Chapter 17 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: The Man with Two Faces
Note: This chapter ties up many plot threads in a rather short space. In order to explain the necessary high points, the synopsis (and the following analysis) must be relatively long.
The man in the final chamber is Quirrell. But a changed Quirrell, no longer twitching, stuttering or timid. He tells Harry how Lord Voldemort possessed him while he was traveling abroad. Quirrell claims he was a foolish man until meeting Voldemort, who showed him that there is no good or evil, only power, and those too weak to seek it. Quirrell is quick to point out that being seen as poorly skilled, particularly alongside Snape, is a very effective disguise. Snape was suspected of creating all the mischief that Quirrell was responsible for, such as enchanting Harry's broom in the Quidditch match against Slytherin – apparently Snape was working a counter-charm, and it was Hermione knocking Quirrell off his feet that interrupted the jinx. Quirrell also admits to having a particular talent with trolls, having set one loose into the dungeons at Hallowe'en as a diversion, so he could see what was guarding the Stone; he was thwarted by Snape, however.
Now, all that stands before him is the final obstacle guarding the Stone, which Harry recognizes as the Mirror of Erised. While examining the Mirror, Quirrell mentions that Snape was at school with Harry's father, and that they hated each other, which is why he dislikes Harry, though Snape never wanted him dead. He also says that "his Master", which apparently means Lord Voldemort, is with him wherever he goes. When Quirrell is unable to decode the Mirror's secret, a voice tells him to, "use the boy". Quirrell stands Harry in front of the mirror, and Harry sees himself removing the Stone from his pants pocket, then discovers that it is actually in his pocket. He tells Quirrell that he only sees himself winning the House Cup but the mysterious voice says he is lying and demands to speak to Harry face-to-face. Quirrell demurs, but eventually removes his turban to reveal Lord Voldemort's face on the back of his head. Voldemort orders Quirrell to seize Harry, but Quirrell's skin burns and blisters when he touches Harry. As Quirrell is about to perform a deadly curse, Harry grabs his opponent's face, leaving Quirrell in too much pain to utter the incantation. By now, the pain in Harry's scar is so intense that it renders him unconscious.
Harry awakens in the hospital wing; Professor Dumbledore, who arrived at the Chamber just in time to save Harry from Quirrell, is standing nearby. He tells Harry that the Stone has been destroyed, and Nicolas Flamel and his wife, Perenelle, will die, but they have enough time left to get their affairs in order. "After all," he says, "to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." Dumbledore agrees with Harry that Voldemort is still out there, possibly searching for another body to inhabit, or looking for some other means to return. Dumbledore refuses, for now, to answer Harry's question about why Voldemort wanted to kill him. He does tell him that Quirrell was unable to touch Harry because Harry's mother died to save him, and a love that strong can provide protection against Dark magic. Dumbledore admits it was he who gave Harry the Invisibility Cloak - saying Harry's father left it in his care. Dumbledore also explains that Snape hates Harry because Harry's father saved Snape's life, leaving Snape in his debt, something Snape deeply resents. Dumbledore explains how Harry was able to retrieve the Stone from the enchanted Mirror: anyone who wanted to use the Stone would only see themselves using it, but would be prevented from taking it, while someone who was only seeking it but did not wish to use it, would find it.
After Dumbledore's departure, Ron and Hermione are allowed to visit. Harry recounts what happened in the last chamber and what Dumbledore told him. They conclude Dumbledore allowed Harry to fight Voldemort, if he chose, rather than trying to protect him from the Dark Lord.
The next day, Harry has another visitor: Hagrid, who is in tears because he gave Quirrell the final piece of information he needed to reach the Stone. After Harry calms him, Hagrid remembers he has a gift for him, a photo album, containing wizarding pictures of Harry's parents.
Late in the day, Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, relents and allows Harry to attend the Leaving Feast. There, Professor Dumbledore rises to award the House Cup. Slytherin is in the lead, partly because without Harry playing in the final match, Ravenclaw defeated Gryffindor at Quidditch, and also because Harry lost Gryffindor so many House points in the Norbert debacle. "However, recent events must be taken into account - I have some last-minute points to dish out." Harry, Ron, Hermione, and – surprisingly – Neville have earned between them enough House points to regain the lead and win the House Cup for Gryffindor.
Exam results are revealed and Hermione, as expected, has the best marks of the year, while both Ron and Harry have managed decent passes; even Neville has scraped through. Finally it is time for the Hogwarts Express to take students home. Ron and Hermione promise to write, and Ron says he will invite them both to visit him. And though everyone has received notices warning them that no magic is permitted outside school, Harry knows the Dursleys have no idea about that. "I'm going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer..."
The story ends on a high note, and Harry has won the battle, but the reader can see that the war has just begun. Voldemort, though thwarted, has indeed survived, and he will likely attempt other ways to restore his body, biding his time before launching another assault on Harry and the Wizarding world.
Quirrell's comment that there is no good or evil, only power, and those who are too weak to seek it, reflects Voldemort's belief that achieving his goal will justify whatever means he employs to obtain it. That goal, based on his past history, is conquering the wizard realm, and for Voldemort, good and evil truly are non-existent concepts. Instead, there is only his insatiable lust for power and a self-determined right to satisfy it. This also reflects how Voldemort's Death Eaters, and Slytherins in general, appear to think and function, seizing whatever they want, whenever they want, and by any means deemed necessary, often taking the easiest and shortest route possible. However, an old axiom states that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Voldemort, already corrupt, is likely to become even more so, probably to where he retains little rationality or sanity. As contrasted by Dumbledore, with power comes responsibility and morality, along with continual cooperation, oversight, and loyalty in order to operate and maintain a stable and productive society. Without it, a state is destined to decay through internal conflict, strife, and greed until it totally collapses. Even if Voldemort can conquer the wizard realm, retaining his power and maintaining an orderly and productive rule while keeping his followers loyal and placated would be an indomitable, if not impossible, task for him.
In this we can see some similarities to Niccolò Machiavelli's 16th century political treatise, The Prince, which advocates that to obtain or maintain power, a prince should adopt a moral public facade while secretly implementing whatever extreme amoral methods are necessary to gain and retain control, without regard to the individual or civil rights. That belief has even been utilized in the modern era by dictators such as Adolph Hitler to fuel his rise to power in mid-20th century Germany. The series' overall theme of good vs. evil, and which path, dark or light, a wizard can and will choose to follow, will seem blurred by Voldemort, who cares about neither. Though his overall plan is yet unclear, he may want to keep his presence concealed and true intentions ambiguous while insidiously plotting to take control. This would make it difficult for Voldemort's opponents to fight him if he has already solidified and entrenched his power structure once he does emerge. While Voldemort apparently cares little for appearances, when he reveals himself, his public persona, rather than a moralistic image, may instead espouse principles and ideals crafted to appeal to those already bent towards his beliefs, or those who have been denied equality under the current wizard rule and can further support the Dark Lord's rise to power. He is unconcerned about what methods he employs to achieve this, and it seems doubtful that Voldemort intends to share power once he obtains it or allow others to reap benefits from his takeover. He will, however, likely have to offer at least simplistic rewards to gain that power, and mete out penalties to retain it.
Clearly the big surprise in the story is that it was Quirrell, not Snape, who was behind the ongoing attacks on Harry. We know Snape and Harry deeply dislike one another, but Harry's animosity had biased him into wrongly believing that Snape was responsible. Harry, still too single-minded and immature, fails to consider that there could be other reasons behind Snape's behavior; Snape's hatred apparently stems from his relationship with Harry's father, James Potter, though the full circumstances are still unknown, nor why Snape would transfer this resentment to James' young son. Snape's antagonism toward Harry is widely known, even among the staff, though Dumbledore seems to discount it somewhat; Snape almost certainly was questioned following the attacks and had been cleared, though Harry apparently presumes that an interrogation never occurred, and does not realize that teachers are unlikely to discuss such matters with a first-year student, even one as directly involved as Harry is.
Life, death, and resurrection are also ongoing themes in the series, and it is reinforced here, though Quirrell's death and the Flamels' impending demise are indirectly shown, unlike the slain Unicorn seen in the Forbidden Forest. As Dumbledore explains it to Harry, death is but a gateway to another realm, likely one that is better and more enjoyable than the living world, and it is a natural progression that should be embraced, not feared, though both Voldemort and Flamel apparently do; this may partially explain why some who die, like Nearly Headless Nick, become ghosts and remain bound to the living world, rather than moving on to the "other side." While Voldemort, whose name can be translated from French as "flight from death", seeks any means to become immortal, Flamel instead chooses to end his life for the betterment and safety of wizard society. Immortality has a high price, and anyone possessing that secret holds the most sought after and valuable prize that many would pay any amount or perform any act, including murder, to obtain. Flamel realizes that the Stone is far too dangerous to exist because innocent people will be killed as others, such as Voldemort, will always seek its power. Flamel opts to destroy the Stone, finally accepting mortality as an inevitable part of living. Even if Voldemort can obtain a new body and immortality, his life will probably always be cursed and incomplete, his shredded soul never fully restored, and unable to attain love and friendship, whose power is incomprehensible to him.
Harry also learns more about his tie to the Dark Lord, his family, and that it was his mother's love for him and sacrificing her life for his that created the magical protection against Voldemort's attack when Harry was an infant. It is this same love within Harry that burned Voldemort when Harry touched Quirrell. This protection will likely continue to play an important role in the story's plot. While Harry has a better understanding regarding his relationship with Voldemort, Dumbledore's refusal to explain why Voldemort wants to kill Harry can only add to Harry's confusion and fears.
There are a few concerns regarding "one of Dumbledore's 'better ideas'", hiding the Stone in the Mirror of Erised. Dumbledore says that anyone who wanted to use the Stone, would only see themselves using it but would be unable to take it, while someone who was only seeking it but did not wish to use it, would find it. Quirrell reports that he sees himself in the Mirror, giving the Stone to his Master, which seems to fit the requirement of not using it himself. Why did Dumbledore's spell prevent the Stone from being released to Quirrell? This question must remain unanswered, but there are at least two possible reasons. The most likely reason is that Quirrell is simply lying, saying what he thinks Voldemort wants to hear while he actually sees himself amassing piles of Stone-created gold. However, it can be argued that Voldemort can sense falsehoods, as he seems to be able to sense that Harry is lying. An alternate explanation would be that Dumbledore's spell is detecting both Quirrell handing over the Stone and Voldemort using it, and is refusing to release it to Voldemort.
Also, many fan sites have noticed a discrepancy in this chapter. Hermione says that she found Dumbledore in the Entrance Hall as she was on her way to send him an owl. Yet the trap door is located in the third-floor hallway, and the Owlery, we learn later, is high in the castle, on the seventh floor. Why would Hermione head down to the main floor on her way from the third to the seventh floor? One possible answer to this can actually be found in the Harry Potter films, in which we see a large central stairwell in the castle. Combine that with Percy's earlier warning that the stairways like to move, and it is entirely possible that Hermione, emerging from the third floor corridor, would have found herself on the side of the central stairwell away from the Owlery with no staircases leading upwards from there. While descending to access a staircase that would bridge the gap, she might either have needed to go through the Entrance Hall, or else happened to see Dumbledore, below her, as he returned to the castle. This speculation is only intended to quiet a small issue that can hamper the story's enjoyment; it is unsupported by anything in the books.
- Why does Snape seem to hate Harry?
- How was Quirrell able to frame Snape for the attacks on Harry?
- Why did Snape suspect Quirrell? Did anyone else suspect him?
- Why was Harry able to retrieve the Stone from the Mirror, but Quirrell could not?
- How did Voldemort know that Harry had the Stone?
- Why was Harry able to burn Quirrell's skin?
- What does Quirrell mean when he says, "There is no good or evil, only power, and those too weak to seek it"?
- Why would Dumbledore have had James Potter's Invisibility Cloak, given that Dumbledore can make himself invisible without one?
- How can Snape justify his hating Harry for something he has had no responsibility for?
- What does Dumbledore mean when he says that death is, "the next great adventure"?
- Why did Nicolas Flamel agree to destroy the Stone, knowing that this represented a death sentence for himself?
- Why would Dumbledore refuse to say why Voldemort wants to kill Harry?
- Harry, Ron, and Hermione think that rather than try to protect Harry, Dumbledore allowed him to fight Voldemort. Is that true? If so, why?
Harry survives his second encounter with Lord Voldemort, and what protected him the first time, his mother's love, protects him again, and apparently will continue to do so. We later learn that this protection also requires Harry to live in a home where his mother's blood kin resides (in this case, her sister, Harry's Aunt Petunia). This is why Harry must return to Privet Drive each summer, until his 17th birthday, as much as he detests being there. On several occasions however, he will be prematurely liberated from his enforced confinement to spend time with the Weasleys.
While Harry has already suspected that Snape has the ability to read minds, we do not yet know whether this is a magical ability. It turns out that it is; much later, Professor Snape will be called upon to teach Occlumency to Harry, at which time we will learn, not only that there is a magical ability to examine the mind's contents (Legilimency), but also that Voldemort is a master at it. Weakened as he is, Voldemort still seems quite able to read Harry's mind, of determining what Harry sees in the mirror, and that he has obtained the Stone. We will learn, much later, details of the linkage that exists between Voldemort and Harry, here shown by the recurring pain in Harry's scar. Voldemort, however, will remain unsure of the linkage's nature until Harry's fifth year, apparently assuming until that point that the ability to read Harry's thoughts is purely his Legilimency skills.
The seeming hatred between James Potter and Severus Snape is mentioned for the first time here. This features prominently in later books, especially the fifth. As this apparent hatred is a focal point on which the series' plot turns, we will see it repeatedly over the entire story arc. Eventually, the reason for it is revealed.
A key question driving the series is asked, and left unanswered, for the first time. Harry asks why Voldemort wants to kill him; Dumbledore responds that he must refuse to answer that. We learn later about a prophecy that predicts that either Harry or Voldemort must die, as "neither can live while the other survives." Dumbledore feels that as a child of 11 years, Harry is still too young to be told this arguably harsh fact. The prophecy will be revealed to Harry in four years, along with Dumbledore's reasons for withholding it.
Also, Dumbledore voices a philosophy that centers the series: "after all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." This does not, at first glance, seem to be a particularly useful philosophy, but it is the key difference between Voldemort and those who would defeat him. Much of the series revolves around death and the attitudes towards it. Voldemort fears death, so much so that he kills others in cold blood to preserve his own life by creating Horcruxes. Dumbledore, and to a large extent Harry, are prepared to die, if necessary, to destroy Voldemort's great evil. It is the one who is prepared to meet death, on his own terms, who fully masters it; running from death does not avoid it. This, we are told, is why Harry is the stronger Wizard when he confronts and duels Voldemort near the end of book 4.
To defeat Quirrell (and Voldemort), Harry had to follow a designated path, containing dangerous obstacles he had to overcome, before confronting the Dark Lord. This same scenario is echoed in the next book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where Harry travels through an underground passage leading to a hidden chamber beneath Hogwarts where Tom Riddle (Voldemort) awaits. And though Voldemort does not appear in Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry (and Hermione) clambers through a secret tunnel leading to the Shrieking Shack where the fugitive and the Dark Lord's supposedly loyal supporter, Sirius Black, has taken Ron. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry must navigate an enchanted maze filled with riddles and dangerous creatures as part of a Tournament, only to again face Voldemort. Harry is lured to the Ministry of Magic in Order of the Phoenix, where he maneuvers his way through the convoluted halls and mysterious rooms of the Department of Mysteries to confront the Dark Lord's minions, as well as his own destiny in the form of a prophecy. Finally, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he travels a dark path through the Forbidden Forest that will lead to his seemingly final encounter with Voldemort. Following a defined, but unknown and dangerous pathway symbolizes Harry's progression through the entire series, and it is the only way he will be able to defeat Lord Voldemort. At each juncture, he has the option to turn back, but instead chooses to move forward; each time he is only able reach the final destination with help from Ron and Hermione, and later, other allies such as Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood.
It should be noted that Neville's being awarded House points for showing courage by standing up to his friends, though wholly deserved, may seem like a fluke or even an act of generosity by Dumbledore. However, at the end of Order of the Phoenix, Professor McGonagall will award Neville, along with Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Luna Lovegood, 50 House points for his part in the battle at the Ministry of Magic and for warning the Wizarding world of Voldemort's return. In the last book, he will continue to show exemplary courage, and throughout the series, most notably in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we will see him and grow into a strong wizard and capable leader.
- "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." This aphorism is applied here by Dumbledore in reference to Nicolas Flamel. While we do not recognize it directly at the time of Dumbledore's death, we will find in the final book that Dumbledore had applied it to himself as well. And Harry's subsequent realization that in order to master Death, one must not fear it, is closely related.
- Voldemort here is seen to have survived his own apparent death. This, of course, sets up the entire seven-book story arc, and will be referred to multiple times throughout the series. The fact that the mechanism depends on fragments of Voldemort's soul being attached to physical objects ("Horcruxes"), and that Harry contains a piece of Voldemort's soul within himself, is not yet known; but the connection between Harry and Voldemort, visible in Harry's scar and known by the pain in that scar, would indicate that the nature of Voldemort's immortality had been largely worked out this early in the series.