J.K. Rowling Revealed the Biggest Secret of ‘Harry Potter’ to Alan Rickman

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Warner Bros
Warner Bros via Everett

Last week, the Wizarding World lost one of the greats, Alan Rickman. In the words of Harry, he “was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew.”

It’s long been common knowledge that J.K. Rowling gave Alan Rickman some extra information while filming of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, (or Sorcerer’s Stone if you’re a colonist). So exactly did Rowling reveal to the actor? Did she tell him that Snape was a double agent? Or that Snape was the Half-Blood Prince? Or that Snape kills Dumbledore (uh, spoiler alert)?

Well in a 2011 interview with Hitfix, Alan Rickman revealed that Rowling didn’t really tell him much at all:

She gave me one tiny, little, left of field piece of information that helped me think that he was more complicated and that the story was not going to be as straight down the line as everybody thought.  If you remember when I did the first film she’d only written three or four books, so nobody knew where it was really going except her.  And its was important for her that I know something, but she only gave me a tiny piece of information which helped me think it was a more ambiguous route.

However, that wasn’t good enough for some fans. After the actor’s death, Rowling hopped on Twitter to clarify exactly what she told Alan Rickman:

Yep, Rowling told Rickman that Snape was in love with Lily Potter, years before fans found out. She clarified why she did this, explaining that Rickman “needed to understand… where this bitterness towards this boy, who’s living proof of her preference for another man, came from.”

Snape’s love for Lily (despite being Headmaster of the friend zone) motivates his actions throughout the whole series and gives depth to his conflicting contempt towards and protection of Harry. Nobody understood this better than Alan Rickman, proving once and for all that nobody else could have been Snape.

However, observant fans could have figured out this secret long before Rickman even knew. When Snape first meets Harry, he asks, “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?” So what does this have to do with Snape and Lily Potter? Well, during the Victorian era, each type of flower had a specific meaning. To give someone Asphodel (a member of the lily family) meant “my regrets will follow you to the grave” and wormwood meant “absence; bitter sorrow.”

In other words, the first time Snape met Harry, he told him “I bitterly regret Lily’s death.”