When the Order of the Phoenix abandoned Grimmauld Place after Snape's supposed betrayal Mad-Eye Moody set up some defences in the hallway. This was to protect Grimmauld Place from Snape and the Death Eaters.

“We can’t expect [the Fidelius Charm] to hold much longer.”
“But surely Snape will have told the Death Eaters the address by now?” asked Harry.
“Well, Mad-Eye set up a couple of curses against Snape in case he turns up there again. We hope they’ll be strong enough both to keep him out and to bind his tongue if he tries to talk about the place, but we can’t be sure. It would have been insane to keep using the place as headquarters now that its protection has become so shaky.”
(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 6, The Ghoul in Pyjamas).

Basically, the curses are two-fold.

  • A Tongue-Tying Curse. This was presumably to try and stop Snape breaking the Fidelius Curse.
  • A dust-like figure of Dumbledore. This part involved hearing Moody's voice (saying, "Severus Snape?") followed by a deathly dust-shadow projection of Dumbledore. This apparition vanished when one said the word killed. (There's been some confusion on this point so I'm including the following quote to clarify:)

    “No!” Harry shouted, and though he had raised his wand no spell occurred to him. “No! It wasn’t us! We didn’t kill you-”
    On the word kill, the figure exploded in a great cloud of dust...
    (Deathly Hallows, Chapter 9, A Place to Hide).

In what way do these charms actually protect Grimmauld Place? Was their intent to stop Snape from entering in the first place? Or just to stop him re-entering if he wanted to come back?

The Tongue-Tying Curse clearly does not protect the Fidelius Charm in any meaningful way. It would only silence Snape once he had already come back to Grimmauld Place, having already revealed the location to anyone he wanted. He could've entered accompanied by Voldemort and 40 Death Eaters and no-one could've stopped him.

The second element is even weaker. Was Moody's best hope really to rely on remorse?!? He believes that Snape is a heinous traitor and a cold-blooded killer. If he had it in his heart to kill Dumbledore in the first place why would he be remotely troubled by the dusty replica? As Harry wonders:

Had it worked, Harry wondered, or had Snape already blasted the horror-figure aside as casually as he had killed the real Dumbledore?
(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 9, A Place to Hide).

Collectively, these defences just seem really poor and ineffective for an ex-Auror of Moody's talent and ability. Clearly they weren't effective in keeping Snape out since he re-entered the house that summer. Which means that either the defences weren't intended to keep Snape out or that they just weren't very good.

Did Moody think that his defences would be effective in keeping Snape out of Grimmauld Place? What was the point of them?

  • 5
    "This apparition was broken by saying the word killed." - No, it vanished as they say that word, presumably because by that point it recognised that they were not Snape. Secondly, the "dusty replica" seems to be a zombie/ghost version of Dumbledore ("its face sunken, fleshless, with empty eye sockets"). It's not meant to make Snape feel remorse, it's meant to scare him away (presumably it goes full poltergeist on the intended target). Given that most Death Eaters are cowards, this seems a little more reasonable.
    – DavidS
    Feb 6, 2017 at 12:17
  • @DavidS Fixed the first part. With the second part, I disagree. You banish Dustydore by saying "I killed you". Which you would have no problem doing if you were scared. But would cause you some disquiet if you were feeling guilty. It's like they're trying to make Snape admit what he did. That's how I read it. Also, don't call Snape a coward - he gets super pissed off by it. Feb 6, 2017 at 12:36
  • 3
    The dust figure almost certainly was meant to do more than merely scare Snape. My guess is that it could do actual harm.
    – Adamant
    Feb 6, 2017 at 12:40
  • 1
    @TheDarkLord I can't see any indication of causality with the "killed" thing. All the book says is that he vanished on that word - nothing about why, or even if that had anything to do with it. Even if that word is a trigger, I find it highly unlikely that it would have vanished if it was Snape saying it.
    – DavidS
    Feb 6, 2017 at 12:50
  • @DavidS Every time we see someone enter the house they say killed and the dust figure vanishes. It's no coincidence. What happened when Snape turned up we can't be sure. Feb 6, 2017 at 23:26

3 Answers 3



First, it’s important to note that Moody was not sure that his defenses would be proof against Snape. In the very quote given in the question:

We hope they’ll be strong enough both to keep him out and to bind his tongue if he tries to talk about the place, but we can’t be sure. It would have been insane to keep using the place as headquarters now that its protection has become so shaky.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

They knew that there was no guarantee that the spells would prevent Snape from either talking or entering. They had to do their best (obviously), so as to retain the house as an emergency resource and prevent Snape from taking advantage of it and anything it contained, but neither Moody nor the rest of the order was certain that they could keep the place safe. And indeed, Snape was able to defeat the protections, though he may have been aided by information he received from Mundungus.

That said, the protection is likely stronger than the question assumes (and certainly not without purpose).

  • There was almost certainly nothing that the Order could do had Snape chosen to reveal the location of Grimmauld Place before returning there himself. They could only prepare for the situation in which Snape personally went to Grimmauld Place before revealing the location. For that particular situation, the Tongue-Tying Curse (and possibly others) would presumably prevent him from revealing the information thereafter.
  • There’s no reason to believe that the dust figure of Dumbledore is merely meant to frighten Snape, or to play upon his feelings of guilt or remorse. Sure, Harry speculated that it was “just something to scare Snape,” and that Snape could have “blasted the horror-figure aside as casually as he had killed the real Dumbledore,” but we have no reason to think he understands what the spell really is. On the contrary, that, say Lupin, takes the time to dispel it suggests that it is probably a real threat.
  • There’s no reason to think that the figure vanishes when you say the word “killed.” Again, Lupin took the trouble of saying that he had not killed Dumbledore. At the very least, I suspect the whole statement is necessary:

    The intruder took a step forward, and Moody’s voice asked, “Severus Snape?” Then the dust figure rose from the end of the hall and rushed him, raising its dead hand.

    “It was not I who killed you, Albus,” said a quiet voice.

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

    It is of course entirely possible that dispelling the dust figure requires both the statement of not having killed Dumbledore, and not actually having killed Dumbledore.

  • We don’t know for sure that the Tongue-Tying curse and the dust figure are the only protections on the house. There may have been others that were not noticed because Harry and company simply were not Snape.

  • Could you clarify your point #2, especially the bit about Lupin? I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Lupin gets rid of the figure as easily as anybody else. Feb 7, 2017 at 0:32
  • @TheDarkLord - Lupin took the time to say that he hadn’t killed Dumbledore, in order to dispel the dust figure. I doubt he would have done that if were just an annoyance.
    – Adamant
    Feb 7, 2017 at 14:09
  • Ah, gotcha. :o) Feb 7, 2017 at 23:09
  • Spoiler! To expand upon your guess on dispelling the dust figure, it may also be possible that you have to both say you did not kill Dumbeldore and belive it. This may explain why Snape did manage to break in. He may have cast the curse but he knows that it was not him who killed Dumbeldore. He merely hastened the process to Dumbeldore's request. So if he stated he was not the one to kill him (but Voldemort) he might have believed it.
    – havakok
    Oct 3, 2020 at 13:14

When I first read it, I got the feeling that the spells weren't highly effective on the trio because they weren't Snape. By the way, we are assuming that the figure would break at the word killed. We should understand that none of them did a counter-curse or any protective charms, so basically it could be that as soon as they spoke out the spell realized that they were not Snape and blasted off. That it happened after they used the word killed could just be a coincidence. I think that if it was Snape who came back, it would have been a different outcome. It probably wouldn't have blasted into dust; it would've simply haunted him until he left the place.

Next for the Tongue-Tying Curse. It might have been put in place so that Snape wouldn't use a counter spell to defend himself. But he could do a non-verbal spell so I am not sure. It was never confirmed by the Auror himself. This is all just guess work by Harry. It could also be a spell which effected him whenever he opened his mouth with the intention of revealing the location wherever he was.

  • Surely the same applies to the tongue tying curse: if it were actually Snape the curse would not have lifted, so that Snape could not speak the location of the house to anyone else. It would be a pretty logical assumption to assume it would not have lifted if it were anyone but the order entering, for the same reason.
    – ZenLogic
    Feb 6, 2017 at 16:25
  • 1
    As per the question, the defences weren't effective in keeping Snape out. So it can't be that they just didn't work since the trio aren't Snape. Feb 7, 2017 at 10:33

The little Dumbledore zombie thing does not vanish at the word "killed." It vanishes when the person it targets admits that they did not kill Dumbledore--that they are not Snape:

“It was not I who killed you, Albus,” said a quiet voice.

The jinx broke: The dust-figure exploded again,

“I didn’t kill you,” he said, once it had unrolled, then held his breath as the dusty jinx-figure exploded.

One must assume that if the person could not prove that it was Severus Snape, the thing would keep going. And it's pretty fearful, actually:

Something shifted in the shadows at the end of the hall, and before any of them could say another word, a figure had risen up out of the carpet, tall, dustcolored, and terrible: Hermione screamed and so did Mrs. Black, her curtains flying open; the gray figure was gliding toward them, faster and faster, its waist-length hair and beard streaming behind it, its face sunken, fleshless, with empty eye sockets: Horribly familiar, dreadfully altered, it raised a wasted arm, pointing at Harry.

We do't know what that thing would do to Snape, but it probably wouldn't be good. This answer shows the plothole concerning the Tongue-Tying curse.

In addition, there may be other jinxes that would act on Snape, had he come. The two that harry deals with are probably just to ensure that they aren't Snape before whatever happens to him takes place.

  • True, but these spells were performed by Moody, who was not aware that Snape had not truly turned back to the Death Eaters.
    – Adamant
    Feb 6, 2017 at 13:09
  • @Adamant Good point
    – CHEESE
    Feb 6, 2017 at 13:12
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    Also, there’s no real plot hole concerning the Tongue-Tying Curse. The Order did the best they could to stop Snape from revealing the secret. There wasn’t much else they could do. Snape didn’t tell Voldemort because he was not really on his side. Voldemort wasn’t suspicious because the Order had given Snape a plausible explanation in the Tongue-Tying Curse. Harry etc. assumed that their secret must have safe because Snape had already triggered the curse (otherwise there would presumably have been Death Eaters there).
    – Adamant
    Feb 6, 2017 at 13:14
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    He definitely didn’t tell Voldemort, or the Death Eaters wouldn’t have had to hang out in the cold outside Grimmauld Place. ;)
    – Adamant
    Feb 6, 2017 at 13:25
  • 3
    And as for Voldemort being an accomplished Legilimens, the whole point is that Snape is a more accomplished Occlumens. Otherwise the whole double agent thing would have been up rather quickly.
    – Adamant
    Feb 6, 2017 at 13:26

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