There were many things to be frightened of in the Harry Potter stories, but when Voldemort wasn’t around, Harry feared another deadly threat…

A Dementor's hand slowly opens the carriage door
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The Dementors’ Kiss is like something out of your most feared horror film: when the deadly Dementors suck out a victim’s soul. But how much do we know about this tragic punishment?

So just how bad is it?

Imagine the worst game of kiss chase, times a million. Picture for a moment, those most terrifying of magical creatures, the Dementors. Cloaked in dark hoods, with slimy-looking, decayed hands and – shudder – no eyes. Imagine them advancing towards you, causing the air to freeze and bringing all of your worst fears and traumas to life. Then imagine them clamping their jaws on your mouth and sucking out your soul. Horrifying, isn’t it?

What are the effects?

When Harry first heard about the Dementors’ Kiss in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he assumed it was a curse that killed. But it was so much worse than that. Professor Lupin explained to Harry that it was possible to ‘exist without your soul’ – but that’s all it would be; existing, not living in any sense of the word. You were effectively ‘an empty shell’.

A swarm of Dementors arrive at the Quidditch Match.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Who suffers the Dementors’ Kiss?

Barty Crouch Jr, for one.

Harry felt a chill in his stomach, as Professor McGonagall struggled to find words to describe what had happened. He did not need her to finish her sentence. He knew what the Dementor must have done. It had administered its fatal Kiss to Barty Crouch. It had sucked his soul out through his mouth. He was worse than dead.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Shortly after confessing his traitorous deeds disguised as Mad-Eye Moody, the tortured Barty Crouch Jr had his very soul sucked from him. The order came from misguided Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge, who didn’t account for the fact that Barty would be rendered unable to testify about Voldemort’s return.

Any near misses?

Absolutely. In the presence of a Dementor, the threat of their terrible Kiss was ever present. It was thanks to quick wit and an abundance of advanced magical skill that these characters were spared this fate worse than death in the first seven stories.

Harry Potter

Harry was plagued by the Dementors, who feasted on misery and wanted to leech happiness and joy from everyone they encountered. Harry was especially vulnerable because he experienced such a lonely, unhappy childhood and was haunted by tragic memories.

But Harry took matters into his own hands, seeking help from Professor Lupin in mastering the Patronus charm, so that he may ward off the Dementors by summoning his happiest memories. Touchingly, they most often featured Ron and Hermione, whose friendship saved him in so many ways. And by learning this notoriously difficult charm, Harry was able to save many of his nearest and dearest, too.

A Dementor attacking Harry at Magnolia Crescent
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Sirius Black

Harry’s godfather Sirius Black endured 12 years in solitary confinement in Azkaban for a crime he did not commit. By focusing on his innocence he was able to survive and escape the merciless Dementors, and would later narrowly avoid the Dementors’ Kiss with help from his godson.

Dudley Dursley

Dudders certainly didn’t count as one of Harry’s dearest, but Harry was certainly nearest to him when Dementors struck in Little Whinging – and he had no choice but to break wizarding law and cast a Patronus to save his cousin’s soul. Given Dudley’s appalling treatment of Harry over the years, you’d be hard pressed to know he even had a soul, but this horrific ordeal did mark a shift in their relationship.

Mary Cattermole

During her trial by the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, Mary Cattermole found herself in the presence of the Dementors and that other nasty piece of work, Dolores Umbridge. When the disguised Harry had enough of Umbridge’s lies and was momentarily distracted, the Dementors attempted their dreaded Kiss. Luckily for Mrs Cattermole, Harry saved her just in time, before encouraging her to get as far away as possible.

Hermione Granger

Hermione Granger was arguably the finest young witch of her generation, though the Patronus was the one spell she found difficult. But being Hermione Granger, she could of course still conjure her otter in times of need. On other chilling occasions, Harry was by her side with his stag to save them.

Ron Weasley

Like Hermione, Ron wasn’t directly threatened with a Dementors’ Kiss, but he had several close and frightening encounters. The worst could be said to be during the Battle of Hogwarts, following the tragic death of his beloved brother Fred. Hungrily seeking out grief and despair, the Dementors found Ron, Harry and Hermione easy targets. Thank goodness for Dumbledore’s Army, then: the trio were saved at the wands of Luna, Ernie and Seamus.