Some thoughts I had when re-reading the Harry Potter books as an adult.
When I was a child, I liked Dumbledore. He was wise and kind and quirky, like my grandpa. He seemed to have a pretty good idea what he was doing, and when Harry kept the Philosopher’s Stone out of Quirrell’s hands, I considered the whole thing a job well done. Dumbledore had left Harry, Ron and Hermione just enough clues to solve the mystery, and the Golden Trio had successfully completed their task.
At the time, I was perhaps seven years old. I thought when you were eleven you were basically an adult yourself.
But you’re not. Eleven is not old enough to play a game of lethal wizarding chess. Twelve is too young to fight a basilisk. Thirteen is no age to be traveling back in time to save an innocent man from doom and the age line around the Goblet Of Fire was put there for a reason.
Of course, Harry is an impulsive guy. He is the true Gryffindor. He shoots first and asks questions later, and although Hermione is the brains of the operation, all in all I’d say Harry’s success mostly comes from thinking on his feet. He is an incredibly talented young wizard, and I love him, but he is more than a little reckless.
Every child should have adults in their life to protect them, and thanks to Dumbledore, Harry doesn’t. The first thing Dumbledore does is leave Harry in the care of the Dursleys. Of course, he didn’t know what kind of people they were at the time. Still, he overrules Sirius’ legal rights as a godfather based on nothing but a hunch. Then the Dursleys start starving Harry and neglecting him and subjecting him to emotional abuse. There might also be physical abuse at some point, and I certainly think Vernon would be willing and able to hurt Harry, but this is a children’s book so it is never made clear.
There is no doubt in my mind that Dumbledore knew of Harry’s ill-treatment. After all, aren’t his Hogwarts letters addressed to the cupboard under the stairs? Yet he does not intervene. So for all of his childhood and every summer of his teenage years, Harry is subjected to abuse.
It isn’t much better at Hogwarts, either. I have never once had the feeling that Dumbledore had Harry’s best interests at heart. Of course there is an argument to be made for the greater good, and the end justifying the means and all that, but that still leaves Dumbledore more than a little unsympathetic and manipulative.
His approach is detrimental to Harry’s development as a person. Sure, it makes him a very tough war hero and Boy Who Lived, but more than once Harry’s independence has gotten him into unnecessary trouble. If Harry had been raised to believe that adults were in his life to help him, maybe he wouldn’t have just stormed off to the Department of Mysteries to save Sirius, and maybe Sirius would still be alive. Harry has no trust in those in charge, because no responsible adult has ever given him reason to trust them. And I think that’s very sad.
What I find most infuriating is that Dumbledore never gives Harry all of the information. He says “You shouldn’t do this or that,” in a way he knows perfectly well Harry will take as an encouragement. Even during his private tutoring of Harry in the sixth book, which is supposed to clarify matters, he can only say in very vague terms what Harry will face.
If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s someone witholding information that concerns you personally because they think they know better. If there is one thing I hate it is one person denying another the opportunity to decide for themselves, and that’s exactly what Dumbledore does.
Do you really think, if he had told Harry in book six or so, that he would have to die to save the Wizarding World, Harry wouldn’t have done it? You think he wouldn’t die to save Ron and Hermione, and Neville and Luna and Hagrid and McGonagall? If Dumbledore really thought that, he had an incredibly low opinion of Harry, and a very flawed understanding of how the Gryffindor mind works.
Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth, and presumably one of the characters that knows Dumbeldore best, is also highly critical of his brother’s behavior.
Harry Potter: “It’s…he left me a job.“
Aberforth: “Did he now? Nice job, I hope? Pleasant? Easy? Sort of thing you’d expect an unqualified wizard kid to be able to do without over-stretching themselves?”
Harry Potter: “I — it’s not easy, no. But I’ve got to —”
Aberforth: “Got to? Why got to? He’s dead, isn’t he? Let it go, boy, before you follow him! Save yourself!“
But perhaps the realization that our heroes are flawed is a big part of growing up, and when Harry does grow up Dumbledore needs to get down off his pedestal. Whether or not this was intended, in my eyes, he certainly has.
PS: Don’t even get me started on the ill treatment of Sirius Black.
When Sirius was convicted without a trial, Dumbledore was Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. He had considerable sway and could easily have arranged a trial for his ex-pupil and loyal member of the Order, but he didn’t. Which is fine, because it’s not as though trials before a court are a basic human right or anything. It’s not as though Dumbledore hadn’t known Sirius for years and witnessed his devotion to the Potters first hand. Dumbledore let Sirius rot in Azkaban for twelve years but vouched for Severus Snape, the worst of the worst of the worst? I find it unbelievable.
Then, when Sirius is finally out of Azkaban, does Dumbledore help him get his reputation and his freedom back? No. Dumbledore locks him in the house where he was subjected to abuse as a child, and then acts all surprised that this triggers Sirius’ PTSD and depression. “How could Sirius be so stupid as to run out to save Harry at the Ministry?” is entirely the wrong question to ask. The right question is: “Why does Albus Second-Chance-Giver Dumbledore treat Sirius so despicably?”