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The HP wiki states:

"A ghost is the disembodied spirit of a once-living wizard or witch... These fleshless spirits were either afraid of death or have some extraordinarily strong connection to the locations they haunt.

However, in Tales of Beedle the Bard, Dumbledore's notes have a footnote mentioning ghosts attached to the idea of "maintaining the illusion of our loved ones’ continuing presence", where JKR says

[Wizarding photographs and portraits move and (in the case of the latter) talk just like their subjects. Other rare objects, such as the Mirror of Erised, may also reveal more than a static image of a lost loved one. Ghosts are transparent, moving, talking and thinking versions of wizards and witches who wished, for whatever reason, to remain on earth. JKR]

Additionally, they are also calling imprints of souls a couple of times in canon, by Snape and by Nearly-Headless Nick.

These instances imply that the ghosts of HP's world may just be entities akin to a more advanced version of Wizarding portraits. However, the idea of the ghosts really being the souls of the deceased seems quite entrenched in general fan discussions, ime.

So, is there any place in canon which refers to ghosts as actual spirits of the deceased? Or any information from canon which refers to ghosts as more than just a photo (so to say) of the soul?

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Nearly-Headless Nick talks about how he really is his soul, and that when he died he clung on to life so much that he never "passed on":

"I was afraid of death. I chose to remain behind. I sometimes wonder whether I oughtn't to have… well, that is neither here nor there ... in fact, I am neither here nor there ... I know nothing of the secrets of death, Harry, for I chose my feeble imitation of life instead." -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, p. 861

Later, when Sirius dies, Harry seeks out Nick and asks if there is a chance that Sirius is still here on Earth as a ghost; and Nick tells him he isn't, because someone like Sirius would not try to stay here, he would move on.

The ghosts also have a lot of regret as now they are stuck here with no way to move on with their lives or move on to the other side.

And the Resurrection ring actually pulls people from the other side back into the world, which is why they are "sad", because they are being forced to be basically a ghost on Earth again instead of "beyond".

Though as a side note, I believe a ghost could go through that portal in the Ministry and probably pass on (though that is complete speculation).

  • Also, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Voldemort commented that after his failed attempt to kill Harry, "I was ripped from my body, I was less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost . . . but still, I was alive". I don't think he would say that if a ghost was just like a portrait, I think that he meant that he was a disembodied spirit like a ghost, but had less power to manifest or affect the physical world than a ghost. – Hypnosifl Jul 24 '14 at 15:42
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    @Hypnosifl I don't think that particular comment of Voldie's really says anything either way - I agree that he meant he had less power to affect anything than the 'meanest' ghost, but with that sentence construction, he could also be implying that a ghost is a lesser thing a spirit, and that even though he was still alive, he had even less power than something that was just 'an imprint of a soul'. – Shisa Jul 25 '14 at 13:00

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