I understand there might not be anything in the books to explain this, but I was wondering.

Slughorn repeatedly tells Harry of Lily's almost inspired abilities in Potions, while Snape, according to what he writes as the Half Blood Prince and the pure fact he went on to teach the subject pretty soon after leaving school, was clearly extremely advanced.

Considering the friendship lasted up to OWL exams, did Slughorn perhaps remember her being inspired up to that level and forget whether she perhaps fell back to relying on book smarts during NEWTs (which I think to become an Auror she must have taken)?

The description of Lily, while a great student, doesn't seem to suggest either the love, time or the pernickety dedication that Snape put into perfecting the subject, nor the unpredictability separating a student like Snape from a Hermione in terms of learning by experimentation over frequent journeys to the library.

So did Snape help her or was she just naturally talented at that as well? Or is it an impossible thing to answer using only the books as evidence? If so apologies.

We also know that Slytherin and Gryffindor students are taught together in Snape's dungeon, so it's possible, if not likely, both could have been in the same class.

  • i think we can assume lily was simply like hermione, gifted at practically everything magical. maybe with a little more ability to go beyond books then hermione had. and we know that snape spent most of his time looking into the dark arts, inventing spells, ect, i would argue that his potions abilities came naturally with no extra effort on his part.
    – Himarm
    Nov 18, 2014 at 16:18
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    during NEWTs (which I think to become an Auror she must have taken) – Where did you read that she was, or wanted to be, an Auror?
    – chirlu
    Jan 26, 2017 at 13:39

1 Answer 1


We'll never know if Snape helped Lily at Potions, but every indication is that she was gifted at Potions on her own accord. Snape and Lily had a falling out in their fifth year, after Snape loudly and publicly called her a Mudblood. That would have left Lily two years of Potions without his help, plenty of time for Slughorn's opinion of her to change.

Instead, Slughorn tells Harry that Lily was "one of the brightest I've ever taught" (Ch 4, Horace Slughorn) in his decades of teaching. I doubt he would say that if she didn't a) go on to N.E.W.T. level and b) excel at that level as well.

But it's this line that stands out:

"That's the individual spirit a real potion-maker needs!" said Slughorn happily, before Harry could reply. "Just like his mother, she had the same intuitive grasp of potion-making, it's undoubtedly from Lily he gets it..." (Ch 18, Birthday Surprises)

That fact that Lily was known for an "individual spirit" and an "intuitive grasp" of the subject points to her being naturally-gifted, rather than ably-tutored by one of her peers. Of course, Harry ISN'T naturally-gifted, but I can't see Lily pulling the same scam in the same year, and likely the same class as Snape.

  • 4
    Isn't your quote proving your assertion wrong? If Slughorn mistook cribbing from Snape's notebook for "intuitive grasp of potion-making", he clearly would have just as easily have mistaken help from the guy who wrote the notes. Nov 18, 2014 at 19:32
  • @DVK the quote does do as you say cast some doubt on lily's ability however i think his first argument that since she wouldn't have been getting snapes help in further classes, and arguably they had limited interactions before this anyway, and since we know that both lily and james were considered gifted, while harry has been considered average, id take the quote to further the assumption that lily was indeed gifted as potions.
    – Himarm
    Nov 18, 2014 at 20:46
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    another point, Slughorn is blinded when it comes to harry, he is looking for more things to tie harry to him to collect harry, slughorn would have not noticed lily at all if she had not been exceptional, because she was muggleborn, and we see that he passes over muggleborns, unless they show Extreme promise.
    – Himarm
    Nov 18, 2014 at 20:48
  • @Himarm Good point on Slughorn trying to get on Harry's good side and tie him in with his relatives. Yet it still might be the case that Harry reminds him of Lily, because they both used Snape's assistance for the higher level stuff. Also Hermione was muggleborn and had little to none of Snape's high end talent, yet Slughorn continues to be charmed by and appreciative of her.
    – luckyspurs
    Nov 21, 2014 at 18:39
  • @TenthJustice Thanks for the answer; if JK Rowling wrote Lily has an "individual spirit" and intuitive grasp" I guess that comes as close as we can get to settling it. Find myself comparing Lily to Hermione, which leads to the idea of her lacking initiative, but I suppose she's probably more Ginny like or a bit of both.
    – luckyspurs
    Nov 21, 2014 at 18:48

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