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Ponderings on the Fidelius Charm:
“Shhh! It’s a secret!!”
By BearPaw

The only description we have of the Fidelius Charm in the Harry Potter series (up until the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) is from Professor Flitwick:

“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.” 1

We have been given tantalising hints of the great potential for this powerful charm and only two examples are specifically described in the books. It is only the Order of the Phoenix, well Dumbledore really, that we’ve seen employing it; possibly as it is an immensely complex spell not everyone would be capable of casting. But just how secret can a secret be made? And what are the consequences to the subject of the secret – could it be lost forever?

Let us take each part of Professor Flitwick’s description of the charm and examine its implications.


Just What Is a Secret?

In Professor Flitwick’s description of the Fidelius Charm he does not specify any restriction on what a secret can be. It merely says “a secret,” which could be anything.

Just imagine; you could fix an examination by creating secrets for each correct answer; e.g. “The answer to question four of the Defence Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. examination for 2007 is B” and no one could ever get it right. Hmm! Sounds like something Snape might do!

To examine the implications, I think there are a number of useful secret “scenarios” that we can explore.


The Witness Protection Scenario

This scenario hides someone or something at a specific location. If the subject is someone at a location, they can move from the location (e.g., to get food) but cannot be found whilst at the location. If the subject is the location it cannot be found. This is the type of secret we have been exposed to twice in the books. “James, Lily & Harry Potter may be found at some-address in Godric’s Hollow” and “The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at number twelve, Grimmauld Place.” 2 This makes perfect sense if you need to have a “safe house” for protection.

Another possible example of where this scenario may be used in the books is mere conjecture on my part. It is possible that Ollivander (who is clearly very close to Dumbledore as he notified Dumbledore immediately that Harry had purchased the brother of Voldemort’s wand3) is hidden in this manner, possibly in his very shop. In this case, the secret would be that “Ollivander and the entire contents of his shop are hiding in Ollivanders Wand shop in Diagon Alley.”


The Witness Relocation Scenario

In this scenario the subject of the secret is given a new identity and the old identity ceases to be used “dies”; great if you want to escape the consequences of one existence and start with a clean slate. An example of this might be a Death Eater who wants to get away from their “lifetime of service or death” relationship with Voldemort. For example, such a secret could be that “Regulus Black faked his own death and now lives as Stubby Boardman” – an odd resemblance to the rumours about his brother, Sirius.4


The Superman Scenario

This is the situation where a person’s identity is obscured to others depending upon the role they are performing.

The Superman secret is “Clark Kent’s secret identity is Superman.” This way if you meet Clark Kent you only know him as Clark Kent and when you meet Superman (Clark wearing a cape, tights and underpants on the outside) you only know him as Superman, but you cannot connect the two identities.

This is great for super-heroes and super-spies who need to keep their “everyday” identity completely separate from their alter ego and live a Jekyll and Hyde-like existence. Could get rather confusing though; “Fear not, ’tis I, um (hang-on, quick check, wearing underwear on the outside, right), Superman!”

I believe we have a candidate for this scenario in the books: Aberforth Dumbledore. Although J.K. Rowling has confirmed in an interview following the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that the barman of the Hog’s Head Inn is Aberforth,5 it has never actually been stated as such in the books (unless you count a “smell of goats” 6 as an explicit statement of “that’s Aberforth”). Albus, obviously the Secret-Keeper, never refers to his brother as the barman; only that Aberforth got in trouble with the Ministry for inappropriate charms on goats7 and separately that he knows the barman.8 Albus never links the two identities. And just for good measure I’ll add some wild speculation; maybe Aberforth’s Secret-Keeper is a talking goat (“a single living soul”); hence the “inappropriate charms on goats” charge.

Members of the Order of the Phoenix who were in the photo of the “original” Order with Aberforth, such as Moody and Sirius, can point Aberforth out in the photo, but only refer to him as “the barman” away from it.9 This is not indisputable proof of a Fidelius Charm; they could just be protecting his cover, or maybe Aberforth is embarrassed by Albus’s penchant for chamber music and doesn’t want to advertise the family connection. But this behaviour doesn’t make a lot of sense when they know Harry has seen the photo.


The Image Altering Scenario

Under this situation abilities and attributes are bestowed upon someone or something by making their true nature a secret; after all, why should we let the truth get in the way of a good story? Some examples of secrets might be that “Goblins are really pleasant, happy, trusting, etc.” and for those Gilderoy Lockhart fans out there “Gilderoy Lockhart is actually a balding, bucktoothed, pitifully ugly, poor excuse of a man,” but everyone perceives them as quite the opposite.


Censorship Scenario

Under this scenario you change people’s perception of the truth for censorship purposes and thus disguise your true intent.

Yes folks, say goodbye to bad press! Are those pesky reporters unearthing your dirty laundry? Are people giving you a bad rep? Then worry no more! There is something you can do! Don’t let the facts get in your way again. The Fidelius Charm will do the trick! Confused yet? Well I’m not surprised; it is a secret after all.

Imagine if you will that Mr C. Fudge created the secret “Everything the Quibbler publishes about me is the truth.” Mr Fudge could then submit stories to the Quibbler (under a nom de plume of course) telling the truth and few would actually believe them. So Fudge really was trying to take over at Gringotts!


Hiding a Lie

You could also use the Fidelius Charm to hide a falsehood/lie. This scenario might be used to prevent an accusation being levelled at you. For example, the secret might be “I took the cookie from the cookie jar”; then no one could ever accuse you of actually taking a cookie from the cookie jar. But if the secret were, “I don’t actually eat cookies,” then no one would accuse you of not eating cookies from the cookie jar; they would always assume that you did. Well I do like cookies so that would be a lie … hang on. I’m not too sure that this scenario should be possible as I feel a secret should be the truth. However there is no indication that a secret cannot be a lie; after all, the lie itself could be the secret. How about a more realistic secret of “I am incredibly unattractive and extremely stupid,” obviously a lie (Hey!! I heard that!), so therefore I could only be described as attractive and a genius! Well, it was worth a try.


The Full-Body Swap

In this scenario you swap identity or even body with someone else. Confused? Think of movies like Freaky Friday. The secret would become “Person-1 has swapped bodies with Person-2”. Some possible pairings might be:

Person 1

Person 2

Comment

Fred Weasley

George Weasley

Who would notice! Really!

Gregory Crabbe

Vincent Goyle

Again, who would notice!

Ginny Weasley

Molly Weasley

One “Mollywobbles” moment from Arthur Weasley and Ginny would be in therapy for life!

Albus Dumbledore

Aberforth Dumbledore

Interesting, but sadly Albus is dead. Or was that Aberforth?

Grindelwald

Voldemort

Yeah … Riiiiigght!

Cornelius Fudge

Dolores Umbridge

YUK!!! La, la, la! Not Listening!

Harry Potter

Neville Longbottom

Now just hold up a minute!!

The Potters

The Longbottoms

Can you say “Neville Longbottom and the …”?

Unleash the conspiracy theorists and let the therapy begin!!

The further I go with these scenarios the wilder and strangely more entertaining (well for me anyway) they become. I could go on and on but then this essay would become more like one of Professor Binn’s classes, not a good look, so I think I’ll leave it at that; although I’m sure others won’t.


Is There a Loophole?

Apart from the Secret-Keeper choosing to reveal it, can a secret be known to anyone else? In short, yes.


The Caster Must Know

Whoever casts the Fidelius Charm, hides the secret, and creates the Secret-Keeper must know the secret. This may seem obvious (or not) but I believe it to be a sound assumption; otherwise there would be a distinct lack of intent in casting the charm before you finished. A bit like “Blah, blah, blah ... Um, what was I doing again? Why do I have my wand out? Why is everyone looking at me?” In fact the caster of the charm must “own” the secret (it must be their secret to hide) otherwise you could make someone else’s secret a secret from themselves (e.g., “Lord Voldemort is a psychopathic, malicious, etc.”)! 


The Owner Must Know

Dumbledore implies that ownership circumvents the Fidelius Charm in Half-Blood Prince at the Dursley’s, when he tells Harry that the Order had vacated headquarters in case “ownership” of 12 Grimmauld Place had transferred to Bellatrix Lestrange.10

Therefore, a secret cannot be hidden from the rightful owner of the property (be it the location of a person there or the location itself). Thus whoever owned the house the Potters were living in would be able to find it without the Secret-Keeper telling them. If Hagrid owns the house the Potters were staying in at Godric’s Hollow, this would be a good explanation why Hagrid retrieved Harry following Voldemort’s demise and not Dumbledore.

There is another possible loophole I see with ownership. Can the owner of the property give someone who is not privy to the secret permission to use his or her property? I would suggest that they should not be able to give this permission after the secret is created by the Fidelius Charm, but they do own the property so.… If owners can give this permission I don’t think that they would be able to be aware of the “secret” users of the property. Can you imagine the confusion of a secret occupant moving a chair just as a non-secret occupant tried to sit down? They’d think there were ghosts! Maybe that’s what some “ghosts” are!

Maybe the owner can even cancel a secret regardless of the Secret-Keeper’s wishes. For example: “I, Harry Potter, no longer give the Order of the Phoenix permission to use 12 Grimmauld Place, London as its headquarters.” Then a new secret would need to be created because the logic and truth of the original secret has been destroyed.

Ownership being a loophole would be an excellent reason why Voldemort never used the Fidelius Charm for his Horcruxes. We know that Voldemort stole at least some of the items he is likely to have used for his Horcruxes11 and thus the “rightful heir/owner” would be capable of finding them despite a Fidelius Charm; not very secure at all.

Also, if Voldemort had used the Fidelius Charm, the Secret-Keeper would not have had a very long life expectancy. As the status of the secret stays the same once the Secret-Keeper dies,12 Voldemort would have cast the charm then killed the Secret-Keeper, making the location of the Horcruxes unknowable; lost to all but Voldemort, forever.


The Subject Must Know

But I think there must be another loophole. The secret cannot be a secret from the subject of the secret. That sounds confusing doesn’t it? Try this: If the Potters are the subjects of a secret they have to know where they are hiding. Otherwise they would not be able to see/feel/hear/etc. their surroundings. Even if they know their surroundings whilst at the location, if they walked out the front door they would not be able to get back inside. So if Harry is explicitly (“Harry”) or implicitly (“The Potters”) mentioned in the statement of the secret he will be able to find the ruined house where his parents died.

With this many loopholes the Fidelius Charm is looking more like wrapping something in a rather holey piece of an invisibility cloak; but still, unless you are in on the secret it’s … well, a secret!


A Secret Revealed

The secret protected by the Fidelius Charm can only become known if “the Secret-Keeper chooses to divulge it”.


Choice of the Secret-Keeper

This implies that a Secret-Keeper must choose (i.e., consciously make up their own mind) to reveal a secret. It could be through trickery, under duress or torture but they must still choose. It would seem that the Imperius Curse (total control of the victim) and Occlumency (invading someone’s mind) would not be useful in obtaining the secret, as the Secret-Keeper would not be choosing to reveal the secret.


The Secret-Keeper Reveals

I think it fairly safe to assume that the secret can be revealed by speaking it. Although we have not seen an explicit example of this happening in the books (unless you count Dumbledore’s talking about the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix in front of the Dursleys13), Professor Flitwick does talk about the Secret-Keeper refusing to “speak” it. Also, speech is the most likely way for Wormtail to have revealed the Potter’s location to Voldemort.

In the books we have seen a secret revealed by writing it down. Dumbledore revealed the location of the Order of the Phoenix headquarters to Harry via a hand written note.14 Can you imagine Wormtail asking Voldemort to wait whilst he writes down the location of the Potters? Voldemort would probably kill him for poor penmanship!

However I believe there is another method of revealing a secret that has been alluded to but not explicitly used in the books, which is extracting a memory as for use in the Pensieve. It appears that a witch or wizard must choose which memory to extract.15 This could mean that should Harry inherit Dumbledore’s collection of memory jars (and the Pensieve or access to one) he could quite literally come into possession of even more secrets.


Conclusion

I’m sure others could come up with other secret scenarios that I haven’t, or combinations thereof, and these would be just as interesting and useful to a caster of the Fidelius Charm, but I feel there is sufficient canon to support my ideas.

So what could this mean for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Well I think it highly possible that a number of dead and/or missing wizards and witches may well be popping up out of thin air, in more ways than one. With a disappearance here and a “faked” death there, hidden by a Fidelius Charm … we’ll just have to wait and see.

Notes

1. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 152.

2. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 57.

3. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 605.

4. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 173–4.

5. Fraser, “J K Rowling at the Edinburgh Book Festival.” When asked why the barman of the Hog’s Head is vaguely familiar to Harry.

6. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 299.

7. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 394.

8. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 416.

9. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 158, 329.

10. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 52–53.

11. Ibid., 410–11.

12. Rowling Official Site,What happens to a Secret when the Secret-Keeper dies?

13. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 51–55.

14. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 57.

15. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 519.


Bibliography

Fraser, Lindsey. “J K Rowling at the Edinburgh Book Festival.” J.K. Rowling Official Site – Section: News 15 August 2004. http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/news_view.cfm?id=80 (accessed 14 February 2007).

J.K. Rowling Official Site. “What happens to a Secret when the Secret-Keeper dies?” J.K. Rowling Official Site – Section: FAQ. http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq_poll.cfm (accessed 14 February 2007).

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.

———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.

———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.

———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.

———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.

———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999. 


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