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Dementors are considered one of the foulest creatures in the Harry Potter Universe. Created from the hopelessness and despair that J.K. Rowling felt because of depression, the dementors are genuinely a creature you should be terrified of. These creatures are neither living nor dead, surprisingly sentient, but they embody all that is dark within the world. So how were they created, and what is their purpose in the universe of Harry Potter? This Comprehensive Guide to Dementors will cover that and so much more!
Bottom Line Up Front
Dementors are completely terrifying. They embody the feelings of depression to the extreme, and their appearance is equally horrifying. They are also a very contradictory creature who I hope at some point gets a little bit more canon clarification and lore. They scare me, but I also understand how J.K. Rowling could envision depression this way.
Creator: Ekrizdis (Potentially)
Classified As: Non-Being
Mortality: Amortal/Immortal. Neither alive nor dead
Key Abilities: Dementors Kiss & Sucking the Happiness From Someone.
Allied With: Ministry of Magic and Voldemort
Related To: Lethifold (Potentially)
What is a Dementor?
A Dementor is considered the foulest creator in the wizarding world. Those left in their care are often driven insane and die. To cross one would be one of the most terrifying interactions an unprepared witch or wizard could have. So how were these creatures of the dark created, and what is their purpose within the world of Harry Potter?
It should come as no surprise that these creatures stem from dark magic. The exact nature of their creation is unknown. Still, they can be traced back to a small island in the North Sea that would come to be known as Azkaban, the most secure, albeit horrifying, prison in the wizarding world. Ekridis is known to be the first resident of this island. It’s unknown if he came here and the island was already infested or if he was the creator. He lived among these creatures for several years, luring muggle sailors to its shores and torturing them to death, along with, I’m assuming, feeding the growing army of Dementors. Eventually, he went mad and died, leading to the island’s discovery.
My theory is that these creatures were created as a by-product of Ekridis’s actions and perhaps dark energy that already existed there. These creatures were at least somewhat loyal to Ekridis as they did not feed off of him freely, and it’s assumed he went mad from solitude, not their presence. For these reasons, I believe these creatures were, in some ways, a part of him and his dark magical deeds.
Discovery & Guarding Azkaban
Those who explored the island for the first time refused to return due to the horrors they found; among them were the Dementors. Fearing a war with these creatures should they force them out, they left the island alone. I’m assuming with some protective enchantments placed to keep others from discovering it. Sometime after 1718, Minister Rowle decided to use Azkaban and the fortress built by Ekridis as a prison. He struck a deal with the Dementors; in exchange for guarding the prisoners, they could feed freely on their remaining happiness and hope.
This was met with opposition and protests; sometime after 1733, Minister Diggory proposed finding an alternative to Dementors. He considered the despair and insanity the prisoners were forced in to be inhumane. Due to fear of invasion and uprising from these creatures, this was opposed and eventually forgotten about after Diggory died from Dragonpox. Dementors remained as guards until the Second Wizarding War, when they aligned with Voldemort.
A Dementor appears as a tall thin humanoid in a long black cloak with a hood that hides its hideous face. You are in trouble if you are close enough to see its face. It has no eyes; instead, empty eye sockets are covered by grey scabby skin. The mouth, if you can call it that, is the most terrifying part of this creature; it has no lips or teeth, just a large gaping hole it can use to suck your soul from your body.
The rest of its body is made up of essentially a rotting corpse covered in grey skin. They glide effortlessly across the ground, in some cases being shown to cause the grass and flowers to freeze and dye in their wake. They are quiet and great hunters; because of this, the only warning you will receive is a drop in temperature and a sudden feeling of despair, anxiety, and pure unhappiness. Due to their magical nature, muggles and squibs can’t see them, making them great prey.
Behavior and Sentience
The sentience of Dementors is heavily debated; they are capable of following basic commands and making deals. They are selfish creatures and will align with those who offer them the most. They remained loyal to the ministry for so long because they could feed freely. Still, we’re easily swayed to Voldemort’s side during the second wizarding war.
They had limited communication, but they were able to communicate what Sirius Black was saying in his sleep and take commands from ministry members to do things like bury prisoners, escort people, and guard the Minister of Magic. They clearly had some form of sentience and understanding of how their behavior towards those they were dealing with would affect their livelihood.
Although Dumbledore considered them to be savage creatures without the ability to differentiate between friend and foe, I don’t quite agree with this; as you can see, they didn’t seem to stray too far from Ministry control since it benefitted them greatly until a better deal came along. However, they didn’t have the foresight to think about the different outcomes should Voldemort fail; in this way, they lacked critical thinking. But so do many humans, so who’s to say how intelligent they were.
They would also deviate from orders if something attracted them greatly; for example, a Dementor attacked Harry on the train to Hogwarts during a Quidditch match despite being told to leave students alone. They were clearly vicious and aimed primarily to get their hunger for happiness and creation of despair met. Dumbledore was right to warn students to stay out of their way and not provoke them.
When they are found in the wild, they hunt in groups of varying sizes but rarely larger than twenty. They attack by surrounding their targets and feeding on them all at once. This both blocks any form of escape and overwhelms their target completely.
Dementors are genderless and do not engage in sexual relations, or it seems interpersonal relationships at all. Instead, they reproduce similarly to fungi. They simply multiply when there is enough human despair and hopelessness, aka where there is enough depression. They are functionally immortal in terms of age and can’t be destroyed.
How Dementors create the conditions to reproduce is debated heavily. In all honesty, I feel as if Dementors haven’t been adequately fleshed out or explained by J.K. Rowling. They seem to be a bit contradictory in how they operate, but I’ll explain my theory on how they create the world of despair and thrive.
Dementors are known to feed on happy thoughts; to me, this means they feed on happy thoughts to remove them from the victim and create despair. This despair or depression then fuels their ability to reproduce. Those who have been traumatized the most hold onto their hope and happy memories extraordinarily tight and therefore are more attractive because they wear those memories so close to their hearts.
Even when depression is heavy, many still have some slivers of hope, and Dementors know this. They feed on the cycle of small moments of hope and happiness to generate more despair and therefore grow in numbers. In theory, a community with a high amount of happiness and less overall collective trauma would make it harder for Dementors to exist, much less to find someone easy to feed off.
Dementors possess several abilities, some much worse than others.
- The ability to change the atmospheric conditions, i.e., drop the temperature making it freezing.
- They are blind but move by sensing their prey’s positive thoughts and emotions.
- They move silently by gliding or hovering, making them great hunters.
- They can force their victims to relive their worse memories in a loop.
- They can drive people insane if they are kept in their presence for an extended period.
- Large numbers can overwhelm their victims quickly with negative feelings and emotions.
The Dementor’s Kiss is the most horrifying ability they possess. When close enough to their victim, they will clamp their terrifying mouth onto the victims and suck their entire soul from their body. The victim is left alive but a husk of who they were, incapable of thought or movement. They are unable to move on into the afterlife, and they can’t return to the living world as a ghost.
What happens to these souls is left up to the reader’s interpretation. Some theorize that when a Dementor eventually dies, the souls they’ve consumed are returned to the victims, and they can finally move on. I like this idea because, at least, in the end, it gives some form of hope, even if it seems far away.
This ability was occasionally used on those who escaped Azkaban or who had committed unspeakable crimes. It was considered to be a fate worse than death and feared immensely by many witches and wizards.
Despite their fearsome nature, they do have several weaknesses.
- Lacking Happy Thoughts: If you are already, in theory, extremely depressed and unable to find one happy thought or memory, then a Dementor would be unable to affect you.
- Being an Animagus: Dementors can’t sense animals in the same way they can sense human emotions. Sirius Black was able to escape by turning into his dog form; this allowed him to escape the effects of the Dementors. While the Dementors could sense his simpler thoughts, they simply thought he was losing his mind. Showing they are unable to differentiate between human and animal emotions.
- Strong Mental Health or Happiness: Those who are extremely happy or have a reason to stay focused on something other than their mental state and happiness can resist the effects of the Dementors. Sirius Black’s focus on escaping and proving his innocence kept him from going insane.
The Patronus charm is the strongest protection a witch or wizard has against a Dementor. The Patronus Charm is perhaps one of the most challenging charms to master completely. To conjure it, the caster must think and hold onto one of their happiest memories or create a memory that would make them extremely happy and move their wand in a circle while focusing and drawing power from this memory, then say the incantation Expecto Patronum.
In its full form, a Patronus Charm produces a corporeal spirit guardian which takes the form of an animal. This animal can do many things, but it’s strongest against dark creatures like Dementors and can drive a horde of them off completely. They can also deliver messages to others and are often sent as a warning. Weaker witches and wizards are more likely to produce a non-corporeal Patronus that will provide some form of protection and allow the caster to get away or call for help. Still, it may be overwhelmed if too many Dementors are present.
It’s complicated, and many people cannot conjure a Patronus at all but those who can have immense power at their hands and incredible mental strength.
Appearances in the Harry Potter Books/Movies
Prisoner of Azkaban
Dementors are introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban and serve as one of the main villains. We first meet one on the way to Hogwarts when Harry is attacked, only to be saved by the one and only Professor Lupin. Harry is attacked again during a Quidditch match and saved by Dumbledore before falling to the ground. Lupin explained that the Quidditch Match must have been irresistible to the Dementors.
Because Harry’s greatest fear was, in fact, a Dementor, Professor Lupin was able to use a Boggart to train Harry in producing a Patronus Charm. While he struggled at first and consumed a significant amount of chocolate in the process. By the time he stepped onto the field for the next Quidditch match, he could produce the spell enough to thwart the attempts of the Slytherin players who dressed up as Dementors to scare Harry.
Harry, Hermione, and Sirius were then attacked at the Black Lake by a group of Dementors. Still, before the Dementors could perform the Dementor’s Kiss, they were saved by a powerful Patronus that took the form of the Stag. Harry immediately believed that his father, whose Patronus was a stag, had come back to save him. When Harry and Hermonie used the time turner to go back in time, it was revealed that Harry himself had cast the Patronus because he time traveled and experienced the event twice. This made Harry the youngest wizard to cast a Patronus at 13.
Goblet of Fire
Dementors did not play a central role in the Goblet of Fire, but they were mentioned a few times. The first as a bodyguard for Fudge during the third task in the Tri-Wizard tournament. When Barty Crouch Jr was discovered, the Dementors immediately performed the Dementor’s kiss, which Crouch seemed unbothered by, but Professor McGonagall protested.
Dumbledore suggested the Dementors be removed from Azkaban and away from Voldemort’s control, but Fudge choosing to remain ignorant to Voldemort’s return shot this down. He believed that even suggesting this would lead to his impeachment.
Order of the Pheonix
Dementors open up the 5th book and movie by attacking Harry and Dudley in an alley near Privet Drive. Sent illegally by Dolores Umbridge, two Dementors attempt to perform the Dementor’s kiss but are blasted away by Harry. He was forced to stand trial for the use of underage magic in front of a muggle because of his use of the Patronus Charm. Ultimately he is not punished because it was used in self-defense.
The attack on Harry is eventually admitted about a year later by Umbridge. This event also helps Dudley start to change and become a better person by forcing him to face the darkness in himself.
Dementors revolted against the Ministry and joined Voldemort’s side or simply went into free roam shortly after the events of Order of the Pheonix. They began multiplying in numbers and creating an unseasonable July mist that had become increasingly evident. We meet them again when Harry and the crew escape the Ministry after breaking in to retrieve the locket that Umbridge stole. They chase Harry and Hermonie as they attempt to rescue the muggle-borns that are being escorted away; they both use the Patronus charm to keep them at bay.
Dementors are dispatched to attack Harry, Ron, and Hermonie when they apparate into Hogsmeade and set off the alarm. Forced to reveal his identity by casting the Patronus, Harry was able to save the trio. Aberforth Dumbledore saved them and was able to pass off Harry’s Patronus as his goat.
Harry, Ron, and Hermonie struggled to produce Patronus charms during the Battle of Hogwarts due to recent trauma and became prime targets for Dementors. Seamus Finnigan, Luna Lovegood, and Enrie Macmillan jumped in to save them, which gave Harry time to gather his strength and drive them away. Later, when Harry encountered more Dementors in the Forbidden Forest, his parents’ resurrection stone and protection kept him safe.
Post Harry Potter & Cursed Child
After the Battle of Hogwarts, Kingsley Shacklebolt took over as Minister of Magic. He quickly disbanded Dementors as guards and placed trusted and well-known Aurors as guards. What happened to the Dementors is entirely unknown; I assume they roamed and attempted to find places they could feed easily.
In the Cursed Child, Dementors are found by the Great Lake. Scorpius Malfoy first sees them when he is caught by Head Mistress Dolores Umbridge. Thankfully this is an alternate reality and not the one we know and love.
Later on, Scorpius, Hermonioe, Ron, and Severus Snape return and are found by Dementors. Hermonie and Ron sacrifice themselves to the Dementor to allow the others to escape. Snape later sacrificed himself to Dementors to enable Scorpius to escape to the Great Lake and fix things.
Fun Facts About Dementors
- JK Rowling described Dementors as the “Absence of being able to evisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The abscece of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad” – Times Interview June, 30th 2000 (free link)
- They did not side with Voldemort during the 1st wizarding world, nor were they recruited. However, they were quick to jump ship the second time around.
- Chocolate can aid in recovering from a Dementor attack, provided the victim’s soul is still there.
- Clinical depression for a muggle in the Harry Potter universe could be caused by a Dementor continuously feeding on you and taking away all of your joy and hope.
- Dementors are neither alive nor dead; therefore, they can’t be destroyed.
- Its rumored Dementors don’t like or aren’t found in tropical places.
- Dementors may be related to Lethifold, an aggressive creature that attacks its victims by suffocating and digesting them. It resembles a black cloak and glides along, searching for prey. It’s only repelled by a Patronus Charm.
Answer: Dementors are attracted to Harry because he has been through immense trauma from a young age. He witnessed his parent’s birth at the age of one and grew up in an abusive, neglectful household. This creates a lot of trauma and suffering for the Dementors to pull up. Some also debate that they are attracted to him because he holds a piece of Voldemort’s soul. They are attracted to emotions and the souls that generate them; with two souls inhabiting his body, he shows up stronger on their radar.
Answer: In my opinion, yes, simply because they create such despair and act in a completely selfish manner. They are a creature of dark magic through and through, and when had dark magic been anything but evil.
Answer: It is unknown how exactly they die, but I’m assuming they could, in theory, starve or waste away due to lack of food and inability to reproduce.
Dementors: Creatures of Unhappiness
Many people in this world understand the grips of depression and how it can suck every piece of happiness from your life. J.K. Rowling captured that feeling, however extreme it is portrayed quite well. However, how Dementors work and what became of them remains fuzzy. But, perhaps we will get a glimpse of what happened to them in the future. While these creatures are fascinating in theory, I would want to steer clear in real life. They aren’t creatures to be messed with, and even the most accomplished witches and wizards can struggle to defend themselves when not prepared.