When I was growing up, if I banged my knee or cut my hand, to stop myself from crying, I would think about all that Harry Potter had endured in his young life, telling myself that if Harry could survive several Dementor attacks, I could probably be brave about my twisted ankle. The characters of Harry Potter have always been people I could turn to for hope, inspiration and advice (it’s the reason I always check the ceiling for poltergeists), but as I’ve got older, the meanings of some conversations have become more layered.
A moment that has always been special and full of meaning is the exchange between Harry and Remus Lupin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. You know the one. “It has nothing to do with weakness.” The words Harry longs and needs to hear, after years of grief, torment and loss. “It has nothing to do with weakness.” Lupin’s acknowledgment of the “horrors” in Harry’s past is such a simple, sigh-of-relief moment for Harry and for us. I think so many of us need to be told that the stress or worries that we feel regularly are not our fault and that we’re handling it in the best way that we can. Harry hasn’t been taught how to forgive himself or even how to like himself so of course, his natural instinct would be to blame himself, especially after a lifetime of bullying at the hands of the Dursleys. Lupin sees this and understands. Perhaps out of everyone Harry has met so far, Lupin understands him the most. As a small boy himself, his life was changed irrevocably when he was bitten by Fenrir Greyback, leading to a lifetime of being shunned and isolated. A couple of years after this chat with Harry, Lupin is still struggling to accept that anyone would be capable of loving him, despite Tonks making her feelings very clear. He doesn’t want to inflict the life he has had onto anybody else but it’s precisely these experiences that make him so perfectly placed to guide a lost and confused Harry.
There are so many times in Harry Potter’s life where his feelings of frustration, loneliness and heartache could have been relieved immeasurably by talking to someone. He, as do many of us, bottles up his feelings to the extent that he explodes at the people who mean the most to him. We see this happen over and over, where pride or embarrassment has overtaken his willingness to seek advice, so for him to actually reach out and ask, “why?” is such a simple but huge step - it’s one of the few times that he asks for help and luckily, Lupin steps up.
We know that in contrast to many of his classmates, Harry has had a tough life and as he has fewer, happy memories to protect him from the Dementors, his worst experiences come to the surface much quicker and with a far more damaging effect. Ron’s reaction to the Dementor on the train is a really good way of showing how different people deal with grief and stress. Ron has had a happy childhood and has never really experienced hardship at this point, certainly not compared to Harry but still, he thought he “would never feel cheerful again”. We’re all on a spectrum, nobody is immune to the effect of the Dementors, no matter how privileged or happy their lives have been. Remember Dudley? I have always wondered what he felt the night when he met the Dementors on a warm, summer’s evening. If anyone had a ‘charmed’ life, it was Diddikins, so did his years of endless torture of Harry come back to haunt him that night? Did the screams of the children he bullied ring in his ears? Who knows but I think of all the characters and creatures we meet in the wizarding world, the Dementors are perhaps the most terrifying because unlike werewolves or dragons or Basilisks, they don't cause physical suffering but they reflect and amplify emotional pain that already exists within their victims. And although a Patronus may banish the Dementors themselves, the memories and the trauma remain because they were always there to begin with and no balm or stitch or phoenix tear will make it better, but time and talking usually helps to heal.
There are so many parallels to be drawn between what witches and wizards hear when they are close to Dementors and that little voice in our head that keeps us awake at night, making us relive our most upsetting and embarrassing moments. Most people have felt that heavy cloud of despair descend, but it’s the people we turn to who offer us hope and help that we remember. Lupin makes it so easy for Harry to be honest, there’s no talk of being brave, or keeping his chin up or being a man. Instead, he says how wise it is to be fearful, which 20 years ago, was quite radical advice for a thirteen-year-old boy. He teaches Harry to recognise the Dementors for what they are - greedy, soulless, evil creatures - while also giving him the confidence and knowledge to fight back, by harnessing his happiest memories, another piece of advice I’ll be following from now on.