59

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone it says:

"No problems, were there?" [Dumbledore asked]

"No, sir - house was almost destroyed, but I got him out all right before the Muggles started swarmin' around. He fell asleep as we was flyin' over Bristol." [Hagrid said]

Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall bent forward over the bundle of blankets. Inside, just visible, was a baby boy, fast asleep. Under a tuft of jet-black hair over his forehead they could see a curiously shaped cut, like a bolt of lightning.

Sorcerer's Stone - page 11 - US Hardcover

How did Dumbledore - who I'm guessing dispatched Hagrid to go and survey the scene at the Potters' home in Godric's Hollow - know the Potters had been killed? Neither Dumbledore nor Hagrid were the Potters' Secret Keeper for the Fidelius Charm. How was Dumbledore alerted instantaneously that James and Lily had been killed, in order to be able to send Hagrid to the scene quickly enough that he was able to rescue baby Harry before the Muggles were alerted to the situation (which, to be honest, seems a bit unlikely if there was some kind of explosion, which it seems there was seeing as the house was "almost destroyed"). Heck, if the house next door to mine suddenly blew up, it would take me less than 10 seconds to get out onto my porch for a look-see!

How can these events logistically make sense?

ETA: Information on the Fidelius Charm.

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.

J.K. Rowling's Website - The Fidelius Charm

I note that there is no canon evidence that Peter Pettigrew told anyone of the Potters' whereabouts except for Voldemort, and Voldemort, following the confrontation, wasn't exactly in the position to be playing Tellyfone with Dumbledore!

  • 76
    They felt a great disturbance in the Force. – DavRob60 Feb 17 '12 at 17:38
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    @DavRob60 - As if a thousand boots are flying at your head... :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 17 '12 at 17:41
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    @DVK - and then were suddenly silent. . . ;) – Slytherincess Feb 17 '12 at 20:53
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    I fear something referrential has happened. – Zibbobz Apr 16 '14 at 13:22
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    Wasn't Snape working for Dumbledore at that point? And given the fact that the Dark Mark reappeared after Voldy got his body back in GoF - I am assuming it vanished in the first place when he LOST his body. Wouldn't he have alerted Dumbledore? – mustard May 31 '14 at 18:25
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I don't think there is any canon info, but there are any number of magical distance observation methods he could have used:

  • The alarm spell around Potter house (similar to the one that triggered near Hog's Head in DH when the trio arrived there).

  • Watching from a portrait/photograph of himself at Potter's house (or other means - remember Sirius' mirror that he gave Harry to talk to him)

  • Having a dead wizard portrait serve as observer

  • Having some other alarm spell (e.g. something that monitors Potters' heartbeats).

Instantaneous communication is something normal for Potterverse (Dark Mark, Hermione's DA tokens, portraits, etc...). So are tripwire/alarm spells of all kinds.

Remember that Dumbledore was one of the most advanced wizards of his time, and was able to do extremely fancy magic, so combining SOME alarm/tripwire spell with a communication charm would have been easily within his capability.

And given the importance of the house/family (post-Prophecy), it's almost certain he'd have set something like that, especially being a paranoid nutcase diligent well-prepared-in-advance fellow that he was.

ETA: 09.01.12

SU: How did Dumbledore find out about what happened in Godric's Hollow?

MA:And what happened? There's this whole twenty four hours that people have been fantasizing about for years.

JKR: Yeah, I know. I've got a bit of problem with this myself, because every time I think it straight in my head I go back and look at what the fans are theorizing about, and I think "Yeah, maybe they've got a point." Dumbledore- Well there's an easy answer to how would Dumbledore know. Because you can- He? (laughs) You can. One can.

[SNIP]

Yeah, so okay. Obviously Dumbledore could cast a spell on a dwelling that would immediately alert him if something happened to it. So he could know instantaneously. That's not a problem at all. And then he could dispatch Hagrid and so on. I think The Scottish Book will have to answer that question. I'm gonna have to really go back through notes and either admit that I lost twenty four hours or I don't know, hurriedly come up with some back story to fill in. Either way, you either get to be right, or you get more story. So you can't complain.

[POTTERCAST - 12.23.07 - THE LEAKY CAULDRON]

  • You say "paranoid nutcase" like it's a bad thing? What happened to "eccentric"? Anyhow, I'm not sure how a Caterwaul Charm could have been set around the Potters' house, or any other kind of detection charm, because the Potters were under the protection of Fidelius -- only Peter Pettigrew knew exactly where they were. The only two portraits with two locations that we know of from canon are Phineas Nigellus and Dilys Derwent; no magical mirrors are mentioned as being owned by the Potters. The thing is, because of Fidelius, Dumbledore didn't know where the Potters were. Hence my puzzlement. – Slytherincess Feb 17 '12 at 20:41
  • @Slytherincess - I think you're wrong in your interpretation of Fideoius. I'll post a question later on that – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 17 '12 at 22:24
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    @Slytherincess: AFAICS, the Fidelius charm prevents people from divulging a secret, not from knowing it. Dumbledore already knew where the Potters lived before the Fidelius was cast. After it was cast, he couldn't have told anybody else that information, but he already knew it himself. And so was able to put all kinds of monitoring and alarm spells on their place. Similarly, all the neighbours probably knew the Potters lived there, they just couldn't talk about it with the Fidelius in place. Is there any canon that explicitly contradicts this? – Martijn Feb 18 '12 at 11:12
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    @Slytherincess: I'm simply observing, and putting forth a theory that fits the facts, and isn't contradicted in the canon anywhere (it's actually very similar to DJClayworth's answer). The observed fact is: Dumbledore knew of Harry and Lily's demise. As for the singular in your quote, it has no relevance on my theory. That James and Lily made Peter their secret-keeper doesn't mean Dumbledore wouldn't want to keep tabs on them anyway, ESPECIALLY if he already knew the secret... – Martijn Feb 18 '12 at 18:47
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    I'm confused by the confusion--Dumbledore was not the Secret Keeper, of course, but is there anything to suggest that he did not know the Secret himself? i.e., that James and Lily wouldn't have had Pettigrew tell him? – thumbtackthief Jul 10 '17 at 14:08
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Godric's Hollow had a number of Wizarding families living there, including Bathilda Bagshot and Dumbledore's own family house. In fact, Bagshot's A History of Magic mentions that Godric's Hollow is one of a number of villages where a relatively large number of wizarding families settled.

Given that Voldemort "almost destroyed" the entire house, and that Muggles arrived on the scene fairly quickly, it seems very likely that the attack was not quiet or unobtrusive. One of the other Wizarding families nearby most likely contacted Dumbledore as soon as they realized what was happening.

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    James and Lily Potter were under the protection of the Fidelius Charm, though, and Peter Pettigrew was their Secret Keeper. Only Peter knew who was living at the Potters' residence, and while I suppose it's possible Peter could have alerted Dumbledore, I find it unlikely. It would seem he would have been in a hurry to salvage Voldemort's wand and whatnot. If the Potters were under the Fidelius Charm, their neighbors would not have know they were there or who was living in the house, so how could they have contacted Dumbledore? – Slytherincess Feb 17 '12 at 20:51
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    @Slytherincess Hrm... good point. Two possibilities spring to mind: One is that the damage from Voldemort's attack (or even the very act of him entering the building) destroyed the Fidelius Charm, or the reports got to Dumbledore even without anyone knowing who the victims of the attack were (if you saw Voldemort attacking a house, would you sit quietly by?). Given that Hagrid was able to find the house, it seems certain that the Fidelius Charm did break at some point (possibly as soon as the attack began, but certainly by the time the Potters were killed). – Beofett Feb 17 '12 at 21:03
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    @Slytherincess as Beofett said the damage from the attack must have destroyed the Fidelius Charm. Which is especially apparent with Muggles arriving on the scene, otherwise they certainly wouldn't have been able to see anything. – NominSim Feb 17 '12 at 21:28
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    @slytherincess it could be the magic Voldemorte used in his attack that ended the charm (iirc there was significant structural damage). Clearly it did end prematurely, else Hagrid would not have been able to get Harry. – Beofett Feb 17 '12 at 23:22
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    @Slytherincess Given the ETA, this answer still makes the best sense. If the secret was "the location where the Potters were hiding", their house and them would still be able to interact with the environment, including muggles. They just couldn't reveal that they were James and Lily Potter. Also, if the charm kept the house hidden, how could Ron and Hermione see it? – Izkata Feb 17 '12 at 23:45
4

According to the Harry Potter Wiki the secret keeper for a Fidelius Charm is not necessarily the only person who knows the secret. The keeper can choose to reveal it, but the ones they reveal it to are prevented by the charm from passing it on to others. Is it possible that a number of the Potter's allies, including Dumbledore and possibly Hagrid, knew the secret?

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    Don't know that that is correct, I believe once the secret keeper reveals the secret, the persons to whom is is revealed also can reveal it. As seen in the Hallows when they bring the Ministry official to the house. – NominSim Feb 17 '12 at 21:31
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    HPWiki is not necessarily authoritative and frequently wrong. You need to attribute to specific canon source. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 17 '12 at 23:35
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    @NominSim: I don't think so. Remember when members of the Order take Harry to Grimmauld Place, near the start of Order of the Phoenix, and they have to give him a piece of paper on which Dumbledore has written that it's the headquarters of the Order, because they themselves can't tell him? – ruakh Feb 18 '12 at 2:23
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    @NominSim, I think one of the books (I assume DH) said that, once the original Secret-Keeper died, all the people he had confided in became Secret-Keepers too. That's the only reason they were able to lead the Ministry official there. – Joe White Feb 18 '12 at 2:28
  • @JoeWhite You're right, I had forgotten about the stipulation that occured once the original secret-keeper died – NominSim Feb 20 '12 at 14:50
4

Dumbledore had placed a charm on the house and immediately knew what had happened. He sent Hagrid to go get Harry.

(Source: JK Rowling's first interview on Pottercast Podcast)

  • 1
    Well, what you're linking me to doesn't address Dumbledore placing a charmn on the Potters' house. It says a transcript is not available, so I can't read your claim in context. Did JKR say this, or was it said offhandedly by TLC staff? I would love a canon answer from an interview -- can you tell me exactly where in the interview this is addressed? If you can, that would be fantastic. :) – Slytherincess Feb 20 '12 at 14:58
  • @Slytherincess: Ah! I am so sorry! I linked to the wrong page. :( Corrected it, Have a look! – ykombinator Feb 20 '12 at 16:20
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    There's no transcript, but you can hear the quote in the podcast itself. The discussion begins at the 33:30 mark, but it hardly comes off as conclusive - JKR even mentions that she intends to resolve this further in the "Scottish book." – mcw0933 Feb 21 '12 at 4:00
3

This is purely supposition.

Since Hagrid shows up driving Sirius Black's motorcycle, he must have been in touch with Sirius before or upon arriving at the Potters' house.

Furthermore, by revealing the location of the house to Voldemort, Peter Pettigrew would not have broken the Fidelius Charm, but only instead made Voldemort a secondary secret-keeper. Thus the house would have remained undetectable to all other parties.

Pettigrew, upon learning of his master's death in the attack, was sent back to the house to retrieve Voldemort's wand. I assume these instructions came from Voldemort's disembodied soul. If Voldemort also intended to be the one to ultimately destroy Harry, then ironically Voldemort may have instructed Pettigrew to keep Harry alive until he could regain form and destroy him himself.

Pettigrew could have gone to the house and retrieved the wand. Then, in order to appear still true to the Fidelius, he could have contacted Sirius, claiming that he happened to arrive to an already destroyed house and needed help fetching Harry - making Sirius another secondary secret-keeper.

Sirius, seeing through the lie and becoming enraged at Pettigrew's betrayal, might have made Peter scared enough to just flee with the wand, leaving Sirius with the choice of pursuing him or tending to Harry.

At that point, Sirius notified Dumbledore (and Hagrid, directly or indirectly) to meet him in Godric's Hollow while he went off in pursuit of Pettigrew. Or, in removing Harry from the house to shelter him elsewhere, the house no longer was the home of any living Potter. That could have caused the charm to break, creating some undesirable attention that would have motivated Sirius to get help.

Either way, Hagrid showed up. And with Hagrid unable to apparate himself and Harry to the Dursley's, Sirius' flying bike would have been a natural choice for discreet travel, while Sirius took off in pursuit of Pettigrew.

  • 'I assume these instructions came from Voldemort's disembodied soul.' I thought it had to do with he didn't want any possible incriminating evidence on himself? Not that it mattered since he framed Sirius and faked his death shortly after. And I don't see how he would have told Wormtail anything in that form (if he even stayed there for more than a moment; thought he fled back to Albania). – Pryftan Sep 22 '17 at 21:38
3

Hagrid specifically confirms (in HP and the Cursed Child) that Dumbledore told him to go to Godric's Hollow and what had occurred.

Clearly he didn't know until he was told to go there by Dumbledore.

Hagrid: Oh. Oh. That’s not — that’s not — I weren’t — They told me, but — I were hoping for better . . .

He looks at them and bows his head. He mutters a few words, and then he takes some crumpled flowers from his deep pockets and lays them on the floor.

Hagrid [continued]: I’m sorry, they told me, he told me, Dumbledore told me, I can’t wait with yeh. Them Muggles are coming, yeh see, with their flashing blues and they won’t ’preciate a big lummox like me, would they?

As to how Dumbledore knew, DVK's excellent answer covers that one.

1

Mrs. Weasley glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. Harry liked this clock. It was completely useless if you wanted to know the time, but otherwise very informative. It had nine golden hands, and each of them was engraved with one of the Weasley family’s names. There were no numerals around the face, but descriptions of where each family member might be. "Home," "school," and "work" were there, but there was also "traveling," "lost," "hospital," "prison," and, in the position where the number twelve would be on a normal clock, "mortal peril."
Goblet of Fire

While it is unlikely for Dumbledore to have owned a similar clock that included "dead" and had hands for all members of the Order of the Phoenix, it shows us that, in general, it is possible to magically know the state of being of another person.

We can speculate that, since Dumbledore knew that both the Potters and the Longbottoms were implicated by the Prophecy, he used similar magic to keep a check on both families.

0

A bit of non-canonical speculation: That the Fidelius Charm only protects knowledge with a factual basis, and cannot protect something that is no longer true. Specifically, the Fidelius Charm can be used to guard the fact that the Potters live in such-and-such a place, but for only as long as they reside in any particular place. If they die, they no longer reside anywhere, and thus the spell ceases to protect them.

Now we toss in Dumbledore's sensitivity to magic, whereby he detects that he can now speak freely about the place, and he is able to tell that it's time to drop whatever it is he's doing and investigate.

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