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New essay on the Fidelius Charm

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I’ve posted a new essay discussing how the Fidelius Charm works by Anna L. Black, a past contributor to the Lexicon’s Magical Beings and Named Beasts pages. Enjoy!


Pensieve (Comments)

  • DA Jones

    Do you think a Fidelius charm could only be placed on a ‘place’ or could it also be placed on a ‘secret or a person’. For example in the 7th book can Harry use it to hide Ginny? Or can Harry use it to hide the secret of the prophecy or of the horcruxes; so that he can say tell other members of the DA or Order members
    that he trusts?

  • journeymom

    Wonderful essay, well thought out.

  • Roonil Woolzib

    Like so many other things discussed in so many other essays, it could be a spoiler for the 7th book!

  • Anna L. Black

    DA Jones, I believe anything can be hidden by the Fidelius – whether is is a place, a person, or just some kind of information. That’s why I think, for example, that the Potters’ house itself was visible – they were the secret, and not the house.
    Your idea about hiding the prophecy seems very plausible to me! I doubt Harry would be able to hide the Horcruxes – they are not his secret, to begin with. When I think about it, the best thing for Voldemort to do was to hide the location of all of his Horcruxes inside someone, and then to kill the Secret Keeper. But I don’t want him to get any ideas, so I’ll stop now 🙂

  • Mikkel Larsen

    But doesn’t J K Rowling write in her answer to the FAQ-poll that the secret stay in the same state as when the secretkeeper dies? Hagrid and Dumbledore could have known the secret, perhaps gotten it by owlpost by Lily and James and written anonymously by Wormtail. They were both close friends of the Potters.

  • Pat Pat

    I think the idea that the death of the charm’s caster would eliminated the charm is correct. We saw in HBP that, when the caster dies, a charm is lifted (Dumbledore’s Petrificus Totalus charm on Harry at the top of the tower.) There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think that the Fidelius Charm would work differently from other magic.

  • Mikkel Larsen

    The exact quote from the FAQ-poll is “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.” I really don’t think the Fidelius charm is lifted at the secretkeepers death.

  • Mikkel Larsen

    I think I should make it clear that I think the essay cast a clearer light on the fidelius charms workings, especially in relation to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. It’s well thought out.

  • Reader2

    JKR says the secret lasts when the keeper dies, but she did not mention anything about the spell caster.
    Note, it does not have to be sekret keeper who castes the Fidelius charm, it can be a completely different person.

    Also, I am under impression that the charm does not get cast on a place or a person, but on a certain fact.
    It was not cast on the Potters or on the Godrics Hollow, but the fact that the Potters are staying at Godrics Hollow. It also was nto cast on the Grimmawld Place, but on the fact that the order is staying at Grimmawld place.
    For example, if Harry wanted to use the carm to hide Ginny, he would not be able to make her invisible to the enemie, but he would be able to make it so that anyone who does not know her name wont be able to find out, or to make it so anyone who does not know how close they are wont be able to learn about it.

  • Noemi

    charm is about spells. Fidelius charm is a spell. Whoever made it is called a spell caster. Suppose that one of the Potters is the spell caster, that would mean the spell won’t work anymore because they’re dead even if the secret-keeper is still alive. And I think we were given an answer to this in Book 6 when Dumbledore casted a spell and releases Harry after his death. Remember JKR’s message that a lot of questions were answered in Book 6 maybe this is one of those.

  • Noemi

    The Secret Keeper is not the caster of the fidelius charm. Remember Snape when he made the unbreakable vow. It wasn’t him that casted the spell. There was a third party that sealed their oath. Again, maybe this is the answer to the question about fidelius charm.

  • Mikkel Larsen

    It is of course true that the caster doesn’t need to be the secretkeeper. That would get us over the difficulty.
    Good thinking.
    It would probably be Lily who cast the spell on the Potters and Sirius on – what happens if the caster dies and not the secretkeeper. Wouldn’t Harry as the new owner have been required to cast the new Fidelius spell? Could his guardian (Aunt Petunia) be able to cast the spell even if she isn’t a wizard. Could anyone from the Order be able to cast the spell or did they just evacuate for good without telling Harry?

  • Reader2

    I would have to disagree with Ms. Black on the aspect of who knows about the Grimmawld Place.

    To me it seems more likely that Bellatrix and Narcissa very much remeber where #12 Grimmawld Place is located, the charm merely keeps from guessing that the place is used as the order headquarters.

    They could’ve found the house at anytime if they wanted to, but they wouldn’t want to, see as they had no desire to visit a house that belongs to their blood-traitor cousin.

    In the book, Dumbledore actually points out tha now Bellatrix actually has a claim for the house. So she might actually want to go and check what’s in it.

    Even if the charm can keep her somehow from finding it (which sound unlikely to me), she will get suspisous and try to figure out what’s going on.

    Even the Fidelius Charm can not be completely impenetrable, there must be some way to get around it.

    That’s why the order evacuated.

    The charm became simply useless.

  • Grace has Victory

    Actually, I suspect that Bellatrix could walk into No. 12 at any time. The nature of the Fidelius Charm is simply that she could walk right through a meeting of the Order and not know that it was happening. It is not clear exactly how this knowledge would be withheld, but it would be.

    JKR says that Fidelius is “immensely powerful”, and cannot be broken by Imperius or Veritaserum. Only the Secret Keeper can tell the secret.

    She also says that the death of the Secret Keeper does not break the spell.

    This raises the issue of how, 12 years later, various people knew that the Potters had been hiding at Godric’s Hollow. Perhaps they just knew by inference, since that’s where their bodies were found.

    How Dumbledore and Hagrid knew where to find Harry has always been a problem. I doubt Peter would have told them (especially not Hagrid). Perhaps Dumbledore simply took an educated guess. Or perhaps Anna is right, and the destruction of the house caused the end of the Charm – because the secret was no longer true.

    JKR’s statement on this subject is at http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq_poll.cfm

  • Kacky Snorgle

    Pat Pat, Kaylee, et al.:

    We should also keep in mind that not *all* spells automatically terminate when the caster dies. As one prominent example, consider the enchantments placed on the Sorting Hat by the four founders–they’re still in effect a thousand years later, enabling the Hat to select students according to each founder’s preferences.

    Probably there ought to be some more-or-less simple way to classify spells according to whether they do or do not survive their caster’s death. It seems that enchantments on an object generally *do*, whereas simple jinxes like Petrificus Totalus generally *don’t*. I’m not sure we really have enough information to determine which category a complex charm like the Fidelius belongs in…. If it came up on a WOMBAT, I’d guess that the Fidelius is broken by its caster’s death, but it’d be very much a guess.

    I think the effects of a werewolf’s bite almost have to continue after that werewolf dies, though. Just think: Who originally bit Greyback? and then who bit *him*? and so forth. Werewolves are mortal, so eventually you’ve got to get back to a great-great-grand-biter who’s dead by now…and yet Greyback’s still a werewolf, and so are the people infected by him.

  • Pat Pat


    That’s a good point about the Sorting Hat, which does seem to indicate that not all charms are lifted upon the death of the caster. However, I have a feeling that there is a difference between charms like that that permanently alter an object, or a person and something like the fidelius charm which, by its very nature, is meant to be temporary. I don’t think anyone intended for the Potters to stay in hiding indefinitely. It may be that the fidelius charm was lifted because its caster was dead or because the OBJECT of the charm was gone (the Potters and their house.)

    The other possibility is that the charm can be cast with specific rules built into it. For example, maybe Potters’ fidelius charm was designed to automatically terminate if and when Voldemort was defeated and the charm was no longer needed.

  • Ex_Pralite_Monk

    Does anyone else see the major risk in using the Fidelius Charm? What if the Secret Keeper does die, and unexpectedly? Then the secret could be secret forever. If say Wormtail suffered a heart attack (yes i know as a wizard he probably couldn’t, but he could die unexpectedly annother way as well) and died after the charm was cast but before he had a chance to reveal the location of the Potters to The Dark Lord, The Potters could, depnding on the parameters of the secret, have been stuck, hidden from the world forever.

    Dumbledore probably knew the whereabouts of the Potters. Because of who he is, he would have been told. Wormtail could have written a note with disguised handwriting and given that to him. But i cannot believe that Dumbledore wouldn’t know their location, given the strength of the charm and his capacity for knowing almost all that can be known.

    And on the point of what causes the Charm to break that harry is still alive. If the secret is where the Potters live, its not null after the attack because one of the Potters still lives, and lives in that location untill he is placed on the doorstep.

  • Reader2

    Do you see any reason to believe that the charm limits the subjects movements?
    I don’t.
    And it sounds like the secret you are refering to was “Potters are at the Godric’s Hollow”, this particular fact and nothing else.
    Currently, this fact does not hold, so there is nothing for the charm to hide.

  • Mikkel Larsen

    It seems likely that the Fidelius spell go on after casters/keepers death. What if we say that the spell is broken when the SECRET dies? Then its just the question what the secret is. If the secret was “where the Potter family is hiding ffrom He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” they could travel and visit people but when the adults were dead there was no family, just an orphan. Then the secret was dead and Hagrid would know where to go. If enough people are told there are no secret and the spell would probably be broken too. Remember! Dont let a gossip be your secretkeeper! 😉

  • Mikkel Larsen

    At rereading the essay I seem to have rgued my way into Ms Blacks conclusion 😀
    My respects.

  • daveindetroit

    just a small technical note. It was Sirius’s Father who made the house Unplottable (note the Order) to deter muggle visitors “…as if they had would have wanted to.” So it seems certain spells remain after the caster dies (as with the sorting comment above)

  • roonwit

    With regard to everyone knowing that The Potters’ died at Godric’s Hollow, Jo says that The only people who ever knew their precise location were those whom Wormtail had told directly so the secret could be phrased so that others could know that the Potters were at Godric’s Hollow village but still couldn’t trace them to a particular house.

  • red fox

    I think on the subject of the werewolf bite, the bite itself is not magic. Therefore when a werewolf does die whomever was bitten would stay a werewolf; ie. Lupin and Bill will stay werewolves.

    With the Fidelius charm the Potters changed secret-keepers from Sirius to Peter. I think Dumbledore would have been able to know the secret before the change and would know exactly where the Potters were. I agree with the idea that when the subjects that the secret is about cease to exist, whether it be a house or a couple, the charm no longer works. This is how Dumbledore is able to tell Hagrid where to go and how Hagrid is then able to find Harru and take him to Privet Drive.

  • Pat Pat

    red fox,

    When they said that the Potters changed secret keepers, I always assumed that meant that they made the change BEFORE the charm was cast. I never got the impression that Sirius was the secret keeper and then they recast the charm to make Peter the secret keeper.

  • dessessopsid

    When Sirius died, the OoP moved out of Grimmauld place, just in case Harry was not recognised as the owner. This to me, would then mean that the HQ of the OoP was not number 12 Grimmauld place at that time, thus the secret was no longer true. Therefore it can be inferred that, even when the secret isn’t true, the information in the secret still holds. I guess I just can’t believe that it would suddenly work again when they moved back in, that is when it was true again.

  • Mikkel Larsen

    dessessopsid, thats true. So, did the order stay away, did the spell hold when the caster died(with the difficulties that make for Hagrid) or could someone else than the owner cast the spell so it held or was renewed. Perhaps when Harry, as owner, said “I don’t care, you can use it” or words to that effect, it renewed the spell?

  • Firenze

    Concerning the problem of Hagrid knowing about Godric’s Hollow, I think that it is possible that he knew where they were going to hide before the spell was cast (as was Dumbledore who suggested the spell and maybe also the location). I think the trick of the Charm is that people may know the location but only the Secret Keeper is able to tell people who didn’t know it before (as is the case with 12 Grimmauld Place). Sirius knew as well, because he was in on the planning and Dumbledore and Sirius were the most trusted friends of the Potters.
    On if the charm ceased to work after the Potters died: I don’t think that’s the way it worked since Harry is Potter, too and the charm included him especially since he was the one Voldemort was after. I think it might be possible that it ceased because the house was destroyed, but I’m not convinced. It may have ceased the moment, Harry was taken to the Dursleys because than there was no secret to be kept at Godric’s Hollow anymore and it became known to other members of the wizarding community.
    And concerning Grimmauld Place and the evacuation after Sirius’ death. If I recall it correctly, Dumbledore specifically mentioned the Unplottable Charm when naming his reason for leaving the building. I think the ability to plot the house and let others come in is inherited by the owner of the house which was Sirius after his mothers death. If it had been Bellatrix after Sirius’ death she would have been able to simply come there. Although the Fidelius Charm would have prevented her from recognizing it as the Headquaters of the Order, she would have recognized Dumbledore or other members when seeing them and would certainly have tried to kill them.

  • auroracorealis

    I wonder what the order now does, when they want to get new members into Grimauld Place. Now that the secret-keeper is dead, he cannot tell anyone the place of the headquarters.
    Do they now have to find a new place or is there automatically another person able to reveal the location to other persons?

  • Pat Pat


    If you look on JKR’s website she states very clearly that the ONLY people that knew the location of the POtters hiding place were the people that Peter told. To me, this means that simply knowing the hiding place before the charm was cast is not enough. In order to locate the Potters a person had to be specifically told by Peter AFTER the charm was cast.

  • Jill

    A well-written, thoughtful and intriguing essay. However, I would have to agree with Pat Pat’s last comment, ‘In order to locate the Potters a person had to be specifically told by Peter AFTER the charm was cast.’
    I think Wormtail told Voldermort the secret and the charm was broken.
    ‘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.’ Professor Flitwick (PA10)
    Imagine the chaos that would ensue in the wizarding world if the natural death of a wizard meant that all the charms cast in his or her lifetime would be broken.
    (I quite like the idea of Remus and Bill getting better if Greyback goes, but I doubt it….)

  • Curious George

    Not *all* spells can be kept working also when the caster dies re: HBP.

  • jz

    thinking some more about this concept, does being the secret keeper mean you have to WANT to tell someone the secret and purposefully reveal it to them? or can someone probe the mind of the secret keeper with legimency and find the secret? not that Voldemort had to bother with that for Wormtail, who would gladly have spilled the secret, but it makes you wonder if that is possible, how secret is your secret? it seems like the charm would some how have to protect against that.

  • Mikkel Larsen

    Also, Dumbledore told Harry of the headquarters by writing the secret on a piece of paper. Could the secretkeeper write twenty notes so that the Potters can send the notes by owl to the people they want to know the secret? Does the secretkeeper have to have a special recipient in mind when writing the note?

  • Pat Pat


    Interesting thought. My guess would be a note would have to be specifically intended for a certain person. Otherwise a note that is written by the secret keeper has the possibility of being intercepted by an unwanted person.

    jz, that is a VERY good question. I would hope that the fidelius charm actually makes the secret protected in some way in the secret keeper’s mind so that it cannot be discovered by Legilimency. Otherwise, you would have to make sure that your secret keeper was a very good occlumens to avoid the secret being removed from their mind by force. Flitwick says in PA that the secret keeper must “choose” to divulge the secret. This makes me think that it cannot be removed from the person’s mind by legilimency.

  • Nathan

    I would wonder if the Fidelius Charm provides any protection to the secret keeper against legilimancy or veritaserum. Anybody know?