We know Snape has been an excellent Potions-master at Hogwarts and he has always wanted to be the DADA teacher

Which Dumbledore appoints him in HBP to make way for Sluhghorn.

Given that he is also

The Half-Blood Prince. Which was said by even Slughorn (via the copying of Harry) that his potion work is the best he's ever seen.

Would he be considered better at Defence Against the Dark Arts or Potions?


I should clarify that I mean in general, not just in his role

or roles

but also in practice.

Is he better at performing Defence Against the Dark Arts or making Potions as a whole?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Lobo, DVK-on-Ahch-To, The Fallen, HorusKol, James Sheridan Mar 7 '14 at 7:09

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    What exactly is your criterial of evaluating "betterness"? He (AFAIR) got same grades on both exams – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 6 '14 at 21:12
  • This does seem very subjective. – Valorum Mar 6 '14 at 21:19
  • @DVK Post-school; I mean present day. – Möoz Mar 7 '14 at 0:22
  • @BorhanMooz - again, how would you judge? What do you measure potion skills in? KiloPotions? What do you measure DADA skills in? Amount of Dark Wizards you kill? (Snape's count is 0:1 - he killed none and got killed by one) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 7 '14 at 0:27
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    @LegoStormtroopr It's been asked once or twice on Meta; IIRC when a work has been out long enough, what to spoilerify or not is generally left up to the OP. IMO the second one should be kept spoilerified because it's a large part of that book - and kids who were born the year HBP was released are turning 9 now. We've come full circle to the point where these could truly be spoilers to kids new to the books (they weren't around for the "__ kills __" spoiler campaign when HBP was released, for example). – Izkata Mar 7 '14 at 5:14

Snape was undoubtedly an excellent Potionsmaster -- I believe his aptitude for potions is inarguably recorded for posterity in the copy of Advanced Potions Making that Harry ultimately receives in Half-Blood Prince. The incredible nuances Snape possesses for Potions is advanced beyond the skill levels of any of his classmates that we know of, the possible exception being Lily Evans, whose Potions skills Slughorn repeatedly raves about to Harry. For example, when Harry wins the Felix Felicis in Half-Blood Prince, Slughorn says:

‘The clear winner!’ he cried to the dungeon. ‘Excellent, excellent, Harry! Good Lord, it’s clear you’ve inherited your mother’s talent, she was a dab hand at Potions, Lily was!’

Half-Blood Prince - Page 181 - Bloomsbury - chapter 9, The Half-Blood Prince

We don't exactly know if Lily was equal to or better than Snape at Potions from canon, but judging from Snape's copy of Advanced Potions Making, I'm going to err on the side of Snape being the superior student; this doesn't mean that Lily wasn't excellent at Potions too.

Throughout the series, if I recall correctly, Snape never once makes a mistake while teaching or preparing Potions.

I think Snape's skill at Defense Against the Dark Arts is very prodigious. Sirius tells Harry that Snape arrived at Hogwarts as a first year knowing more curses and dark magic than most seventh years would. As a sixth year, Snape is able to manipulate magic to create new spells -- Sectumsempra, etc. His spells are recorded in the margins of his Advanced Potions Making book. He was attracted to dark magic; that tells me (YMMV) he possesses an inherent affinity toward the dark arts. So at the very least, Snape knew the subject matter.

But he makes a few mistakes.

‘Pathetic, Weasley,’ said Snape, after a while. ‘Here – let me show you –’

[Snape] turned his wand on Harry so fast that Harry reacted instinctively; all thought of non-verbal spells forgotten he yelled, ‘Protego!’

His Shield Charm was so strong Snape was knocked off balance and hit a desk. The whole class had looked round and now watched as Snape righted himself, scowling.

Half-Blood Prince - Page 171 - Bloomsbury - chapter 9, The Half-Blood Prince

In Order of the Phoenix, Snape leaves his worst memories accessible to Harry:

[Harry's] breath was actually fogging the surface of Snape’s thoughts ... his brain seemed to be in limbo ... it would be insane to do the thing he was so strongly tempted to do ... he was trembling ... Snape could be back at any moment ... but Harry thought of Cho’s anger, of Malfoy’s jeering face, and a reckless daring seized him.

He took a great gulp of breath, and plunged his face into the surface of Snape’s thoughts.

Order of the Phoenix - Page 564 - Bloomsbury - chapter 28, Snape's Worst Memory

As well, Snape fails to teach Harry Occlumency in general.

In Half-Blood Prince, Snape is unable to access Draco's mind via Legilimency. Snape is a fully grown man and an accomplished Legilimens, while Draco Malfoy is a sixteen-year-old boy who's only received Occlumency lessons from his nutty aunt. Snape should have been able to break through Draco's thoughts.

In Deathly Hallows, as headmaster, Snape allows his Dark Arts teachers to have the students practice dark magic, including at least one Unforgivable, on their fellow students, and allows the dark arts to be actively taught to the students. As Potionsmaster, pretty much the worst thing he does is mess with Neville's mind regarding Neville's toad Trevor and forcing Neville to test his shrinking solution on Trevor (Neville of course being terrible at Potions; Trevor could have been rendered a tadpole forever!).

For these reasons, I think canon demonstrates that Snape was a better at potions than he was at DADA, both practically and as an instructor.

  • Being good at a particular skill doesn't mean you don't make mistakes. It also doesn't mean that no one can surprise you and defeat you at that task. I'd always thought that Snape being shown up by Harry (the shield, the memories) was a result of Harry's Improbable Plot Powers, not any inherent flaw of Snape's. – Jeff Mar 7 '14 at 4:51
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    Well, of course not! But what I have is canon to go by and I had to draw that proverbial line in the sand -- something had to differentiate Snape's Potions skills from his DADA skills, and canon shows Snape making more dark arts mistakes than potions mistakes. It doesn't mean Snape wasn't super prodigious at DADA and the dark arts -- it just means he was better at potions. IMO, Snape was a wizard of immense skill and I certainly wouldn't mean to imply otherwise. No one is equally skilled in all areas, even though they might show excellent grades in all subjects. :) – Slytherincess Mar 7 '14 at 12:56
  • Regardless of which he is more skilled at, he a dreadful teacher of both. Without a natural aptitude there is no chance of learning what you need to learn from Snape. – Nonsuch Ned Aug 22 '14 at 20:48
  • @NonsuchNed - I won't argue Snape's abysmal teaching style, but that really isn't the question. The question asks which Snape is better at: Defense or Potions. – Slytherincess Aug 29 '14 at 2:49
  • Even an experienced fighters can be defeated by less experienced fighter if caught by surprise. Potion making, on the other hand, does not involve a sentient opponent actively trying to resist you. It may be just the nature that it's much easier to not make mistake in potion making than in a fight. – Lie Ryan Aug 31 '14 at 14:53

His skills as a potion-maker cannot be denied, nor can his skill at combative magic. Snape is undoubtedly one of the better non-Auror wizards when it comes to knowledge and ability in curses, their counters, and the art of magical combat.

He is also one of, if not the single best, potion maker in the series.

So to answer your question: Neither, as a teacher. Snape is equally terrible at both posts for one undeniable reason: he's an awful teacher.

Simply knowing your subject is only part of the job of teaching, as Professor Binns demonstrates. Much more important is the ability to ably convey what you know to your students. You must be able to make them understand what they're doing and learning. You must be able to engage them. You must be able to adjust your materials based upon the needs of your students.

Snape tries to do this, but utterly fails. He is constantly sidelined by his personal desires for revenge upon the House of Gryffindor and Harry, son of James, in particular. He goes out of his way to favor his Slytherins and belittle the other houses (especially Gryffindor). Every student in the school knows it, and it can clearly be seen to impact his ability to teach a class.

How many students drop Potions like a bad habit as soon as they can? How many classes get sidelined by 10-minute long rants on how a particular student isn't exceptional? No good teacher would allow such things to happen with any frequency - they'd want students to love their subject and enjoy their classes. For Snape, it seems to happen at least weekly. He may have tried slightly harder in DADA, but his terrible habits couldn't be broken.

Whatever else Snape was - hero, traitor, potion maker, fighter, all of that and more - he was undeniably a horrible teacher.


To re-answer, based on your edits and clarifications:

Snape was, as I said, excellent at combat magic. He is, overall, a magical powerhouse. He's also talented. He is Occlumens enough to defeat Voldemort. He can fly without broom or thestral, yet his combat powers pale before Dumbledore or Voldemort. They were his clear superiors. Snape, possibly, could have beaten either of them if he'd had time to prepare and caught them unaware. They, however, could have defeated him without preparation or underhanded tricks. Ergo, he is clearly not the undisputed master of combat magic.

If you consider potion making, on the other hand, he is clearly the greatest brewer of potions in the series. He may not be the greatest in the world - we don't know for sure. What we do know, however, is that Voldemort was never seen to mix a potion (he instructed Wormtail in the creation of one, but may have been lying when he claimed to have invented it). Further, Voldemort never made extensive use of potions - possibly considering them beneath him or fit only for traps.

Dumbledore, however, was an alchemist of some note. He worked with Nicholas Flamel to discover uses of Dragon's Blood, after all. It's unclear if any of that skill translates to potion making, but it gives us a meter stick. Dumbledore was versatile and could do almost any magic that needed to be done. But when he needed a potion? He always turned to Snape. Clearly, Dumbledore saw Snape as the superior brewer of potions.

Therefore, by the only reasonable measure (his relative skill vs his peers) Snape was clearly better at brewing potions as opposed to combative magics (DADA).

  • If you are a Slytherin yourself, aren't all these things part of the job description? – Oldcat Mar 6 '14 at 21:47
  • I like your answer in regards to his teaching. Can you also provide some insight into his general skills as per the edit? – Möoz Mar 7 '14 at 0:27
  • Sorry, -1 since the question wasn't about teaching (OP's comment nonwithstanding) but about performing. Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach :). Also, he cultivated the brash and anty-Gryffindor image, on purpose - to those with talent, he COULD teach well. Note that Hermione wasn't any better under Slughorn than under Snape. And more people dropped CoMC than Potions, despite Hagrid being a kind and generally good teacher. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 7 '14 at 0:34
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    @DVK: You were the chosen one! You were to bring balance to the site, not leave it in darkness! I trusted you! ;-) Also, I'm about to edit my answer to reflect the edits to the question. Hopefully it'll be enough to earn me that precious 2 rep back :-D I do, however, challenge your assertion that Hagrid was a good teacher. He knew his stuff, and he cared for the students, but he didn't care for what the students were expected to learn or know. He also never respected the fact that the students could actually be put in danger by his lessons. – Jeff Mar 7 '14 at 4:35
  • @BorhanMooz: Done, sorry for the delay. – Jeff Mar 7 '14 at 4:49

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