Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling
Professor: Hogwarts Headmaster
Affiliation: Order of the Phoenix
"I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in Books 5 and 6 that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes, and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books, because where is his equal; where is his confidante; where is his partner? He has none of those things. He's always the one who gives; he's always the one who has the insight and has the knowledge.
– J.K. Rowling (source)
Oh, Dumbledore, how we are going to miss you. You are pretty much the coolest cat on the planet.
Dumbledore's death is unsettling for many reasons. Not only do we lose the greatest wizard in the world who acts as a mentor and father figure for Harry, but we also lose an incredible leader who has locked away in his brain a vast amount of knowledge, information, and wisdom. Upon recognizing that Dumbledore's death is certain, we realize that so many questions still remain about his life, about Voldemort, about Snape, about Hogwarts, about the Ministry, and about the Wizarding world in general.
Dumbledore's very presence and appearance bring relief. When he comes to pick up Harry from Number Four Privet Drive, we find the first description of him in Book 6: "There in the doorway stood a tall, thin man with waist-length silver hair and beard. Half-moon spectacles were perched on his crooked nose, and he was wearing a long black traveling cloak and a pointed hat" (3.15). There is something very human and comforting about Dumbledore's appearance.
As J.K. Rowling so wonderfully puts it, Dumbledore's wisdom and his trusting nature might be his greatest weaknesses. Dumbledore is aware of the perils of wisdom, and warns Harry of the guesswork that will ensue in their private lessons: "I have already proven to you, I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being – forgive me – rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger" (10.31). In this moment we see a wizard who is keenly aware of his own humanity. He is humble enough to know that he will make mistakes and that these mistakes might be huge. This humility is a quality that sets him in strong contrast to the prideful Voldemort, another powerful wizard.
Dumbledore, The Teacher
Like Harry, Dumbledore could have sought great fame and wealth, had he wanted them. His powers and talents are that big and important to the Wizarding world. He has even been asked to consider becoming the Minister of Magic on several occasions. Also like Harry, Dumbledore doesn't appear to be tempted by the promise of fame, notoriety, or wealth. This fact alone marks a huge difference between him and Voldemort.
Dumbledore is first and foremost a teacher. He has been at Hogwarts for over 40 years, and he's dedicated to producing great witches and wizards. His wisdom also makes him a valuable advisor on many an issue affecting the world at large.
We see the teacher in Dumbledore surface in new ways throughout Book 6. As his friendship with Harry grows deeper and stronger, they become more colleagues than teacher-and-student. However, there are certain moments in which Dumbledore must instruct Harry or must assert his authority. Consider Dumbledore's disapproval at Harry's inability to gather Slughorn's Horcrux memory at first: "I thought I made it clear to you how very important that memory is. Indeed, I did my best to impress upon you that it is the most crucial memory of all and that we will be wasting our time without it" (20.47). Here, we see his language grow stern and formal, a contrast to the more conversational tone he often adopts around Harry during their private lessons. It is in this moment that we understand that, though Harry is a wizard with a lot of potential, he is still young and has a lot to learn from Dumbledore.
We get another glimpse at Dumbledore's teaching style as we watch him interact with Voldemort on the occasion during which Voldemort requests a teaching position at Hogwarts. In this encounter, Dumbledore seems to almost play an imaginary chess game with Voldemort, asking him questions that seem to momentarily disarm the Dark Lord. Here's a glimpse of some of Dumbledore's shrewd, strategic conversational skill: "Let us speak openly. Why have you come here tonight, surrounded by henchmen, to request a job we both know you do not want?" (20.185). Dumbledore's ability to drill down to the heart of the matter and to speak the truth makes him the ultimate teacher. He knows the antidote for Voldemort's deceptive powers. He knows how to put the pieces of the puzzle together and to understand what exactly Voldemort wants. Dumbledore is always two steps ahead.
Then, we see Dumbledore's grief at not being able to convince Voldemort to renounce his violent ways, at not being able to help him become an honest and good man:
"No, nothing," said Dumbledore, and a great sadness filled his face. "The time is long gone when I could frighten you with a burning wardrobe and force you to make repayment for your crimes. But I wish I could, Tom….I wish I could…." (20.193)
Dumbledore's sense of remorse here indicates the responsibility he feels toward Voldemort. As a teacher, Dumbledore wants to help him, he wants him to find happiness and goodness, but he realizes that his powers as both wizard and teacher are not enough. We don't know if there is anyone who has powers enough to help Voldemort start over.
If Harry's ability to love is his greatest power, it must also be Dumbledore's greatest power. He exudes love, acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness. His capacity to love allows him to trust those around him fully and completely, and it is this trust that perhaps causes his death. By the end of Book 6, we are left to wonder why Dumbledore did not heed Harry's warnings about Snape. What information did Dumbledore have that Harry did not? Why did Dumbledore choose to trust, and what has his trust resulted in? Is it better to trust and risk being betrayed, or not to trust at all?
When Tom Riddle first arrived at Hogwarts, Dumbledore did not inform the faculty of Tom's odd ways or of his troubled past. He sought to give Tom another chance, a new start. He tells Harry, "though [Tom] had shown no hint of remorse, it was possible that he felt sorry for how he had behaved before and was resolved to turn over a fresh leaf. I chose to give him that chance" (10.112). Because of this choice, Voldemort was given free rein to build his identity anew. He was given access to the education and the resources that would teach him how to use and wield his powers. One could argue that Dumbledore's trust helped to create the Dark Lord.
As enraged as we might be at the thought of Dumbledore's death, knowing that it might have been prevented had some extra caution been taken, we are also awed by Dumbledore's ability to see the best in other people and to want the best for them. It is this quality that defines him as the man that he is. We know that Dumbledore is quite aware of the power of choice and of what choices say about a person, and he chose to love and trust unceasingly throughout his life. When Tonks and Lupin declare their love for one another shortly on the heels of Dumbledore's death, Professor McGonagall rightly says, "Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think there was a little more love in the world" (29.124).