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As part of the enchantments protecting the Sorcerer's Stone, anyone trying to get through the chamber of keys would have to pick the right key from hundreds of flying keys, and then capture that key while flying on a broom, in order to open the door leading on to the chess room, the next challenge.

If Quirrell had wanted to keep anyone from following him past the room of keys, why didn't he simply keep the key that opened the door to the chess room? I'm willing to bet Quirrell easily figured out that Alohomora wouldn't work to open the door to the chess room -- the key was absolutely essential to move forward in the enchantments.

Furthermore, as far as I can recollect, Quirrell didn't know he would be needing anyone to get the Sorcerer's Stone until later, once he was at the Mirror of Erised, and even then it was Voldemort who instructed Quirrell to "use the boy" to get the stone. So it's not like Quirrell, I don't believe, would have anticipated needing anyone's help in retrieving the stone.

However, Quirrell surely might have feared Snape following him and interfering with him in order to thwart Quirrell from getting the stone for Voldemort. So, knowing that Snape was trailing Quirrell and watching his every move:

Knowing all this, why didn't Quirrell keep the flying key, to prevent being caught stealing the Sorcerer's Stone?

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    Where would you put a struggling, flying key to keep it out of the way while playing chess and drinking potions? – Xantec May 4 '14 at 1:30
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    @Xantec - In my man purse! :) – Slytherincess May 4 '14 at 1:33
  • I don't remember one of those being in Quirrell's description. – Xantec May 4 '14 at 1:34
  • @Xantec - It doesn't mean he couldn't have owned one. ;P – Slytherincess May 4 '14 at 1:37
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    I don't think this is addressed in canon, but given that both the chess and the potions puzzle managed to reset themselves to "trapped" state after Quirrell passed them; why not the key? E.g. Quirrell could take the key; and after her passed, the door would close and new key would reappear, same as other traps. – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 4 '14 at 2:03
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I don’t think he had a choice; the key seems enchanted to fly away once you’ve used it:

They landed quickly and Harry ran to the door, the key struggling in his hand. He rammed it into the lock and turned – it worked. The moment the lock had clicked open, the key took flight again, looking very battered now that it had been caught twice.

Philosopher's Stone, chapter 16 (Through the Trapdoor)

Assuming that it’s enchanted to prevent summoning, stunning, or other magical means of retrieval, it’s probably also protected in such a way to stop you taking it with you. I imagine Quirrell might have kept it if it hadn’t flown away, but the longer he spends trying to steal the key, the more time somebody behind him has to catch up.

Part of it could also be arrogance on Quirrell’s part. Like you said, he probably didn’t anticipate needing anybody’s help retrieving the Stone, so perhaps he also thought that nobody else would be able to follow him. (He researched the traps thoroughly before heading down, but would he expect anybody else to do that?)

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    This passage also rebuffs the theory that Quirrell did take the key, and that the room just “reset” itself afterwards. – alexwlchan May 4 '14 at 10:11
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Regarding Alexwlchan's answer: Sorry for being a hater, but I don't think that the passage he quotes explains anything. Quirrell was a advanced wizard with advanced magic, and an even more advanced wizard on the back of his head. Harry was a eleven-year-old boy who had his friend do his homework. I think the reason the key wasn't kept was, like you said, due to arrogance, and the fact that Philosopher's Stone was the first one J.K. Rowling wrote. Not because Quirrell couldn't have overcome the enchantments -- he could have found a way, I'm sure. And, as for someone following behind him, he probably could have just hexed them or set a trap.

My answer is that Quirrell was too arrogant (sorry for borrowing from your question) and the answer wasn't flushed out.

Another answer is that he released the key because Voldemort knew that Harry was coming along and gambled that Harry would retrieve the Philosopher's Stone for him. Voldemort is a Legilimens, yet he didn't read Harry's mind before in the book.

My source isn't canon, but my source is logic -- that the way to the keys is by broom, right? So can you imagine the older teachers having to catch the key on a broom -- do they summon Madam Hooch or Professor Flitwick to catch the key or to break the charm every time someone new comes along? My reasoning is that they would be able to summon the key using something, meaning that it is not completely charm-proof, but just charm-proof enough that it stops just anyone from summoning it. I think that there must have been another way for the key to have been summoned, besides catching it using a broomstick.

As for Snape, he was probably incapacitated so that he couldn't follow Quirrell, or do anything at all. Voldemort probably told Quirrell which spells to use. Quirrell obviously wouldn't have left Snape able to try and stop him. He may have poisoned Snape, or sent him in circles or off chasing students. Possibly Quirrell had Snape off looking for Potter.

We must remember that very few people are as cunning as or powerful as Lord Voldemort -- no one could finish him off. Meaning that, if Voldemort is guiding you, and he is highly motivated, you are probably going to win.

The real problem was that Quirrell was prepared, but not for the most unlikely crew -- a small group of eleven-year-old school children.

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    Disagreeing with me doesn’t make you a “hater”. – alexwlchan Jul 12 '14 at 22:33
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    While I am going with Alexwlchan's answer, I did want to tell you that I think you brought up some thoughtful points, so I gave you an upvote. I wanted to ask, though, of what consequence do you think it had that it was JKR's first book? Do you mean you think JKR just didn't think through the magical keys well enough? :) – Slytherincess Jul 14 '14 at 22:56
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    @Slytherincess, yes I thought that the magical keys were not thought through well enough and the scenes including them didn't seem to be very detailed. I think that if it had of been another book later in the series then the skepticism of the keys would have been clearer as JKR was still finding her writing niche. Because how else would of the keys been summoned if they weren't summonable by some magic that the older professors had, I don't see any other way that the keys would have been gotten. Sorry if my logic is skewed. – Pobrecita Jul 14 '14 at 23:11
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    @iliveunderawesomerock -- I think I get what you're saying. In Potterverse, aside from Avada Kedavra and a bad Obliviate, there doesn't seem many kinds of magic that don't have more than one magical way to make the spell or enchantment work or stop working. – Slytherincess Jul 15 '14 at 5:22
  • Voldemort was extremely weak at that time and I believe could not legilimens harry at this point in time and after all he was behind his turban wasn't he – Abbas Alihussein Apr 27 '17 at 8:58
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Another piece of evidence is that probably Quirell thought nobody would attempt to come after him and also was too excited to finally get past Fluffy and just hurried away without thinking that someone might follow him.

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    This seems quite speculative to me. Do you have anything to back this up? – user58 Apr 27 '17 at 9:23

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