Why Does Nearly Headless Nick Care About the Headless Hunt?
Today’s episode of the Promptly Potter podcast explores the seemingly unjust rejection of Gryffindor’s resident ghost from an exclusive organization. Although Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington seems quite popular among the Hogwarts student body, his fellow school ghosts, and – considering the attendance at his deathday party – the spirit community at large, there is one group whose refusal to accept him rankles. Sir Nicholas is deeply offended that Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore rejects his application to join the Headless Hunt based on the fact that Nick’s head is still semi-attached, making it impossible for him to participate in many of the society’s activities, such as Head Polo.
To be fair, Sir Patrick’s point is legitimate. If Nick cannot fully remove his head, he indeed cannot play games that require throwing one’s head around. Although he is unnecessarily rude to Nick, the crux of Patrick’s argument is valid. Even if the Headless Hunt granted him membership, Nick would have to sit on the sidelines while the other huntsmen juggled their heads, a constant reminder of his difference.
Aside from the inherent indignity of his botched decapitation, why does it bother Nick so much that he cannot join the Headless Hunt? And why does he even want to join in the first place? Beheaded ghosts seem to be a small minority – Nick is not an outcast among ghosts for not belonging to this exclusive club, where he would indeed be an outlier. Therefore, it seems likely that his desire to be in the Headless Hunt is not just about the type of death he should have had but his identity during his lifetime.
Sir Nicholas was a knight in the court of King Henry VII, and therefore likely concerned with status, described on Pottermore as “something of a snob.” Having been an elite member of British society during his lifetime, he expects to be afforded the same privileged place in death. It is not enough for him to be a run-of-the-mill ghost, rubbing shoulders with mere commoners. He belongs with his equals.
Based on the facts that Patrick is also a knight and the huntsmen all ride horses and were beheaded, it is likely that they all lived around the same time and were nobles or aristocrats. These could have been Nick’s peers in life – either literally in that he actually knew some of them or figuratively in that he sees them as being of the same social class. These people might have, like Nick, been wizards who were prominent members of the royal court and executed for their magic by the then-common method of beheading. Hanging out with ghosts who died fifty or a hundred years ago from any number of causes isn’t the same as being with people from his own era and lifestyle with whom he would have more in common and who share the traumatic experience of being sentenced to death by beheading for their magic.
The Headless Hunt have found a way to carry on their culture and traditions even in death. However, for all the Hunt seem to relish being noblemen with all the trappings of chivalry, they too must have feared death in order to become ghosts. In that, they are no better than Nick. They were merely lucky enough to have been victims to a more competent executioner. They spend their deaths desperately trying to cling to the lives they once had. Perhaps their revelry, using their gruesome ends for humor and entertainment, helps to stave off the doubts that Nick experiences about the choice he made.
Still, for all the fun Nick misses out on, he has an important place as a Hogwarts ghost. He welcomes young witches and wizards to the school, helps them out of tight spots, provides his own entertainment during Halloween feasts, keeps an eye on that pesky poltergeist, and even advises those who have suffered a loss, uncomfortable as it may be for him. While he may miss the feasting and festivities of knightly life, he spends his death like a true Gryffindor and a true knight: as a man of honor, devoted to the castle where he dwells and aiding those in need.
So is Nick’s exclusion from the Headless Hunt really an injustice or such a great loss? Share your thoughts on social media with #PromptlyPotter.