The first thing it knew was
It is a terrible thing to be
born hungry, and a worse thing to be born with this hunger –
a gnawing, painful emptiness that filled its mind to such an extent
that it left no room for anything else. It came into existence a hollow
vessel of need and want, a living shape of hungry desperation. It couldn’t
think, couldn’t focus on anything other than make it stop, make
it stop and please someone feed me. The others were leaving,
and it followed blindly, not knowing where it was going and not caring
so long as there was the chance there might be food.
There was food. It could smell
the emotion before it was even close – the scent drifted on the breeze,
tantalising and tempting the Dementors closer. It tinged sweet and savoury,
promising delights as wholesome as fresh baked bread, still warm from
the oven and awaiting fresh butter or sweet as velvety chocolate, whipped
light and ready to melt in the mouth. Together the Dementors dropped
down, surrounding the unlucky human and feeding greedily.
It dropped with the others,
and for the first time it ate, desperate for anything that might at
least start to fill the gaping hole inside it. At first it was eating
too quickly, too frantically, to even taste the memories and emotions
that it was so eagerly gulping down. It was only after the edge had
been taken off its hunger than it could slow down enough to savour the
When it did though, what a
flavour there was! Fascinated, the Dementor drifted for the first time
through memories of someone else’s childhood. Through its victim’s
eyes it tasted the joy of a life filled with gifts and love, kind words
and praise, as much as any boy could possibly want, all cinnamon and
spice, and chocolate toned liquor. It was three years old and filled
with the joy and self-importance of knowing its family loved it best,
a memory as satisfying as a hearty roast dinner still steaming hot and
full of texture; it was eleven years old and squirmy with sweet candy
floss anticipation and delight at getting its first wand; it was sixteen
years old and revelling in tart lemon flavours of the triumph of learning
a new trick; it was twenty-one years old and puffed up with a pride in a friend’s new baby that was as rich and filling
as a dense plumy fruitcake spiked with sherry…
There were other memories too
– less pleasant ones – but those were quickly discarded and left
behind, the bones and… no. The human could keep those – there was
no warmth to them, no satisfaction in consuming them.
It was – the Dementor searched
for the word for the unfamiliar feeling, and picked it out of its victim’s
memories – happy.
And yet, still hungry. Delicious
as they were, the memories faded away almost as soon as it had absorbed
them, as insubstantial as mist. It had touched the flavours,
an impression of sustenance, but it was still hollow, still carved out
into a black shape in the world by a hunger made sharper by what it
had tasted. It sought more; delving deeper into its victim,
but the man had fallen into despair and could only offer up memories
of pain, betrayal and unhappiness. There was no food here, and after
a few more seconds of trying to hopefully seek some out the Dementor
lost interest and drifted away. There would be other food elsewhere,
and it was still too ravenous to stay where there was none.
Most of the people on Azkaban
had been emptied of their best and most pleasurable memories long ago,
and had little left to offer the Dementors except crumbs of memory they hoarded. New arrivals were squabbled and fought over as a
potential feast, each Dementor trying to get as close as possible to
take what it could from the new victim. Only those who had just reached
the island still had real pleasures to offer up – the delicate piquant
champagne taste of the anxious delight of a first love; the complex
truffle wonder of beholding your child for the first time, a different
flavour unique to each one; the steady constant comfort-food reassurance
of knowing you were loved. All these things the Dementor felt second-hand,
and yet that never made the experience any less sweet. The more it tasted,
the more it craved, greedy for the experiences these humans seemed to
take for granted.
There were never enough people
arriving to satisfy anyone, and again and again it found itself returning
to old victims, hopeful for something it might have missed the first
time. Sometimes it was lucky, sometimes someone might have a cherished
memory – at the time only a minor event, but now treasured as though
it was the most precious of jewels – that had been missed at first.
Sometimes it was unlucky, and those were the worst days. Hunger could
be kept damped down with enough memories, but with nothing to satisfy
it, it grew into a ravening beast. On those days, the Dementor would
have taken anything – even a memory so simple as a joke with
friends – just to make it stop hurting so much.
Even the prisoners got fed
daily. The Dementors had no such guarantee of when they might next find
food. Sometimes it could be weeks and they would become darker, twisted around their own emptiness, drifting
over the edges of the sea, searching the waves for reflections of sustenance
in the restless tides.
When they were finally allowed
off Azkaban it was like being released into a paradise that was far
beyond anything it had been able to see in anybody else’s mind.
There had been an agreement
– it was not sure of the details, it had been hungry when they were
explained – that they should leave the island in order to search for
an escaped prisoner. It had followed the others when they left, accepting
this, and had arrived at Hogwarts to find itself in the middle of a
larger feast than anything it could ever have imagined.
Everywhere, there were people,
untouched as yet by Dementors, too young to understand true fear or
despair. The emotions that came from them were almost maddening in their
intensity. It was like a feast wafting tantalising promises on the wind,
promising memories marinated in sweet and sour emotion, golden and succulent
and ready to be carved up between them. They were excited by sugar and
sherbet Quidditch matches; hopeful about crushes with all the sweetness
of fresh strawberries and cream; warm and bubbly as butterbeer; thrilled
by good grades or house-points, the bread and meat of their existence.
Not old enough yet to have learnt to take a matter-of-fact approach
to the world, or have become too cynical to delight in the
small things, they almost glowed when they were happy. To a Dementor
that had grown used to the jaded emotions of those capable of committing
crimes bad enough to be sentenced to the prison island, such emotions
were almost unbearable in their simple beauty, lighting up the world
in a way it had never felt before.
But they were also unreachable.
The same agreement
that had allowed the Dementors to leave Azkaban had also bound them
with terms and rules of whom and what they were allowed to touch. Thus,
they might be among the children of Hogwarts, they might be constantly
conscious of the emotions burning bright as a flame drifting their paradisiacal
scents from only a short distance away, but they were not allowed to
feed on them. It was an exquisite torture, like locking a starving man
in a room filled with cream-cakes, all of them locked safely away in
glass cabinets. The Dementor watched, yearned and hungered after the memories that seemed so close, and yet could not be
It was almost inevitable that
at some point the strain would become too much. That kind of temptation
could simply not be fought forever. There had been fuss already and
a tightening of the restrictions after some of the others had given
in to it on a train somewhere, but after that no one
fed them, and the days stretched on. Every minute without food was an
eternity, starving slowly to death with a banquet only just out of reach.
The Quidditch match was the
worst of all.
Who knew that humans could
feel so many things about a game? Sweet caramel anticipation, crackling
fresh popcorn excitement, intoxicating fire whiskey triumph as their
team gained a point, wholesome sizzling pride in a particularly good
player. They seemed to almost feed on each other, their emotions multiplying
as the people around them cheered, surging to their feet together as
one giant body.
It was too much, far too much,
for ravenous Dementors to resist. One by one, they felt the pull and
surrendered to it, swooping and soaring towards the Quidditch field.
The Dementor hovered there
with the others, forbidden from feasting on the children but unable
to keep away from them, trying to just suck some warmth from the glow
of the emotions, trying to find sustenance in the scent of what it was
A player diving for the Snitch
was the final straw – although the Dementor didn’t know it. All
it knew was the sudden surge and crackles of honeycomb
elation, sweeter than any wine, flooding its senses, cutting away any
willpower it had left. Rules were forgotten, abandoned, and it surged
towards the pitch with the others, feasting with neediness
it hadn’t felt so badly since that first newborn hunger. There was
family, there was love, there was security, there was friendship, and
the Dementor wanted all of them, urgently, now!
It was a meal of the like of
which it had never known before, and perhaps never would again. The
shame of it was that for all the desire the memories had held there
was still no substance to them, no satisfaction to be gained from eating
them. Afterwards there was only a vaguely unpleasant nausea, such as
might be experienced by a human who had eaten far too much sugar, and
still the aching need for more. Sugar could never fill anyone, could
never make up a proper meal, and yet if it was all you had, and you
were hungry enough it was impossible not to crave more.
There was no more to be had
however. After that, the restrictions were tightened yet again, with
more controls place on where Dementors could be. The humans, it seemed,
wished to provide a reoccurrence of the incident, and they did so by
trying to keep the Dementors away.
Yet, they didn’t send them
home, they didn’t send them back to Azkaban. The Dementor might have
wondered about that, had it had enough mind to think of anything other
than a constantly-nagging appetite. Home was hunger, home was never
enough food, but home at least was not being kept side by side with
food they were never to be allowed to eat. That was a cruelty used here
Time can lose all meaning in
such a situation. There are no days, there are no weeks, there is only
time since I last ate and that is always an eternity. The Dementor
would not have been able to judge how long it was until three humans
ventured into the forest, one of them – finally! – the one
person in the entire school that they were allowed to feast on. It only
knew that it had been far too long and now, at last, there was food.
How could anyone have expected
any of the Dementors to show anything like restraint after waiting so
long? The prisoner or the children with him – there was no difference
in a Dementor’s mind, for surely helping an escapee would see the
girl and boy to Azkaban as well in the end. But waiting for them to
be sentenced to that, for someone to say it was allowable to feed from
them, that would take time. Already they had waited for too long without
food, and now they would wait no longer. The Dementor pressed forward
with its fellows, fighting for whatever nourishment it could get.
And yet it found itself blocked.
Down it rushed with the others, pushing eagerly to get closer only to
be brought up hard against a shield. Had it had a voice, it might have
wailed, instead it battered against the shield in helpless frustration,
trying again and again to get through. Too unfair, too unkind to get
this close at last to an allowed meal only to be cut off from it.
In its life it had felt plenty
of hunger, desperation and impatience. Through other people’s memories
it had tasted the emotions of love, hope and joy. Now, for the first
time it learnt what rage felt like. This was not right! This
was a meal that had been promised to them months ago. Whatever it took,
it would get through.
Again and again it threw itself
with the others at the shield, and slowly the shield’s light receded,
melting further and further back. It was slow progress, and seemed all
the slower for knowing of the food that awaited once they were through,
but it was progress nonetheless. Faced with the combined efforts of
so many determined Dementors, the light dwindled and died. They were
There was no room for being
choosy in creatures this ravenous. No one tried to get
the most delicious memories any more; instead they fought
for anything at all – for the merest crumb of happiness.
Still, it was not enough. The
Dementor pushed and struggled with the others, and yet still found itself
frustrated. It had had enough of food which melted away only a moment
after it was eaten, enough of knowing happiness only through other people’s
eyes. It wanted more – it wanted to feel. Finally it managed
to shove the others away, making it to the boy’s side. For the first
time in its life, it pushed its hood back, reaching to take the boy’s
head in its hands. For a moment, it paused, feeling the strangeness
of that sensation. They were so warm these humans – even its skin
felt warm under the Dementor’s hands. It was a warmth the Dementor
craved, a completeness it needed, and after a moment it leaned forwards,
moving to close its mouth over the boy’s.
If it wanted that completeness
after all, if it ever wanted a cessation to that hunger, surely that
meant taking everything of a life, and not just the best and brightest
parts. Humans could hold onto memories perhaps because they held onto
all of them, the good and the bad together. Perhaps that was what it
took to be satisfied for more than five seconds at a time. Perhaps,
for that, it had to take everything.
It didn’t get the chance
to take everything. Even as it moved to suck the last thoughts from
the boy, something was bounding through the forest, disturbing them,
sending Dementors flying away in every direction. The Dementor tried
to resist it, but had to drop the boy’s head, backing away reluctantly.
There was the normal warmth of everyday human emotion, and then there
was this – a fierce blast of intense joy that sent it backward with its force; too sharp, too stinging, choking
and fire all over. It was too much, it burnt, and eventually the Dementor
turned to flee with its fellows.
It was hard, after waiting
so long and so patiently, to be chased away. They were given slight
consolation however by humans who promised them that the meal had not
been confiscated for good, but only delayed. They were to be allowed
their prisoner; indeed, they would be allowed to take
all they wished from him. They had only to wait a little longer, and
he would be theirs.
They waited. They waited
patiently. But it seemed the humans had lied. They were banished
back to their island, without food or explanation, sent away without
even being allowed to take the human they had waited so long for.
It was almost a relief to be
home. At least on Azkaban, children weren’t waiting around every corner,
their mere presence a taunting reminder of what a Dementor was never
to be allowed to take. At least on Azkaban there was food, however scanty
it might be at times.
Yet somehow, once home, the
memories didn’t taste quite as sweet as they once had. There was less
pleasure to be found than there had been in feeding on the memories
of the prisoners – who were after all, the worst kind of nothing.
The happiness of murderers and torturers compared to the joy of the
young and innocent tasted much the same way as dry bread and water when
one has fed on rich wines and meats.
It was a long time before the
Dementor was offered a chance to escape the island again. This time,
it was promised, there would be no waiting for months on end for a meal
that never came. There would be food, straight away, without waiting. No one would take the food away from it this time; no one would shield the victim from it or tell it that it
could not finish its meal. And it could go alone, without anyone
to fight for its food.
A starving man struggles to
turn away any meal, no matter how he might distrust the hand that offers
it. It went.
This time the Dementor didn’t
wait before it feasted, didn’t even try to content itself by
drinking mere memories. It knew what it wanted now, it had tasted it
briefly and it felt right. It was a craving so intense that it
had echoed in the Dementor’s hollow existence until that was all it
lived for – the possibility that this would stop the hunger, the torment
of having starvation rule everything it did. As soon as its victim was
indicated it went to him, inhaling a fluttering breath. It brushed back
its hood, leaning intimately over him, hunger spiced with the scent
of bitter salt fear. Its lips brushed the man’s; soft, burning, hunger-passion
pulling it in, sealing the kiss from feather-light to iron vice as its
hollow mouth clamped tightly around the man’s and drank deeply. Certainly,
it had been promised that it could finish its meal but that didn’t
prevent the fear that this too might have been a lie. It fed so deeply
that its mouth swelled. It feasted on the memories of that which had
been seen by engulfing the eyes; that which had been heard, through
swallowing the ears; those associated by smell through the nose; tasted
memories by plundering the mouth and touch by letting its mouth expand
over skin like a lover’s kiss.
What a meal it was! The Dementor
lived an entire lifetime in the time it took to suck it all out. It remembered, it felt, it was!
It was a small child, secure
in a mother’s love and a father’s pride. It was a teenager, bright
and proud of its magical achievements. It was leaving school, growing
up, taking on an independent life of its own.
It was a young man, deciding
for the first time that its parents perhaps were not always right. It
was a wizard, casting Unforgivable after Unforgivable, watching dispassionately
as the people in front of it sobbed and begged. It was a son, pleading
with its father for another chance. It was a betrayed child, sent away
and punished. It was an adult, heart light with relief, given one more
chance thanks to a mother’s love. It was a betrayer, taking advantage
of that love and going back to its Master once given the slightest opportunity.
The Dementor tasted bitterness
and pain, anger and fear, joy and love. Such a bittersweet meal, the
different sides balancing each other out to create a whole. Even a Dementor
cannot be satisfied by sweetness alone. A full life requires that balance,
just as a full diet does – even if bad memories, like vegetables,
can be hard to swallow.
It straightened slowly, opening
its hand and allowing its victim to fall limply to the floor. It turned
towards the human that had led it into the room, feeling the warmth
of the man’s emotions and for the first time not feeling the ache
of temptation on seeing someone it was not allowed to feed from.
For the first time in its life,
it was full. For the first time in its life, it had a life rather
than an existence. It had memories that stayed with it for longer than
mere moments – memories that felt real rather than like half-remembered
dreams. It was hollow no more, and inside its darkness a light now burned
For the first time in its life
it had a soul.
If it had had eyes rather than
the memory of sight, it might have seen the Minister smile narrowly
at it, might have suspected some betrayal. If it had had eyes, it might
have realised that something was wrong, rather than revelling in that
new wholeness; might have noticed before it let go and experienced its
first and only moment of human delight; might have had time to feel
anxiety and fear instead before it exploded.
For a Dementor body was never
made large enough to hold a soul; was never designed to be large enough
to hold the full depth of human emotion, the greatest peaks of happiness
and the worst depths of misery inside it. They died in the moment they
became more than a vessel of hunger. A Dementor was never meant to survive
such things, and all Dementors died in the fulfilment of their deepest
Consider it a mercy that the
Dementor did not know that, and so in that moment the blazing stolen
soul gave it one glorious pyretic moment of genuine
ecstasy. It died still wondering at the magic of the first and
last kiss it would ever have.