Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Characters/Nearly Headless Nick
|Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Character|
|Nearly Headless Nick|
Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, better known as Nearly Headless Nick, is the resident ghost of Gryffindor House at Hogwarts. He was almost beheaded on October 31, 1492 but the axe was too dull and, despite hitting his neck forty-five times, did not entirely decapitate him, hence his nickname.
Role in the Books
Harry and Ron first meet Nearly Headless Nick at the Arrival Feast. Ron recognizes him, and names him, from a description he got from his brothers Fred and George. Asked why "Nearly Headless", Nick demonstrates that his head is held on only by a thin remnant. Nick also says that he has not eaten for nearly four hundred years.
Returning to the castle sodden and muddy after a Quidditch practice, Harry meets a dismayed-looking Nearly Headless Nick, who has received a rejection letter from the Headless Hunt. ("Half an inch of skin and sinew!") After hearing Harry's worries about the upcoming Quidditch match against Slytherin, Nick sees Mrs. Norris, and warns Harry that Filch is on the warpath. Harry tries to avoid him but is caught and taken to Filch's office, where Filch starts filling out a detention form for the "crime" of "Befouling the castle". A crash from overhead distracts him, and sends him out of the office. On his return, Filch sees that Harry has become aware of some correspondence on his desk, and dismisses him hurriedly.
Outside Filch's office, Harry once again finds Nearly Headless Nick, who says that he had convinced Peeves to drop a heavy cabinet in the room over Filch's office to distract him, and is pleased that it had worked. He then invites Harry, Ron, and Hermione to his Deathday Party, celebrating his death on 31 October 1492.
The Trio attend Nick's party, and find that it is a rather gloomy affair, with Peeves at one point chasing Moaning Myrtle away in tears. To put a quite unsatisfactory cap on the evening, as Nearly Headless Nick starts to make his speech thanking everyone for coming, the Headless Hunt bursts in through the walls and starts a wild game. Harry, Ron, and Hermione make their escape quietly in amongst the hullabaloo.
As they leave, Harry hears a voice. Following the voice, and with Ron and Hermione following him, he finds Mrs. Norris, Petrified and hanging from a torch bracket. Called upon to explain what they had been doing just before finding Mrs. Norris, the Trio explain that they had been attending Nick's Deathday party.
Shortly before Christmas, Harry finds Justin Finch-Fletchley Petrified, and Nearly Headless Nick, black and smoky instead of his usual white color, and apparently also unconscious. Nearly Headless Nick is wafted up to the Infirmary by Ernie Macmillan with a large fan, at Professor McGonagall's orders.
With help from Hermione, despite her being Petrified, Harry and Ron discover that the monster in the Chamber of Secrets is a Basilisk. While this creature can kill with a glance, nobody has died yet because nobody has looked at it directly. In particular, Justin Finch-Fletchley had looked at it through Nearly Headless Nick; and Nick had not been killed by it because he was actually already dead.
Although we don't see him at the Ending Feast, we are led to believe that Nick is revived at the same time as the Petrified students.
While Nearly Headless Nick has no direct role in this book, he is mentioned in passing.
At the Arrival Feast, Nick informs Harry, Ron, and Hermione that there almost was not a feast this year. Peeves, upset at not being invited to the Feast, had gotten into the kitchen and had been wreaking havoc amongst the House Elves making it. Hermione is astounded to learn that there are over a hundred House-Elves in Hogwarts, attending to the needs of the students. Saying that she will not benefit from slave labour, she pushes aside her plate and refuses to eat any more.
Nearly Headless Nick is already sitting at the Gryffindor table when the Trio and Neville arrive, and they sit near him. When the Sorting Hat sings its song, Ron asks if the Hat has ever given a warning before, Nick says certainly, but before he can complete his explanation he is interrupted by the start of the Sorting. Once the Sorting is complete, and food appears, Hermione asks him to continue his explanation. Nick says that whenever the Hat feels that the school is in danger, it warns that the school Houses must stand together in the face of the danger. Ron, despite the almost indecent glee with which he is stuffing his mouth, manages to ask how the Hat knows the school is in danger if it is a hat, and Nick points out that it does stay in the Headmasters' office, and likely hears what is passing there. At Harry's disbelief that he could ever join forces with Slytherin, Nick reproaches him, saying that the ghosts of the separate houses cooperate, that he would not, for instance, argue with the Bloody Baron. At Ron's suggestion that Nick is scared of the Baron, Nick is highly affronted and leaves, settling further down the table beside Colin and Dennis Creevey.
As Harry heads to the Owlery to send a message to Sirius on the Saturday following his first week of school, he encounters Nearly Headless Nick, who warns him that Peeves is preparing a surprise for the next person who walks under the bust of Paracelsus. Harry confirms that this surprise involves the bust of Paracelsus falling on that person's head, then finds another way to the Owlery. Nick, meanwhile, heads off to look for the Bloody Baron, to see if he can put a stop to it.
After the death of Sirius, Harry chooses to pack his trunk rather than attend the Leaving Feast. Restless, he leaves the dormitory to walk the halls. He sees Nearly Headless Nick passing through a wall ahead of him, and calls him over, saying he wants a word. Nick is reluctant, but says he rather expected this. They go into a vacant classroom, and Harry asks Nick if there is any chance that Sirius could have become a ghost. Nick says that there is no chance. A certain amount of preparation is required, as well as unfinished business and a fear of death, and Sirius does not have any of that in sufficient quantity to make him want to stick around.
When Harry returns to Gryffindor Tower following his retrieving the memory from Professor Slughorn, he is denied entrance to the Common Room by the Fat Lady. While he is trying to decide what to do, Nearly Headless Nick wanders past. Harry tells him that Professor Dumbledore had set him this task, and now he has to wait until Dumbledore is back. Nick remarks that the Bloody Baron had said that Dumbledore had returned, but that he seemed tired. Nick suggests that Dumbledore is likely in his office.
Harry has become convinced that the last Horcrux that he must find and destroy is actually the lost Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw. Professor McGonagall tells him that it has not been seen in living memory. It occurs to Harry that "living memory" only applies to the living and that the castle ghosts have been around far longer than that. Nearly Headless Nick is eager to help in any way that a ghost can, and is somewhat upset that Harry does not want his help, but rather the help of the Ravenclaw house ghost. Despite being upset, however, he does point the Grey Lady out to Harry.
Being a ghost, he is already dead, and so he cannot die; even the Monster in the Chamber, who we find out later is a Basilisk, cannot kill him.
Being a ghost, he has limited ability to interact with the regular world. He is, however, affected by some artifacts of the material world; as mentioned, he cannot be killed by the Basilisk, but he is injured by it, being more or less Petrified by its gaze, and he is then transferred to the Hospital Wing by means of a large fan, indicating that he is affected by air currents. One wonders if this sensitivity to air currents (e.g. wind) is the reason so few ghosts are found outdoors.
Like Moaning Myrtle, Nick does not like being reminded that he is dead. While Myrtle's reaction is to burst into tears and run away, Nick instead tends to become affronted before ostentatiously distancing himself from the offender.
Relationships with Other Characters
Nick as the Gryffindor house ghost, socializes with all Gryffindors. He seems to be particularly fond of Harry, though he is quite pleased to speak with either Ron or Hermione. He is somewhat easily offended by Ron's repeatedly mentioning that he is dead, and on at least one occasion moves away from Ron after such an event.
Nick has been trying for centuries to join one particular ghostly group, the Headless Hunt, but is hindered by his not being actually headless.
In many ways, Nearly Headless Nick would seem to be almost a stereotypical 15th Century noble, believing in the birthrights of nobility and becoming affronted when his dignity is impugned. Against this, of course, we have to weigh the fact that we don't really know how 15th Century nobility actually acted. Would they have even deigned to speak with "commoners" like the students at Hogwarts? The average reader doesn't know, but may believe that the nobility of the day felt themselves innately immeasurably superior to those born without titles. The author has to make a choice between historical realism, and story, and we note that in this case, as in most, she has chosen the characterization that makes for the best story. A more realistic Sir Nicholas would likely have jarred fiercely against the expectations of the modern reader; but his portrayal in this series is sufficiently different from that of the students that it evokes the flavour of the age without jarring. Readers who don't believe that Sir Nicholas is portrayed accurately for his era may remind themselves that he has had five hundred years observing how styles have changed in Hogwarts, and presumably has been able to adapt himself to those styles somewhat, in order to avoid being effectively ostracized by the House which he inhabits.
The prime reason for Nearly Headless Nick's introduction would seem to be intimation that death is not final. Nick is the first ghost we meet in the series, and so is the first suggestion that in this series, some form of life after death is proven fact. We will learn from Professor Snape that a ghost "is the imprint of a departed soul left upon the earth," while Nick will say that "Wizards can leave their imprint on the earth, to walk palely where their living selves once trod." We note the implication that the soul itself has departed, but the imprint of that soul remains, and suggest that a similar mechanism may animate portraits and photographs in the Wizarding world. However, existence of the soul being a proven fact in the Wizarding world is undoubtedly meant as comfort for Harry, following the death of his parents, and presumably provides that comfort in at least some measure. Nick, in the first four books, is a concrete manifestation of existence of the soul, and so shows Harry, and the reader, that belief before we are told of it.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as mentioned, we learn that Nick is not an actual soul, but instead is the imprint of a soul who has passed on. The author, in an interview, has stated that the books became more concerned with death after the death of her mother. It may well be that, in coming to terms with her mother's passing, the author decided that leaving one's entire soul shackled to one place, even if it was as large a place as the Earth, would be a fate worse than death, and so altered her description of ghosts, as enunciated first by Nearly Headless Nick, to indicate that the actual soul of the wizard had departed.
Two things about Nearly Headless Nick have given readers pause.
In the first book, he tells Harry that he has not eaten in almost four hundred years; in the second book, he invites Harry to his five hundredth deathday celebration. As there is not a hundred-year gap in Harry's life at this point, we must assume that either Nick has miscounted, or that the author has made a small mistake. As it turns out, the author, in later editions, corrected the number in the first book to bring them both into line, changing "almost four hundred years" to "almost five hundred years." As the date of Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington's death is given as 31 October 1492, this also pins the second book to the span July 1992 to June 1993.
In the second book, Nearly Headless Nick is attacked by the monster from the Chamber and is left "no longer pearly-white and transparent, but black and smoky, floating immobile and horizontal, six inches off the floor." We will later find that a restorative draught based on mandrake root will revive all of those not fatally attacked by the Monster, but that does leave the question open: how does one administer a restorative draught to a ghost? This question is never fully answered, except perhaps by considering the dual meaning of the word "draught." Given that possible pun, we can't help wondering if the author selected that term deliberately.
There is also, necessarily, some question of detail about Nick's death. We have to assume that the shape a ghost takes is the shape the body was in at the instant of actual death. At the risk of being gruesome, we note some reports from the time of the French Revolution that severed heads seemed to continue to react, albeit briefly, in a lifelike manner. So the Headless Hunt is made up entirely of members who were beheaded, and then died after their heads were severed. A headsman's axe is heavy, and even a club, applied with normal headsman's force to the neck, will shatter the spinal column and bring about death in short order; it's safe to assume that Nick will have died within a very few seconds after the first axe stroke. So if it did, in fact, take 45 strokes of the axe to behead him, all but the first few (possibly five) would have been posthumous. And it would be one of those first few than nearly severed his head.