Q: What would Dumbledore see [if he were in front of the Mirror of Erised]?
A: I can't answer that.
-- Emerson Spartz of Mugglenet interviewing JK Rowling (TLC)
What he’d like the most is a pair of warm socks, Dumbledore told Harry (PS12). Is he joking? Is this just another example of his droll wit?
I think Professor Dumbledore told the truth, that Harry surprised it out of him, although it wasn’t very clear. Fans have suggested that socks represent include freedom (Dobby), love (Molly Weasley’s hand-knitting) and obligation (Harry’s hand-me-downs). What I thought of first, though, was something I haven’t seen anyone suggest. And I can’t get it out of my head, so please bear with me.
Dumbledore does not just say he would like to be given socks; he mentions that “(p)eople will insist on giving” him books. I don’t think people are giving him recreational reading; I think (though there’s no canon for this) he’s being gifted with Uber-wizard tomes.
The gifts people give you reflect the image they have of you. People see Dumbledore as a keeper of knowledge and leader/protector of the good guys. He accepts the mantle, knowing he’s the most appropriate person to wear it. But he longs for simple pleasures (sherbet lemon drops), comfort, warmth (thick, woolen socks), and a comfortable, secure retirement. (How often are we told he looks old or tired or both? Didn’t he save the world once already, something about a guy named Grindelwald?) There’s also a line in PS1 where Dumbledore says, “I haven’t blushed so much since Madam Pomfrey told me she liked my new earmuffs.” What an interesting aspect of this venerable and powerful wizard, that an intensely personal response—blushing—is connected with those soft, warm, commonplace earmuffs.
A world in which Dumbledore could expect to receive something as warm, fuzzy, and prosaic as socks for Christmas would be one which did not hang in the balance. It would be a world in which he would not have to be wary of having his caring for others turned back on him. It would be a world in which he would not have to sacrifice the happiness (or the very life) of “the boy who lived.”