The Dementor

chapter five of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Just before boarding the Hogwarts Express, Harry is pulled aside by Mr. Weasley who urges him to avoid Sirius Black. Then on the trip, dementors stop the train and search it, causing Harry to pass out. Finally the students arrive at Hogwarts, Lupin and Hagrid are introduced as new teachers, and the school year officially begins.

Lupin Sleeping on the Hogwarts Express, by Jenny Dolfen

This had only one occupant, a man sitting fast asleep next to the window.


The Rotting Hand, by deeterhi

Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling.


Cold Fear, by Helene Sirois

There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed….


Hogwarts, by Snapesforte

Hermione was leaning out of the tiny window, watching the many turrets and towers draw nearer.


Snape is really, really, really not happy with the new DADA appointment, by Tealin Raintree

It was common knowledge that Snape wanted the Defense Against the Dark Arts job, but even Harry, who hated Snape, was startled at the expression twisting his thin, sallow face.


Harry's Corner, by NicoPony

They reached their familiar, circular dormitory with its five four-poster beds, and Harry, looking around, felt he was home at last.


about the chapter


Something You May Not Have Noticed

It’s pretty clear this is the first day Lupin has ever served as a professor. Yet the title is stamped on his bag in peeling letters, indicating it’s been there a while. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless for some reason Lupin is deliberately showing off his shabbiness (after all, couldn’t he have performed a simple sticking charm to keep the letters on his case?). This is certainly possible, though I can’t think what it would accomplish for him. I think it’s probably more likely that Rowling simply wrote this as an indication of his poverty, getting the information she needed across without stopping to really think through the implications.

The Power of Magic

I absolutely love that the remedy for the cold clamminess induced by a dementor is chocolate. Sometimes I really envy Rowling for what some of her brainstorming sessions must have been like: “Let’s see… dementors suck all the happiness out of you, so I need a remedy that has the exact opposite effect… something simple… I know, chocolate!”

Life at Hogwarts

We start to get a hint right away from Madame Pomfrey that Lupin is probably a more knowledgeable, and better, teacher than his immediate predecessor, Lockhart. In fact as the year goes on, it will become clear that the two are the exact opposites of each other: Lockhart is all show with no substance at all, and Lupin is a smart, capable wizard and teacher who seems not to give a second thought to his outward appearance. I know which one I’d rather have teaching my Defense Against the Dark Arts class.

Something to Remember

There are several looming, unanswered questions in this chapter that bear a bit of closer reflection. Some will be answered in a few chapters, but other things we won’t know for years. For instance, what was Hermione so happy about after she met privately with McGonagall? Why did Harry (and, to a lesser extent, Ginny) react so strongly to the dementor? And finally, why do the dementors seem to single Harry out in the first place?

The Final Word

(Rowling is asked about dementors being “a description of depression”):
“Yes. That is exactly what they are. It was entirely conscious. And entirely from my own experience. Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It’s a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.”
“I think [dementors] are the scariest things I’ve written.”
–J.K. Rowling, June 2000 & March 2001

42 Responses to “The Dementor”

  1. Finally the Dementors are actually called Dementors. Before this everybody kept saying “the guards of Askaban”. That seems weird when you re-read the book, because everybody knows what creatures they are. It’s similar to Mrs. Weasly asking “Which gate?” in the first book: It’s necessary for the reader’s sake. The Dementors are introduced in this chapter. Before this other stuff was more important.

  2. You know I’ve always been curious as to why the Dementors seem to be so attracted to Harry. They keep trying to “kiss” him! I mean, if a Dementor feeds on happy feelings, wouldn’t it prefer to go for very happy people? More happiness to suck, right? Harry barely has any happy feelings at all, then why go for him?

  3. Perhaps Lupin was a professor in the muggle world… and as we all know they don’t make that much. I can imagine him teaching Classic Literature and/or algebra in (perhaps in America
    That would explain not only his laying low, but also his shabby appearance and his title.

  4. I never thought of it as being the dementors being particularly attracted to Harry, but Harry just being more susceptible in the first place. I may be wrong, but I always thought Dementors weren’t actually “picking” him to suck happiness from, he just reacted stronger than anyone else, so it appeared that way. Because, if you think about it, they really don’t. In the train they are looking for Sirius, in the Quidditch match it’s the emotion’s in general they are there for, and at the end, Harry is with Sirius, so naturally they’d be around. Only in Book 5 is he singled out. I may be totally off though.

  5. Lola and Riley, you both have me torn on this – and I’m realizing I may be thinking too much of the movies (where Harry is definitely singled out in PA).

    I’ve always thought it would make *sense* for Harry to be singled out, because although he doesn’t realize it, his scar is hiding something the dementors are certainly looking for. But now that I look back (at least at the times Harry encounters the dementors in PA), they don’t really seem to be singling him out – or at least we can’t definitively say that they are. And now that I think about it, can dementors differentiate between the outlaws they’re searching for and anybody else anyway? Am I just forgetting a reference to that?

    Hmm. Guess I haven’t resolved anything at all in this post. ;) But I’d love some more thoughts.

  6. I haven’t commented yet, but I am really enjoying this website and all the art and comments! I had to make a quick note here and say that I absolutely love Jenny Dolfen’s depiction of Lupin above, I think it’s wonderful!

  7. I have to agree with Lola and Riley on the Dementors thing. And I can see Lupin having thaught somewhere else, perhaps in Durmstrang or something. At the end of PA, when he leaves, he says to Harry that by tomorrow morning the owls would swoop in from parents who don’t want to have their children thaught by a werewolf… you could see that scene as if he’s talking from experience….

  8. I can’t make up my mind about the Dementors and Harry, either. They might want what’s hidden behind the scar. OR it’s the opposite and they are still loyal to Voldemort and want to get rid of Harry.

    Something to remember:
    This is the first time we (well, don’t, actually) see the invisible horses which Harry presumes pull the carriages.

  9. Riley has a very good point, we may be projecting a lot of intentions on the Dementors when there is none, but I still think they do tend to go for Harry. Maybe not as directly as the Dementor does in the PoA movie, but more subtly. For example, when the Dementors “invade” the Quidditch pitch, JRK says that “their hidden faces [are] pointing up at [Harry]” which kind of makes you think that they are aware of him more than the rest. And when they get to Sirius, Hermione and Harry, a Dementor actually tries to kiss Harry, which is apparently quite shocking. The Minister himself says “Never dreamed they’d attempt to administer the Kiss on an innocent boy!”. They try to Kiss him even before Sirius, which I always thought was weird. I mean, the should first go for Sirius and then the others, right? Harry sees the whole thing from across the lake… So I think they don’t go for him as much as I first though before I read what Riley wrote, but they do seem to have a preference for him nonetheless.

  10. Lola, I love your train of thought. I guess the big thing I’m curious about is which people dementors *prefer* to go after (at least while they’re still under Ministry control). Is it the outlaws they’re searching for? Is it happy people, with lots of memories for them to feed on? Is it people with horrors in their past, on whom they can have the greatest effect? Harry fits either the first or the third category pretty well. And given Sirius’s equally dicey past, if the dementors seem to prefer Harry to Sirius, the first explanation may make the most sense. But I’m still not sure.

  11. Lupin’s case is very old, but though he could fix it, he doesn’t. Perhaps this is his first teaching job (though he’s so brilliant at it, you wouldn’t think he was a beginner), but someone in his family, like a grandfather he loved and admired and was named after, might have once owned the case and when he needed it, there it was in the attic. Then he would want to keep it exactly as it was, for emotional reasons. I can imagine Grandfather Lupin telling tales out of school: ‘When I taught at Hogwarts, my boy, this is how I controlled my classes …’

  12. I can see Lupin being a professor in a Muggle university, seeing as no-one in the wizarding world would hire him. That would also (kind of) explain why he fixed his case the Muggle way rather than with magic. *shrug* Who knows?

  13. Dementors: they’d naturally be attracted not only to positive emotions but also to the focal point of evil in the wizarding world: Voldemort. What a wiz of a wiz! Giving them constant supplies of exactly what they want …

    Ginny and Harry had very close encounters with young Tom Riddle in CoS, which may well have left emotional scars on their memories; in fact we know it did. Ginny remembers exactly what it’s like to be possessed by TR, much later. And Harry not only had that experience too; he actually contains a soul fragment from Lord V himself. I think that could make him very attractive to Dementors indeed.

  14. What is Hermione so happy about after meeting with McGonagall? She’s been given the time-turner, and the chance to take more classes than any sane person would want to.

  15. I thought some of the points seemed a little off here. I think Hermione was so happy when she left from seeing McGonagall because she had just gotten her Time Turner. Harry reacted so strongly to the Dementors because he has so worse of memories from every one else. And the Dementors don’t really single Harry out, they just don’t distinguish between people and will go after whoever interests them. He’s just unlucky.

  16. Welcome, Austin!

    I should clarify that I write these pages spoiler-free, so to those of you who have pointed out why Hermione was so happy – I’m aware of this, I just try to write things like these (most of the “Something to Remember” comments are this way) so that readers familiar with later books will know what I’m talking about.

    I also think there may be another reason Harry reacts to the dementors so strongly, namely the portion of someone else’s soul that’s residing in his head. But I see I had a hard time getting that across when writing this bit. :)

  17. I like the thought that Lupin’s case was a gift from James, Sirius, and Peter, maybe his eighteenth birthday or something. Even though Remus is probably seeing his future life as bleak (how many jobs would accept a werewolf?), the other three are sure that their bookish friend will be able to do anything, including coming back to Hogwarts (Dumbledore likes werewolves, after all!) as a professor. So it’s a kind of ‘chin up, Moony, we know you can do it!’ sort of thing. And then Remus would treasure it now because it was a gift from them before their lives all fell apart.
    And he probably wouldn’t fix it magically because it was a gift from Potter and Black, and who knows what sort of magic they themselves put on it or how it would react if you tried anything magical.

  18. Spider, what a wonderful idea. I LOVE that, and of course it totally fits.

  19. i see the dementors as sucking happiness because what they want is for people to wallow in misery i’m not quoting exactly but doesn’t lupin make a comment about becoming like a dementor if your around them enough

  20. Yes, I love Spider’s comment. And I also thought it came very natural to Lupin to stand in front of class and prepare a lesson, so I always believed he had taught before somewhere before Hogwarts.

  21. I think I read somewhere… maybe an interview with JKR… students don’t go to Hogwarts until they would be done with primary school, and they don’t learn the primary school stuff at Hogwarts, they learn it a primary schools. So there must be other schools for “young” wizards, where Lupin may have taught.

    Or did I just dream the interview up? I’ll have to try to find it and post a link to it if I do.

  22. Sheri – There was indeed an interview in which Rowling discussed primary schools, but I think you’re remembering it backwards. Here’s the quote, from an online chat she did in March 2004:

    kai: Where do wizarding children go to school before Hogwarts?

    JK Rowling replies -> They can either go to a Muggle primary school or they are educated at home. The Weasleys were taught by Mrs. Weasley.

    The full text of that interview is here. There was also an earlier chat in which she said there are no wizarding universities, this one from February 2000:
    Q. Do you think that you will write about Harry after he graduates from Hogwarts? Isn’t there a University of Wizardry?
    A. No, there’s no University for Wizards. At the moment I’m only planning to write seven Harry Potter books. I won’t say “never,” but I have no plans to write an eighth book.

    So it’s hard for me to imagine Lupin has taught elsewhere, unless it was in another country and the folks running that school were even more tolerant of werewolves than Dumbledore, which strikes me as exceedingly unlikely.

  23. I had always assumed the Dementors were keen on Harry due to him being followed by Sirius. A scent dog might be able to pick up traces of him on Harry.. likewise wouldn’t Dementors be able to pick up a trace of Sirius in a similar magical fashion? Then after that other dementors might go for him since he had already been vaguely touched by another. Since they will definatly go for anyone they presume to get in the way of their duties, perhaps they are under an influence of sorts. Mentally pushed/pulled towards Harry by someone or also by the ‘hidden marks’ on him. When he was with Sirius and was ‘kissed’ at that point he was definatly in their way and would have been dispatched of first so as to more easily get to the original target. Its just a thought.. :)

  24. I always assumed that Lupin’s case, or trunk, was the very same one he would have taken to Hogwarts as a student, much like all the other students do. That being my train of thought I felt that, it being a miracle, of sorts, that he was even accepted to the school, everything associated would still be very special to him – thus, he would still use it, despite any shabbiness.

  25. Is it just me or does anyone else also think that Lupin might not sleeping the entire time in the compartment and must actually have been eavesdropping on the trio…I mean the sneakoscope was spinning because of Scabbers/Pettigrew but what if Lupin was also being “untrustworthy” in that chapter??? Any thoughts??

  26. Since no one else mentioned it that I saw, I figured I’d point out that Lupin is asleep in the middle of the day on a noisy train. It just so happens that September 1, 1993 is a full moon. Perhaps he’s expecting to have a busy night haunting a shack?

  27. I realized later through reading this site that JKR didn’t actually use calendars even so much as for days of the week. :) In any case, it’s still a bit of foreshadowing, only not quite as cool as I though at first.

  28. I think he was probably sleeping so long because the previous night was the full moon. He’d not only been up all night but also worn himself out being a ferocious werewolf.

    I agree with Riley, I don’t think the dementors were singling Harry out per say. When they went to kiss him first it was probably because he was the one trying to conjure a patronus. They saw him as a threat to their getting at Sirius so tried to get rid of him first.

    I like the idea that Lupin has taught before elsewhere and that that’s why he has the case. Or maybe he just bought it during the summer after getting the job and then his werewolf self got at it during a transformation.

  29. i have a thought:
    hermionie takes 12 subjects or all which are mentioned in 7 books and has to take a time turner for it.
    in CS it is mentioned that bill also got 12 OWLS and percy as-well.
    so did both of them take the time turner?
    in CS when ron and harry are discussing why TMR got an award for special services, ron says he probably got 30 OWLS.
    but how could he???????
    either a mistake by jkr.
    or there were more subjects?
    or simply coz ron just said something crazy.

  30. @ ud – That’s an interesting point. I wonder how many other students used time turners? I doubt Hermione was the first… Hogwarts has had many keen & brilliant students, including Tom Riddle. It’s amazing that this practice isn’t more common knowledge. I think the 30 OWLS comment is just an exaggeration by Ron.

    It wasn’t until I saw Tealin Raintree’s sketch of Snape and the caption beneath that I paid attention to Snape’s reaction when Lupin is introduced in this chapter. Of course there were much deeper issues between the two men besides the Defence Against the Dark Arts job.

    It was really interesting to read through all the comments about the Dementors. I have also had similar confusion about what attracts Dementors. As Lola said, if they feed on happy memories, then you would think that they would seek out really happy people to prey on. But Lupin tells us in a later chapter that: “If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself—soulless and evil.” Reminds me of the phrase of “misery loves company.”

    I think the scariest thing about Dementors is how completely undiscerning they are. They are the ones sent to search for Sirius Black, but they are blind and do not distinguish between the guilty and the innocent—-what a bad idea! At the welcoming feast, Dumbledore warns the students to stay clear of the guards because “It is not in the nature of a Dementor to understand pleading or excuses”—-even apparently from innocent children! The Ministry of Magic has somehow been able to control the Dementors and utilize them as guards at Azkaban, but from what we see of their behaviour in the book, I’ve always wondered how the Ministry communicates with them and directs them. And what does it say about wizarding society that they even permit Dementors to guard prisoners? This could generate an interesting discussion on human rights.

    My favourite line from this chapter happens when Mrs. Weasley kisses all her children, Hermione & Harry goodbye, and it says Harry “was embarrassed, but really quite pleased, when she gave him an extra hug.” It’s easy to forget that it’s still is such a novel thing for Harry to have adults in his life that love and care for him.

  31. I too love the chocolate remedy, it always makes me smile, expecially the one in the hospital wing where she brings the biggest chunk of chocolate harry has ever seen, I always read that line a few times.

    I also like the idea that the trunk was a gift to Lupin from his friends, that fits.

    This is my favorite book, you really start to learn more about Harry’s parents and the connections, and the dynamics of the trio gets more complicated. Having a teenager and a pre-teen, I recognize the effects of puberty.

  32. I wonder what would have happened had lupin been awake and conversing and had possibly noticed scabbers? Sirius says later on that he recognized him based on how many times he had seen peter transform and also that he was missing a finger. Maybe lupin would not have recognized him as easily as sirius since he was in werewolf form but still… and I also wonder what is going on in peter’s ratlike brain. There’s a cat in the cabin trying to kill you because it knows what you are, there’s your old buddy from school who will now be a teacher, and the son of the man you betrayed and his two friends are discussing another old friend, who you framed for multiple murders, breaking out of azkaban to kill harry, when he’s really after you. No wonder he lost a lot of weight.
    About the dementors, I totally took ginny’s reaction at face value. I just assumed that she had yet to develop the courage we see later on and the dementors really scared her (if I were 12, I’d be hiding in a corner too.) I wonder if it had something to do with her reliving her memory of tom riddle. So if that’s the case, the who else was reliving their horrible memories? Was neville reliving his grandfather’s death or his parents torture (if he witnessed it)? Was luna reliving her mother’s death? we learn from hagrid that he kept reliving the memories of when he was expelled and when his dad died and when he released norbert during his short stay in azkaban last year. Hagrid is an emotional character so it would be like him to dwell on these things even when he is not in azkaban. Harry dwells on them because he is constantly trying to put the together the pieces of his parents deaths (plus that nagging feeling that voldemort is still after him and now sirius is too). Maybe he is affected more because they are more in the forefront of his mind and not buried deep in his memories. After all, harry does feel a little greedy in thinking he may not want to fight off the dementors for fear of losing hearing his mother and father’s final moments. Maybe for the people who constantly dwell on certain tragedies get affected even more so by the dementors.
    This is my favorite book, and after reading it again, it still is. Rowling has a way to slip certain details in that it you easily overlook. Like, they seem to think the pocket sneakoscope doesn’t work properly when in reality, it works just fine.

  33. Kayno, I love what you said about Wormtail and how frightened he must be. I never put all that together before, but I’m surprised Ron managed to hold onto him for so long now that I understand all that!
    As to Hermione and her Time-Turner, there were certainly other students who would have needed that to get to their many classes. Heck, if I attended Hogwarts I would sign up for extra classes just for the Time-Turner! They really just trust the students to use it properly, but imagine how much work, sleep, and free time you could get done with and have with one of those!! Assuming you were careful with it if course. But you could turn back time if you needed those few extra hours for an essay. Or say you slept through an exam, just whip out your handy-dandy Time-Turner and you’re set to take that test on time!

  34. Spider, I like your idea on the suitcase too. Lupin could not have taught in a Muggle university, or even a secondary school, because he doesn’t have any qualification that the Muggles recognise as sa university degree. He wouldn’t even have been able to fake his way in with forged papers, because he wouldn’t have a sufficient body of knowledge in any subject that Muggles want to learn. But primary school might just be possible; as he’s a half-blood, he probably has enough general knowledge to carry it all off.

    I once wrote a very long fanfic in which Lupin trained as a Muggle teacher and taught a few years in Muggle primary schools. The suitcase was a present from a wizarding relative who didn’t know that Muggle teachers are not addressed as “Professor”. I also described exactly how it was bashed up, and why Lupin forgot to repair it. But this is contrived – I think Spider‘s idea is more canon-friendly, and more like the kind of explanation JKR would produce if she were challenged about it in an interview.

    Douglas, I think the full moon actually fell on 31 August 1993. So last night was the night when Lupin was up howling, and that is why he is so completely knocked out today. That is why he couldn’t even pull out a spell to repair his suitcase. I do wonder why he was on the train instead of Apparating or using Floo. Was he really too exhausted even to do that much? Or had Dumbledore deliberately planted him there to keep an eye on Harry?

  35. Deborah, I took it for granted that Ginny was so badly affected by the Dementor because of being possessed by Voldemort (only four months ago, remember!). JKR has stated that Harry and Ginny are both “old souls” who have had to face down great evils, while Ron and Hermione are comparative innocents.

  36. I love this site and how it always gives me new insights on the finer details of the chapters! I never really thought about why the Dementors seem to favor Harry, or how it might be because of the real story behind his scar. However, when I read this chapter, it definitely sounds more like the Dementor is merely affecting him more than the others, and it isn’t singling him out. Yet, anyway. There are definitely some later instances that show they favor him (maybe once that first Dementor got that first taste, the seemingly collective knowledge of them all decided they enjoyed his particular flavor?), or they could still have some kind of loyalty to Voldemort, but at this point it seems unlikely to me.

    I also really love the idea of chocolate as a remedy. By science alone we know that chocolate releases endorphins in the brain (which is basically the happy/pleasure/love chemical in the brain). So it makes total sense that if you’ve suffered a Dementor attack, chocolate would make you feel better!

    One thing I thought about while reading this chapter: Draco having so much fun tormenting Harry about the Dementor, when he himself, as Fred and George tell us in the next chapter, was scared and shaking and nearly wet himself when he came running into their compartment. Draco also seems to forget just how frightened he was in the Forbidden Forest in PS. I find it surprising that Harry doesn’t think of this, or retaliate with any of it. Maybe this is just an example of him being a good person and taking the high road? I know if it were me, I’d be shooting back some of my own snide comments, not to make all of my friends laugh, but to at least make myself feel a little better.

  37. Casey, that’s an excellent point, but the truth is, Harry is quite capable of making those snide comments to people who deserve them (Malfoy, Dudley, even Snape). He becomes less vindictive as he matures, so it’s possible that he’s taking the moral high ground here. But it’s also possible that he’s still too shaken from his Dementor-experience to think clearly.

  38. In Something You May Not Have Noticed:
    I always envisioned Lupin going to a shop and asking for the letters to be stamped on professional-like (otherwise, wouldn’t it just look like his handwriting?). But when he reaches into his pockets to pay he mostly pulls out handfuls of lint and Knuts. The shop keeper frowns, but taken what Lupin has, does it, and gives back the case. A day or two later, Lupin notices that the letters are already peeling, but nothing he does will make them stick.

    Either that or his case is just so old, that nothing can make the letters stick to it.

  39. Re: Something to Remember: Since not only Harry reacted strongly to the dementors but also Ginny, I think it more likely that the dementors were attracted to the scarred memories both have. It’s been only a few months since Ginny was possessed by Tom Riddle, and it’s likely that she’s still traumatized by what happened then. Needless to say, Harry also hasn’t had a pleasant past. Dementors are the core essence of depression and unpleasantness; thus, they are attracted to miserable people or to those who had lived an unpleasant life – sucking in their remaining bits of happiness, in order for them to completely wallow in that unfortunate person’s misery.

    Re: Something You May Not Have Noticed. I think what Josie said is more likely than the theories posted above – that Jo wrote the suitcase part to indicate Lupin’s deprived state and didn’t think about its implications. But it’d be nice to see more off-cam bits about Lupin, no? :)

    By the way, the artworks in this chapter are great! The one by Snapesforte is eerily astounding!

  40. Two bits of foreshadowing: the sneakoscope going off in the train compartment and Snape casting a loathing look at Lupin.

  41. I find it interesting that Lupin knows so much about Dementors. He’s a good teacher and researched them but I like to think there is more to it. Dementors are depression in a physical form. Lupin, who has been shunned by society for being a werewolf and lost his closest friends, probably knows a thing or two about depression. Why did he have such a big bar of chocolate on him? I like to think he always carries some around with him. However, I assume it is the day after the full moon (since he is so tired) and he selected a big bar in order to help him cope with what he had just been through.

  42. I really like what spider wrote about Remus’ suitcase. I love to think about the Marauders in their happy years! And I could imagine Remus trying to repair his suitcase and it would start eating his clothes or all the items inside would disappear or become wet!

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