On Lily Potter’s birthday, Pottermore confirmed a long-standing fan theory that Severus Snape’s first words to young Harry Potter were symbolic of Snape’s regret over Harry’s mother Lily.

The article Lily, Petunia and the language of flowers discusses the relationship between the three children through the Victorian language of flowers, or floriography. Snape’s riddle is hidden in his question to Harry in potions class. Pottermore writes:

‘What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?’ The answer can be found in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Professor Slughorn asks the class to brew the Draught of Living Death. Interestingly, this is after Harry found Snape’s copy of Advanced Potion-Making and followed his instructions to prepare the perfect draught.

Asphodel is a type of lily and means ‘remembered beyond the tomb’ or ‘my regrets follow you to the grave’ while wormwood is often associated with regret or bitterness.

Snape makes a possible reference to Lily’s bravery against his own treachery when he asks Harry the difference between monkswood and wolfsbane.

It is perhaps a more poignant sentence when looked at through the language of flowers. Monkshood is associated with ‘chivalry’ while wolfsbane can mean ‘misanthropy’ or a dislike of others.

On Lily and Petunia’s relationship Pottermore writes:

A lily can be interpreted as ‘beauty, elegance, sweetness’. This striking flower is easy to grow, as long as it is planted in the right place. They also, according to gardening manuals, make wonderful cut flowers.

Enter Severus; his name can be seen to mean to cut or to sever – and this is exactly what he inadvertently does to Lily’s relationship with her sister, Petunia.

And, of course, Petunia’s name is also symbolic.

Susceptible to damage and best grown in a container or basket, the petunia needs shelter from the wind and plenty of light. It is also a flower that can, in the language of flowers, mean ‘resentment and anger’…

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Harry sees a memory of his mother. She picks up a flower and magically makes it open and close its petals; Petunia is outraged, but filled with hidden longing.

Read the full article at Pottermore.com


About The Author

Olga Hughes is currently pre-occupied with fairy tales, fantasy, misanthropy, medieval history and the long eighteenth century. She has a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Victorian College of the Arts and is currently majoring in Literature and History at Deakin. She has contributed to websites such as History behind Game of Thrones, The Anne Boleyn Files and The Tudor Society.

2 Responses

  1. Jasmine

    Right from the beginning, when his motives were ambiguous, Snape was my favourite character. That might have had a lot to do with Alan Rickman’s performance and the wonderful black wig he wore. The more I progressed through the saga, the more convinced I was that he was on Harry’s side.

    • Olga Hughes

      I have to say, odd as it may sound, I was never 100% convinced until Half-Blood Prince. As soon as it happened I thought he and Dumbledore had arranged it between them.