Features

What Professor Quirrell taught Harry outside the classroom

Professor Quirrell may not have taught Harry much during Defence Against the Dark Arts, but he did teach him a lot about good and evil.

Quirrell's classroom
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

How dangerous was Quirrell really? Sure, he had the most dangerous wizard of all time living under his turban, but was he as evil as Barty Crouch Jr disguised as Mad Eye Moody or the treacherous Wormtail? Here, we argue that ‘p-p-poor st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell’ actually taught Harry a whole lot about good, bad, and the grey area in between.

Of course, when we first read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we all expected to find Professor Snape lurking in the dungeon, looking for the Stone. So after following Harry’s epic journey past Fluffy, the Devil’s Snare, the flying keys, the troll, the wizarding chess and the potions (phew!) the shock of finding Professor Quirrell staring into the Mirror of Erised was very real.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

How could insignificant, stuttering Professor Quirrell be the mastermind behind the plot to steal the Philosopher’s Stone? How could Quirrell be the cloaked wraith that had killed a unicorn in the Forbidden Forest and drank its blood?

Quirrell was an unexpected villain, and that was exactly the reason he made the perfect introductory nemesis for Harry – and for all of us. Professor Quirrell was once a good man who was swayed to the dark side, and it’s this struggle between allegiances that we see reflected time and time again throughout the books, with Snape, with Draco, with Dumbledore and even with Harry himself.

After all, one of the first challenges Harry faced was making the choice between Slytherin and Gryffindor as he sat beneath the Sorting Hat: choosing a house would determine the friends he made and the Hogwarts life he would lead.

‘Hmm,’ said a small voice in his ear. ‘Difficult. Very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind, either. There’s talent, oh my goodness, yes – and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that’s interesting … So where shall I put you?’
Harry gripped the edges of the stool and thought, ‘Not Slytherin, not Slytherin.’
‘Not Slytherin, eh?’ said the small voice. ‘Are you sure? You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that – no? Well, if you’re sure – better be GRYFFINDOR!’
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Bad guys don’t always look like bad guys

Let’s be honest, Professor Snape was never a ‘nice guy’. We all suspected that he was a double-crosser right from the off. Indeed, Harry’s belief that Snape was evil – and that Dumbledore shouldn’t trust the Potions master – bordered on obsessive at times. With his hook nose, lanky black hair and billowing cloak, he was just short of an evil, twirling moustache.

Which, er, he basically did have, what with the Dark Mark and all.

Quirrell teaching in his classroom with a lizard
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

But what Professor Quirrell taught us very early on was that bad guys don’t always look like bad guys. You can’t judge people based solely on their appearances – and good looks can hide true intentions. Meek and unassuming Professor Quirrell might have come across as a blundering academic, but he had actually sacrificed himself for Lord Voldemort’s plan to return to power.

‘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.’
‘What sort of magic do you teach, Professor Quirrell?’
‘D-Defence Against the D-D-Dark Arts,’ muttered Professor Quirrell, as though he’d rather not think about it. ‘N-not that you n-need it, eh, P-P-Potter?’ He laughed nervously. ‘You’ll be g-getting all your equipment, I suppose? I’ve g-got to p-pick up a new b-book on vampires, m-myself.’ He looked terrified at the very thought.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Power corrupts

So how did Quirrell end up sharing headspace with the Dark Lord? According to Hagrid, Quirrell was an adept student of Defence Against the Dark Arts until he had a run in with some vampires in the Black Forest and was never the same again.

Of course, when we encountered Professor Quirrell in front of the Mirror of Erised, we learnt that that wasn’t the case at all. While travelling, Quirrell met the incorporeal form of Voldemort... and was convinced to offer up his own body as a vessel for the Dark Lord. Quirrell explained that ‘Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it...’

Quirrell and Harry in front of the Mirror of Erised.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Voldemort didn’t force Quirrell into helping him. He didn’t make threats against his family or loved ones. He merely recognised Quirrell’s desire for power and offered him a way to get it.

What Harry learnt from Quirrell was that even seemingly good people – wizards who have shown no inclination for Dark Magic, and in fact have trained in defending against that very thing – can be corrupted by power.

‘He is with me wherever I go,’ said Quirrell quietly. ‘I met him when I travelled around the world. A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it ... Since then, I have served him faithfully, although I have let him down many times. He has had to be very hard on me.’
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Everyone has that voice in the back of their head…

Quirrell was quite literally two-faced. The good and the bad shared the same space; the meek and mild Professor Quirrell was hiding a much darker force under his turban.

Jealousy, self-pity, thwarted ambition – these malign emotions can drive people to make decisions that hurt themselves and others, and everyone has an inner voice, one that vocalises the thoughts no one would dare say aloud. But we learn to be better than that voice. To rise above it.

A full body shot of Quirrell
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Although Quirrell couldn’t fend off the dark allure of power, he did provide Harry with a lesson that guided him through the rest of his school career: there is no such thing as good and evil. We become the choices that we make.

As Dumbledore so wisely said, ‘It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’