** This node contains spoilers if you have not yet read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone or seen the movie. **
The stuttering and timid Professor Quirrell is Harry Potter's Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher during Harry's first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We first meet him when Hagrid brings Harry into the Leaky Cauldron, where he has stopped on his way to pick up a book on vampires. He is nervous and twitchy, and seems to be afraid of everything, especially vampires.
Quirrell appears to be a relatively minor character throughout much of the story, appearing briefly in scenes that take on much more meaning when all is explained at the end. His large purple turban is prominently mentioned when Harry sees him at the head table after the Sorting Ceremony, and it is Quirrell who runs into the Halloween banquet to warn of a troll in the dungeon before fainting. Hermione Granger knocks him over during the Gryffindor/Slytherin Quidditch match on her way to set fire to Professor Snape's robes. Finally, Harry overhears Snape and Quirrell talking in the Dark Forest and assumes that Snape is trying to force his timid colleague to help him steal the Sorcerer's Stone. In all these scenes, Quirrell comes across as a frightened and bumbling academic and seems only tangentially important to the story.
The truth is far more sinister, as Harry discovers when he finally makes it through the spells and traps that protect the Sorceror's Stone. There he finds not Snape, but Quirrell, trying to figure how to get the Stone from the Mirror of Erised. Quirrell is actually serving Lord Voldemort; everything else was an act. During his word travels, he met Voldemort, who taught him that "there is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it."
Quirrell had been trying to steal the Sorceror's Stone from the beginning to help Voldemort create a new body. He tried to break into Gringotts the day after Harry and Hagrid went there, a failure that enraged his master. Consequently, he is no longer ever alone; his master is always with him. He admits to letting the troll into the dungeons as a diversion, but Snape beat him to its hiding place and stopped him. Quirrell, not Snape, was the one jinxing Harry's broom during the Quidditch match; Snape was actually casting a countercurse to protect Harry.
When Quirrell finally cannot force Harry to divulge the secrets of the mirror or produce the Sorceror's Stone, he reveals his greatest secret. Underneath his turban, on the back of his head, is Lord Voldemort himself, sharing both body and soul with his servant. Voldemort orders Quirrell to seize Harry and take the stone by force, but Quirrell's hand begins blistering painfully as soon as he touches the boy's wrist. Harry, in turn, grabs at Quirrell's face and arm, hoping the searing pain can keep the professor from concentrating on a curse.
In the end, Voldemort flees, leaving Quirrell to die from the reaction to touching Harry's skin. We find out later from Professor Dumbledore that when Harry's mother died to protect him, she left a protective mark deep in his skin that made Quirrell, in his hatred, greed, and ambition, unable to bear touching him.
Interestingly, in the book, Harry does not try to shake hands with Quirrel in the pub, though he does in the movie to foreshadow their final meeting. In the movie, the scene in the pub raises the question, how does Quirrell know that touching Harry's hand would be such a bad thing? In his final scenes, Quirrell obviously has no idea why he is disintegrating wherever his flesh has come into contact with Harry's.
In the movie, Professor Quirrell is played by Ian Hart, who does an excellent job of pretending to be twitchy and terrified right up until the final confrontation.
Book and Film version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
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