In the beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry meets Professor Quirrell in The Leaky Cauldron for the first time, and the two shake hands with no problem:

A pale young man made his way forward, very nervously. One of his eyes was twitching.

‘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.’

Philosopher's Stone - page 55 - Bloomsbury - chapter 5, Diagon Alley

And, as we know, by the end of Philosopher's Stone, Harry's touch is enough to kill Quirrell.

Quirrell raised his hand to perform a deadly curse, but Harry, by instinct, reached up and grabbed Quirrell’s face –


Quirrell rolled off him, his face blistering too, and then Harry knew: Quirrell couldn’t touch his bare skin, not without suffering terrible pain – his only chance was to keep hold of Quirrell, keep him in enough pain to stop him doing a curse.

Philosopher's Stone - pages 213-214 - Bloomsbury - chapter 17, The Man with Two Faces

Why could Quirrell touch Harry at the beginning of Philosopher's Stone without pain, but by the end of the story Harry's touch was lethal to Quirrell? Had Voldemort not taken possession of Quirrell's body by the time of Quirrell and Harry's meeting at The Leaky Cauldron?

  • 11
    I can't help but notice that you use Philisopher's Stone at one point and Sorceror's Stone at another. Both are correct of course ;) but still...
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 6:40
  • @MrLister - "But still" what? I'm unclear, as both are correct. :) Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 22:10
  • 1
    @Slytherincess - "But still" means that while both are correct, you are in fact referencing two different editions of the book. It was published in Britain in 1997 under the Philosopher's stone, and in the US a year later under Sorcerer's stone. There may or may not be differences, but you should at least keep all references the same.
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 22:08
  • 1
    @JohnP - A good point. I'll fix it. I usually reference the British editions of the books, and it's true there are some differences between the British and American editions. :) Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 18:47
  • 3
    Movie didn't display anything like that Quirrell avoided hand shake with Harry since start...
    – user931
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 5:05

4 Answers 4


Quirrell was not yet possessed by Voldemort at the time when he shook Harry's hand in the Leaky Cauldron.

Quirrell spent the 1991-1992 school year – Harry’s first at Hogwarts – working on an attempt to steal the Philosopher’s Stone, and thus bring Voldemort back to life. His first attempt to steal it, from Gringotts, was thwarted when Hagrid took it from the vault first (PS8) and it was after this that Voldemort decided to possess him (PS17). As Voldemort’s face was sticking out the back of his head, Quirrell had to wear a purple turban the entire school year to hide him (PS7).

-- from the HP Lexicon

Harry met Quirrell on his birthday, before the break in:

"...that Gringotts break-in happened on my birthday!"

Quirrell tells Harry about his failure to steal the stone, and that that was when Voldemort decided to keep a closer watch:

"He does not forgive mistakes easily. When I failed to steal the stone from Gringotts, he was most displeased. He punished me... decided he would have to keep a closer watch on me...."

  • 13
    +1. Small nitpick: he wore the turban before the possession, according to Pottermore. I believe he found it during the period of world travel during which he also found Voldemort hiding in Albania. Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 16:52
  • 3
    And also Quirrell hadn't drunk unicorn's blood yet.
    – Malcolm
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 21:46
  • 1
    "Unicorn blood has strengthened me, these past weeks...you saw faithful Quirrell drinking it for me in the forest..." Although the quote from Dumbledore is "to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason." That would seem to preclude the shaking of hands, unless you believe that the unicorn blood strengthened Voldy enough to be felt by Quirrell.
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 22:12
  • 5
    @Randal'Thor You mean you thought that that ‘that that’ that wasn't a typo was? ;-) Commented May 20, 2016 at 7:26
  • 4
    That's a really good point but maybe much more simply Quirrel wasn't trying to harm Harry. I mean his mother's protection is supposed to protect him from those who would harm him, not from handshakes...
    – Cartolin
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 13:46

In my opinion, there are four possible answers:

  1. When he was giving a handshake, he wasn't trying to hurt Harry, so Harry's protection didn't try to save him. It possibly only protects him when he is being harmed.

  2. Quirrell hadn't tried to rob the bank yet (he robbed it after Harry's visit) and Voldemort doesn't have his face on the back of Quirrell's head yet. Perhaps it was Voldemort's presence that made Harry's protection help him.

  3. It only works when the attacker has evil thoughts or plans to do evil things to Harry.

  4. Quirrell had killed a unicorn and drank its blood which gave him cursed life.


Quirrell specifically said that Voldemort did not possess him until he failed to steal the Stone. "'When I failed to steal the stone from Gringotts, he was most displeased. He punished me... decided he would have to keep a closer watch on me....'" -Sorcerer's Stone, chapter 17

This is also evidenced by the fact that Harry didn't see Quirrell wear a turban until the first night of school: "He [Quirrell] was looking very peculiar in a large purple turban." -Stone, chapter 7.

So Quirrell could touch Harry because, although evil, he was not yet "'full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort,'" as Dumbledore said. (-Stone, chapter 17)

  • So the movie got it wrong that Quirrell was wearing a turban already in the Leaky Cauldron! That's a fun bit of trivia. Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 4:48

Well... wasn't Lily's love protecting Harry? Harry didn't need protecting from a handshake at the beginning of the book, but as soon as Quirrell's intentions were malicious, the defense kicked in. Simple as that.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.