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Possession

by Sarah Farmer

(Any page references refer to the UK versions of the books)

I have read the Harry Potter books many times, as I am sure you have. Each time I reread the books one thing keeps becoming more and more apparent, and this is how many times “possession” plays a significant part in the story. This is especially clear after Order of the Phoenix, when Harry himself is possessed by Voldemort, and Dumbledore expresses his fears that this would happen.

There are three major instances of a character being possessed by Lord Voldemort: Quirrell in Philosopher’s Stone, Ginny in Chamber of Secrets and Harry in Order of the Phoenix. However, each of these possessions is different from the others and has very different effects on the victim. My aim in writing this is to explore the differences between these possessions and their effects, and to see what we can learn from them about Harry and his future in the series.

Firstly, let me start by giving what I believe to be a clear definition of what possession is in the Harry Potter series. I believe possession to mean the use of the body of another. For example, in Quirrell’s case, his body is literally inhabited by Voldemort. In Ginny’s case, her body is used by Tom Riddle to open the Chamber of Secrets. And in Harry’s case, Voldemort apparently takes up residence in Harry’s body and uses his mouth to speak.

The three different possessions are done by three different “types” of Voldemort:

  • Quirrell is possessed by the “spirit” of Voldemort, what is left of him after the curse rebounded (often referred to in other editorials as “Vapormort,” which I will continue to use here). Vapormort is visible on Quirrell’s body as the other face. He is a physical presence.
  • Ginny is possessed by the Tom Riddle memory. She has no recollection of what she does “under the influence.”
  • Harry is possessed by the full power Voldemort. Harry remains conscious, and the process is very painful for him.

Already, from this, it is very clear that the three possessions are very different from each other. To get a clearer picture of them, it is necessary to study each case in a fair amount of detail.

Throughout Philosopher’s Stone, it is noted how much “paler and thinner” Quirrell is becoming. Although we are led to believe this is because he is frightened of Snape, it is instead, of course, because he is being possessed by Voldemort. It is the strain of playing host to him. On pages 179-80, Harry overhears what appears to be Quirrell being threatened. This shows that Quirrell is able to converse with Voldemort, despite the fact that they are sharing one body. Voldemort is able to speak to his host. Quirrell is capable of independent thought; this is reinforced in the confrontation at the end, when Quirrell appears to be trying to figure out how to use the Mirror of Erised using his own mind. Quirrell also tells Harry that he sometimes “finds it hard to follow [his] master’s instructions,” showing that Voldemort is not directly controlling him, but giving him orders that he must follow. This is the most significant difference between the possession of Quirrell and the possessions of Ginny and Harry, because Ginny and Harry are forced to act against their will. We are also able to see Voldemort on the back of Quirrell’s head – he has a physical form when sharing Quirrell’s body. Voldemort himself says this: “I have form only when sharing another’s body.” Another significant feature of this possession is that Quirrell cannot touch Harry. This is because Voldemort cannot touch Harry, indicating that Quirrell and Voldemort have become as one as far as the protection on Harry is concerned. Dumbledore tells us that Quirrell could not touch Harry because he was “sharing his soul with Voldemort.” This tells us that Quirrell was not just sharing his body, but his soul as well, the very essence of himself. This seems to be a recurring feature in the possessions mentioned in the books so far. When Voldemort left Quirrell’s body, Quirrell died, suggesting that Voldemort was not only living off Quirrell, but also keeping him alive in some way. Quirrell had gone so far to becoming a part of Voldemort, that he couldn’t live without him (sounds a bit like a trashy romance, doesn’t it?).

The possession of Ginny could not be more different, but it shares the common factor of a soul. Riddle tells Harry that, “Ginny poured out her soul to me, and her soul happened to be exactly what I wanted.” This enables Riddle to become stronger and to start being able to control Ginny, although she has no recollection of what she has done once she’s done it. It appears to be very dreamlike. Something familiar is said by Ginny in one of her entries though. She says that Percy says she is “pale.” This is like the observation made of Quirrell during his possession – he became pale also. So hosting Lord Voldemort obviously puts a strain on the physical well-being of the person who is possessed. Riddle also goes on to say that he “made Ginny write her own farewell” and that “she struggled and cried.” This shows that he has control over her, very much against her will.

Another thing I found interesting about Ginny’s possession was that as Riddle got stronger, she got much weaker. There isn’t an equality between them. As Riddle puts it, “There isn’t much life left in her: she put too much into the diary, into me.” He is “sucking” her life force, rather than living off her and sharing her life as in the Quirrell possession. When I was writing my notes for this editorial, I wrote this: “in this possession, he is sucking her life force, ONLY ONE CAN LIVE”. I was astounded when I found myself writing that – as you can probably tell, it bears echoes of Trelawney’s prophecy, that (with Harry and Voldemort), “neither can live while the other survives.”Could there be some sort of link, then, between possession, and the reason why only one can live, Harry or Voldemort?

Also, the other significant feature of this possession is the manner in which it is eventually defeated. Harry destroys the diary, which in turn destroys Riddle. This then causes Ginny to wake. This shows that Riddle’s possession of Ginny was based entirely on the diary, and the connection it forged between “parasite” and “host.” When Ginny is no longer possessed, she is able to get back to normal (although forever haunted by the memory of those times); she doesn’t die like Quirrell did.

In Order of the Phoenix, Ginny explains to Harry what it feels like to be possessed by Voldemort. She asks if he can remember everything he’s been doing, and if there are big blank periods where he doesn’t know what he’s been up to. This style of possession is very different to that of Harry and Quirrell, yet it seems as though it would be the one that would be most “familiar” with readers. They could probably empathize with this form of possession better than the other two.

The final significant possession is that of Harry in Order of the Phoenix. As it is all told from Harry’s point of view, it gives us a clear view of what it feels like for him, whereas with the others we have to rely on the accounts they give.

When Harry is possessed, we learn this about it:

  • It is excruciatingly painful for him
  • Voldemort uses Harry’s body to speak
  • Harry feels trapped inside “coils of a creature with red eyes”: it is interesting that he feels trapped inside Voldemort, when really Voldemort is in him
  • It feels to Harry as though they are “fused together, bound by pain”
  • Voldemort can sense Harry’s emotions – he can sense (and cannot stand) the love Harry feels for Sirius

So what has Dumbledore got to say about the possession? He tells Harry that for him to be possessed by Voldemort was perhaps his greatest fear, and understandably so. As Dumbledore points out, if Voldemort could successfully possess Harry, it would be a brilliant means of spying on Dumbledore and the Order.

But we also have the point of view of another essential character when it comes to possession. Voldemort himself. Voldemort informs Harry and the Death Eaters in Goblet of Fire that when he was in Vapormort form, the only power that remained to him was the ability to “possess the bodies of others.” He tells of how he used to possess animals when he was in hiding, and that his “possession of them shortened their lives; none of them lasted long.” Notably, Quirrell also died when Voldemort possessed him in Vapormort form. Voldemort says that he possessed Quirrell to “supervise” him – not to control him. He also says about Bertha Jorkins that, “…her mind and body were both damaged beyond repair … I could not possess her.” Does this mean that you can only possess someone whose health permits it? Note that he says he “could not” possess her, rather than he thought it would be pointless to.

I am now going to consider something a little different, because I believe it could hold some clues about the nature of possession. I am referring to the Imperius Curse. I am including this as a way of showing how people can be made to do things against their will, and that HARRY CAN OVERCOME IT. To my mind, Imperius is a milder form of possession. One wizard has control over another’s body, but without actually taking up residence in it.

Ok, so the Imperius Curse. It is the one that allows a wizard to have complete control over another. It comes from the Latin word, impero, which means to order or command. It is introduced by Moody (who turned out to be Crouch Jr., but that’s a bit irrelevant) in Goblet of Fire. When Harry is put under the Imperius curse, we have a description of what it feels like. He seems to be very relaxed, it is very dreamlike, possibly the way we’d imagine Ginny’s possession. However, it is different from Ginny’s possession because we are told Harry was “only dimly aware” of people around him – but he is still aware, unlike Ginny who had no idea what she was doing. Harry, under the Imperius curse for the very first time, finds he is able to fight it. Although he has to practice a few times before he can throw it off completely, it still shows his strength of character.

Moody tells the class to watch Harry’s eyes to see him overcome it – I am probably going off on a bit of a tangent here, but could this have something to do with Harry having Lily’s eyes? It is very unlikely, and I am in danger of overanalyzing here, but there is still a teeny tiny itsy bitsy possibility that this could be the case. Or not.

In the graveyard chapters, when Voldemort tries to use Imperius on Harry, Harry still fights off the curse, despite having only just come out of the Cruciatus curse. Surely this shows that Harry has an incredibly strong character.

When Crouch Jr. is telling his story, he says that he was controlled by the Imperius curse for years. He also says he began to fight it until he could almost be himself again. He also tells us that his father was being controlled by the Imperius curse, but that he also began to fight it. This must show that even if you cannot fight it in the short term, it eventually loses its strength. It seems to be very difficult to keep control over someone for a very long period of time.

So what can we learn from the Imperius curse that has anything to do with possession? Well, both involve having complete control over someone. If Imperius can be overcome, can possession therefore also be overcome? Can possession “wear off” over long periods of time, as Imperius appears to? And if Harry can overcome Imperius so quickly, does he also have what it takes to overcome possession? From the evidence here, I think it could indeed be possible.

And what can we learn from the examples of possession I have analysed here? Well, the differences between the possessions show that there is no set way to possess someone. Also, the possession has different effects on different people. Why does it hurt Harry so much when it doesn’t appear to hurt Quirrell or Ginny? The possession of Harry in comparison to the other two appears to show:

  •  Voldemort is much, much stronger in Order of the Phoenix
  • The connection between Harry and Voldemort is incredibly important (as if we didn’t know that) and its effects can manifest themselves in many ways (e.g. the pain Harry feels when being possessed)
  • Voldemort can sense Harry’s emotions while possessing him. This shows that Harry still feels these emotions, meaning he must still have his own mind whilst being possessed. Could this be the key to overcoming possession?

I will leave you to make up your own minds about the significance and relevance of what I have written. For now, have fun rereading the books and looking for more clues. And when Book 7 comes out, and we discover that the key to the whole thing was in fact possession, remember me and admire my genius. (If it comes out and we realize possession had nothing to do with it, please forget me.)