Question About Fidelius Charm

I received a list of questions this morning from a reader in Germany, Bernhard Nowak. Herr Nowak was disappointed in what he felt was the inconsistency of Deathly Hallows with the previous books of the series and Ms. Rowling’s comments on her web site. He wrote a polite letter to Christopher Little, Ms. Rowling’s literary agent, and to Bloomsbury, in which letter he detailed ten specific points that he thought didn’t line up, points that the Continuity Editor, if not Ms. Rowling herself, should have caught.

He has not received a response. Having just finished reading my The Deathly Hallows Lectures in which I discuss the questions I would ask Ms. Rowling in an interview, he sent his questions to me on the unlikely chance Ms. Rowling and I ever have tea.

I post the best of Herr Nowak’s ten questions here, one about the Fidelius Charm, with his permission. Is this a continuity gaffe? Can it be explained logically within canon? Or do we need an ex machina explanation? What, for example, does the inability of Death Eaters to enter 12 Grimmauld Place in Deathly Hallows tell us about the continuing effect of the Fidelius Charm? Are they only there because Harry and friends continuously break the Name Taboo?

Herr Nowak’s question for your consideration:

Why does the fidelius charm suddenly operate differently in the book compared to the description on JK Rowling’s website?

On the website, it reads:

“What happens to a secret when the Secret-Keeper dies?

I was surprised that this question won, because it is not the one that I’d have voted for… but hey, if this is what you want to know, this is what you want to know!

When a Secret-Keeper dies, their secret dies with them, or, to put it another way, the status of their secret will remain as it was at the moment of their death. Everybody in whom they confided will continue to know the hidden information, but nobody else.

Just in case you have forgotten exactly how the Fidelius Charm works, it is

“an immensely complex spell involving the magical concealment of a secret inside a single, living soul. The information is hidden inside the chosen person, or Secret-Keeper, and is henceforth impossible to find — unless, of course, the Secret-Keeper chooses to divulge it” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

In other words, a secret (eg, the location of a family in hiding, like the Potters) is enchanted so that it is protected by a single Keeper (in our example, Peter Pettigrew, a.k.a. Wormtail). Thenceforth nobody else – not even the subjects of the secret themselves – can divulge the secret. Even if one of the Potters had been captured, force fed Veritaserum or placed under the Imperius Curse, they would not have been able to give away the whereabouts of the other two. The only people who ever knew their precise location were those whom Wormtail had told directly, but none of them would have been able to pass on the information.

All rights reserved JK Rowling.”

By contrast, in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” on page 79 it reads:

„Mr. Weasley had explained that after the death of of Dumbledore, their secret-keeper, each of the people to whom Dumbledore had confided Grimmauld Place`s location had become a Secret Keeper in turn. “And as there are around twenty of us, that greatly dilutes the power of the Fidelius Charm. Twenty times as many oppoertunities for the Death Eaters to get the secret of somebody. We can`t expect to hold much longer.”

Could you please explain the obvious contradiction to the website text, which excludes the disclosure of the secret to third parties[?] How can the Death Eaters find out about the Grimmauld’s Place secret, if – according to the JK Rowling website information – it cannot be divulged to third parties? Is this difference due to a lack of planning or simple sloppiness?

John here again. An excellent question. Can the answer be as straight forward as Mr. Weasley (and the Order?) don’t understand the Fidelius Charm or are being overly cautious in not using the House of Black for their Headquarters? For story telling reasons — the trio’s discovery of R.A.B and the Snape torn photo, the Kreacher chrysalis — Ms. Rowling doesn’t want the whole Order visiting, of course. The Death Eaters, as mentioned, might only be waiting outside because of the Name Taboo being violated again and again, so it isn’t as if Mr. Weasley’s explanation played out and they have learned its unplottable location from a “new” Secret Keeper-traitor.

I look forward to your comments and corrections, as well as to links to other sites where this Flint has already been discussed.


  1. Radek Piskorski says

    Sorry for not reading the whole comment section, but it is very long. I wish to respond to Felicity’s very long and carefully argued comment, though.

    I think the main problem with the Fidelius Charm is the wording and the precise nature of the information which is being hidden. A piece of information is hidden and not a person or the location of a house. Unfortunately, we have only seen examples of places being hidden, but any piece of information could be protected: a number, or a joke’s punchline, or a name.

    So this changes things a bit. For example, the Potters’ neighbors would probably still be able to see the house, because “the Potter family lives next door” is not the information being hidden. They knew where they lived before and would continue to know that. And if they didn’t know who lived there at all, this is even easier – like I said, it’s not physical objects which are being protected, but pieces of information – they would still see the house as normal, because they don’t know it’s a hiding place for anyone.

    As for Hagrid, I think he knew the secret before the charm was cast, so that’s that.

    I think both things apply to Ron and Shell Cottage. It was not Bill and Fleur’s address that was being protected after all – it was only the fact that it was a hiding place.

    Also I still believe the characters got it wrong regarding the Secret Keeper’s death.

  2. Melissa Ross says

    How does the fact that the address of #12 Grimmauld place is in Sirius’s will and the Ministry under Voldemort’s control has access to this information not break the charms hold? What I don’t understand is the basis of the charm in the first place. If you know the address of a building or house and have been inside said house prior to the casting of this spell how can you not be able to get into the place once the spell is cast? It may be invisible but does that also conclude that it’s no longer tangible to those not in on the secret? Additionally if the ministry sees the address in this will wouldn’t that give them knowledge of the place and therefore contradicts the spell in the first place being that Sirius shouldn’t have been able to write down the address since he wasn’t the secret keeper. I’m so confused.

  3. Please see the Lexicon discussion of the Fidelius Charm and the essays to which they link:

    Hope this helps!


  4. Pascal Fernandes says

    no what happend is Jo changed her mind as she wrote the book and relised it makes more sense that way.
    once she sayed she hatet answearing questions as the books wher written as she might change her minde on how things work to work better with her plot.

  5. Pascal Fernandes says

    infact ahe changed it after she finished OOTP as ahe revised her planed plot she relised the Charm writers her into a corner in book 7 she needed to slightly ajust it.
    thats why she hatet answearing how things worked as the books wher writen.
    from the begining the fidelius charm existet as a secret Keeper was always part of the plan. by book 5 she relised however sone issues and chaged how it worked too better serve the plot. worldbuilding serves the plot. Not the other way around.
    by the time she relised These mistakes the plot Was to far along all she coukd Do is ajust what is ther. basicly she simply ignored her interview answears

    the fidelius charm works like this
    a secret Keeper must freelie give the secret of whats hidden to someone
    everyone who knews the secret becomes a secret Keeper ones the original one dies

    the spell is broken when the secret is destroyed or killed.

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