The most maddening and deliciously exciting thing about reading the Harry Potter series is J.K. Rowling’s ability to introduce the most unassuming detail and turn it into a major plot twist. Never was this more evident than when she turned Ron’s pet rat, Scabbers, into the villain in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. She compelled her readers to search for Sirius Black when the real traitor, Peter Pettigrew, was literally under their noses. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ms. Rowling included another seemingly insignificant detail that could have consequences in Book Seven. During a conversation in the Dursleys’ living room, Dumbledore revealed the secret of number twelve, Grimmauld Place. By doing so, Vernon, Petunia and Dudley learned the location of the Order of the Phoenix headquarters.
How is this possible? Let us review the Fidelius Charm and the role of the Secret-Keeper.
[The Fidelius Charm is] “an immensely complex spell,” [Professor Flitwick] said squeakily, “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
In a conversation in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Sirius Black said, “Dumbledore’s Secret-Keeper for the Order. […] Nobody can find headquarters unless he tells them personally where it is [...].” 2
Professor Snape also confirmed the role of the Secret-Keeper during his conversation with Bellatrix at Spinners End.
[Bellatrix snarled,] “And, while we are on the subject of the Order, you still claim you cannot reveal the whereabouts of their headquarters, don’t you?”
“I am not the Secret Keeper; [said Snape] I cannot speak the name of the place. You understand how the enchantment works, I think?” 3
All of the evidence supports that Dumbledore is the only person who is able to reveal the location of the Order of the Phoenix headquarters. Thus, Dumbledore possesses the responsibility of protecting or revealing the secret as he chooses. With this unique obligation resting on his shoulders, he would not be careless or take on the task lightly. As we have seen in Peter Pettigrew, a “blabber mouth” secret keeper can have disastrous results. Dumbledore carefully and deliberately shared the secret with Vernon, Petunia and Dudley. Even though the Dursleys didn’t realize the importance of the information, knowing the secret could save them in Book Seven.
If you recall the scene in the Dursleys’ living room, Dumbledore pondered whether or not Harry rightfully inherited Sirius’s house. It is easy to forget that Vernon, Petunia and Dudley were sitting on the sofa hanging on every word. Dumbledore, however, did not forget his audience. As the conversation unfolded, Dumbledore could have used the terms “Sirius’s house” and “headquarters.” Instead he said “number twelve, Grimmauld Place” and “headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix.” He did not have to use the specific address or the proper name, Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore chose his words carefully.
After reviewing the quotes from the text, it is quite ingenious how Dumbledore revealed the secret. “Our problem,” he continued [...], “is that Sirius also left you number twelve, Grimmauld Place.” 4 At that moment, the address of the house was established.
In the next passages Dumbledore linked Kreacher, the house and the Order of the Phoenix headquarters when he says,”You see,” Dumbledore said, […] “if you have indeed inherited the house, you have also inherited Kreacher.” 5
Even though Harry expressed his reluctance, Dumbledore responded:
“You would prefer him [Kreacher] to pass into the ownership of Bellatrix Lestrange? Bearing in mind that he has lived at the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix for the past year? […] Give him an order” said Dumbledore. “If he has passed into your ownership, he will have to obey.” 6
After Kreacher responded to Harry’s order Dumbledore declared, “You [Harry] are the rightful owner of number twelve Grimmauld Place and of Kreacher.” 7
Thus, if Kreacher lived at the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix and Harry is the rightful owner of number twelve, Grimmauld Place and of Kreacher, it isn’t a far leap to deduce that number twelve Grimmauld Place is the location of the Order of the Phoenix headquarters.
Now that we have reasonably concluded that the Dursleys know the secret, it is time to turn our attention to the possible consequences in Book Seven. On Dumbledore’s last visit to Privet Drive, he discussed Harry’s coming of age with Vernon and Petunia. Dumbledore says, “The magic I evoked fifteen years ago means that Harry has powerful protection while he can still call this house ‘home.’ […] This magic will cease to operate the moment that Harry turns seventeen; in other words, at the moment he becomes a man.” 8
It is quite possible that Vernon, Petunia and Dudley will be in danger when Harry turns seventeen. If the death eaters come to call, Harry may need to seek protection for the Dursleys at number twelve, Grimmauld Place. However, before that is possible, there are three problems that need to be resolved.
The first is the nasty predicament of Dumbledore’s death. What happens to the secret then? Ms. Rowling answered that specific question herself: “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.” 9
With that problem solved, we have the other obstacle of the house’s physical address. From Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we know that Sirius’s father made the location Unplottable to Muggles. Because ownership of the house passed out of the Black family line, the enchantment has probably been altered. Harry, being the rightful owner, should be able to decide who inhabits the house. Control of the property is a reasonable expectation of ownership.
The third, and perhaps most difficult problem, rests with Harry’s character. Considering how the Dursleys treated him over the years, would he save them if they were in trouble? Yes, he would. Harry has showed us at least three times that he can put his personal feelings aside for the common good. When Peter Pettigrew’s fate rested in his hands, he spared his life. He showed remarkable mercy to the man who betrayed his parents. “We’ll hand him over to the dementors,” [Harry panted.] “He can go to Azkaban…but don’t kill him.” 10
During the Triwizard Tournament, Harry showed us again that he has the capacity to perform a truly selfless act. In the second task, he saved Fleur’s sister, Gabrielle, from what he thought was certain death. Even though Harry wanted to win the task, he couldn’t stop himself from doing what was right.
“Fleur didn’t turn up, I couldn’t leave her,” Harry panted.
“Harry, you prat,” said Ron, “you didn’t take that song thing seriously, did you? Dumbledore wouldn’t have let any of us drown! […] I hope you didn’t waste time down there acting the hero!” 11
Thirdly, and most importantly, Harry has already saved one member of the Dursley family. During the dementor attack, Harry could have easily left Dudley for the dementors. Instead, he searched for Dudley and drew the dementors away with his Patronus.
“GET IT!” Harry bellowed, and with a rushing, roaring sound, the silver stag he had conjured came galloping back past him. The dementor’s eyeless face was barely an inch from Dudley’s when the silver antlers caught it; the thing was thrown up into the air and, like its fellow, it soared away and was absorbed into the darkness.12
Harry has proven he has the moral fiber to try to protect the Dursleys from whatever might happen once he comes of age. Dumbledore deliberately opened the door to number twelve, Grimmauld Place for their refuge. By following the steps of his carefully crafted plan, Dumbledore gave Harry another tool in his quest against Voldemort. When Harry was a baby, Dumbledore sought protection for Harry through Petunia, Harry’s only maternal blood relative. Perhaps this time, Petunia will seek Harry’s protection. If she does, it will most likely be in the form of number twelve, Grimmauld Place.
I, personally, can’t wait to see Petunia flung headfirst into the world of wizardry and Kreacher’s filthy housekeeping. The portrait of Sirius’s mother screaming at Uncle Vernon is an image worth thinking about.
As the evidence overwhelmingly suggests, Dumbledore did indeed reveal the secret of number twelve, Grimmauld Place to Vernon, Petunia and Dudley. He may have had reasons other than what I have suggested, but it was certainly part of a much bigger plan. Unfortunately, we won’t know for sure until the release of Book Seven!
1. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999 p. 205.
2. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (New York: Scholastic, 2003) 115.
3. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (New York: Scholastic, 2005) 29-30.
4. Ibid. p. 49.
5. Ibid. p. 51.
6. Ibid. p. 52.
7. Ibid. p. 53.
8. Ibid. pp. 55-56.
9. Rowling, JK. ”What happens to a secret when the Secret-Keeper dies?” FAQ question. 2006. J.K. Rowling’s Offical Web Site. 21 February 2006. http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq_poll.cfm.
10. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999 p. 375.
11. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000 p. 503.
12. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003 p. 19.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999.