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"It's odd, because he usually gives us a reason why we're not allowed to go somewhere –– the forest's full of dangerous beasts, everyone knows that. I do think he might have told us prefects, at least."

"And now, before we go to bed, let us sing the school song!" cried Dumbledore. Harry noticed that the other teachers' smiles had become rather fixed.

-- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

What does smiles become fixed mean?

(1) They all are happy enough to keep their smiles.

(2) They become nervous after the headmaster’s notice, the third-floor corridor is out of bounds. For it suggests protecting philosopher’s stone, and it also means imminent attack for it from You-Know-Who.

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From NOAD:

fixed (adjective) (of a person's expression) held for a long time without changing, esp. to conceal other feelings : a fixed smile.

A similar expression sometimes used is a forced smile. A fixed or forced smile means you look carefree and happy, but you're not carefree and happy.

The way I would interpret the passage is that the other teachers aren't feeling true school spirit while they sing the song. There could be many reasons for this – resentment, worry, grief, to name a few – but the exact reason would have to be determined from further context.

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  • The definitions in NOAD and online Oxford dictionary are almost identical! Nov 28 '13 at 13:58
  • @DamkerngT. - Yes, interesting coincidence. But only for that particular nuance, it seems. NOAD: fixed influence the outcome of (something, esp. a race, contest, or election) by illegal or underhanded means. Oxford: fixed (of a sports contest) having the outcome dishonestly predetermined. Peculiar for sure.
    – J.R.
    Nov 28 '13 at 14:20
  • @J.R. I'd argue that there's a difference between a forced smile and a fixed smile. While they both imply insincerity, a fixed smile is unchanging as if it were drawn on someone's face (more permanent), whereas a forced smile may or may not quickly fade. Nov 28 '13 at 22:49
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    Being a big Harry Potter fan, I think it's probably because they're all embarassed of the school song which they were about to sing - understandable, it's frankly nonsense xD Jul 13 '16 at 13:12
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From Oxford Dictionaries,

fixed

(of a person’s expression) held for a long time without changing, especially to conceal other feelings: a fixed smile

Obviously, when teachers' smiles had become rather fixed, the smiles had not come from teachers' happiness.

Perhaps you might not even need a dictionary to understand this figurative expression after all. I remember I was told once that, "a joker face has a fixed smile".

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