as he pleases. Also, we cannot assume that the fidelius charm is affective against house elves, as we clearly see that house elves magic allows them to do things even wizards cannot, such as apparating/disappartaing in the famous cave in HBP.

3. I think that a secret keeper can bring a person to the secret place simply by being with them and consciously wanting them to know the secret. In OOTP Dumbledore could not be there when Harry arrived, so he wrote him the note. In HBP Dumbledore escorted Harry to The Burrow, but it is never explicitly said that the fidelius charm was cast on The Burrow at the time. In fact I would say that it wasn't because the Weasley's were still able to receive mail and later have a wedding at the house. Yes there were protective charms on The Burrow, but it would not have been feasible to have a wedding there if Mr. Weasley had to personally let every guest know the secret. The protection did say that people couldn't apparate in at that point in time. I do not think that the fidelius charm was performed on The Burrow until after the Eaters found out that Ron was with Harry. So the example of Dumbledore escorting Harry to the Burrow really wouldn't even apply to the fidelius charm article.

All in all, I believe that the charm is effective as protection, because no one even knows who the secret keeper is (usually) unless they are already being let in on the secret itself. The fact that the secret holders become keepers themselves upon the of the original secret keeper is something that is rarely of concern because most times the secret keeper does not . Dumbledore's (even though preplanned with Snape) was not foreseen until after he had contracted the curse from Voldemort's ring. The main arguments against the fidelius charm are actually given by Dumbledore himself in HBP when ownership of the secret property comes into question.

Posted by Keith Pastorek from Johnstown, PA on November 5, 2007 11:41 AM

Actually, there never was a Fidelius Charm cast on the Burrow at all. The Weasleys had moved into Muriel's and the Fidelius Charm was placed on that house. And when Bill told Harry about casting the Fidelius Charm, he said he had just gotten back from Muriel's, and though he didn't say it specifically, the way he said it seemed like the Fidelius Charm had just been cast. It makes sense this way because the Weasleys were in no real danger until Ron was caught by the Snatchers, then they knew he was with Harry and the Weasleys had to go into hiding. The Burrow was way to obvious, not to mention dangerous, to hide there, so they went to Muriel's and the Fidelius Charm was cast over there and at Shell Cottage.

Posted by C.J. from Utah on November 12, 2007 12:37 PM

1. The original Fidelius Charm that protected Harry, Lily and James would explicitly be broken if it was something like:

"James, Lily and Harry Potter are hiding from Lord Voldemort and his Eaters at James Potter's Home in Godric's Hollow." (I am going from memory but I believe that this cottage was the family home of James)

- Wormtail telling Voldemort the location truly "breaks" the intent of the charm and presumably the charm itself and JKR uses this term too.
- Once the cottage is destroyed and in ruins it might be argued that it is a) no longer a home and b) it is certainly not James Potter's home since he is .

Both of these "allow" Sirius and Hagrid to find the house and Hagrid to pick up Harry.

2. Knowing something that subsequently becomes a secret does not make you forget. The Fidelius Charm means that you can no longer find/act upon that "something." So Bellatrix and Narcissa could no longer find 12 Grimmauld Place even though they knew that to the House of Black - we even know Kreacher had visited them. DD and Sirius knew that Harry and James were at Godric's Hollow but couldn't see them and the Eaters knew that the trio were at the Order's HQ but couldn't see it.

3. Snape was a triple agent he had no intention of telling Vodelmort the location of 12 GP. Further, he kept up the act pretty well and even with the of Dumbledore he simply used his great occlumency powers to keep Voldemort from digging deeper. Voldemort didn't know who the Secret Keeper was so he had no idea that Snape could now divulge the location. Voldemort had no reason to suspect Snape was hiding something. Now, the Order did not know this so they went to further lengths to protect the location of 12 GP and keep it, and Kreacher, out of their hands. The trio risked alot by going their but trusted this was enough - until later when they saw Eaters outside 11/13 GP (unable to see 12 GP).

3. I agree that Yaxley was brought inside 12 GP's protection and now could see it himself. But he couldn't tell anyone else. I can imagine him entering 12 GP and getting spooked by the Moody tongue tying and Dumbledore apparition, going off to tell others and then found he couldn't. He could see it and enter it from then on but any intrusion was minimal. We never know and the trio doesn't risk going back.

4. The charm on Shell Cottage was put on after Harry's arrival. I don't have the book with me to re-read the exact sequence but that was my impression.

Posted by A.D. from Michigan on November 14, 2007 2:20 PM

We do not know the original charm so we can not say for sure that the Fidelius charm hid the house. One cannot forget that JKR chose to use a third party view of Harry's experiences for most of the book (except intro chapters and Quidditch). JKR did not bless Harry with all knowledge but she used other characters to fill in the gaps by explaining things to Harry or he over-heard them or even experienced them via his mind connection to Voldemort. In this case Harry, like us readers, didn't know if he would see the cottage at Godric's Hollow. When he did he suspected that the charm broke when his parents d. He was never told that the house was invisible but he assumed it was - this is especially the case because he had witnessed 12 Grimmauld Place being invisible until he knew the secret.

A key point I have not seen raised anywhere is the intent of the Fidelius Charm and the real role of the Secret Keeper. I think intent is a key ingrent in this charm as it is in many others - remember that you really had to mean it when casting an unforgivable charm. Well let's consider that the reason behind the charm was to protect the Potter family from being found by their enemies. Their location is in some way cast into a secret and then placed into the soul of the Secret Keeper. The name of the charm is Fidelius, "Semper Fidelis", or "Semper Fi" for short, is Latin for "Always faithful." The Secret Keeper is meant to be faithful, the concepts of trust and faith are bound up in the book and is a central theme. The fact that a Secret Keeper can tell anyone is not, in my opinion, part of the charm. The Secret Keeper is bound to ensure that the secret remains, well, a secret. He or she is to only tell people that they can trust that always remain "faithful" (Fidelis) to the charm. This is ensured to some degree by people that are told the secret not being able to pass it on themselves. But if someone was to act upon the secret in such a way that breaks the intent of the charm, in the case of the Potters it was their protection from their enemies, then the Secret itself is by definition broken.

The point I am making is that Harry was partly wrong. The charm hadn't broken, allowing the cottage to be seen, because his parents were ed (although that is probably when the charm broke). The charm was broken because either Wormtail broke the intent of the charm or Voldemort acted upon the information given to him by the Secret Keeper which also broke the intent of the charm.

I also double checked ly Hallows, The Wandmaker - On p. 388 (UK version), when the others approached Harry after digging the grave Bill was wearing a travelling Cloak so I assume that he had just traveled to the Burrow and assisted in moving folks to Muriel's house. On p. 390 Bill says that he has "been getting them all out" since they are now a target. I don't think we have to worry about house-elf magic nor how Ron knew nor whether Dobby guided Harry (except to help Harry in finding Shell Cottage because Harry had his doubts). At the time they apparated to Shell Cottage the Fidelius Charm was not in place. Bill cast the Fidelius Charm on Shell Cottage around this time and made it extend to beyond where Harry was digging. Don't forget it took Harry a long time to dig the grave and even after the small service for Dobby he got some alone time. By the time he made it into the cottage and saw the others listening to Bill talking about moving people we can assume the Fidelius was just put in place.

Further, we know the Fidelius charm extended beyond Dobby's grave because they had to walk beyond the grave to disapparate.

"...then turned and began to walk towards the point, just beyond the boundary wall, where the Fidelius Charm stopped working and they would be able to Disapparate."

Finally, do you know where Muriel's is? I don't so that Secret is still safe!

Posted by A.D. from Michigan on November 15, 2007 1:09 PM

In GOF dumbledore, the secret keeper of number 12 Grimmauld place, writes the address on a piece of parchment. but that is only one instance perhaps the secret keeper also could tell you in person. since Bill told Harry, Ron, and Hermione about shell cottage maybe thats how the dissaperated into the boundaries.

Posted by Anonymous on November 25, 2007 1:27 PM

The point of the Fidelius Charm is not who knows about it to start with, but that only the designated Secret Keeper can tell anyone new about it. Thus Snape, not having been the Order's Secret Keeper, cannot tell anyone else the location.

As for Shell Cottage, I think Bill only had the Fidelius Charm cast the night Harry, Ron and Hermione showed up. That was how I understood it. Up to then he was still going to work as was Mr Weasley and I suppose Fred and George. So it would seem rather pointless having a Fidelius Charm on your home when you could still be attacked going to or from work or even at work. You would only use it if you were seriously going into hiding. Must say though that I think being able to apparate in and out of a place under the charm gives it a serious weakness. Still, I guess if you want to keep even the general location a secret it makes sense. You just have to make sure no one catches hold of you as you are disapparating.

As for the cottage at Godric's Hollow being visible - I think the fact that Peter Pettigrew betrayed the whole intent of the charm by telling Voldemort so that James and Lily d, the cottage was destroyed and Harry was no longer there would be enough to break the charm. But even so, I think there were obviously people besides Peter who knew where the Potters were without being Secret Keepers. They would be able to see the cottage and get in. I'm sure Sirius and Hagrid were in that group whom Peter would have been authorised to tell after the charm was cast. Not being the Secret Keeper neither of them would be able to tell anyone else. Which leads me to wonder WHO cast the charm? Until I thought about it I assumed either Dumbledore or Flitwick did so, but does the caster have to know who the Secret Keeper is? If so it would have been known who the traitor was. So did Lily cast the charm? Her wand was excellent for charm work according to Ollivander. Or James? Or Sirius? And if Bill could be Secret Keeper for Shell Cottage, why the heck didn't either Lily or James become their own Secret Keeper?

Tell you what - it's tricky trying to foresee every loophole and close them when you plot this sort of thing. You really don't expect a bunch of geeks like us to come along and stick the whole thing under an electron microscope!

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on November 25, 2007 10:58 PM

Lily or James didn't become the secret keeper as it would be too obvious. in PoA Flitwick says that even if Voldemort would got hold of any of potters and torture them they could not divulge the information which implies that James was doing order's work (with his invisibility clock may be n so he could not go out when Dumbledore took his clock for examination as per lily's letter to sirius) and there was a chance that he could be got caught.

Posted by swati from india on November 26, 2007 9:59 PM

Yes, if James was going out on Order business that would be a risk. And I suppose the same for Lily, if she had to leave the house for any reason. Good point, Swati.

You can understand James becoming restless and frustrated confined to the house. Just like Sirius in OotP.

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on November 27, 2007 3:55 PM

Good question who cast the charm for the Potters. Obviously that person would know who the secret keeper was and therefore who had betrayed the secret so it couldn't have been Dumbledore or Flitwick (I always assumed it was Flitwick) but it could have been Sirius as he was the only person alive who knew that Peter was secret keeper. Even if he wasn't the caster of the charm, Sirius would have known who cast it. It could have been James or, more likely, Lily. The whole point about Pettigrew being secret keeper was that it was a bluff. If James or Lily had been their own secret keeper it wouldn't fit with the bluff idea...too obvious as Swati says.

Posted by Joe from England on December 4, 2007 05:11 AM

Actually, Joe, since Peter had been a devoted servant for the past few years ("'[Dumbledore] knew someone had been passing along information to You-Know-Who for quite some time.'"), he would have told Voldemort he was Secret-Keeper; the caster wouldn't have had to tell anybody. I always thought it was this way, JKR actually told us this in an indirect way. "It has happened, my Lord, the Potters have made me their Secret-Keeper..." It was actually Harry dreaming that Sirius had said this but Peter had actually done this or something like it in real life.

Posted by C.J. from Utah on December 7, 2007 12:40 PM

Well, personally, I don't think it really matters in the essence of the books. It doesn't change the story in any way, but still, it bugs me and boggles my mind. I wish JKR would explain it in her own words.

Posted by Camille from manchester on December 10, 2007 06:49 AM

Snape can tell people the location of 12 Grimmauld Place after Dumbledore s because all members of the order become secret keepers at this point...I agree with AD from Michigan that he used his powers of occlumency to prevent Voldemort from knowing he could tell the secret...good point that Voldemort didn't know Dumbledore had been secret keeper.

Yes, I agree, Pettigrew would have told Voldemort that he was secret keeper, the caster of the charm doesn't need to be involved in the betrayal of the secret...but only Voldemort, Pettigrew and Sirius knew this information (that Pettigrew was secret keeper) as far as we know (I suppose some of the eaters might have been told but we don't know this). Presumably James and Lily also knew who was secret keeper but they d without telling anyone we know about the switch between Sirius and Pettigrew.

I'm still thinking about whether Yaxley would have been able to pass on his knowledge of the whereabouts of 12 Grimmauld Place to the other eaters. I think AD is right. Although Yaxley grabs hold of Hermione and she takes him within the boundaries of the charm on 12 Grimmauld Place, he can see the house, but it doesn't make him a secret keeper...only the original members of the Order of the Phoenix at the time of Dumbledore's become secret keepers when he Yaxley would be unable to pass the secret on to anyone else new as he is not a secret keeper....So perhaps Grimmauld place was safer than Harry and the others really realized...only Yaxley would be able to get in...though this would be dangerous enough.

I like the idea of the intent of the charm being important...I think this is akin to the idea I tried to put across in earlier posts that the meaning of the charm is somehow important...but I think the concept of the intent puts it across much better. Thanks AD for your clear thinking and thorough research!

There's still the problem of how Hagrid and Dumbledore knew where Harry was. If they were part of some circle of friends who were told the secret of the Potters' hiding place then Peter would have had to have told them as secret keeper and they would have known that he was secret keeper and not Sirius. They don't know this so Peter couldn't have told them. Unless they knew where the Potters were before the charm was cast, couldn't find the house while the charm held (as AD suggests with regard to Bellatrix and Narcissa and 12 Grimmauld Place) but were then able to come and rescue Harry after the Charm broke.

Posted by Joe from England on December 11, 2007 03:39 AM

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