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Does Nearly-Headless Nick ever tell Harry or anyone else in canon exactly why he was executed (with, apparently, a very dull ax)? Why was Nearly-Headless Nick beheaded?

  • 1
    He wasn't beheaded. Hence the "Nearly Headless" moniker. – PiousVenom Oct 13 '14 at 18:41
34

Depends what you define as in canon. Rowling composed a ballad as to why he was beheaded. It was originally in The Chamber of Secrets , but was removed at her editor's behest:

Alas for the eve when I met Lady Grieve
A-strolling the park in the dusk!
She was of the belief I could straighten her teeth
Next moment she'd sprouted a tusk.
I cried through the night that I'd soon put her right
But the process of justice was lax;
They'd brought out the block, though they'd mislaid the rock
Where they usually sharpened the axe.

(From J.K. Rowling's website, via the Harry Potter Lexicon)

So basically he stuffed up a spell, resulting in Lady Grieve displaying a tusk instead of straight teeth. I'm guessing this was in the days where being a witch or a warlock got the death penalty.

Other than the word of the author, I don't believe there's any in-universe account of the debacle.

  • 5
    That is hilarious! I love it! Definitely +1 for the ballad and for teaching me something new :D Thanks for that. :) – Slytherincess Apr 10 '12 at 0:51
7

It was a mistake any wizard could make
Who was tired and caught on the hop
One piffling error, and then, to my terror,
I found myself facing the chop.
Alas for the eve when I met Lady Grieve
A-strolling the park in the dusk!
She was of the belief I could straighten her teeth
Next moment she'd sprouted a tusk.

I cried through the night that I'd soon put her right
But the process of justice was lax;
They'd brought out the block, though they'd mislaid the rock
Where they usually sharpened the axe.
Next morning at dawn, with a face most forlorn,
The priest said to try not to cry,
"You can come just like that, no, you won't need a hat,"
And I knew that my end must be nigh.

The man in the mask who would have the sad task
Of cleaving my head from my neck,
Said "Nick, if you please, will you get to your knees,"
And I turned to a gibbering wreck.
"This may sting a bit" said the cack-handed twit
As he swung the axe up in the air,
But oh the blunt blade! No difference it made,
My head was still definitely there.

The axeman he hacked and he whacked and he thwacked,
"Won't be too long", he assured me,
But quick it was not, and the bone-headed clot
Took forty-five goes 'til he floored me.
And so I was dead, but my faithful old head
It never saw fit to desert me,
It still lingers on, that's the end of my song,
And now, please applaud, or you'll hurt me.

This is the full ballad, mean to be in The Chamber of Secrets but decided to be cut off by the publisher :)

  • 2
    Can you provide any source for this? – FuzzyBoots Oct 13 '14 at 14:43
  • @SeanDuggan I traced the poem back to J.K. Rowling's Website through the HP Wikia, but can no longer be found there. Here's the archived site, courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine: web.archive.org/web/20060418011635/http://www.jkrowling.com/… – MrLemon Oct 13 '14 at 15:28
  • 1
    Ah. I just now noticed that there's a 2012 answer that has the same content. I'm afraid that this answer does little more than quote more of the poem, which dlanod already provided the link to. – FuzzyBoots Oct 13 '14 at 15:38
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    I do appreciate having the full poem contained within the answer... perhaps it could be combined with the accepted answer? – TGnat Oct 13 '14 at 15:44
1

It would seem from Dumbledore's notes to "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot" in The Tales of Beedle the Bard that Nick was executed for practicing witchcraft. Dumbledore writes:

The persecution of witches and wizards was gathering apace all over Europe in the early fifteenth century. Many in the magical community felt, and with good reason, that offering to cast a spell on the Muggle-next-door's sickly pig was tantamount to volunteering to fetch the firewood for one's own funeral pyre.

In a footnote there he adds:

It is true, of course, that genuine witches and wizards were reasonably adept at escaping the stake, block and noose (see my comments about Lisette de Lapin in the commentary on "Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump"). However, a number of deaths did occur: Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington (a wizard at the royal court in his lifetime, and in his death-time, ghost of Gryffindor Tower) was stripped of his wand before being locked in a dungeon, and was unable to magic himself out of his execution; and wizarding families were particularly prone to losing younger members, whose inability to control their own magic made them noticeable, and vulnerable, to Muggle witch-hunters.

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