Professor Quirinus Quirrell’s death in the climax of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone stirred up many questions. However, one of the most crucial ones was how Lord Voldemort survived after Quirrell’s body burned and turned to ash. When Quirrell reached out to Harry, the latter simply touches the Professor’s hands, and it almost instantly turns to ash. Harry realised this and touched Quirrell’s face; thus, the villain dies.
However, after we see dust rising and forming the shape of the Dark Lord’s face, we see the apparition pass through Harry’s body. This leaves us wondering how Voldemort managed to survive and escape.
What happened to Voldemort after Quirrell died?
In the film, and by the end of the Sorcerer’s Stone book, Quirrell and Harry combatted for possession of the Sorcerer’s Stone. As you recall, Quirrell was defeated by Harry upon physical touch, which burnt him and allows Harry to break the chokehold.
Harry cut off his access to the Stone and touched him, forcing him back, and he then disintegrates, crumbling to ash and dust at Harry’s feet, dead, and becoming Harry’s first kill and victory. This also resulted in the spirit of Voldemort, inhabiting Professor Quirrell’s to disengage and expel itself from his body in an apparated, ghostly form.
Moreover, we know the physical form which Voldemort took before and after being expelled from Quirrell’s body due to the following excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:
Harry would have screamed, but he couldn’t make a sound. Where there should have been a back to Quirrell’s head, there was a face, the most terrible face Harry had ever seen. It was chalk white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake. “Harry Potter…” it whispered. Harry tried to take a step backwards, but his legs wouldn’t move. “See what I have become?” the face said. “Mere shadow and vapour. . . I have form only when I can share another’s body… but there have always been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds. . . . Unicorn blood has strengthened me, these past weeks… you saw faithful Quirrell drinking it for me in the forest… and once I have the Elixir of Life, I will be able to create a body of my own. . . . Now. . . why don’t you give me that Stone in your pocket?”
We also know and can conclude that based on the following excerpt that Voldemort was once again, reverted into a disembodied soul, unable to use magic as he did not have any physical form. In this weak and helpless state, he was only able to manage to regain his strength to be seen in a weak human form as seen in Little Hangleton, the Riddle’s House when Peter Pettigrew (Worm tail) helped him concoct a potion.
“The servant died when I left his body and I was left as weak as ever I had been”, Voldemort continued. “I returned to my hiding place far away…” — Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
We know that Harry saw him in the forest as a spectral form, what Voldemort himself called “mere shadow and vapour”, and we also know that he was taken care of by Wormtail after being expelled – however that does not answer the question of Voldemort’s state before and after expulsion – much before Wormtail found him as well.
It is quite interesting that Wormtail became a Death Eater, which you can find out more about here.
According to Voldemort, his essence could not be killed due to his creation of Horcruxes when he needed to take on a physical form, and naturally he could not return to his own body, he was able to possess living creatures and did so with animals on occasion.
Possessing animals would reduce their life span significantly but he could not risk human possession due to Aurors still being on high alert for him during this period of time. Voldemort’s preferred animal to possess was snakes, but it was also speculated that he may have turned into the occasional rat.
Quora user @ Valeria Mesalina, for example, believes this theory to be true as it would explain how Worm tail was able to find Voldemort in the first place. Wormtail followed the scent of rats, which is typically how rats find their own kin.
Although he could create little magic as an animal, we can speculate that given the choice between animals, his preferences undoubtedly lean towards snakes.
How did Voldemort manage to survive?
Voldemort did not have to “survive” per se. As long as his Horcruxes existed, he was as close to undying as one could be. His only need for a physical form was essentially just to be able to house as much power as possible without limitations.
Keep in mind that a Horcrux anchors your soul to earth so that even if your body is destroyed a piece of you stays alive. The more Horcruxes you have, the closer you are to immortality.
Voldemort had a main portion of his soul, which contained most of his consciousness and resided (when he was not incorporeal, anyway), within his physical body. It is this that lived a wretched, bodiless existence for over a decade, and it is this to which Voldemort refers when he says:
“I was ripped from my body, I was less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost . . . but still, I was alive. What I was, even I do not know . . . I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality. You know my goal — to conquer death. And now, I was tested, and it appeared that one or more of my experiments had worked…for I had not been killed, though the curse should have done it.” — Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The Horcruxes contained additional pieces of Voldemort’s soul; however, he does not inhabit them. Their function was to tie his embodied soul down to life so that even when killed his spirit would still persist in some form or the other.
“Well, you split your soul, you see,” said Slughorn, “and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one’s body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged. But of course, existence in such a form. . .” — Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Riddle that came from the Tom Riddle diary was a piece of Voldemort’s soul: not the main piece, but a piece, nonetheless, possessed of some element of Voldemort’s consciousness at the time he ripped it from his spirit.
“Well, although I did not see the Riddle who came out of the diary, what you described to me was a phenomenon I had never witnessed. A mere memory starting to act and think for itself? A mere memory, sapping the life out of the girl into whose hands it had fallen? No, something much more sinister had lived inside that book . . . . a fragment of soul, I was almost sure of it.” — Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
To conclude, Tom Riddle’s Diary, Marvolo Gaunt’s Ring, Salazar Slytherin’s Locket, Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup, Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem, Nagini and The Secret Horcrux — Harry Potter himself, were the anchors that kept Voldemort very much alive as they were all conveniently hidden Horcruxes and not known of until much later on in the progression of the Wizarding World series.
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