Quirrell: Alive or Dead?
An original editorial by Greg Graydon
I have just re-read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I had also viewed the film and was in the mood to see what was in the book that was missed in the film and how the differences were matched. I noticed something quite interesting towards the end of the book.
Professor Quirrell does not die... Of course in the film, after Harry touches his face, he is petrified and disintegrates into a pile of dust. Pretty dead really. In the book, however, Quirrell's skin blisters and he cries out in pain, someone calls Harry's name, Quirrell's arm is wrenched away and then Harry passes out.
When Harry wakes up in the hospital ward, Dumbledore tells him that Voldemort left him (Quirrell) to die. But he does not say that Quirrell died--just that Voldemort had left him. I cannot imagine Dumbledore allowing anyone--no matter how foul--to just die in front of him if he could possibly help it. Also, as we learn later on in GoF, Quirrell was not an eager volunteer for possession; he was just that-possessed:
Then four years ago ... the means for my return seemed assured. A wizard - young, foolish and gullible - wandered across my path in the forest I had made my home... he was easy to bend to my will ... I took possession of his body... The servant died when I left his body...
Or so Voldemort thinks. After all, he left him to die so he assumes that he did die...
Once Voldemort had left him to die, then he would have been possessed no more. Even more reason for Dumbledore to attempt to save a once faithful and possibly redeemable Hogwarts teacher.
In OotP, George says in response to a comment about the new dark arts teacher, "Not surprising, is it, when you look at what's happened to the last four?" To which Harry responds, "One sacked, one dead, one's memory removed and one locked in a trunk for nine months." As far as Harry knows, Quirrell is dead, hence the comment. As pointed out however, what Harry believes to be true is not necessarily the case. (And, in fact, demonstrably not the case when it came to the abduction of Sirius in OotP or the hostages in the second task in GoF being gone forever after an hour.)
So what has happened to Quirrell? St. Mungo's perhaps?
Reading Order of the Phoenix, the visit by Harry to St. Mungo's to visit Mr. Weasley reveals that St. Mungo's caters to at least five levels of magical accident: Artefact Accidents, Creature-Induced Injuries, Magical Bugs, Potion and Plant Poisoning and Spell Damage. I am not sure whether possession would count as a creature-induced injury or spell damage; however, Professor Quirrell could be in a ward in any one of these departments. He could even be one of the brains in tanks at the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries.
Apart from Ginny Weasley who was possessed by a memory, Quirrell is the only other major character explicitly mentioned in the books (debatably excluding Harry) who has been possessed by the Dark Lord. What knowledge of Voldemort and his quirks and weaknesses could Quirrell reveal? The source of his power to remain alive after receiving injuries that should have killed him, perhaps, but who knows?
If not for the movie's outcome, the end result for Quirrell could have been a far from expected one. And perhaps it would have been. A case of short-term movie script writer's license overcoming long term plot requirements perhaps. A shame if it was that way, because Quirrell could have provided a wealth of intrigue later on.