The first sound we ever hear leave Albus Dumbledore’s lips is a chuckle. He finds it amusing that Professor McGonagall is on the wall waiting for him, sitting stiffly as a cat. And when she says that he’s noble, he jokes that he hasn’t ‘blushed so much since Madam Pomfrey told me she liked my new earmuffs’. This sense of humour is an intrinsic part of Dumbledore’s personality, not just in the first chapter, but throughout the Harry Potter stories. Like on the night Harry Potter survived Lord Voldemort’s attack, he has a particular tendency to lighten a sombre mood with a funny line or observation.
When Harry wakes up in the hospital wing at the end of Philosopher’s Stone – worried, disorientated and asking serious questions – Dumbledore relieves the tension by joking about Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. Similarly, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Professor Trelawney makes a terrifying prophecy to Harry, Dumbledore remarks amusingly, ‘That brings her total of real predictions up to two. I should offer her a pay rise’. And let’s not forget that time Dumbledore came to fetch Harry from Privet Drive in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. When the Dursleys refused to take the drinks he offered them, the wizard enchanted the glasses to nudge against the Muggles’ heads until it drove them to distraction. Dumbledore’s response: ‘But it would have been better manners to drink it, you know.’
Albus Dumbledore can be serious, but he certainly sees the funny side of wizarding life – even in times of strife or difficulty.
The act of leaving any child on a doorstep – particularly as precious and important child as Harry Potter – arguably demonstrates a core belief that other human beings are fundamentally good. Dumbledore gives the Dursleys a chance to love Harry, to raise him as their son despite the observations of his friend and colleague, Minerva. We later find out in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that Dumbledore even expressed this ‘hope’ in the letter he left with baby Harry – a hope that the Dursleys would ‘care for him’ as though Harry was their own son.
Time and time again throughout the Harry Potter stories, Dumbledore shows us how strongly he believes that there is good in everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done: Remus Lupin, Severus Snape, Sirius Black, Draco Malfoy, even Voldemort himself. When we see Dumbledore visit him at the orphanage in the Pensieve, Dumbledore knows that this lonely boy has stolen from, and bullied, the other children, and that he has a tendency towards cruelty. Yet he gives him the chance at a new life, a chance to attend Hogwarts and prove himself better.
Some might argue that this belief that there is good in everyone is a weakness of Dumbledore’s, and childishly naïve. But on the other hand, is it not also a strength? Is it not beautiful to think that Dumbledore has a core positivity that shines so bright, it helps people believe they are capable of good, even when they can’t see if for themselves?
In Chapter One of Philosopher’s Stone, Professor McGonagall says to Dumbledore, ‘Everyone knows you’re the only one You-Know – oh, all right, Voldemort – was frightened of.’ And he replies, ‘You flatter me' and ‘Voldemort had powers I will never have’. This exchange introduces Dumbledore’s humble nature, which is a core aspect of his personality throughout the books. He is, as it says on his Chocolate Frog Card, ‘Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times’. Yet he rarely chooses to show the extent of his magical power or take advantage of his fame and influence.
Dumbledore’s longstanding post as Headmaster of Hogwarts is an excellent illustration of this humility. Hogwarts Headmaster might be an eminent and respected position, but Hagrid tells Harry in Philosopher’s Stone that ‘they wanted Dumbledore fer Minister, o’ course’. Instead of Dumbledore accepting a position that would carry with it more political clout and influence, he is instead content to advise Cornelius Fudge from afar – Hagrid tells us Fudge, ‘pelts Dumbledore with owls every morning, askin’ fer advice’. Indeed, it is remarkable that Dumbledore only mentions his legendary duel with Dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald, once throughout the whole series – and there is more detail about it on the back of a Chocolate Frog card than he himself ever gives.
As well as being a humble man himself, Dumbledore appears to want to encourage that trait in others. In 'The Boy Who Lived' Dumbledore is keen for Harry to avoid the fame that might turn his head: ‘Famous before he can walk and talk! Famous for something he won’t even remember! Can’t you see how much better off he’ll be, growing up away from all that until he’s ready to take it?’ In Dumbledore’s worries about Harry’s head being turned by the attraction of celebrity, and the power that comes with it – perhaps we also see Dumbledore’s own concerns for himself.
Albus Dumbledore is unconventional, and let’s be honest, slightly strange, but we love him all the more for it. In the very first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone he is seen ‘unsticking two sherbet lemons’ whilst he casually discusses Voldemort. He also reveals that he has a scar above his ‘left knee which is a perfect map of the London Underground’. Not to mention that he doesn’t really dress down for the occasion of visiting the very Muggle Privet Drive: ‘He was wearing long robes, a purple cloak which swept the ground and high-heeled, buckled boots’.
This eccentricity is a wonderful part of Dumbledore’s nature, and one that makes him all the more pleasurable to read about. At Harry’s very first feast he announces, ‘Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!’ and is brought to tears by the whole student body singing the Hogwarts school song to different tunes: ‘Ah, music,’ he said, wiping his eyes. ‘A magic beyond all we do here!’ From helping himself to earwax-flavoured Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans to his professed love of knitting patterns, Dumbledore was never afraid to be himself.