Why did Quirrell turn to dust when Harry touched him?
At the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry meets Professor Quirrell in The Leaky Cauldron for the first time, and the two shake hands with no problem:
A pale young man made his way forward, very nervously. One of his eyes was twitching.
“Professor Quirrell!” said Hagrid. “Harry, Professor Quirrell will be one of your teachers at Hogwarts.”
“P-P-Potter,” stammered Professor Quirrell, grasping Harry’s hand, “c-can’t t-tell you how p-pleased I am to meet you.”– Chapter 5, Diagon Alley
In the film, and by the end of the 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 allowed Harry to break the chokehold.
Harry cuts off his access to the stone and touched Quirrell, forcing him back, and he then disintegrated, crumbling to ash and dust at Harry’s feet, dead, and becoming Harry’s first kill and victory.
Quirrell raised his hand to perform a deadly curse, but Harry, by instinct, reached up and grabbed Quirrell’s face – “AAAARGH!” Quirrell rolled off him, his face blistering too, and then Harry knew: Quirrell couldn’t touch his bare skin, not without suffering terrible pain – his only chance was to keep hold of Quirrell, keep him in enough pain to stop him doing a curse.– Chapter 17, The Man with Two Faces
Why could Quirrell touch Harry at the beginning of Sorcerer’s Stone without pain, but by the end of the story, Harry’s touch was lethal to Quirrell? Had Voldemort not taken possession of Quirrell’s body by the time of Quirrell and Harry’s meeting at The Leaky Cauldron? Here are the most prominent theories.
#1 Lily’s Love, The Greatest Protection Charm
Goodreads user @Julia speculated that Harry burnt Quirrell’s face when he touched it because when Lily Potter was killed, she had tried to protect Harry and therefore gave him the most powerful weapon against Voldemort, Love. Love is the one thing that Voldemort is unable to handle and therefore when Quirrell was touched by Harry, he was burnt by the shield created to protect Harry as a result of Lily’s love.
It was endowed when one person (whom we will call “the victim” for purposes of this article) ultimately sacrificed their own life willingly and out of deep, pure love to save the life of one or more people (to whom this article will refer as “beneficiaries”).
Therefore, we can assume that in the instance in which Quirrell shook Harry’s hand, there was no ill intent per se; only to greet Harry. However, during their final batter, Quirrell lunged at Harry to hurt him, which is when the Protection Charm had to take effect and therefore, protect its host (Harry) against the threat (Quirrell / Voldemort).
#2 Only once Possessed by Voldemort did the threat be presented
When we go through the series of events that took place in the Sorcerer’s Stone, we can presume that Quirrell was not yet possessed by Voldemort at the time when he shook Harry’s hand in the Leaky Cauldron.
Quirrell spent the 1991-1992 school year – Harry’s first at Hogwarts – working on an attempt to steal the Philosopher’s Stone, and thus bring Voldemort back to life. His first attempt to steal it, from Gringotts, was thwarted when Hagrid took it from the vault first (chapter 8) and it was after this that Voldemort decided to possess him (chapter 17). As Voldemort’s face was sticking out the back of his head, Quirrell had to wear a purple turban the entire school year to hide him (chapter 7). We can speculate this because:
Harry met Quirrell on his birthday, before the break in:
“…that Gringotts break-in happened on my birthday!”
Quirrell told Harry about his failure to steal the stone, and that was when Voldemort decided to keep a closer watch:
“He does not forgive mistakes easily. When I failed to steal the stone from Gringotts, he was most displeased. He punished me… decided he would have to keep a closer watch on me….”
Therefore, Lily’s Protection Charm did not take effect because Quirrell at the time (before being possessed by Voldemort) did not pose as lethal a threat to Harry as compared to Quirrell towards the later stages of the series (presently at the time, under Voldemort’s possession).
#3 The drinking of Unicorn Blood and the repercussions it posed
“Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime. You have slain something pure and defenceless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.”– J. K. Rowling
As we recall, in chapter 15 Quirrell was seen drinking Unicorn blood. This was the post-possession of Voldemort in Quirrell’s body and was done due to Voldemort’s desire to beat death and become immortal.
Moreover, this was also why he and Quirrell ended up slaying innocent unicorns. Drinking the blood of a unicorn would keep someone alive – even if they were an inch from death.
However, it is considered an act of evil to kill something so pure. As a result, from the moment the blood touched someone’s lips, they would be condemned to live a cursed life.
During Harry’s encounter with Quirrell, we can presume the Quirrell / Voldemort duo had drunk the unicorn blood in anticipation that they would be getting the stone shortly because, as we know, the Sorcerer’s Stone would need to be combined with the unicorn blood in order for it to have been enough for Voldemort to create a body of his own – thereby, no longer needing to depend on Quirrell to share host bodies.
While we do not know the certain causation of why Quirrell seemed to burn at Harry’s touch, we can speculate that the most likely answer would be the Protection Charm Lily left Harry when she chose to sacrifice her own life in exchange for his.
Why the charm did not take into effect during other encounters Harry has had with Quirrell is the real question and this can be presumed due to either the charm not considering Quirrell a threat before he was possessed by Voldemort, or as a result of the reaction of the curse inflicted upon Quirrell once he consumed the unicorn blood, or subsequently, a combination of both!
You can find out what happened to Voldemort after Quirrell died in our next article here.
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