The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 17

The Harry Potter Reread feels so grown up and accomplished right now. It’s very first rite of passage has been reached, and after today’s reread, it will be taken out for a sundae. What sort of sundae will be rightly up to all of you. (Reread is partial to butterscotch, but it can be flexible in the interest of scientific discovery.)

We’ve made it through a whole book! This is me hugging all of you through the internet. (If hugs are not your thing, I’m doing a funny dance—my coworkers will attest to my mastery of goofy office chair dances.) This reread is already so much fun, and we happily have six more tomes left to tackle. But first we will wrap up with the final chapter of The Philosopher’s Stone—The Man With Two Faces.

Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.

Chapter 17—The Man With Two Faces

Summary

Harry finds himself face to face with Professor Quirrell. As he’d been expecting Snape, Harry is understandably confused by this turn of events. Quirrell takes it upon himself to clear up the matter, and spills his guts—he’s been trying to kill Harry since Halloween. It would seem that he met Voldemort on his travels abroad and had his perspective shifted considerably under the Dark Lord’s influence. He wants the stone for Voldemort, and had been trying to get Harry out of the way all this time. Snape was actually trying to save Harry all year, muttering a countercurse at first Quidditch match, and offering to referee the second so Quirrell couldn’t interfere.

A strange voice tells Quirrell to put Harry in front of the Mirror of Erised (the final barrier to the Stone), since Quirrell only sees himself handing it to his master. Harry simply wants to get the Stone before Quirrell, and that seems to be all it takes; he sees a mirror imagine of himself slip the Stone into his own pocket, and suddenly there it is.

Turns out, Voldemort has been punishing Quirrell for his inability to get the Stone. To keep an eye on him he has latched onto Quirrell’s body, his face appearing at the back of Quirrell’s head, kept hidden under the purple turban. Harry comes face to face with the Voldemort for the first time since his infancy. The Dark Lord tells Harry that his mother died to save his life, and insists Harry give over the Stone or she will have died in vain. When Harry refuses, he tells Quirrell to grab him, but on touching Harry’s skin, the professor begins to break out in blisters. Harry uses this to his advantage, touching Quirrell anywhere he can, but his scar is searing and he passes out…

…and wakes up in the Hospital Wing to find Professor Dumbledore at his bedside.

Dumbledore fills Harry in on everything that he missed. If he hadn’t found them, Harry might have died from the contact with Quirrell and Voldemort. The reason why Quirrell couldn’t touch him is wrapped up in Lily Potter’s sacrifice. Her love for her son left a mark on Harry, one that offered a certain amount of protection. Such terrible foes could not bear being touched by something so good. But Dumbledore has no doubt that Voldemort will try to return again. At least the Philosopher’s Stone has been destroyed.

Ron and Hermione come in later to hear Harry’s side of the story. Harry ruminates that this may have been what Dumbledore intended, letting Harry figure out how to find the Stone, testing the three of them. Ron seems enthused at that idea. Hermione is not.

The final feast is upon them, and the House Cup is to be awarded to Slytherin for the seventh year running. Dumbledore shows up at the end and offers Harry, Ron, and Hermione enough points for their little adventure to tie Gryffindor with Slytherin. Then he tacks on ten points for Neville, who had enough bravery to stand up to his friends. Gryffindor wins the House Cup and the kids head home. Though Harry’s friends are concerned for Harry heading back home with the Dursleys, he’s not too troubled—his relatives don’t know Harry can’t use magic outside of school, after all.

Commentary

It’s sort of a whirl, that last chapter.

Quirrell turns into one heck of a monologuing villain once given the chance. It bothers me less than it might because it makes sense; after spending the year pretending to be a cowardly idiot, it’s hardly surprising that he’s been hoping for a chance to cackle and gloat.

Some background on Quirrell, since this is the place where we see most of him: His full name is Quirinus Quirrell. That first name is associated with two gods, Mars and Janus, one the god of war and the other the two-faced good who looks forward to the future and backward to the past. Of course, that resembles Quirrell’s actual appearance once the turban is off. Quirrell was a Ravenclaw at school, and often teased for being timid and nervous. He taught Muggle Studies at Hogwarts (it is unknown when he started) before taking a year-long sabbatical to tour the world. He was intending to find out what might have happened to Voldemort, hoping that solving some of the mystery would get him the recognition he’d always craved. When he came upon Voldemort himself, he instead decided to let the Dark Lord bring him power.

It’s sad to think that the guy was so easily taken in, but he’d been in a perfect position for that kind of lure. I had forgotten that we sort of ghost over his death in the book—it isn’t attacked with the same sort of finality given to later characters.

Voldemort is particularly intriguing on his first run because he spends practically all of his “face time” changing tactics. He tries to tell Harry that his parents were cowards, when Harry doesn’t believe him he immediately admits that they had both been very brave and insists Harry honor their sacrifice by handing over the Stone to stay alive. When that goes nowhere, he moves straight to the order to kill. But the fact that he tries to go the easy route first is a pretty interesting move.

So here’s a question: What had Dumbledore exactly intended here? I think Harry is right, that Albus was deliberately giving him clues to help him obtain the Stone, giving him the cloak and then giving it back again, but I have a hard time believing that his plan was “let the kid go face down Voldemort and hope he survives.” If anything, his reactions according to others (Ron and Hermione state that when they encounter him, Dumbledore basically realizes that Harry has gone head to head with Voldemort and rushes off to rescue him) indicate the opposite. My assumption here is that he was sort of intending Harry as a last line of defense, meaning that if Harry knew the Stone was going to be taken, he’d rush down to take it ahead of Quirrell, not get there immediately after him and have a showdown. Of course, I’m sure he was curious to know what would happen if Harry and Voldemort came into direct contact, and probably had his suspicions as such, but it’s safe to say he didn’t want Harry in quite so much danger.

Another interesting tidbit I’d forgotten—when Harry asks Dumbledore about Snape’s hatred for him, Dumbledore talks only of the rivalry Snape and James had going. He then tells Harry that the reason why Snape could never forgive his father was for saving his life. Obviously, Dumbledore was never going to betray Severus by coming right out and telling Harry that Snape was in love with his mother, but this specific divulgence is an interesting choice. It suggests that Dumbledore himself finds that particular incident to be one of the most important between James and Severus, which I think gets lost on the side of the road once everyone finds out about Snape’s feelings for Lily.

It contains the suggestion that as much as Snape hated James and loved Lily, one of the worst possible things James Potter could have done was to remind Snape that he was a decent man at his core. That above all, in Albus Dumbledore’s eyes, could not be forgiven. Though it seems the least that anyone could have done in that situation, I don’t think Snape would have pulled James out of a line of fire. And it makes me curious if somewhere in there, that was the moment that made Snape wonder—however secretly—whether James could somehow be worthy of Lily. No wonder it makes him so furious.

That photo album of Harry’s parents. Gets you every time. Ugh, best present ever, Hagrid. All the hugs for you, Hagrid.

Since we were all talking about grades in the last reread, I do feel the need to point out that Harry and Ron both pass with “good marks” in their first year. Not the best, like Hermione, but not middle-of-the-road either.

And then we have the awarding of the House Cup. I’ve noticed that this rubs some fans the wrong way, Dumbledore simply awarding all the points at the last minute and pulling the rug out from under Slytherin. I’d be more inclined to agree if Slytherin hadn’t won the Cup the past six years. What’s the big deal? McGonagall pulled most of those points off them in the first place (in what I still maintain was a gross overreaction to the situation at hand), and Dumbledore’s not allowed to tack them back on for those kids keeping evil from returning to the world for another year? It’s kind of the least he could do, seeing as they’re not likely to ask for a reward on their own.

And I maintain that making it Neville’s personal victory by giving out his points last it such an important moment in building the kid’s character. So whatever. Dumbledore wins this round.

The book does end pretty abruptly, and on a funny note. Which is so sweet until you recall that Harry’s summer does not end up going so great, at least to start.
Final Thoughts

This book goes by so quickly! And though it is entirely enjoyable, I have to say—it’s so fortunate that Rowling changed the style. If they’d all been these cute little mystery books, they’d have been too thin on the ground to demand the adoration they ended up garnering. We needed more world building, more intrigue. I’d take the most massive, messy Potter book over the short and sweet ones any day. That’s why we come back to it.

We’ll get to more of that as we get further along in the series. But for now, it was exciting to remember what grabbed me on this first outing, what made me think that I needed that next book immediately.

Before we get to Chamber of Secrets, I will be spending a post on the first movie! So we’ve got that to look forward too, and then it’s all Gilderoy all the time. (THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE TITLE OF THE BOOK.)


Emily Asher-Perrin just thinks it’s really important that Draco gets smacked down his first year by not winning the Cup. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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