Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

by

J. K. Rowling

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the final room, Harry is surprised to come face to face not with Snape or Voldemort, but with Quirrell. Quirrell, who is no longer stuttering and nervous, explains chillingly that he was the one who tried to jinx Harry’s broom (though Hermione knocked him over, messing up his curse), and that Snape was trying to save Harry with a countercurse. Quirrell says, however, that Snape can’t prevent him from killing Harry now. He snaps his fingers, and ropes wrap tightly around Harry. Quirrell continues calmly, saying that he let the troll in on Halloween, while Snape went to the third floor to try to head him off.
Harry makes it to the Stone and doesn’t hesitate to put himself in danger, knowing that he is likely facing Snape or Voldemort, and that there is a great possibility of his being killed. But his surprise at seeing Quirrell demonstrates how his desire to prove that Snape was after the Stone had blinded him to the reality.
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Harry then realizes that the Mirror of Erised is behind Quirrell. Quirrell examines it, knowing that it must be the key to finding the Stone. In the Mirror’s reflection, he sees himself proudly presenting the Stone to Voldemort, but doesn’t know where the Stone is. Harry tries to distract him, asking about the time he heard Quirrell sobbing. Quirrell says that sometimes he is too weak to follow his master’s orders. His master has taught him that “there is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to see it.”
The philosophy that Quirrell and Voldemort espouse is the most direct argument that Rowling makes associating power and greed with evil. Even though Quirrell says that there is no such thing as evil, the fact that he is possessed by a wizard who kills anyone who stands in his way, and the fact that Harry does not believe this philosophy, demonstrates that Rowling too does not truly espouse this belief.
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Harry realizes that his deepest desire at that moment is to find the Stone before Quirrell. Thus, if he looks in the Mirror of Erised, he should see himself finding it. Meanwhile, Quirrell is also trying to figure out how to use the Mirror. He asks for help from Voldemort, and to Harry’s surprise, a voice whispers, “Use the boy.”
Even though desires can be dangerous, Rowling uses Harry’s train of thought to show that desires, when they are motivated by selflessness or the greater good, can actually be useful. This is ultimately why Harry can find the Stone and Quirrell cannot.
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Quirrell unbinds Harry and tells him to stand in front of the Mirror. When Harry sees his reflection, it smiles at him and pulls the blood-red Stone out of his pocket. When his reflection puts the Stone back, Harry can feel the real Stone drop into his pocket. But when Quirrell asks Harry what he sees, Harry hastily lies and says that he sees himself winning the House Cup for Gryffindor.
Harry’s humility and self-sacrifice, in that he doesn’t want the Stone for himself but only to prevent Quirrell from getting it, is direct in contrast with Quirrell and Voldemort’s desire and greed, as their sole interest is securing more power for themselves. The former is thus associated with goodness, while the latter are associated with evil.
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Voldemort’s voice returns, demanding to see Harry face to face. Quirrell reaches up and undoes his purple turban, then turns around. At the back of his head is Voldemort’s face, with “glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils.” Voldemort tells Harry that he has been reduced to a weak form that can only survive by sharing another’s body. Unicorn blood has strengthened him, but the Elixir of Life will allow him to create a body of his own. He demands that Harry hand over the Stone.
Voldemort’s evilness is evident not only in his appearance, but in the fact that he has taken over the body of another person (and drank the blood of something pure) in order to sustain his own life. This makes his greed parasitic, and is the opposite of Harry’s tendency to put others’ well-being over his own.
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Harry starts to move away. Voldemort tells Harry not to be a fool, or he will meet the same end as Lily and James, who died trying to save Harry from Voldemort. He warns Harry not to let their deaths be in vain, commanding him again to hand over the Stone. Harry runs, screaming, “NEVER!” but Quirrell grabs him. But when he does so, pain shoots through Harry’s scar and Quirrell lets go of him instantly, the skin on his hands burning.
Harry’s self-sacrifice is perhaps an extension of the self-sacrifice that Lily and James displayed when trying to protect their son. Thus, Harry understands that his own death would not be in vain, but that he would die in order to prevent the return of an evil wizard and the destruction of everything and everyone he loves.
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Quirrell tries to grab Harry again, but his hands continue to blister, and he howls in agony. Voldemort tells Quirrell to kill Harry, but before Quirrell can pull out his wand, Harry realizes that he must keep Quirrell in enough pain to stop him from performing a curse. He grabs Quirrell by the arm and holds tight, until Harry faints from the pain in his scar.
As Dumbledore explains later in the chapter, the sacrifice that Lily made for Harry provides him with a kind of magical shield that makes it impossible for Quirrell to touch him. Thus, love becomes a literal form of protection.
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Harry awakens in the hospital wing, with Dumbledore in front of him. Dumbledore explains calmly that Harry’s been out cold for three days, and that Quirrell does not have the Stone. Dumbledore had arrived just in time to rescue Harry, after realizing that the message from the Ministry was a ruse. He tells Harry that the Stone is going to be destroyed, because people cannot handle the possibility of gaining eternal life and infinite wealth.
The defeat of Voldemort parallels the destruction of the Stone. Both represent distillations of greed, and the vanquishing of both of them at the end of the novel reinforces the fact that humility, self-sacrifice and good will overcome power, greed, and evil.
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Harry continues, wondering what happened to Voldemort. Dumbledore says that Quirrell has died, but Harry merely delayed Voldemort’s return to power. Harry then asks why Quirrell couldn’t touch him; Dumbledore explains that the kind of love and sacrifice that Lily made in dying for Harry gives a person some protection forever. Quirrell, who is “full of hatred, greed, and ambition,” could not understand this love and “could not touch [Harry] for this reason.”
The explanation for why Quirrell couldn’t touch Harry emphasizes the true power of family and love as a form of protection. Lily’s sacrifice protected Harry not only in his first confrontation with Voldemort, but throughout his entire life—a protection that even outlives her.
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Harry then asks who left the Invisibility Cloak for him; Dumbledore reveals that it was him, and that he thought it would be useful. Harry’s asks a final question: how he got the Stone out of the Mirror. Dumbledore explains that only someone who wanted to locate the Stone, but not actually put it to use, would be able to get it. If someone wanted to use the Stone, “they’d just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life.”
The fact that Dumbledore is the one who gave Harry the Invisibility Cloak proves that he encouraged (or at least allowed) Harry to break the rules all year. Dumbledore’s explanation of how Harry acquired the Stone also emphasizes how only a person who wanted the Stone not for their own power or greed, but rather to protect it from falling into the wrong hands, could acquire it.
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After Dumbledore leaves, Ron and Hermione visit Harry, relieved to see that he’s okay. Harry explains what happened to him before asking what happened to them. Hermione explains that they were able to get back, and as soon as they dashed to the owlery they saw Dumbledore in the entrance hall, who somehow knew that Harry had gone after the Stone. Harry realizes that Dumbledore wanted to give Harry a chance, teaching him just enough to help them (the Invisibility Cloak, the information about the Mirror) rather than stopping them.
Dumbledore’s assumption that Harry had gone after the Stone demonstrates his faith that Harry would make humble and self-sacrificing choices, and as Harry realizes, his behind-the-scenes guidance had subtly led Harry to the Stone. This ultimately allowed Harry to prevail over Voldemort, and Dumbledore’s guidance becomes key to Harry’s character arc throughout the rest of the books as well.
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The next day, Harry gets one more visitor: Hagrid, who bursts into tears when he sees Harry and apologizes, saying that it’s all his fault for telling Quirrell how to get past Fluffy. Harry comforts him, saying that Voldemort would have found a way anyway. Hagrid feels better, and says that he has a present for Harry: a leather-bound book of wizard photographs, all of which are of Lily and James. Hagrid had asked all of their school friends for photos, knowing that Harry didn’t have any. Harry is speechless with gratitude.
This exchange between Harry and Hagrid is a testament to the power of friendship and love. In some ways, their dynamic has reversed, as Harry now comforts Hagrid. But at the same time, Hagrid, as he has been from the beginning of the book, serves as a conduit for the familial love that Harry did not get growing up. Hagrid gives him the gift of seeing his parents, which had been his innermost desire, but the gesture in and of itself is a powerful form of love.
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At the end-of-year feast, the Great Hall is decked out in Slytherin’s colors, silver and green, as Slytherin has the most points in the House Cup. Dumbledore arrives and begins a speech, saying that he has a few last-minute points to award before the House Cup is awarded. Dumbledore awards fifty points to Ron for the “best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years,” and fifty points to Hermione “for the cool use of logic in the face of fire.”
The points that Dumbledore awards at the feast serves as a final confirmation of the joint achievement of Harry, Ron, and Hermione in successfully battling their way to the Stone, and affirming the idea that sometimes it’s necessary to break the rules in order to do what is right.
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Dumbledore awards Harry sixty points for “pure nerve and outstanding courage.” Gryffindor students give a roaring cheer: they are now tied with Slytherin for the House Cup. Lastly, Dumbledore awards ten points to Neville for being brave enough to stand up to his friends. With this, Gryffindor wins the House Cup, and Dumbledore claps his hands to change the silver and green decorations to Gryffindor’s scarlet and gold. The students enjoy the feast, and Harry thinks it is the best evening of his life.
It is notable that Dumbledore awards points to both Harry and Neville. It is not simply that he rewards rule-breaking, but instead that he rewards students for doing what they believe in their heart is the right thing to do.
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Harry packs up his belongings with a bittersweet sense of finality. He and the other students board the Hogwarts Express and a few hours later arrive at King’s Cross station. Lots of students say goodbye to Harry, and Ron makes Harry and Hermione promise to visit him over the summer. Vernon arrives to take Harry home. Ron and Hermione say goodbye, telling Harry to have a good holiday. Harry responds that he will, saying with a smile that the Dursleys don’t know that he’s not allowed to do magic at home.
The final passages of the book emphasize the transformation that Harry’s life has undergone. In discovering magic, he has also discovered perhaps the most important things in life: a place where he belongs, and the vital bonds of friendship. These things give Harry the confidence to return to his life with the Dursleys, knowing that now, he is no longer alone, and no longer unloved.
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