Lily & Harry

The relationship through which we most come to know Lily is her relationship to her son Harry. For the first four books of the series, she is all but defined by her role as a mother, her love for her son, and her decision to sacrifice her life in the hopes of saving his. 

The connection between Harry and Lily is often emphasized by characters’ frequent reference to the fact that Harry has inherited Lily’s eyes. But Lily’s presence in Harry’s life is not limited to the physical features he inherited from her. The primary tenet of their relationship is the fact that Lily died in order to save Harry. As the younger Lily offered herself as a substitute for Snape when others scapegoated him, here she does the same for Harry. The difference, though, is that while the scapegoating of Snape did not entail physical death, the scapegoating of Harry does. Lily’s death at the hands of Voldemort is her final, culminating act of maternal compassion. 

Lily’s innocence at the time of her death, the fact that she would have survived had she allowed her son to be killed, is reiterated by Voldemort, starting in Sorcerer’s Stone, when he tells Harry, “. . . but your mother needn’t have died . . . she was trying to protect you . . . “(SS 294). Unlike James, who had been marked for death along with Harry, Voldemort had agreed to spare Lily. This much is made clear in Deathly Hallows when Voldemort approaches Lily, thinking, “as long as she was sensible, she, at least, had nothing to fear…” (DH, 344). When Lily steps between Voldemort and Harry, then, she takes on Harry’s assumed guilt and accepts the punishment for it. She even acknowledges this directly, as she pleads, “Not Harry, please no take me, kill me instead–“ (DH 344). 

We get an explicit example of Lily using her body as a shield for her son in the moments leading to her death:

“At the sight of him, she dropped her son into the crib behind her and threw her arms wide, as if this would help, as if in shielding him from sight she hoped to be chosen instead” (DH 344).

Moreover, the shield Lily offers Harry transcends her death, and Lily’s final effort to save her son results in the lingering protection that would go on to save Harry countless times against Voldemort. This protection, while not felt physically, has a presence throughout the whole of the series, from the moment Harry first learns of it at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone. He asks Dumbledore why Voldemort could not touch him and Dumbledore replies: 

“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s love for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign . . . to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good” (SS 299).

For Harry, Lily is not only a parent but also a continuing example of maternal compassion and its power. She becomes a model which he comes to consciously imitate as he grows throughout the series; it is through her that he understands the potency of compassion and mercy and learns to extend them towards others himself.


Lily & Snape

Lily’s friendship with Severus Snape is the earliest example of her compassion and role as an integrator. She accepts the offered friendship from Snape despite Snape’s appearance, his family’s reputation, and her sister Petunia’s derision. Moreover, she continues to maintain the friendship at Hogwarts when they are in two different houses and it becomes apparent they keep very different company. 

“‘. . .thought we were supposed to be friends?’ Snape was saying. ‘Best friends?’

‘We are, Sev, but I don’t like some of the people you’re hanging round with!'” (DH 673).

More than an integrator, though, Lily repeatedly offers herself as a victim in place of Severus, refusing to join in with his tormentors. As a friend Lily exhibits this ‘maternal compassion,’ substituting herself for Severus Snape when he is being scapegoated by others. We see this happen first when Petunia accuses Lily and Snape of snooping through her things and reading the letter Professor Dumbledore had sent her. 

“‘No — not sneaking –‘ Now Lily was on the defensive. ‘Severus saw the envelope, and he couldn’t believe a Muggle could have contacted Hogwarts, that’s all!'” (DH 670).

We see it again when James and Sirius begin to harass Snape on the Hogwarts Express, before they had all even been sorted.

“Lily sat up, rather flushed, and looked from James to Sirius in dislike.

‘Come on, Severus, let’s find another compartment.’

‘Oooooo. . .’

James and Sirius imitated her lofty voice; James tried to trip Snape as he passed” (DH 672).

And we see it again in Snape’s Worst Memory when Lily comes to Snape’s aid.

In many ways, Lily’s relationship with Snape foreshadows her relationship with Harry as she proves from a young age a willingness not only to resist scapegoating and mob violence but also to substitute herself in place of the victim. It also shows that she very much subscribes to the idea of absolute innocence that victims are not innocent because of what they have or have not done, but are innocent simply because they are people (what Ann Astell calls absolute innocence). While Snape is, in many ways, a sympathetic character, it cannot be denied that dating back to his school days, his offenses were numerous and well-known to others. Sirius tells Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Goblet of Fire:

“Snape knew more curses when he arrived at school than half the kids in seventh year, and he was part of a gang of Slytherins who nearly-all turned out to be Death Eaters” (GoF 531).

According to Sirius, Snape was not popular at school, but instead was “just this little oddball who was up to his eyes in the Dark Arts” (OotP 670). With this in mind, Lily’s continued friendship with and defense of Snape is even more extraordinary. More than just risking her own social standing by associating with him, Lily also refuses to scapegoat Snape because of his actions. As far as readers know, Lily was the only person in Snape’s adolescence to show him this compassion, to assume his innocence and to offer themselves as a substitute for his persecution. She extends toward him mercy, only revoking it when he turns away from her in favor of the values espoused by Voldemort’s regime.

Lily’s motive for breaking off the friendship is critical. She admits when telling Snape to leave that “none of my friends can understand why I even talk to you” (DH 675) but this is not the reason she is ending the friendship. She breaks it off because of his commitment to Voldemort’s agenda.

“‘No — listen, I didn’t mean –‘

‘– to call me Mudblood? But you call everyone of my birth Mudblood, Severus. Why should I be any different?” (DH 676).

Lily breaks off the friendship because Snape has, in a sense, chosen to join the community violence and scapegoat her. While later he does learn to assume her innocence, at the time of this memory he does not. He does not extend toward her the assumption of absolute innocence she previously extended to him, and he does not offer himself as substitute for her persecution.


Lily & James

We know curiously little about James and Lily’s relationship, and this shortage of information makes what we do know all the more interesting. It is in her early relationship with James that Lily comes closest to engaging in a mimetic rivalry. 

From their first meeting on the Hogwarts Express, we see Lily step in and take Snape’s place as victim before James and Sirius.

“Lily sat up, rather flushed, and looked from James to Sirius in dislike.

‘Come on, Severus, let’s find another compartment.’

‘Oooooo. . .’

James and Sirius imitated her lofty voice; James tried to trip Snape as he passed” (DH 672).

Lily inserts herself into the antagonistic relationship here. She substitutes herself for Snape and takes up some of his assumed guilt and persecution. She does the same thing again in Snape’s Worst Memory while also pointing toward her belief in his innocence.

“‘Leave him alone! What’s he done to you?’

‘It’s more the fact that he exists if you know what I mean,’ said James” (OotP 647).

Lily again comes to the defense of a person being scapegoated and refuses to take part in the violence. However, in Snape’s Worst Memory we see the only instance in which she joins Snape in his scapegoating of another. She attacks James verbally, turning his accusations of Snape back on him: 

“Apologize to Evans!” James roared at Snape, his wand pointed threateningly at him.

“I don’t want you to make him apologize,” Lily shouted, rounding on James. “You’re as bad as he is. . . .”

“What?” yelped James. “I’d NEVER call you a — a you-know-what!”

“Messing up your hair because you think it looks cool to look like you’ve just got off your broomstick, showing off with that stupid Snitch, walking down corridors and hexing anyone who annoys you just because you can — I’m surprised your broomstick can get off the ground with that fat head on it. You make me SICK” (OotP 648). 

While Lily’s intentions are to defend her friend, she in turn descends to scapegoating James in Snape’s stead and so contributes to the violence. This instance of rivalry does not invalidate Lily’s position as a model of compassion and resistor of rivalry though. Her rivalry with James does not escalate to the point of violence after Snape’s Worst Memory. Instead, they somehow extricate themselves from their antagonistic relationship.

The reader is not privy to the process of Lily removing herself from the rivalry (though there are thousands of works of fan fiction which attempt to portray exactly that) but we see the final result:

“He stopped on a picture of his parents’ wedding day. There was his father waving up at him, beaming, the untidy black hair Harry had inherited standing up in all directions. There was his mother, alight with happiness, arm in arm with his dad” (PoA 212).

What exactly changed in the relationship between James and Lily, we can only speculate. But Sirius and Lupin, when prompted by Harry, do give some insight. It was not Lily who needed to changed and grow in order for the antagonistic rivalry to turn into a romantic relationship, but James.

“How come she married him?” Harry asked miserably. “She hated him!”

“Nah, she didn’t,” said Sirius.

“She started going out with him in seventh year,” said Lupin.

“Once James had deflated his head a bit,” said Sirius.

“And stopped hexing people just for the fun of it,” said Lupin” (OotP 671). 

We do not have the details of James’s transformation and so cannot say whether or not Lily was a catalyst for it. But the reader can see from this transformation and its result that Lily was able, eventually, to extricate herself from the rivalry and to show a capacity for forgiveness and mercy to the extent that she embarked on a romantic relationship with the boy she used to despise. And so her relationship with James, the singular example of Lily succumbing to rivalry and scapegoating, works to illuminate her capacity for mercy and compassion. It suggests that Lily was not somehow immune to the temptations of mimesis and rivalry, but that she resisted that temptation or, when she did succumb, was able to remove herself from it.

Lily & Sirius

Lily’s friendship with Sirius remains rather opaque in the books. Rowling focuses much more heavily on Sirius’s close friendship with James, but it is often implied that he and Lily also shared a friendship that was not one of convenience or reliant on her marriage to James, but a personal relationship valued by both. Harry, at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, points to the fact that Sirius was not only his father’s best friend but his mother’s as well when he describes Sirius to Uncle Vernon as “my mum and dad’s best friend” (PoA 435). 

That Sirius was actually Lily’s best friend at the time of her death seems dubious, but not wholly implausible. We know little of Lily’s friendships at Hogwarts other than that with Snape. It is clear that she was not an outcast or a loner; she is described as popular and charming and mentioned to be sitting with a group of girls by the lake in Snape’s Worst Memory.  Yet these friends are never named and Rowling does not offer a closer look at these friendships. Likewise, nothing is said of any relationships Lily may have maintained after graduation, outside of her marriage to James and implied friendship with Sirius, Remus, and Peter. Other women around Lily’s age such as Mary MacDonald and Marlene McKinnon are mentioned, and fan-created works have often attempted to elucidate the dynamics between these women, but in Rowling’s text it is not made clear whether these women were close friends of Lily’s or merely acquaintances whose fates affected her as a compassionate bystander.

Even without knowing how Lily’s friendship with Sirius compared to her relationships with other classmates and members of the Order of the Phoenix, though, it is clear that the friendship became central. As far as readers know, Sirius was Lily’s closest friend aside from James and Snape.

Interestingly enough, their relationship starts with Sirius making an offer of integration and acceptance, and Lily refusing it:

“Harry saw Sirius move up the bench to make room for her. She took one look at him, seemed to recognize him from the train, folded her arms, and firmly turned her back on him” (DH 672)

This refusal to integrate, out of character as it seems for Lily, stems not from an Othering of Sirius, but from her previous defense of Snape when James and Sirius harassed him on the train. In that instance, when Lily stepped in and offered herself as a target, she took on the role of the victim and thus took on Sirius as an adversary.

Yet by fifth year she seems to have risen above such an antagonistic relationship with Sirius. In Snape’s Worst Memory, while Lily engages in verbal battle with James, she and Sirius do not interact. Both Sirius and James attack Snape, and while Lily’s castigation and threat of retaliation seem directed at both, she only directly engages with James.

“‘LEAVE HIM ALONE!’ Lily shouted. She had her own wand out now. James and Sirius eyed it warily.

‘Ah, Evans, don’t make me hex you,’ said James earnestly.

‘Take the curse off him, then!'” (OotP 648)

Lily does not directly give Sirius so much as a look. What is more, when she leaves, after telling James he was just as bad as Snape, Sirius does not play into James’s furious question of “What is it with her?” (OotP 649) by criticizing or diminishing Lily’s judgment or faculties. Instead, he reiterates her critique of James, saying, “Reading between the lines, I’d say she thinks you’re a bit conceited, mate” (OotP 649).

The relationship between Sirius and Lily at this point, while not a friendship, has firmly left the realm of rivalry; they appear indifferent toward one another in a positive way, refusing to engage in a verbal or physical duel or to disrespect one another even when called upon to do so by friends.

As the reader discovers in Deathly Hallows, just a few years later the two were close enough for Lily to write to Sirius while she and James were in hiding. The letter, it should be noted, was not written jointly by Lily and James, but by Lily herself specifically to Sirius; it is proof that between the two existed a bond. The depth of this friendship can be found in the fact she addresses the letter with Sirius’s nickname Padfoot (DH 180) and that it does not carry urgent news or a simple polite thank you for Harry’s birthday present, but goes on to detail the banalities of life in hiding and extraordinary information regarding Dumbledore gleaned from Bathilda Bagshot. What is more, the letter shows that Lily and Sirius resist a mimetic rivalry that could easily erupt, with each vying for the attention of James. In her letter, Lily easily suggests that Sirius come and visit as James has been “getting a bit frustrated shut up here” (DH 180) without any apparent envy or resentment of Sirius’s friendship with her husband. In fact, that dynamic is never mentioned to have entered into their friendship.

In Lily and Sirius’s friendship we find an example of the integration of a third; Lily integrates Sirius into her friendship with James, as shown by her letter, and Sirius integrates her into his as well. This much is made clear at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban. As Sirius reveals that it was Peter Pettigrew, not himself, who betrayed the Potters, he consistently refers to “Lily and James,” when discussing his grief, his guilt, and his loss. It suggests that not only was their friendship a triadic one like Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s, but that his connection to Lily ran as deep as his with James. Sirius says during this scene:

“I never betrayed James and Lily. I would have died before I betrayed them” (PoA 372, emphasis mine).

In this particular friendship, we find an example of integration, with Lily acting as both integrator and integrated. She is shown to somehow resist the early rivalry with Sirius that she enters because of Snape, and later she is shown to resist the potential envy and rivalry that could accompany a friendship with her husband’s best friend.

Lily & Lupin

In the one snippet where readers see firsthand Lily’s treatment of Remus Lupin, before she even begins dating James, the depth of her mercy and compassion for others becomes quickly apparent. Once again she refuses to join or condone Snape’s scapegoating of others. 

“‘There’s something weird about that Lupin. Where does he keep going?’
‘He’s ill,’ said Lily. ‘They say he’s ill–‘

‘Every  month at the full moon?’ said Snape.

‘I know your theory,’ said Lily, and she sounded cold. ‘Why are you so obsessed with them anyway? Why do you care what they’re doing at night?'” (DH, 673-4)

At this point, Snape already knows of Lupin’s lycanthropy. Lily alludes to James Potter saving his life at the Whomping Willow, an episode which readers know from Prisoner of Azkaban was a result of Sirius playing a prank and Snape subsequently catching sight of Remus transformed into a werewolf. Readers also know from previous books that werewolves are frequently scapegoated within the wizarding community. At the end of the third novel, Lupin is forced to resign after Snape tells students of his condition. Lupin explains to an indignant Harry how deeply this scapegoating runs and even begins to believe the accusations of the mob:

“This time tomorrow, the owls wills start arriving from parents. . . .They will not want a werewolf teaching their children, Harry. And after last night, I see their point. I could have bitten any of you. . . .That must never happen again” (PoA 423).

With this in mind, Lily’s refusal to even entertain Snape’s theory (which readers know is more than just a theory), and therefore a refusal to join in the scapegoating of classmate to whom she has no explicit connection, is notable. Once again she meets the temptation of conflict and violence with mercy and compassion.

Lily & Petunia

Perhaps one of the most important yet least understood relationships of the series is that between sisters Lily and Petunia Evans. The relationship between the two is fraught, that much is made explicit to the reader within the first pages of the first novel:

“Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley’s sister, but they hadn’t met for several years; in fact, Mrs. Dursley pretended she didn’t have a sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing husband were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be” (SS 2).

The otherness of the Potters from the point of view of the Dursleys is emphasized again when Hagrid tells Harry he is a wizard.

“‘Knew!’ shrieked Aunt Petunia suddenly. “Knew! Of course we knew! How could you not be, my dratted sister being what she was? Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that — that school — and came home every vacation with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was — a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!” (SS 53)

Petunia defines the key difference between herself and the Other as having magical abilities. Lily, as a witch, is irreversibly Other in the eyes of her sister; Harry, also having these powers, is too. In this scene it becomes clear to the reader that Petunia’s treatment of Harry, the refusal of the Dursleys to fully integrate their nephew into their family and their home, stems from this stubborn sense of Otherness.

Petunia goes on to scapegoat her sister, setting her up as the reason for her misfortune (of having to raise Harry) and even going as far as to imply that she was ultimately to blame for her own death.

“Then she met that Potter at school and they left and got married and had you, and of course I knew you’d be just the same, just as strange, just as — as — abnormal — and then, if you please, she went and got herself blown up and we got landed with you!” (SS 53).

With these initial glimpses into the relationship between the two sisters, both Harry and the reader are encouraged to believe that a rivalry existed between them. Rowling does not offer any more substantial insight until the very end of Deathly Hallows, when Harry enters Snape’s childhood memories. Though these memories primarily focus on Lily’s relationship with Snape, they augment the understanding of her relationship with her sister.  For the reader finds that while there may have been a rivalry, Lily refused to engage in it. From the beginning, Lily does not engage in nor condone Snape’s casual disregard of Petunia.

“‘Haven’t been spying,’ said Snape, hot and uncomfortable and dirty-haired in the bright sunlight. ‘Wouldn’t spy on you, anyway,’ he added spitefully, ‘you’re a Muggle.’  

Though Petunia evidently did not understand the word, she could hardly mistake the tone.

‘Lily, come on, we’re leaving!’ she said shrilly. Lily obeyed her sister at once, glaring at Snape as she left.” (DH, 665)

Lily even goes so far as to attempt to integrate Petunia into her new world, despite the fact that Petunia has no magical powers.

“Maybe once I’m there–no, listen, Tuney! Maybe once I’m there, I’ll be able to go to Professor Dumbledore and persuade him to change his mind! (DH, 669)

Petunia meets her sister’s attempts of integration with animosity.

“– you think I want to be a — a freak?”

Lily’s eyes filled with tears as Petunia succeeded in tugging her hand away.

“I’m not a freak,” said Lily. “That’s a horrible thing to say.” (DH 669)

Even after this, though, Lily does not escalate the rivalry. When Snape finds her on the train, she still refuses to engage in his scapegoating of Petunia based on her lack of magical powers.

“Tuney h-hates me. Because we saw that letter from Dumbledore.”

“So what?”

She threw him a look of deep dislike.

“So she’s my sister!” (DH, 670-1)

Lily refuses to engage in rivalry with her sister; she does not scapegoat Petunia, as Petunia later does to her, despite the opportunities to do so. Lily is never shown seeking vengeance for her sister’s spite. She only seeks to integrate her sister, to enter into a communion with her.


Lily & Slughorn

Readers only ever come to know Slughorn’s side of his relationship with Lily as teacher and student, but it is a relationship that is integral to the formation of both Harry’s and the reader’s understanding of Lily’s character. When Harry first meets the old potions master the man sings the praises of Lily:

“You shouldn’t have favorites as a teacher, of course,  but she was one of mine. Your mother. . . Lily Evans. One of the brightest I ever taught. Vivacious, you know. Charming girl. I used to tell her she ought to have been in my House. Very cheeky answers I used to get back too” (HBD 69-70).

In Slughorn’s nostalgic praise of Lily, we come to see how and why Lily had such an influence on others. It is implied that Lily was well-liked at school, not unpopular like Snape and not cultivating a reputation for trouble-making like James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter. Furthermore, the fact that a teacher, particularly one as sensitive to the hierarchies and intricacies of wizarding society as Slughorn, remembers Lily so clearly and so fondly implies her capabilities as a witch and her magnetism.

“I forgot,’ lied Harry, Felix Felicis leading him on. ‘You liked her, didn’t you?’

‘Liked her?’ said Slughorn, his eyes brimming with tears once more. ‘I don’t imagine anyone who met her wouldn’t have liked her. . . .Very brave. . . Very funny. . . It was the most horrible thing. . . .'” (HBD 489).

In Lily’s relationship with Slughorn we do not find evidence of Lily engaging in or resisting a mimetic rivalry; their teacher-student relationship does not seem to be one that ever verged on antagonistic. However, the relationship is still notable in that through it the reader begins to understand how extraordinary it is that Lily is never shown or spoken of engaging in such rivalries. If Slughorn’s memories are to be trusted, Lily drew people in and had no shortage of acquaintances and admirers. With many friends and followers, the opportunities for mimetic rivalry to arise multiply, yet still we never see any evidence of such relationships existing. Slughorn’s testimony then also gives us a way to understand how Lily could be a model for others, and how she could invite imitation without inviting rivalry.