11:00 am EST, November 12, 2015

Did you know? Snape’s very first words to Harry were secretly about Lily

Here’s a fun fact that you may not have realized: Professor Snape’s very first words to Harry Potter in Sorcerer’s Stone hinted at his love for Lily.

In Harry’s first Potions class, Snape asks the Chosen One the following question: “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

As pointed out by fellow fans on Tumblr, a quick check of Google reveals that asphodel is defined as an immortal flower from the lily family. Meanwhile, wormwood is “a woody shrub with a bitter aromatic taste.” Wormwood is also defined as “a state or source of bitterness or grief.”

More specifically, when we consult the Language of Flowers, we see that asphodel means “my regrets follow you to the grave” while wormwood generally translates to “absence.”

If we apply the language of flowers to Snape’s question, we get two interpretations:

  • Snape could be asking Harry what would happen if he combined a member of the lily family (asphodel) with someone facing grief over an absence (wormwood). Metaphorically speaking, you’d get someone like Harry who’s still dealing with the loss of his parents.
  • Alternately, Snape might be drawing on the second of asphodel’s meanings to tell Harry that his regrets over Lily’s death have not abated. Or, as Tumblr user tomhiddles describes, Snape is essentially saying, “I bitterly regret Lily’s death.”

harry potter snape lily

Either way, it doesn’t seem likely that this was an accident on J.K. Rowling’s part. We know that Harry Potter fans tend towards overanalyzing, but what are the chances that two plants she randomly selected add up to these interpretations?

And there’s more!

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In Harry’s sixth year Professor Slughorn takes over as Potions teacher. In Slughorn’s very first lesson, he asks the class to brew the Draught of Living Death. Why is this important? Because if you combined the ingredients Snape listed, as first instructed, this is the potion that would be the result.

Is this a hint to the reader that Slughorn, who was very fond of Lily, also has regrets over her death? We also can’t help but notice that the state of a “living death” is a pretty good description of Snape’s life after Lily had died. He was living, but having betrayed her to her own death, he was essentially dead inside.

harry potter snape lily

The language of flowers was a well-documented method of communication in Victorian England. In this language, every flower had a specific meaning attributed to it. Depending on the combination of flowers used, the meaning changed. And most pertinent to the case of Snape and Lily, people did use the language of flowers to send coded messages to each other, so this isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Of course, we can’t imagine that Harry was particularly well versed in flower meanings, so we’re not sure how hard Snape was really trying to give him a message. Also, it’s all very romantic, but one vague and encoded reference to his regret over Lily’s death doesn’t excuse year after year of abuse.

Then again, J.K. Rowling might be the biggest Snily shipper of them all. It’s worth remembering that Snape’s final words were also about Lily:

snape lily ashopdel and wormwood

We’ll never forget your obsession love for Lily.

snape lily ashopdel and wormwood

This wouldn’t be the first time J.K. Rowling has slipped something into the Harry Potter books without us noticing, and we love that even long after the series has ended we are still discovering these Harry Potter Easter eggs. Thanks, Jo! Even if you do ship Snily.

Edit: Snape’s last words in the Harry Potter books were “Look at me,” not the above quote which was added in for the movie. But as he wants to look into Harry’s eyes because they are the same as Lily’s, the point stands.

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