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Canon discussion / Essays

Quirrell’s Leave of Absence


When exactly did Professor Quirrell’s year-long trip around the world take place? The popular fan assumption is that it immediately preceded the year of Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone.

I do not think this is correct.

In PS5, after Harry meets Quirrell while buying his school supplies and asks if he is always that nervous, Hagrid says:

“Oh, yeah. Poor bloke. Brilliant mind. He was fine while he was studyin’ outta books but then he took a year off ter get some first-hand experience.. They say he met vampires in the Black Forest, and there was a nasty bit o’ trouble with a hag—never been the same since. Scared of the students, scared of his own subject—”

Okay. Now, if I was judging purely from that statement alone, I’d guess that the year of PS/SS was at least Quirrell’s fourth year at Hogwarts. Here is my reasoning for that.

  1. Quirrell was fine when studying out of books. That would be year one, though there might have been more than one year of Quirrell being “fine”, there’s no way of telling.
  2. Quirrell took a year off. That would be year two, when he picked up Voldemort.
  3. Hagrid says he hasn’t been the same since—scared of the students, scared of his own subject. That would be year three, the year before Harry came to Hogwarts. This also might have been a period of more than one year, we can’t know.
  4. And PS/SS would be Quirrell’s fourth year.

Evidence throughout PS/SS would also seem to support this conclusion. There’s no “Welcome Back, Professor Quirrell,” speech from Dumbledore at the start-of-term feast, for instance (PS7), as you would expect had Quirrell been absent the previous year. When Percy tells Harry about Snape (PS7), he says Snape is after “Quirrell’s job,” not “The Defence Against the Dark Arts job,” which to me would seem more natural had someone else been in the job the year before.

During his speech in PS17, Quirrell says, “I met him when I traveled around the world. A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was…Since then, I have served him faithfully, although I have let him down many times.”

No mention of “last year.” Indeed, Quirrell’s speech sounds to me as though he is talking about a period of time far greater than a year. “A foolish young man I was then…”? Granted, he’s still a young man, but he has this air of reminiscing that shouts out to me, “A long period of time has passed since these events occurred!”

Hagrid’s speech remains the most telling to me. In it he says Quirrell is scared of the students and of his own subject. BUT, if it had truly been the previous year Quirrell had taken off, then Quirrell must have just gotten back that summer! When would he have had time to see any students, or teach his subject?

Also, if Quirrell had just returned from the trip around the world, I’d expect Hagrid to not be so …lighthearted… when discussing Quirrell’s fears. Read Hagrid’s speech again. He doesn’t say anything like, “Poor bloke. He just came back from his trip a month ago and he’s been trembling ever since. Hopefully he’ll snap out of it in time to teach this year.”

No, for Hagrid the fearfulness and stuttering seem an accepted part of Quirrell’s personality, not a recent change in it. When Harry asks if Quirrell is always that way, Hagrid replies without hesitation, “Oh yeah.”

And then there’s the gossip factor. “They say he met vampires…” (PS5). “They say” usually means “everyone says”, but put in such a way so as to give it the status of legend. Think your favorite old scary ghost story: “They say no one’s ever spent the night in that house and come out alive…”. But if Quirrell’s just returned from Albania, when has the gossip on him ever had time to reach legendary status?

Back at Hogwarts, “everyone” says the smell of garlic in Quirrell’s classroom is to ward off vampires (PS8), but only the twins are commenting on the turban (PS8), which would be the new factor if this timeline is correct. My guess is that had “Quirrellmort” lasted another year, “everyone” would have then accepted the twins’ explanation and would also be saying that the turban was stuffed with garlic.

In short, nothing in PS/SS rules out the conclusion that Quirrell’s world trip did NOT happen the year before Harry came to Hogwarts.

So where do we get the idea that it did? From one place and one place only: Voldemort’s speech in GF33:

“Then… four years ago… the means for my return seemed assured.”

But what “means” is Voldemort really talking about here? He mentions both Professor Quirrell and the Philosopher’s Stone. Is he speaking of finding Quirrell, or of stealing the Philosopher’s Stone?

Later Voldemort says, “But my plan failed. I did not manage to steal the Philosopher’s Stone. I was not to be assured immortal life.”

This indicates to me that the means for his return was meant to be the Stone, not Quirrell. So the GF evidence does not in fact contradict the evidence in PS/SS.

Also during the speech Voldemort says “…and after a while, I took possession of his body, to supervise him more closely as he carried out my orders.”

How long is “after a while” for Voldemort? We know that the possession took place immediately following the unsuccessful attempt to steal the Stone from Gringotts. Had Quirrell picked up Voldemort the year immediately preceding PS/SS, “after a while” would have had to have been a matter of mere weeks. Would that be enough time for Quirrell and Voldemort to return to Britain, locate the stone, and plan how to break into Gringotts? I think not.


Pensieve (Comments)

  • Rachel Elliott

    The only problem of assuming Quirrell had been teaching Defense before that year is that the defense position is hexed so only can be held for one year or less in many situation through out the books.

    • Probably, Rowling wrote the character of Quirrell without thinking through the timeline and also before she settled on the idea that the post was cursed such that no teacher could take that position for more than one year. Yes, there is talk that the post is cursed but it isn’t until later in the series that the one-year limit is clearly stated. Anyway, when asked about this discrepency, Rowling said that Quirrell was the Muggle Studies teacher until Harry’s first year when he because Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Tags: timelines