Four ways of Dealing with Dementors
"Harry fully expected to receive low marks on his, because he had disagreed with Snape on the best way to tackle Dementors." Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, chapter 21.
The characters and basic plot belong to JK Rowling.
The idea of Dementors being demons was taken from J Odell, via Hermione's studies on Dementors in 'Amends, Truth and Reconciliation', by Vera Rozalsky, chapter 35. (Also recommended : chapter 48, for a ruthless description of Azkaban.)
"Four wizards entered Azkaban" is a very loose and unorthodox adaptation of a famous Talmudic story.
With a decisive gesture, Minerva McGonagall placed the last sheet of parchment neatly on the top of her pile.
That was all, the satisfied pinched lips said silently. No need to straighten up. Minerva McGonagall didn't slouch over her parchments as some of her colleagues had a tendency to do. Not even at 10.00 pm.
Pomona, for example, was half-lying on the table, though her quill was alertly pruning her students' squiggles.
Filius didn't need to slouch. His bright raisin eyes danced delightedly a few inches above the table as he took in his students' efforts. At times, he frowned slightly, tut-tutted and his quill flew to the page as if it had never left the bird's it tip-toed nervously, leaving a trail of footprints that leading the student back on track.
Severus... Severus didn't slouch. He hovered, he loomed over his parchment victims.
Severus was now working on his next to last essay, his nose casting an ominous shadow on the page.
Severus was perfect in the role of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, thought Minerva. And he was even better as occupant of a doomed position.
When Albus had announced Severus would finally be given the post of Defence Against the Dark Arts, Minerva's first thought had been that this was a way of allowing Potter to take Potion NEWTs, even though he hadn't achieved an 'O', without forcing Severus to go against his policy of accepting only Outstanding students. Of course, she supported Potter's wish to become an Auror, but was it worth endangering Severus? Albus knew better than anyone that the job was jinxed and Minerva had a feeling that if Severus left Hogwarts after a year of filling the post, as had all his predecessors, it could only mean... Minerva didn't know what was harder to imagine : Severus away from Hogwarts or Hogwarts without its bat-like Head of Slytherin.
Was that a sigh?
Had Severus actually sighed as he placed his next to last essay on his pile?
Minerva glanced at it and her heart sank. It was Malfoy's. Since his father had been arrested, the boy's handwriting, once pretentious flourishes, slanted miserably towards the lower right corner like a drunken snake. Minerva noticed Severus hadn't marked the essay. Lately, Malfoy's marks had sunk as poorly as his handwriting. Minerva had warned him again and again, hoping worry about his failing studies would distract his mind from his father's fate, but that seemed too much to ask. Severus would probably make the boy rewrite the essay over and over again until he achieved at least an 'A'.
Minerva sighed in sympathy.
Severus was now taking his frustration out on the last parchment, splashing stains of red ink all over it until it looked as if someone had bled to death on it.
The sight was familiar.
"Potter's?" asked Minerva.
Severus looked up and glared. If he could still glare like that, things couldn't be so bad, thought Minerva, clutching at this sliver of hope.
"How do you know?" he said in his menacing soft voice.
"You don't waste so much ink on Goyle's, I believe."
"Listen to this," murmured Severus.
Though he had spoken very quietly, Pomona straightened up and Filius' grin shifted from his parchment to Severus. They were in for a treat and they knew it.
"The best way to get rid of Dementors", read Severus, "is to make a Patronus by thinking of the happiest memory you have. It doesn't even have to be a memory, sometimes it works even if it isn't. You just have to think of something very happy. You have to remember it well and relive it and say 'Expecto Patronum". The happy memory, if it is happy enough and if you can concentrate on it strongly enough protects you from Dementors because Dementors feed on happy memories and feelings and they can't reach them if you are blocking them out with a happy memory that they can't feed on."
He had read the last sentence very rapidly without stopping to breathe.
Filius chuckled. Pomona giggled.
"So?" said Minerva, secretly proud of having kept a straight face. "He has it perfectly right."
"Only a Gryffindor or a genius could decipher this,' hissed Severus.
"How lucky you are a genius, then," said Filius. "But you don't need to worry about Potter. The boy can produce a remarkable Patronus."
"The subject of the essay is not how to conjure a Patronus, though I wish to point out the stupid boy is completely incapable of explaining how he does that. The subject I gave is : what is the best way of dealing with Dementors?"
"Potter is perfectly capable of dealing with a Dementor by producing a Patronus. He has done it several times," said Minerva. "What else do you expect?"
"I expect the little idiot to be able to tackle a Dementor even at a time when he isn't capable of conjuring a Patronus!"
Minerva's face softened imperceptibly. For all his glaring, hissing and spitting, Severus was only trying to protect Harry Potter.
"What is worse," he continued, "the boy has misled most of his class, with the commendable exception of the Slytherin students, into believing the only way to fight a Dementor is through a Patronus. Listen to this. Accio Macmillan's essay."
Minerva bit her lip and looked away from Pomona.
"The efficient transference of energy by a process involving the outward projection of one's most positive reminiscences in such a manner as to constitute an obstruction guaranteeing unassailability."
Pomona burst out laughing, allowing Minerva and Filius to follow suit.
Severus wasn't laughing.
"Can you imagine that boy projecting his most positive reminiscences when faced with a Dementor?"
His colleagues only laughed harder. Tears streamed down Pomona's cheeks.
"This isn't funny!"
It wasn't. Minerva quietly handed a tartan handkerchief to her friend.
Filius coughed and asked,
"What did the Ravenclaws write?"
"Not bad," conceded Severus grudgingly. "They are open-minded enough to admit that there are four ways of fighting a Dementor, but, for some reason, they all seem to believe Potter's Patronus is the best."
"But Severus," said Minerva, " there is no such thing as a best way. Everyone needs to protect him- or herself in a different way."
The rare light that sometimes gleamed in the back of Severus' eyes flickered.
"Yes, Minerva, but when faced with a Dementor, there is no time to stand and consider one's options, you should know that!"
Minerva paled. The vision of a black-hooded figure swooping down on Barty Crouch Junior had haunted her for months, followed by nightmares about Dementors in Muggle Little Whinging attacking two teen-agers.
"That's why I need the stupid dunderheads to choose now!"
Perhaps Pomona and Filius hadn't noticed, but Minerva had : Severus had said "I need', not "I want", "I asked" or "I told".
"What was the Slytherins' answer?" Filius was asking.
"Accio Nott's essay!"
Nott's essay was crowned with a triumphant 'O'.
"Dementors, though the root of their name has been disguised to sound as if from the Latin 'de-mens', 'from the mind', are really a kind of demon, from the Greek 'daemon'. There are four ways of fighting Dementors prescribed by the four Hogwarts founders.
Rowena Ravenclaw recommends surrounding the mind and feelings with a barrier of facts, such as Arithmancy charts, historical dates or potion recipes. Facts are solid, and so cannot be touched by demons.
Helga Hufflepuff's advice is to connect to one's roots and ground oneself, firmly anchoring the soul in the body. Demons cannot touch the physical body. Thus the stronger the soul is attached to the body the harder it will be for the Dementor to extricate it.
Godric Gryffindor's way is to conjure a Patronus, which is a spiritual guardian that serves as a shield. The Patronus is a positive force, a projection of the positive feelings Dementors feed on : hope and happiness. The Patronus cannot feel despair, so it cannot be hurt by Dementors.
Salazar Slytherin's method of dealing with Dementors is to empty the mind of all feeling, giving the Dementor nothing to feed on. Dementors don't see physical bodies, they only feel emotions. If they sense no emotions, they cannot detect a presence.
One empties one's mind by focusing on one's breathing, counting inhalations and exhalations, or, if one is walking, by detailing the movement of one's feet : up, forward and down, over and over again until danger has passed."
Severus' smirk lacked conviction, as he replaced Nott's essay in the middle of the pile.
"Mr Nott didn't answer your question," said Pomona. "He gave you all four possibilities, but he didn't choose one."
"Because there isn't a right answer. The right choice is never the same," said Minerva.
She was beginning to feel sick. How could one teach Defence Against the Dark Arts? How could one teach a subject on which children's lives depended and for which there were no right answers? No wonder Severus wasn't laughing.
"The answer is that one needs to have one's four elements balanced," Filius was saying.
"Try telling these kids they need to have their four elements balanced!" exclaimed Severus, waving Potter's red stained parchment in the air. "All they care about is Quidditch and who is snogging who!"
Grammar was the first victim of Severus' temper, thought Minerva incongruously.
"Quidditch teaches them about balance..."
"Minerva does have a point. Quidditch teaches these children how to balance themselves instinctively," said Filius. "Put Potter on a broom-"
"-And he will send a Patronus? What if he can't, for some reason? He won't be able to connect to the earth on his broom, he is incapable of emptying his mind and, as for his barrier of facts, 'my father is a great man' and 'Slytherins are evil' won't protect him very much!"
With Gryffindor courage and obstinacy, Minerva tried to defend her point.
"Potter's physical, instinctive knowledge of balance needs to be transferred to his mind."
"The mind must work together with the body," agreed Pomona.
"Everything isn't always about Potter." Severus was visibly struggling to regain self-control. "In case you are unaware of this, I know students who don't have any good memories to pull out of their pockets."
There was a short silence. Minerva looked at the pile of parchments and murmured,
"Professor Lupin told me he had difficulty with his Boggart."
"That is beside the point!"
Severus looked angry again.
"The point is that sixth year students aren't capable of conjuring a Patronus when faced with a Dementor!"
"But Potter taught them!"
Minerva could have bitten her tongue. She knew she had contradicted him out of sheer habit. Of course, Potter couldn't have taught his friends to face Dementors.
Perhaps it was out of habit too that Severus sneered back,
"Oh, how could I forget? He taught them to constitute an obstruction guaranteeing unassailability."
"Did you learn Macmillan's essay by heart, Severus?'
Pomona wasn't laughing any more.
"Put any of those little idiots in front of a Dementor and I won't guarantee their unassailability!"
"I wouldn't be so sure, Severus. Macmillan may have a rather... pompous way of expressing himself, but he knows what he is saying. Hufflepuffs' words are never empty."
"Perhaps you should teach these children to conjure a Patronus, Severus," suggested Minerva.
"Certainly not," snapped Severus.
"Why not?" asked Pomona. "Potter taught most of the students to do it and the Slytherins are just as bright-"
"-As the non-Slytherins, thank you, Pomona! I am NOT teaching students how to produce a Patronus... I am putting emphasis on other methods that are more easily available to them."
"Walking is good," reflected Pomona. "It teaches you about balance as well as strengthening your connection to the earth. You surely remember the Quidditch match that was interrupted by Dementors three years ago. The Dementors went for those who were flying, not for those who were closer to the earth. There was even a joke at the time about them being Hufflepuff supporters because they went straight for Potter..."
"That's because Potter had so many negative emotions..."
"Even on his broom, at a Quidditch match? There goes the theory about flying balance, Minerva," said Pomona.
If Severus had said that, Minerva would have fought back, but Pomona wasn't someone she had a habit to fight. Pomona was too often quietly right.
"Nott mentions walking," said Severus, glaring at Minerva (still out of habit?), " walking mindfully."
"Oh yes, anchoring one's mind with one's feet."
Minerva gave Pomona an impatient look, but neither Severus or Filius thought of making fun of her.
"Are you saying one should walk when faced with a Dementor?" asked Filius.
"Some people should," said Pomona.
"Students need to learn to assess their needs, their lacks and their magical level."
Severus closed his eyes in a way students would have interpreted as exasperated, but that Minerva read as anguished.
"They are not mature enough," she said.
Her voice trembled slightly.
"Hufflepuffs are," said Pomona. She smiled unexpectedly. "We don't do angst."
Her colleagues looked at her incredulously, the unspoken question hanging above their heads : how is Hannah Abbot?
"Angst isn't the same as grief," said Pomona in the matter-of-fact tone she used in the greenhouse. "Angst is poisonous, while grief can be confined to its territory."
"The Ravenclaws are mature enough," pronounced Filius, his voice deeper and less cheerful than usual. "They just need to be taught to look beyond Potter's limited understanding."
Minerva and Severus exchanged glances. A sense of guilty gratefulness flooded Minerva : it was so much easier to get students motivated to convince an object to change into what they wanted than to realistically assess and organise their minds.
How could Severus, of all people, handle such a responsibility?
Severus took a deep breath and slowly recited the well-known ancient tale.
"Four wizards entered Azkaban. One died, one lost his soul to the Dementors, one snapped his wand in half and went to live as a Muggle. Only one entered in peace and left in peace."
"Your essays on Dementors are incomplete."
Professor Snape swept among the tables, parachuting a parchment in front of each student. Potter gave his ink-splattered essay a defiant glare. Nott greeted his 'O' with indifference.
"We need to go over this again," said Snape, as he reached his desk and faced the class. "You need to grow up. You need to learn to have a clear mind," he gave Potter a pointed look, " to be able to discern which approach is the most fitting at any given moment. Now many of you mentioned Patronusses. A Patronus is rarely the best defence-"
'But Professor Lupin said-" shouted Potter.
"Ten points from Gryffindor. Lupin isn't teaching this class. I am."
Parkinson giggled. Zabini smirked. Draco, who was gazing unseeingly at the picture of the witch under the Cruciatus curse, had heard nothing.
"...Only one entered in peace and left in peace."