Patronus Fuel: How to Fight Real-Life Dementors

With the passing of the late, great Alan Rickman, it seemed as though now was the perfect time to write about a personal practice (mantra is the wrong word) of mine that gets me through dark times. I call it “Patronus Fuel.” It is, of course, based on the concept from Harry Potter that in order to conjure your patronus, you must summon a happy memory, the happier the memory, the stronger the patronus. We know that Jo uses dementors as a way to explore depression, both on an individual level (Harry vs the dementors in Prisoner of Azkaban) and on a wider scale (the dementors in Half-Blood Prince that caused an entire city to constantly feel gloomy and grey).

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.

— Treneman, Ann. ‘J.K. Rowling, the interview’, The Times (UK), 30 June 2000.

The magical way to combat these awful creatures is to conjure a patronus, a creature that will fight off the dementors and cause them to flee. However, dementors are never really destroyed completely in the series, because depression isn’t so easily defeated.

While this is an allegory, and real life depression is much more complicated, using the idea of a patronus can help us in the real world. We can use it when we feel sad, when we feel surrounded by darkness, when we don’t think we’ll ever feel happy again. We just have to think of a happy memory. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Which is why we need Patronus Fuel.

[Patronuses] are supposed to protect you.

— OoTP, Chapter 27

In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry tries to use little moments of happiness to trigger his patronus to no avail. Once he thinks of the happiest he’d ever felt (and in Harry’s short and often depressing life at the Dursleys, that was truly hard to come by), he conjures one of the most powerful patronuses in the series, so powerful that the other Marauder’s truly thought Prongs rode again that night. This was one of his first times conjuring a patronus. As the series goes on, it becomes a little easier.

When Harry teaches Dumbledore’s Army in Order of the Phoenix how to produce patronuses, his stag comes easier, while the others struggle. This isn’t because Harry’s life is happier and he’s had happier memories (remember, this is after Voldemort returns and he’s watched Cedric die before his very eyes), but I think it’s a little easier because he’s built happy memories in his reserve.

He could smell the dementor’s putrid death-cold breath, filling his own lungs, drowning him — Think… something happy…
But there was no happiness in him… The dementor’s icy fingers were closing on his throat — the high-pitched laughter was growing louder and louder, and a voice spoke inside his head — “Bow to death, Harry… it might even be painless… I have never died…”
He was never going to see Ron and Hermione again —
And their faces burst clearly into his mind as he fought for breath —

— OoTP, Chapter 1

He has a well of happy memories that float somewhere closer to the surface of his mind every time he says, “Expecto Patronum.” Just Ron and Hermione’s faces are fuel enough to conjure the patronus in the first chapter of Order of the Phoenix. I think part of this is Harry becoming more adept at knowing what makes him happy. Seeing Umbridge sacked, during his OWLs, helps him conjure a corporeal patronus despite no dementors nearby.

In the real world, as I said earlier, it’s hard to come up with a happy memory when we are feeling depressed — and with the state of the world as it is, we often feel like Harry does circa Order of the Phoenix: depressed, angry, on edge, scared, lonely, irrational, etc. But Harry is still able to come up with a happy memory. And maybe we can too. But, because we don’t have J.K. Rowling’s particular brand of magic (don’t worry, I’m not calling you a Muggle), we have to be more purposeful about it. We have to consciously identify our Patronus Fuel.

What are the things that make you happy? Smaller memories often don’t work for big patronuses, but if you build them up in your mind, they make a stronger spell. And sometimes we don’t need big patronuses. We don’t need Harry’s stag running around the lake at Hogwarts. We need Snape’s Silver Doe or Kingsley’s Lynx, patronuses that acted as warnings and guiding lights towards others. Our Patronus Fuel doesn’t have to be just for us. It is a light others can see to know that someone is fighting off the dementors, giving us hope that we can too. 

So stop, right now and think. What are the things that make you happy. From the biggest to the small. My family. Making new, nerdy friends (hi Robyn and Bayana!). TV (genuinely. Give me Parks and Recreation or The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Blackish. Jane the Virgin. Those legit make me smile and fill my heart with warmth.) Hamilton the Musical. Being at Disney World or Universal Studios or New York Comic Con. A funny video I saw. That picture of that actor I like. That quote. The Vincent Van Gogh episode of Doctor Who. Apple pie with ice cream. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You may otice how a lot of these examples are nerdy. Being a nerd itself often gives me Patronus Fuel to fight off the rest of the world. Yours may be in your hobby. Music. Art. Dancing. Working out. Your favorite sports team (that one’s for Robyn). Think of whatever these things are and remember the feeling they give you. That warmth in your chest.

Let’s think bigger: it may be the day you graduated or got married or had your baby. The day you moved out or stood up for yourself. The love of a long-gone relative. Remember, your patronus can change, and so can what fuels it. Even if your life is totally different than it was that day, focus on the feeling that’s filling your heart. Think of it as a light. Maybe whisper expecto patronum to yourself as you think of these moments. Or maybe they’re not simple patronuses. Maybe they’re the Marauders and Lily walking with Harry to face Voldemort.

We are apart of you,” said Sirius. “Invisible to anyone else.” (…) And he set off. The dementor’s chill did not overcome him; he passed through it with his companions and they acted like patronuses to him, and together they marched through the old trees that grew closely together… Beside him, making scarcely a sound, walked James, Sirius, Lupin, and Lily, and their presence was his courage, and the reason he was able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

— Deathly Hallows, Chapter 34

As Dumbledore says, “to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever” (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 17). Their love for you is like a patronus. It is a part of you, and if you let it, can walk with you as a shield and a comfort during the most dire times.

Take these moments, these memories, the protection of your loved ones with you into the battlefield of dementors. Look the dark, cold, grey world in the eye and refuse to let it take you down. Use your Patronus Fuel to fight back.

Alan Rickman may be gone, which is awful and depressing, and he’ll be missed by fans all around the world and by his family. But his work? That’s Patronus Fuel. Watching Harry Potter or Love, Actually, Sense & Sensibility, or Die Hard and thinking of his amazing work can help you to fight the dementor of sadness over his death. Because as we know, death is just the next great adventure. Let his amazing talent fill your heart with warmth and make you smile. Say expecto patronum and see Snape’s Silver Doe prance gracefully towards the lake. Even a dark, awful, depressed, cynical, unhappy soul like Snape could find a memory happy enough to conjure a patronus with. (Was it one happy memory with Lily? Or all of them, built up over time, that Snape focused on as he whispered the spell?)

Whatever it is that you need to do as self-care as the world gets madder and madder, do it. Acknowledge that this is your Patronus Fuel and store these happy memories in your  pensieve. Keep those memories built up and maybe, just maybe, they will be big enough to fight off the bigger darkness of this world.

Constant Vigilance, expecto patronum, and don’t forget: chocolate is also effective at fighting dementors, “it helps, it really helps.”