Some people dismiss Harry Potter as “just children’s books." But although it's true that J.K. Rowling's universe can be a little silly—after all, we're talking about a world where wizards and witches spend their hard-earned sickles on "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans," and pooped their pants before the invention of plumbing—the books are just as wise as they are witty.
I've collected 15 great standalone quotes from the book series to illustrate just how profound and applicable to real-life the words of Harry Potter can be. Keep them in mind for the next time you need some inspiration, and let us know in the comments if we've missed any of your favorites.
“There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” –The Philosopher’s Stone
This Dumbledore gem is aimed at Neville Longbottom, after Neville prevented Harry, Hermione, and Ron from dueling with Draco. Neville's bravery ultimately gave Gryffindor the 10 points they needed to beat Slytherin in the House Cup at the end of the year—proof that speaking up for what's right pays off, even when it's uncomfortable.
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“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” –The Philosopher’s Stone
Dumbledore shares these words with Harry while visiting him in the hospital wing following Harry's battle with Professor Quirrell. Harry mentions some questions he wants answered about his history and his parents' deaths, and Dumbledore urges him to treat the truth with reverence and caution. Ultimately, the headmaster decides that there are some answers Harry isn't ready to hear—at least not yet.
"After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.” –The Philosopher’s Stone
During the same conversation as the above quote, Dumbledore tells Harry that Nicolas Flamel and Flamel's wife have decided to leave the Philosopher's Stone destroyed—and therefore to die—in order to stop Voldemort. The quote itself plays on the common human fear of death, and twists it in a positive light.
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” –The Philosopher’s Stone
Another of the most insightful passages in the entire series comes from Dumbledore, here describing the dangers of the mirror of Erised (the spelling of “desire” backwards—mirrored, if you will). Both Harry and Dumbledore are drawn to the mirror by the profound loss they've experience in their lives, but the headmaster warns Harry that "This mirror gives us neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away in front of it, even gone mad." Eventually, Dumbledore moves the mirror for Harry's protection.
"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” –Chamber of Secrets
Until this point in the second book, Harry hid the fact that he was nearly sorted into Slytherin. But after Harry confessed to Dumbledore “in a defeated voice” that the Sorting Hat only put him in Gryffindor because he asked not to be a Slytherin, the Hogwarts headmaster knew just what to say. The power of choice is an ongoing theme throughout the series, though this is perhaps the most blunt expression of it. Dumbledore's words are a reminder for all of us that although there are certain aspects of life we will never be able to control, we can master our own moral compass.
I solemnly swear that I am up to no good. –The Prisoner of Azkaban
"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good" is the password phrase that “opens” the Marauder’s Map. The map was created by Remus Lupin, James Potter, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew (under aliases, of course), to help Remus find his way undetected out of Hogwarts during his terrifying monthly transformations into a werewolf. Somewhat of a motto for mischievous troublemakers like Fred and George, the map's password hints at the unsung benefits of breaking the rules. The counterpart, to “close” the map, is “mischief managed.”
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“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.” –The Goblet of Fire
Another Dumbledore nugget, this quote comes during the chapter "The Parting of the Ways," as he warns Harry not to avoid coming to terms with the tragic outcome of the Triwizard Tournament. The quote is a lament that Harry can not “postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight.” It's a reminder that running from pain will ultimately only prolong our suffering.
"What's comin' will come, an' we'll meet it when it does." –The Goblet of Fire
This Hagrid quote might not seem on the surface to be full of fiery inspiration, but his are words to live by just the same. As Hagrid says of Voldemort's return, there's "No good sittin' worryin' abou' it"—He Who Must Not Be Named will strike when he strikes, and all the wizarding community can do is try and prepare in the meantime. But catastrophizing—devoting one's whole life to dreading the worst possible outcome of a situation—will help no one. Hagrid's pragmatic words are a reminder that fearing the future only harms our present.
“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” –The Goblet of Fire
Giving some godfatherly advice, Sirius Black weighs in with these words on a debate between Hermione and Ron over Barty Crouch’s unfair firing of his house-elf, Winky. Perhaps taking this quote to heart, Hermione goes on to found the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.) to advocate for the rights of house-elves.
“The thing about growing up with Fred and George," said Ginny thoughtfully, "is that you sort of start thinking anything's possible if you've got enough nerve.” –Order of the Phoenix
There’s lots of reasons to love this Ginny quote. First, it’s an eloquent and optimistic motto for courage. Second, it’s a fond characterization of Fred and George, and shows a somewhat different side of them than the mischievous pranksters they're typically depicted to be. Ginny's words are a reminder of how they influence their younger sister, and the lives of everyone else they meet.
“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.” –The Order of the Phoenix
Voldemort is often a metaphor for the consequences of ignoring problems rather than confronting them. The above Dumbledore quote is a reminder that apathy in the face of evil can sometimes be the most damaging of all.
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“Dumbledore says people find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.” –The Half-Blood Prince
This bit of wisdom from Hermione references Percy Weasley, who stopped speaking to his family after it became public that Voldemort had returned. As a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Magic, he couldn't accept his father's warning that Percy's rapid ascent through the Ministry ranks was just so He Who Must Not Be Named could keep tabs on the Weasley family. As a denier of the Dark Lord's return, Percy didn’t want to admit his family had been right. The meaning of this Hermione quote is that we shouldn't allow our own pride to endanger us or the people we love.
“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.” –The Half-Blood Prince
In this quick, unassuming line, Dumbledore dissects humanity's age-old fear of death. Death is a major theme in The Half-Blood Prince, as the book focuses on Voldermort's fear of mortality—and ultimately culminates with Dumbledore's own demise. As always, Dumbledore is reminding Harry (and us readers!) that we have less to fear from death than we believe.
“After all this time?” “Always,” said Snape. –The Deathly Hallows
This exchanged between Dumbledore and Snape reveals the love the Hogwarts' Potions Master always felt towards Lily Potter. The reveal comes after Dumbledore accuses Snape of actually caring about Harry, but Snape proves him wrong by producing his Patronus, a doe–the same as Lily’s. Afterwards, Dumbledore realizes for the first time that Snape is still harboring feelings for Harry’s mother. Whether or not Snape truly deserves sympathy for his long-standing, bitter crush on Lily is debatable among fans. The quote has become a classic nonetheless, and a reminder of the motivating power of love.
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“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” –The Deathly Hallows
This is one of Dumbledore’s final quotes, spoken during and about the “imaginary” conversation he and Harry have together before the great battle at the end of the series. This line is typically cryptic for Dumbledore, but also reveals the extent to which Harry has learned from his mentor over the years. It also represents the feelings of many Harry Potter fans—just because these stories are fictional, doesn't mean they don't inspire real emotion.
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