36

It is explained in the third book that they think the shack is haunted, the noises Lupin made when he was locked in there periodically during his school days were attributed to these spirits, and it is hinted that Dumbledore helped keep the rumor alive to prevent the villagers from going near the house

However, from what we know of ghosts in the Harry Potter world, they do not seem to be much dangerous, and in fact, possibly cannot physically interact with people at all. There are ghosts all over Hogwarts, each house has it's own ghost mascot, the only ghost that is hinted to be even remotely scary is the Bloody Baron, and even then it is only Peeves who is actually afraid of him (the books make it sound like the students would not want to cross the Baron in the same way they wouldn't want to cross a grumpy old man, but not because he is scary as a ghost). The only thing close to a ghost that the students should be worried about in Hogwarts is Peeves himself, and he's more annoying than dangerous or scary. Moreover, in the Harry Potter world he's not even a ghost, as poltergeists and ghosts are classified differently. There is a ghoul living right in the Weasley's attic who no one seems to care about, and a vampire was casually allowed to be in Professor Slughorn's party during the Half Blood Prince. The only traditional monsters that the wizards are actually worried about are giants and werewolves, but I don't think a place that is taken over by a giant or werewolf is called 'haunted', even in the Harry Potter world. The wizards seem to be more scared of magical beasts such as dementors, manticores, threstals, etc.

So why exactly are the villagers in Hogsmeade afraid of the Shrieking Shack? Presumably they are all wizards so should know how to defend themselves. When it says the Shrieking Shack is 'haunted', does it mean it is infested by something more dangerous than a ghost?

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    Because of the shrieking? – Valorum Jun 1 '17 at 11:52
  • 1
    Just FYI: Peeves isn't a ghost. – Mat Cauthon Jun 1 '17 at 12:06
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    @valorum Wizards treat boggarts (who can selectively turn into what the observer is scared of) as household pests, and they are afraid of the shrieking? – user13267 Jun 1 '17 at 12:06
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    Consider that at a school like Hogwarts any ghosts that would otherwise be harmful to students would have been removed by the faculty. – zzzzBov Jun 1 '17 at 19:49
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    @zzzzBov You would think so, but still there a example of other dangerous things like the Forbidden Forest, the out of bounds area in the first book, and the Chamber of Secrets which the faculty, for one reason or another, were not able to fully secure the school against. – user11521 Jun 1 '17 at 20:09
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+200

Ghosts can still inflict psychological damage.

The concept of a threatening ghost might indeed seem strange in a magical context. There is no physical damage which a ghost can inflict on a living person (contact with a ghost is described as being like putting your hand in ice-cold water).

However, ghosts can also inflict psychological damage. Moaning Myrtle explains the nuisance she caused as a ghost in posthumously bullying Olive Hornby.

"I’d hidden because Olive Hornby was teasing me about my glasses...I died...And then I came back again. I was determined to haunt Olive Hornby, you see. Oh, she was sorry she’d ever laughed at my glasses.”
(Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 16, The Chamber of Secrets).

Ghosts may not be able to physically injure someone but they can follow a person and inflict significant psychological harm over a prolonged period of time. This would be enough to make potential visitors to the Shack think twice.

As for what the residents of Hogsmeade actually believed lived in the Shack, Lupin says that they thought it was home to "violent spirits".

"I was separated from humans to bite, so I bit and scratched myself instead. The villagers heard the noise and the screaming and thought they were hearing particularly violent spirits. Dumbledore encouraged the rumour...Even now, when the house has been silent for years, the villagers don’t dare approach it..."
(Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 18, Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs).

It seems clear to me that they believed that the Shrieking Shack was infested with ghosts. Haunting here retains its usual meaning.

Again, the term 'violent spirit' may seem a contradiction in terms. Ghosts cannot launch objects or throw punches. 'Violent' here I think means 'rowdy', 'high-spirited' (lol) or 'disruptive'. They were not thought to be peaceful ghosts. Of course, if residents ever actually made it inside the Shack they could tell that the damaged furniture and general disrepair couldn't be caused by ghosts. Harry reached that conclusion fairly quickly.

Harry looked around. His eyes fell on a wooden chair near them. Large chunks had been torn out of it; one of the legs had been ripped off entirely.
“Ghosts didn’t do that,” he said slowly.
(Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 17, Cat, Rat and Dog).

However, none of the residents ever made it that far. The rumours about the Shack ensure that nobody ever goes in it. Its reputation makes people believe it's haunted...which adds to its reputation. The belief that the Shack was the most haunted place in Britain was generated as a result of confirmation bias. Residents didn't think through the logic of how ghosts could be violent or threatening. They just knew it as 'that haunted place you don't go near'.

  • 2
    maybe that should be the question then, "What is a particularly violent spirit in Harry Potter, and how are they dangerous?". I don't think any such spirits are directly shown throughout the books. – user13267 Jun 1 '17 at 12:04
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    Myrtle can make water move. It's not a big jump between that and a ghost punching or hitting someone. We are, after all, 70% water. – Valorum Jun 1 '17 at 13:17
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    On a related note -- do we know exactly what defines the differences between Ghost and Poltergeist, since Poltergeists can affect physical things? Also, much like the way we aren't told everything about how Magic works in HP (for example, inventing new spells, etc.) I don't know that we've really been given a comprehensive list of possible things that go bump in the night that could be what the villagers fear -- they don't even have to exist in the HP world as fact; legend and rumor could work quite well. – K-H-W Jun 1 '17 at 13:39
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    I always assumed that the "particularly violent spirits" were poltergeists or similar, not ghosts proper. – MissMonicaE Jun 1 '17 at 15:39
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    According to HP Wikia, which has a (dead) link to official FAQ, A poltergeist is an "indestructible spirit of chaos". And we know that Peeves can move physical objects, for example. So there can be non-ghost spirits, which are violent. – Ruslan Jun 1 '17 at 15:46
10

Ghosts aren't always your harmless-Hogwarts-ghost variety in the wizarding world. If we take "ghosts" to be imprints of humans who have incurred mortal damage to their bodies and that haunt a certain place then, surely, Voldemort's form after his curse backfired would fit the definition. Unsurprisingly, the prospect of a dark wizard's spirit haunting a place is reason enough for anyone to avoid the place of haunting.

"...I was ripped from my body, I was less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost."

Goblet of Fire. Ch. 33.

Voldemort even in this form could cause considerable harm to living beings that come across him. He could possess animals and humans alike. Any village, magic or not, would surely not want that for a neighbor. And that's even before they learn that being possessed by this spirit means growing a second face at the back of your head.

Granted, Voldemort is the only ghost of this type we know in the whole canon. But I think it will not be far-fetched to assume that books on dark magic would describe this kind of existence. And from that "science" the superstition of the Shrieking Shack could have been built.

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    As you say, though, Voldemort was kind of special case. I'm not sure it's credible to say that the Hogsmeade residents thought that there were multiple split souls flying around the Shrieking Shack. – The Dark Lord Jun 1 '17 at 19:09
  • @TheDarkLord I wasn't thinking of "split souls" per se but rather a more generic "presence" of whatever kind that may have emerged from a dark wizard's practice. – skytreader Jun 1 '17 at 21:36
  • Don't forget they're also transparent! I agree with the Dark Lord himself - it was a special case with Voldemort; other ghosts couldn't possess other creatures, for example. – Pryftan Jul 20 '18 at 22:09
0

Hogwarts Ghosts are noble. They are part of the family - in a way to say. But the noises Lupin made were loud and of pain, as if pain inflicted by something or someone very vicious.

Now, not many creatures in the wizarding world exist that are dangerous. I mean, the other end is wizards and witches. So sooner or later they would learn to control the beast or whatever it is causing the terror.

Since the voices happened every month, it was obvious that whatever it was had no stopping and thus the terror spread.

Also Dumbledore(s) (Albus and Aberforth) would have spread the word as much as possible.

  • There are actually quite a few creatures in the wizarding world that are dangerous. Where do you get the idea opposite? – Pryftan Jul 20 '18 at 22:10

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