Harry Potter is a story of bravery, friendship, magic, and adventure. But above all else, the series is a story about the power of love. It’s a theme that runs deep in each book, and the importance and strength of the sentiment is a lesson Albus Dumbledore more than anyone else emphasizes countless times. It is because of a mother’s love that Harry Potter is the Boy Who Lived, and it’s because of love that Dumbledore watches over that boy and tries to protect him from his terrible fate. He once reminded Harry not to pity the dead but to “pity the living and above all, those who live without love.”
If love meant so much to one of the greatest wizards of all time, what did he really know of it? What about Dumbledore’s own personal love story? Until The Deathly Hallows and the release of Elphias Doge’s Daily Prophet obituary, as well as Rita Skeeter’s The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, much of his past remained a mystery.
One thing we do know from the beginning is that he defeated the Dark Wizard Grindelwald, but it was a shock to later learn that Gellert Grindelwald was a close friend of Dumbledore’s before turning down a darker path. During an ill-fated Summer in Godric’s Hollow, the teenage boys fostered a friendship that bordered on fanatic; the two became obsessed with finding the Deathly Hallows and mastering Death.
“Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was.”
Both geniuses and both full of youthful ambition, they came up with wild plans about a revolution where wizards ruled Muggles, but their friendship abruptly ended when a duel with Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth led to his young sister Ariana Dumbledore’s death.
But according to J.K. Rowling, there was more to the short-lived friendship than it seemed. Years ago at a Carnegie Hall event, Rowling revealed that Dumbledore was gay, but the revelations didn’t end there. A fan posed the question, “Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?” To which Rowling responded:
“My truthful answer to you . . . I always thought of Dumbledore as gay . . . Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extent? But, he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix he was very drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him. Yeah, that’s how I always saw Dumbledore.”
In many ways this explains so much about Dumbledore. Ariana’s death and Grindelwald’s betrayal shook him to his core and was a turning point in his life. After the end of his relationship with Grindelwald and his heartbreak over that and the passing of his sister, Dumbledore set out to become the Dumbledore the wizarding world knew him to be: moral, wise, great, and kind. His radical views softened, and maybe at first as penance and later because it was his true self, he recognized the error of his ways and sought to be just, to better the world, and to encourage equality among all people, Muggles and wizards alike. In the end, loving Grindelwald made him who he was, and he was an undeniably good man at heart.
Most importantly, he still didn’t let the loss of this love stop him from loving again. He may have been more hesitant, and he may not have given it as freely as he would have before, but his relationship with Harry is proof enough that his heart was open and vulnerable despite, and perhaps even because of, what transpired with Grindelwald. Can we blame him for being young and in love?
And after all, as Professor McGonagall once said after his tragic passing, “Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world.” I’d like to think the sentiment applies to the man himself, too. For all the wonderful things he did, he certainly deserved that much.