The Hidden Meaning of Professor Snape’s First Words to Harry Potter
Twenty years later and this series is still tormenting our feelings. (Beware of spoilers!)
It’s been more than 20 years since the release of the first Harry Potter book, and we’re still learning new information about the Boy Who Lived and the fictional world he inhabits. Author J.K. Rowling frequently appeases fans with a tidbit or two through her website, Pottermore—not to mention, a new franchise about the pre-Harry wizarding world is in full swing.
One mind-blowing piece of info, though, actually wasn’t revealed by Rowling but by a Tumblr user called tomhiddles. It involves Potions Professor Snape, the series’ main “whose-side-is-he-really-on” character, and the question he asks Harry on our hero’s first day of class. (Want to know what the Harry Potter cast thought of their costumes? Look no further.)
Snape sneers “Mr. Potter… our new celebrity” in that iconic Alan Rickman voice, and then demands, “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?” We always just thought that he was barking out an impossible question to humble the famous Harry. But that question has a hidden meaning, and for everyone who knows the full backstory of Professor Snape, it’s heartbreaking.
As tomhiddles explains, “asphodel” is a type of flower: more specifically, a lily. It’s often associated with graves and death, as it was part of the Queen of the Underworld’s crown in Greek mythology. “Wormwood,” meanwhile, is a bitter plant associated with absence and sorrow. So that confusing question about potion ingredients actually conveys something like…“I feel bitter sorrow over the death of Lily.”
This, of course, hints at one of the most major twists in the entire series: the reveal in the final installment that Snape has been on Harry’s side the entire time because of his love for Harry’s mother, Lily, who was killed by Lord Voldemort. In the films, this reveal culminates in a devastating flashback of Snape arriving at the Potters’ house only to discover that Lily is dead. (That house is for sale, by the way, in real life.)
Emma Lord of Bustle dives even deeper into the mythology of these potion ingredients, and OH, THERE’S SO MUCH MORE. Asphodel was also thought to be a cure for snake bites. Potter fans, remember what killed Professor Snape?! That’s right. A snake bite. Finally, wormwood’s scientific name is Artemisia, named after the Greek goddess Artemis. Artemis’s sacred animal was a deer. In Potter, Snape’s Patronus, a soul-guarding magic spell, takes the form of a deer—more specifically, a doe—as a symbol of his love for Lily, because hers was a doe as well.
Now, some of this might just be coincidental, the result of Potter fanatics looking too far into it. But considering that J.K. Rowling is basically a genius who had Snape’s entire story planned out from the beginning, we would not put it past her.
If you need a laugh after that tearjerker, check out these 22 ultra-corny Harry Potter jokes.