In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry and Ron initially believe they will be unable to advance to N.E.W.T. level in Potions, since Snape requires an "Outstanding" O.W.L. grade and they both receive "Exceeds Expectations." It turns out that Slughorn takes Snape's former position and will accept students with an "E" grade, so they are able to take Potions after all.

However, it seems that out of the 12 students taking Slughorn's class, all of them other than Harry and Ron have the required materials, suggesting that they knew over the summer they would be taking Potions:

"Now then, now then, now then," said Slughorn, whose massive outline was quivering through the many shimmering vapors. "Scales out, everyone, and potion kits, and don't forget your copies of Advanced Potion-Making...."

"Sir?" said Harry, raising his hand.

"Harry, m'boy?"

"I haven't got a book or scales or anything—nor's Ron—we didn't realize we'd be able to do the N.E.W.T., you see—"

"Ah, yes, Professor McGonagall did mention..."

So did all of the other N.E.W.T. students receive "Outstanding" O.W.L.s? Why aren't there any other students in Harry and Ron's position?

  • 2
    Maybe it's just that no one else who got an EE wanted to take NEWT level potions? It's not that much of a stretch.
    – ibid
    Feb 5, 2017 at 6:12
  • 1
    Chances are that Snape, if he didn't hate your guts, was actually quite a good teacher. Feb 5, 2017 at 9:57

2 Answers 2



I see two possibilities here:

  • Perhaps there really were no other “Exceeds Expectations.” Given the small class size, this doesn’t seem impossible. Don’t forget, most of the other students (eight of them) were either Ravenclaws (who might be expected to do quite well academically) or Slytherins (the perpetual targets of Snape’s favoritism, and who might even be receiving a bit of help from Snape on the side). It could also be that the distribution of grades isn’t necessarily normal, and that if you know what you’re doing, you’ll probably get an Outstanding, and if not Snape will make life hard enough for you that you will end up getting Acceptable or lower.
  • It could also be that the other people who received Exceed Expectations were not interested in continuing, not having planned to take Potions, studied it over the summer, and so forth. People often don’t like to change their plans on short notice.

It might also seem that Harry and Ron might have missed out on some essential information, based on McGonagall’s surprise that Harry was not taking Potions:

“So, Potter, Potter . . .” said Professor McGonagall, consulting her notes as she turned to Harry. “Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Transfiguration . . . all fine. I must say, I was pleased with your Transfiguration mark, Potter, very pleased. Now, why haven’t you applied to continue with Potions? I thought it was your ambition to become an Auror?”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

However, I struggle to think of a mechanism by which the other EE students could have learned that Slughorn was teaching, and about his grade requirements, in time to get a textbook, while Harry and Ron were completely unaware.

  • 1
    Not entirely sure if this is clear in your answer, but Snape didn't grade the O.W.L.s.
    – ibid
    Feb 5, 2017 at 17:45
  • @ibid - Yeah, of course. They had examiners, right?
    – Adamant
    Feb 5, 2017 at 17:47
  • 2
    Unlike Harry and Ron, other people would not have wanted to become Aurors, and this could very much diminish the possibility of having anyone else. Oct 31, 2017 at 9:34
  • To further support the last paragraph, note that Harry and Ron knew about Slughorn being hired before any other students (except Hermione and Ginny), thanks to Harry being part of the actual recruiting trip.
    – Rand al'Thor
    May 9, 2020 at 11:45

I suspect that Slughorn made the decision to accept student with lower grades just to get Harry as his student. He probably made the decision just after he was hired, which I believe was close to the start of the semester.

  • 2
    Do you have any evidence for this you could edit in?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    May 9, 2020 at 9:37

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