62

Why wasn't James Potter his own Secret Keeper?

The whole thing came about because Potters chose the wrong Secret Keeper (who betrayed them) for the Fidelius Charm on their house.

Why didn't James just make himself a Secret Keeper?

We know that it’s possible from Deathly Hallows: (Bill and Arthur Weasley are their own Secret Keepers).

“I’ve been getting them all out of the Burrow,” Bill explained. “Moved them to Muriel’s. The Death Eaters know Ron’s with you now, they’re bound to target the family – don’t apologize,” he added at the sight of Harry’s expression. “It was always a matter of time, Dad’s been saying so for months. We’re the biggest blood traitor family there is.”

“How are they protected?” asked Harry.

“Fidelius Charm. Dad’s Secret-Keeper. And we’ve done it on this cottage too; I’m Secret-Keeper here."

  • 3
    Guess: Possibly a limitation of the Fidelius charm. Maybe the secret keeper could not reside within the secret itself (the house is the secret here). Don't have a reference to back it up though. – Aditya M P Dec 18 '12 at 11:39
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    @adityamenon - that's the point. Bill and Fleur resided in the Shell Cottage. And Bill was the Secret Keeper for it. Same with Arthur. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 18 '12 at 11:51
  • 2
    Or Lily? – user3459110 Jun 10 '14 at 12:13
  • See also scifi.stackexchange.com/q/83853/4918 "Why didn't Dumbledore himself become secret keeper for the Potters?" – b_jonas Mar 16 '15 at 14:27
33

Just my guess here, but it could be that it might be possible for the Secret Keeper to accidentally bring people into the Fidelius charm's protection.

It was seen that if someone side-along Apparates with a Secret Keeper, it is possible for him to come into the charm's field, even if the Secret Keeper didn't intend to bring him along.

We have seen that the secret can be passed by the Secret Keeper by intentionally communicating with the person he wants to share the secret to (Dumbledore writing the location of Grimmauld place to Harry) and most probably it can also be shared by direct face-to-face communication as well.

My guess is that other more indirect ways are possible. For instance, Lupin was also a Secret Keeper in the last book, just like Harry was. He said that he had to Apparate precisely onto the doorstep so as not to be seen by the guards outside. This is the same thing Harry and the others do as well when they have to leave Grimmauld place and come back. Notice that they don't just Apparate at some place just outside the field of the charm and walk inside (which would have been easier to do). Probably if anyone saw them doing that, it would be good enough as telling them the secret.

The inhabitants of a residence under the Fidelius charm will, sooner or later, need to come out of the protected area for one reason or another. If James himself was the Secret Keeper, it might have been easier to keep track of him whenever he came out of the protected area and "accidentally" get him to show the secret to someone else. But if the Secret Keeper was someone who didn't live in the house, if he made sure that he didn't go to the place himself and didn't blurt out the secret to anyone, the secret can be relatively safer.

So in short, it is less safe for the resident of a house under the Fidelius charm to be a Secret Keeper because he might accidentally show an outsider where the house is when he has to get back in.

  • 8
    There were plenty of times that the Death Eaters outside Grimmauld Place saw parts of the trio when they didn't Apparate precisely onto the top step, yet the charm wasn't broken then. It may have been easier to Apparate just outside and walk in, but it would also be a lot more dangerous - you'd be risking getting hit with a hex or curse from a particularly alert Death Eater. There's also absolutely no reason a Secret Keeper would have to leave their house - I got the impression that the Potters never left their cottage. – Anthony Grist Sep 27 '13 at 9:15
  • @user13267 I'm sorry, but your guess is way off. What happened with Hermione and Yaxley was such a fluke; James would have known better than to disapparate into the charm's protection with someone. What is more, as Anthony Grist pointed out above, the Potters never left their house. They were visited by certain Order members, and in the last days, visited by Sirius and Wormtail. – Mermish Essence Jan 16 '15 at 17:04
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    I feel this is invalidated by the fact that James Potter has the infallible invisibility cloak. The reason Harry almost gave them away on the top step is he almost fell and lost the cloak. – Anoplexian Mar 24 '16 at 21:30
  • @Anoplexian True but we also know that he had loaned it to Dumbledore and Dumbledore had it still when Voldemort entered. And Dumbledore and Harry talk about this after Harry 'dies' - and iirc Harry believes that even the cloak wouldn't have saved them. You're right about the cloak and it almost falling off Harry, though. – Pryftan Jan 9 '18 at 21:36
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    @AnthonyGrist Yes and Lily even writes to Sirius about how James feels all shut in because he doesn't have his cloak at the time (having loaned it to Dumbledore) so he had no way to leave the house safely. So you're quite right in that - Lily as good as states that fact. – Pryftan Jan 9 '18 at 21:37
61
“You think I'm a fool?" demanded Harry. "No, I think you're like James," said Lupin, "who would have regarded it as the height of dishonor to mistrust his friends.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I don`t think the book mentions why, but the above quote shows that James trusted his friends implicitly which is why he probably thought the secret was just as safe with his friends as with himself.

  • 3
    Probably the spell works this way, you can't generate the protective field from within the field. Just like in science-fantasy works, the force-field generators must always be outside of the field they generate, otherwise how would the heroes be able to blow it up? – vsz Aug 4 '14 at 15:26
  • @vsz....a death star with its own force field? I feel a question coming on... – Paul Draper Oct 15 '15 at 22:43
11

Because Sirius forced him to choose Peter.

Sirius says to Harry in Prisoner of Azkaban:

“Harry . . . I as good as killed them,” he croaked. “I persuaded Lily and James to change to Peter at the last moment, persuaded them to use him as Secret-Keeper instead of me. . . . I’m to blame, I know it. . . .

-Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Chapter Nineteen, The Servant of Lord Voldemort).

[Emphasis added is mine]

So paired with James' unwavering trust and belief in his friends' loyalty, James was persuaded by his best-friend to use Peter as secret-keeper.

This was essentially Peter's time to shine; he was given more trust and power than he ever had, being the weakest and least adept at magic (than the others - James, Lupin and Sirius); as well as throwing off all scents about who the secret keeper was.

Most people would have immediately gone for Sirius being the secret-keeper (if not Dumbledore himself), and so tactically it was a good move (so long as it worked).

  • 1
    @DVK That's correct; and like I said - just adding. James didn't have a shortage of people willing to risk their lives and prove their loyalty for him; coupled with his extreme trust (what did he have to suspect anyway?) he made others the secret keeper and not himself. – Möoz May 4 '14 at 22:51
3

That can be considered an intentional plot hole that served as a plot device.


Though someone could argue that James trusted his friends completely and would not question their ability to become Secret-Keepers, there is no satisfying answer as to why he himself did not become the Secret-Keeper. If he was the one that held the secret of their location, then Voldemort wouldn't find them, would never succeeded in murdering Lilly, who provided the protection to Harry, which ultimately led to his own defeat.

Even so, James knew that Voldemort was hell-bent to find and kill them, so he would acknowledge the fact that making someone of his friends the Secret-Keeper, put him in a grave danger. This might be an intentional plot hole that drives the entire series.

Facts

1. James Potter could not simultaneously live in the Fidelius Charm's field and be the Secret-Keeper.

Wrong. As others have suggested in comments above, when the secret itself is the location of a building, the Fidelius Charm does not prohibit a resident of it to be the Secret-Keeper, otherwise neither Arthur nor Bill Weasley could be the Secret-Keepers of their houses as shown in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

2. James and his friends where the only ones that could be Secret-Keeper-"eligible".

Wrong. One perfect candidate was Albus Dumbledore. There is no indication as to why they didn't make him the Secret-Keeper either, which would make the secret if not unbreakable, then extremely more hard to break than the situation that we know. He did gave them this option, however, which brings us to:

3. It seems that the protection of Potters might not meant to be all that powerful enough, considering what went wrong.

Maybe. Although there is not direct indication as to whether the Fidelius Charm was the only enhancement placed on their house (the Order of the Phoenix might had provided even more powerful charms which shielded their residence), it seems that Albus Dumbledore might "wanted" the situation to be that way. By that, I don't mean that he wanted the Potters to be murdered. But, considering that he was the only one -at that time- that heard the entire prophecy (and knew that Harry would be Voldemort's only match) as also as that he is Albus Dumbledore (which means that he had foreseen the future events), he might wanted to "step aside" and leave the events to naturally flow. He would of course have provided the Order's best protection but no one can argue that he seemed hesitant to advice James that being the Secret-Keeper would be much safer than the alternatives.

Note: Dumbledore proposed the idea to be their SK but James and Lilly quickly withdraw it. Now, I know that he wouldn't have taken extreme measures to persuade them but considering the fact that we were at the peak of the First Wizarding War, he seemed reluctant in doing so.

Possible explanations

1. Wormtail would ultimately become the Secret-Keeper, no matter which theory makes sense.

As Peter was with Voldemort's side at that time, he may posed extreme pressure on James and Sirius to change the Secret-Keeper, providing all the good reasons he could come up with in order to achieve his goal. Though we know that this would make perfect sense if Sirius was not the SK in the first place, it does bring us to the conclusion that even in that situation (or the one that we are discussing in this thread), Wormtail would ultimately become the SK, regardless of what theory makes sense or not, thus making every conversation on that matter irrelevant.

2. James wanted Sirius for no apparent explanation.

James just wanted to make his best friend the Secret-Keeper because it seemed to him that this was right. I can't possibly dive into his personality but that would not be an irrational decision to begin with.

  • Some editing to make the answer more well understandable, according to my criteria. :) – Lefteris008 Dec 3 '16 at 13:10
2

I have no idea if there's evidence of this or ever been stated but I theorize that perhaps if the secret keeper is killed, the spell becomes defunct and therefore the location they were hiding is no longer protected.

If this is the case it's reasonable that James figured he was at a much greater risk of being killed and that would leave his family vunerable. Sirius (and then Peter if he had actually been loyal) were at a much better position because they were not actively being hunted like James and Lily were. Also, their ability to go into hiding/ evade capture would have been much easier without two other people (especially with one being a baby).

  • 4
    Wrong! wrong! wrong! This is explicit in the books. Killing the secret keeper does not reveal the secret. The secret dies with him or whoever he shared it with. Read the books. – Mermish Essence Jan 16 '15 at 17:08
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    @MermishEssence Best secret keeper: A captured death eater you don't intend to spare...some pirate-style spellwork – VapedCrusader Nov 30 '15 at 20:28
1

If you are the secret keeper of your own hiding place you can't reveal the secret to others without leaving the hiding place. Which defeats the purpose of staying in the hiding place. The Potters and The Order presumably wanted a trusted individual which could then spread the secret to other trusted individuals as needed, providing links and information to the outside world to them while staying hidden inside.

  • 1
    Patronii can be used to communicate long distance. So your premise is wrong. Also, IIRC people who ALREADY knew the address can visit without being told – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 15 '14 at 17:11
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    There may be patronus use and other magic means to contact outside of your secret location but I still feel it is limiting, especially since a patronus spell is actually supposed to be a rather difficult spell for standard wizards and not a two way communication tool that was never shown to work for very long distances. I still think it is simply impractical to be your own secret keeper if you are meant to stay in the secret place. On the second point, if you can visit a secret place you already had knowledge of, why couldn't the Malfoys or Lestranges enter the house of their cousins? – Nonsuch Ned May 28 '14 at 21:47
-2

I think the best explanation could be that back when Lily and James died, the Fidelius Charm was limited in that you could only store it in the mind of a person that is outside. Realizing its limitation after the Potters' death, maybe someone improved on the magic so that the person living inside could hide it as well.

  • 1
    But that appears to contradict what's stated in the question - clearly Weasleys can be their own secret keepers. – Gallifreyan Jul 11 '17 at 19:41
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    This doesn't seem to match up with what we know about Secret Keepers or the Fidelius Charm. Do you have any canon support for this that you could add to your answer? – Bellatrix Jul 11 '17 at 19:45
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    @Gallifreyan: This answer is suggesting that in the past, there was only a weaker version of the Fidelius charm that did have this limitation. But that a stronger version was developed to overcome it after the death of the Potter parents brought the limitation to light, explaining why the Weasleys can do it now. It's an unlikely theory with no support in the text (AFAIK), but the answer already accounts for your objection. – Peter Cordes Aug 31 '17 at 7:18

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