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I started thinking about this question when I saw an answer to another question about whether Muggles can see ghosts. The answer says that they can, but typically (ghosts) do not reveal themselves; partly because they want to be left alone, but also partly because they fear "punishment" by the Ministry.

My question is, what "punishment" could you give a ghost, or, more accurately, how do you make the ghost want to suffer the punishment rather than whatever else you could do to it? For example, we humans go to jail or do community service because if we don't, the other things the [insert location here] government could do to us would hurt more.

As an example, the answer I referenced says the Ministry made Moaning Myrtle go back to her bathroom, but what I am asking is what could it do to her that would make going back to her bathroom preferable? Ghosts are already dead, so you can't kill them again (or can you?), and they are incorporeal, though probably not completely intangible.

We know from Chamber of Secrets, the book, that ghosts can taste and presumably feel, though barely, as a ghost at Nearly Headless Nick's Deathday Party (which is sadly not in the movie) has to float his head through some type of rotten, spicy food to taste any flavor at all.

However, this doesn't seem to be able to extend very far. Yes, the ghost feels things, so one could perhaps put the ghost in an electric torture chamber or something similar if he/she does not comply, but would they really want to do that for every Peeves-like manchild poltergeist? Is there perhaps a Ghostbuster-style ghost container, able to vacuum up ghosts and put them in solitary confinement, or a Danny Phantom-like "ghost world" (probably separate from the Veil) where they could store unruly ghosts?

One thing I know could make a ghost hurt would be to isolate the ghost from other people/ghosts. Humans are social creatures, and I assume ghosts are the same way, even considering how they are not completely human. However, again, this could only go so far, and some humans and ghosts would love nothing more than to be left alone, so exile would be like a reward for killing innocent humans and causing too much ruckus, rather than a punishment.

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    You're basicly asking if the ministry is gonna call.... GHOSTBUSTERS! – Oak May 25 '14 at 21:03
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    The Basilisk was able to petrify Nearly Headless Nick in Chamber of Secrets. Just because they don’t have a physical body doesn’t mean they can’t be affected by magic (and presumably, magical punishments). – alexwlchan May 25 '14 at 21:38
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    Why does the punishment have to hurt? – Möoz May 25 '14 at 22:30
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    I imagine a house ghost could be punished by being relieved of their duties. – mikeazo May 26 '14 at 2:50
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    By "hurt", I didn't really mean the punishment itself. I more meant the alternative to the punishment. For example, when the Ministry forced Myrtle back to her bathroom, they had to have been able to do something that would hurt more than her going back to her bathroom, so that she would choose to go to her bathroom rather than this other thing they could do. – trysis May 26 '14 at 20:28
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All I can think of is no they can't be punished or killed. Because this was not stated in any of the books, and unless people do black magic, hurting them would be near impossible.

I would imagine though that they would be punishable, you could petrify them as seen in the 2nd book. This is a quote from the wikia:

Later in the year, on 18 December, 1992, Sir Nicholas was Petrified on one of the Castle's corridors, along with Justin Finch-Fletchley. Sir Nicholas saved Justin's life by taking the brunt of the Basilisk's otherwise-lethal gaze, with Justin seeing the basilisk through Nick rather than being directly exposed to its vision; Nick received the full blast of its power, but as a ghost it was naturally impossible for him to die again.[14] Justin was carried up to the hospital wing by Professor Flitwick and Professor Sinistra, but nobody seemed to know what to do for Sir Nicholas. In the end, Professor McGonagall conjured a large fan and gave it to Ernie Macmillan with instructions to waft the ghost up the stairs.
Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington - HP Wikia

Also it appears that they can have physical contact or magical somehow, in the above quote and this quote. I can't confirm the bottom quote though was in the book:

By the end of the year, Professor Sprout's Mandrakes had fully matured, and were used to make a Mandrake Restorative Draught which was aministred to revive all those who had been Petrified, including Sir Nicholas. ibid.

Also you must remember that in the last battle the "Grey Lady" said that she wanted to do everything possible to defeat the Dark Lord, but she never got hands on. That could possibly mean that she couldn't fight. Also, none of the other ghosts were fighting, if I am not mistaken, so that means that they can't.

This qoute is from the Harry Potter wikia.

The ghosts, including Sir Nicholas, attended a gathering in the Great Hall, in which Professor McGonagall gave instructions on evacuation of underage students and Kingsley Shacklebolt organised the participants for battle. Harry Potter, needing information on the whereabouts of Rowena Ravenclaw's Diadem, asked Nick who the ghost of Ravenclaw Tower was. Although he was initially slightly hurt that Harry needed another ghost rather than him, he pointed her to him. Later on, the ghosts gathered at the Great Hall, joining the mass mourning over the fallen.
ibid.

The most they can do is Teach (Professor Binn's), advise (Sir Nicholas and the Grey Lady). The ghost that has the most physical abilities is Peeves, but he's a poltergiest.

The most punishment a regular ghost had was Moaning Myrtle, who was made to go back to Hogwarts, they forced her so they might have said "go back or we will petrify you". Also we don't know the technology that is in the Ministry so that could hurt them.

Most of this is conjecture, it was never really addressed to my knowledge. A dementor might work, but what I said before was that the ghost were not scared meaning they had nothing to be scared about, meaning they knew they couldn't die.

But another thought is that if no ghosts die then wouldn't the whole world be full of them?

  • All good points, but, as I said in comments to the question, punishments don't have to hurt physically; they could hurt emotionally. – trysis Oct 9 '16 at 14:02
  • Myrtle can splash water, and Nick can be wafted with a magical fan. – marcellothearcane Aug 27 at 16:55
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They can somehow get punished by other ghosts (perhaps by being expelled from the dwelling they haunt).

We clearly see in the Sorcerers Stone that ghosts have the ability to punish and get punished:

About twenty ghosts had just streamed through the back wall. Pearly-white and slightly transparent, they glided across the room talking to one another and hardly glancing at the first years. They seemed to be arguing. What looked like a fat little monk was saying: "Forgive and forget, I say, we ought to give him a second chance --" "My dear Friar, haven't we given Peeves all the chances he deserves? He gives us all a bad name and you know, he's not really even a ghost -- I say, what are you all doing here?"

Although its not clear what the ghosts wanted to do to Peeves (who is similar to - though not really -a ghost, the quote "haven't we given Peeves all the chances he deserves" it implies a permanent punishment, perhaps expulsion.

However, @TheDarkLord makes a strong argument here that Peeves cannot be expelled.

If that's so, there must be some other way for ghosts to punish. Regardless, ghosts do have the ability to punish other ghosts in some way.

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    Peeves is not a ghost. – ibid Oct 30 '17 at 15:20
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    @ibid. Correct. But he can still be punished by ghosts, and he has similar enough properties to them for the Barron to point it out. – TheAsh Oct 30 '17 at 15:22
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Ghosts might be able to hurt one another.

Somehow Peeves is scared of the Bloody Baron. If ghosts couldn't interact with one another then why would Peeves be scared of something that couldn't harm him?

In the Sorcerer's Stone

Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington: "Peeves, of course. The usual argument, you know. He wanted to attend the feast — well, it's quite out of the question, you know what he's like, utterly uncivilized, can't see a plate of food without throwing it. We held a ghost's council — the Fat Friar was all for giving him the chance — but most wisely, in my opinion, the Bloody Baron put his foot down."

When someone puts their foot down it's usually because they have something that they can back it up with. Some sort of punishment or way of getting the person to do what they want them to do.

In the Order of the Phoenix

Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington: "I would not go that way if I were you. Peeves is planning an amusing joke on the next person to pass the bust of Paracelsus halfway down the corridor."

Harry Potter: "Does it involve Paracelsus falling on top of the person's head?"

Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington: "Funnily enough, it does. Subtlety has never been Peeves's strong point. I'm off to try and find the Bloody Baron... he might be able to put a stop to it... see you, Harry."

The Bloody Baron has a sword and at the Deathday party a ghostly orchestra played, so they are able to interact with ghostly objects. So it might not be too much of a stretch that their ghostly objects could also interact with other ghosts. The Bloody Baron could use a threat of force to get Peeves to stop.

  • It's like ibid said... – The Dark Lord Oct 30 '17 at 18:26
  • Yes, and like theAsh said and from what I quoted above, Peeves can somehow be punished/stopped by ghosts. I was just adding that it could be because besides the obvious that he looks intimidating, he seems to be the only one that has a weapon, a sword, that might be able to affect him. – Sensoray Oct 30 '17 at 20:11
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They can be banished from their home or confined to one place. We know this from Moaning Myrtle when she explained that she had haunted Olive Hornby until the Ministry made her live at Hogwarts. So if a ghost was really attached to one place, they could be confined to another.

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They can apparently still do something to non-corporeal beings.

It’s likely that there’s some sort of punishment that ‘harms’ non-corporeal beings. The Dark Lord said that while he was without a body he dared not go where humans were plentiful, since the Aurors were looking for him. This likely indicates that the Aurors posed some threat to him.

“Only one power remained to me. I could possess the bodies of others. But I dared not go where other humans were plentiful, for I knew that the Aurors were still abroad and searching for me.”
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 33 (The Death Eaters)

Though the Dark Lord wasn’t a ghost, he was at that point non-corporeal. In addition, he wouldn’t care about the law or being ‘polite’, so it implies that there’s something that can be done to harm non-corporeal beings. Therefore, it’s also possible that whatever the Dark Lord feared the Aurors would do to him could also be used on ghosts, as a more harm-based punishment for them.

The Ministry may have bound Myrtle somehow so she can’t leave.

We don’t know exactly how the Ministry of Magic got Myrtle to stay in Hogwarts. She says they made her go back, but doesn’t give details on what exactly they did to make her go back. It’s possible that they simply bound her (probably to Hogwarts) so she’d be unable to leave.

“– and then, of course, she went to the Ministry of Magic to stop me stalking her, so I had to come back here and live in my toilet.”
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 25 (The Egg and the Eye)

If that is how the Ministry got Myrtle to stay put, then in her case, they wouldn’t need to threaten her into it as she’d be incapable of leaving even if she wanted to and didn’t care about any punishment.

  • In his own words: I was ripped from my body, I was less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost ... but still, I was alive. If even something less than a ghost can be harmed then a fortiori an actual ghost can be harmed. – Alex Sep 2 '18 at 20:24
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    I'm assuming shoving him through the veil would have much the same effect as killing a mortal – Valorum Sep 2 '18 at 20:54

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