From the beginning Dumbledore is rumored to be great. So great is he that in Lord Voldemort’s prime his only fear was Dumbledore. But having read through the first three books so far, it’s peculiar how little Dumbledore has done.
One night he waived his wand and every student had a cot to sleep on. Once he slowed Harry’s fall from 50 feet up in the air, once he stopped an already crippled Professor Quirrel, and in a grand liturgical stroke he changed the decorations in the Great Hall from Slytherin themed to Gryffindor themed.
I feel Dumbledore’s greatness. I feel his power. From where does it come if not from powerful acts of wizardry?Dumbledore’s greatness is derived from his wisdom and his mirth. I can only speak of his wisdom in this post.
Rowling communicates a Dumbledore who knows and acts accordingly. He knows in the face of seemingly contrary evidence. He knows what those around him are thinking and feeling and speaks into it with boldness and care. His questions pick up on hidden realities. He seems to be aware of things others can’t imagine how he could be.
Dumbledore’s knowing goes beyond insightful perception. His knowing understands truths the world cannot see – deep truths about human nature, and evil. Think of his discussion with Harry about the Mirror of Erised. Dumbledore knows that the biggest hole in Harry’s heart is his loss of parents. He lets Harry discover the mirror by giving him the tool to do it with – the invisibility cloak. He is able to speak into a proclivity of Harry’s that could destroy him: To live trying to recreate a past experience of love that’s now lost. At the same time Dumbledore is using this time as preparation. Dumbledore explains the mirror knowing he is going to use it to hide the Philosopher’s Stone from Voldemort. Harry is now prepared for what might come.
Dumbledore’s knowing knows who to trust. Knowing what abuses it would most certainly lead to, Dumbledore still trusts Harry with his father’s invisibility cloak. Knowing Remus Lupin’s nature as a werewolf, Dumbledore trusts him to be a teacher at Hogwarts. Few others in the wizarding world would give him a job. Dumbledore trusted Hagrid when the best student at the school, Tom Riddle, gave evidence to condemn him. The magical world broke Hagrid’s wand and had him expelled. Dumbledore trusted him enough to keep him as gamekeeper, and eventually gave him a professorship. Dumbledore trusts Harry and Hermione when they tell him the mass murderer, Sirius Black, is innocent. No one else does. Further, he trusts Harry and Hermione to go back in time, to ride a Hippogriff, and break the said mass murderer out of his captivity. Last, Dumbledore trusts what’s weak in the wizarding world to overcome what’s more powerful. In Chamber of Secrets, Voldemort laughs at how stupid Dumbledore was to send a 12 year old boy, the sorting hat, and a bird to fight off Voldemort and a Basilisk. They end up being exactly what was needed.
What’s so hard to understand is how Dumbledore arrives at knowledge that goes beyond evidence. But that’s precisely why we think he’s so great. Not everyone can do that and remain as truthful as ever. I assume, having watched the movies, that Dumbledore is relatively great when it comes to glorious acts of heroism using a wand. But that’s not what Voldemort has to fear. Voldemort is at least his equal insofar as that goes. The real power Voldemort has to fear is Dumbledore’s wisdom.