The first words Severus Snape says to Harry Potter are quite telling of the complex relationship the two characters will have throughout the Harry Potter series. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Snape asks Harry, “Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”
The question is more than just a simple inquiry. According to Victorian Flower Language, asphodel is a type of lily meaning “My regrets follow you to the grave” and wormwood means “absence” and also typically symbolised bitter sorrow. In other words, Snape is asking Harry what he would get if he combined regret and sorrow.
The question is a reflection of Snape’s complex relationship with Harry’s father, James Potter. Snape had a long-standing rivalry with James, and he was deeply hurt by James’ death. Snape’s question to Harry is a way of expressing his regret and sorrow over James’ death.
Snape’s question also reveals his ambivalent feelings towards Harry. On the one hand, Snape is jealous of Harry for being the son of James, whom Snape had admired and envied. On the other hand, Snape is protective of Harry, as he knows that Harry is the only one who can defeat Voldemort.
The first words Snape says to Harry are a powerful indication of the complicated relationship the two characters will have throughout the Harry Potter series. Snape’s question is a way of expressing his regret and sorrow over James’ death, as well as his ambivalent feelings towards Harry. In the end, Snape’s question reveals the depth of his character and his complex relationship with Harry.