The idea of a Philosopher’s Stone has been around for a very long time. In fact, it was once believed to exist and was thought to have been created by the real Nicolas Flamel. The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone of the Harry Potter story is similar to the one of legend. Both can change metal into gold, both produce the Elixir of Life (which makes you immortal) and both were said to be created by Flamel.
It was the Elixir of Life that drove Voldemort’s desire for the Stone. At that moment in time, he was in a state between life and death. He had no physical form and only had one when sharing the body of another – like he did with Professor Quirrell. Voldemort had been existing as ‘Mere shadow and vapour’ (as he put it) since the night he murdered Lily and James Potter and had attempted to kill Harry.
When Lily Potter sacrificed her life to save her son, the love she demonstrated protected Harry. So, when Voldemort turned his wand on him, instead of Harry dying, it broke Voldemort apart (and this was when Harry ended up getting his famous lightning bolt scar). It was also this love and protection that meant Quirrell was unable to touch Harry. It would be agony for someone like Quirrell, who was full of hatred and was sharing a soul with Voldemort, to touch someone who had been marked by something so good.
Voldemort’s desire to beat death and become immortal was also why he and Quirrell ended up slaying innocent unicorns. Drinking the blood of a unicorn would keep someone alive – even if they were an inch from death. However, it is considered an act of evil to kill something so pure. As a result, from the moment the blood touched someone’s lips, they would be condemned to live a cursed life.
Yet, the unicorn blood did restore some of Voldemort’s strength. If he had also been able to get his hands on the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, this combination would have been enough for him to create a body of his own and he would no longer need to share. While Voldemort was thwarted by three eleven-year-olds, he did not die at the end of the book because something that isn’t fully alive cannot be killed.
Overall, Voldemort was desperate to get his hands on the Stone to restore his body, his power and to try to find a way to beat death. While he was unsuccessful this time, you can be sure that this wasn’t the last time he hunted for a way to extend his life...
Explore more themes around the ending of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone here.
Illustration by Mary GrandPré © Scholastic