We may only know the ghosts of Hogwarts as the ghosts of Hogwarts: spirits that haunt the halls, guiding students and occasionally causing mischief. Yet they didn’t just come with the building – well, not all of them anyway. Before they were ghosts, they were people – people with lives that were interesting, dramatic and sometimes gruesome. Here are some of the lesser-known stories of Hogwarts’ spookiest squatters…
Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, aka Nearly Headless Nick, led a choppy life. He was originally born in the 15th century to a family of nobles, which he left at the age of 11 to attend Hogwarts. He was sorted into Gryffindor – the house that, hundreds of years later, he would go on to represent as house ghost.
After Hogwarts, Nick found himself as a wizard at the royal court, who also knighted him. He was friendly with Muggles, including a lady-in-waiting from the court, Lady Grieve, who would ultimately be the cause of his doom. The story goes that Nick met Grieve while strolling in the park, and – being the friendly chap he was/is – insisted that he could fix her crooked teeth with magic. But the spell backfired, and she instead started to grow a tusk. Nick was then arrested and sentenced to death: a botched beheading that, because of a dull axe, took 45 hacks to kill him, but still didn’t sever his head from his body. Hence the nickname Nearly Headless Nick.
Before she was Hogwarts’ most, er, impassioned ghost, Moaning Myrtle was an unhappy and picked-upon child. Born in the late 1920s to Muggle parents, Myrtle Warren started her Hogwarts life in the early 1940s, where she was sorted into Ravenclaw. She had no friends, and was bullied relentlessly because of her glasses and acne. But she would soon have all of eternity to get her own back.
Myrtle’s transition from lonely student to eccentric ghost was thanks to the Chamber of Secrets. Having been teased by fellow student Olive Hornby, Myrtle hid in the first-floor girls’ toilets and began sobbing in one of its stalls. It was here that she ran into Voldemort himself, Tom Riddle, who she overheard speaking Parseltongue in order to open the Chamber, which was hidden behind the sinks. Thinking that Riddle was intruding in the girls’ bathroom, she opened the stall door to tell him off – only to be confronted with the Chamber of Secrets’ Basilisk, whose gaze killed her instantly.
Her body was later found by Hornby, whose discovery would haunt her – both figuratively and literally, for Myrtle returned as a ghost and immediately started to torment her. After a complaint to the Ministry of Magic, Myrtle was consigned to the bathroom forever.
Not much is known about the Fat Friar. He’s fat, obviously. And a friar. But much of his life remains a mystery. What we do know is that he was born late into the tenth century, and was sorted into Hufflepuff at Hogwarts – and run by its founders. Some point after finishing his magical education, the Fat Friar – not his real name – joined a mendicant religion as a friar, meaning that he spent his life begging in the name of charity.
A noble life for a noble man, but the Fat Friar’s kindness was to be his undoing. For his fellow clergy grew suspicious at his ability to cure the pox with nothing but a stick, and he was soon executed. His penchant for pulling rabbits out of the communion wine probably didn’t help either.
In death she’s known as the Grey Lady. In life she was Helena Ravenclaw, daughter of legendary witch Rowena Ravenclaw, who founded Ravenclaw house in 993.
Helena’s relationship with her mother was complex. An ambitious witch in the shadow of a brilliant one, Helena envied her mother’s status and wisdom – which was enhanced by her enchanted diadem. A few years into her magical education, she betrayed her mother by stealing the diadem – believing it could make her powerful – and running away from Hogwarts. The betrayal embarrassed Rowena, who told no one that the diadem was missing. On her death bed, however, she did send a young man to find Helena, so she could see her daughter for one last time. That young man tracked her down to a forest in Albania, and what happened next would be her downfall...
How the Bloody Baron became the Bloody Baron – an apparently dangerous ghost soaked in someone else’s blood – remained a mystery at Hogwarts for quite a while. It all began, however, with Helena Ravenclaw. The Baron, born into nobility in the late tenth century, was infatuated with Helena ever since they met at Hogwarts, though she always spurned his advances. Not much is known about the Baron beyond his involvement with Helena, but it’s clear that he was a hot-tempered young man.
When Helena ran away with her mother’s diadem, the Baron was asked to track her down: which he did, to a forest in Albania. With her cornered, the Baron pleaded with Helena to come back with him, but – in her own words – became ‘furious at my refusal, jealous of my freedom’ and stabbed her to death. Rightly horrified at what he had done, he then used the same knife to kill himself – sentencing himself to an eternity of penance, soaked in Helena’s blood. He has since remained at Hogwarts as Slytherin'sghost.
Why is Peeves a special mention? Because Peeves is technically not a ghost, he’s a poltergeist. This means that he never died, and therefore never lived. Instead, it’s said that the pesky prankster came into existence with the founding of Hogwarts. Not much is known about how or why Peeves came to be, but J.K. Rowling has said before that he ‘came with the building’, that he was like ‘dry rot... like a severe plumbing problem in a very old building’. It’s probably fair to say that Argus Filch would agree.