Powdered Root of Asphodel to an infusion of Wormwood
Even the dungeons were never entirely silent. Slytherin students passed by occasionally, and within the room there was the gentle sounds of potions bubbling, the soft hiss of escaping steam and the crackle of the flames heating them. Severus Snape sat at his desk, silent and thoughtful, his long, interlocking fingers resting against his mouth, eyes closed and brow furrowed.
Oh, how he had dreaded this day. For ten years, he had known that it would happen eventually. There was no way that any son of Lily Evans, or even that troublemaker, Potter, would have ever been anything even like a muggle, despite the upbringing that Dumbledore saw fit to provide for him. Severus had known, from the day he found himself standing in front of that destroyed house in Godric's Hollow... when he walked, dreamlike, through the house. Past the body of the man who had once taunted him. Tormented him. Now he was nothing of the bully, or the troublesome prankster. The jokes, or even the love that Severus could not deny, as much as he wanted to, that he saw James show for his wife. All that lay on the stairs now was an empty body, staring blindly at the ceiling.
He knew... even before he went into the nursery, he knew that Voldemort had forsaken Severus' pleas for Lily's life. He had felt it; known it in some part of himself that she had always held, no matter what. It had brought him to this place, tonight. Lead him, unerringly to that room. It wasn't the wails of the boy, but that dread feeling pulling him to where she lay. The boy screamed, but Severus had no feeling for him. He had could only see her, her long red hair tattered over her face, her body lying in an unnatural position. He fell to the floor, back turned to that life-robbing child. Holding her until he was found, struggling with the knowledge that despite everything, despite his attempts and his begging and ideas, she was gone.
He didn't know who it was who came in after him. He couldn't tell who pulled Lily from his arms. So many faces crowding in on him, one blurring into the other, but none of them hers. His mind was reeling, hoping that it was some delusion; a nightmare, and she would somehow be there when he awoke. He couldn't tell who the people were, that filled that dead house. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. She was gone, the only thing that mattered, and she was gone. So why was the world still turning? Why was life still continuing? Why had it not all stopped, even if only for a moment... there should be some form of... recognition. A moment's pause, a moment of stillness; of quiet. But there was that incessant screaming, the sounds of life outside.
They dragged him to his feet, those meaningless faces, those nothing-men and nothing-women, he saw that crying baby, and hated him. Hated the child that had taken her away from him. Hated him for looking like the father that bullied him, while having her eyes. It wasn't right. It wasn't right to see those things combined. To see the eyes that had lived in his mind since the first time he saw Lily playing with her sister, in the face he had hated was too much then, but nothing compared to what he felt today.
Because today was when he saw that face properly.
When he met that boy in person, and saw just how much he had become like his father, but all the while looking at him through those tortuous eyes. The boy didn't know. He didn't understand... how could he? He didn't know anything of the past. He hadn't even known that he was a wizard until Hagrid brought him his letter, from what Severus heard. That didn't mean that it didn't hurt... the way those eyes looked at him now with distrust and confusion, from a face that he almost couldn't stand to look at.
He couldn't help but test the boy; push him. The questions he asked would have been answered in a shot by Lily. She had excelled in most subjects from the very beginning, devouring the required textbooks before she even got to school. Trying to catch up with the other students, that she thought would be way ahead of her, coming as they did from the wizarding world, while she was "inhibited" by her background. He had insisted that there was no need, and that she would be way ahead of anyone else by the time she got there, but she didn't listen.
So he had tutored her, at the beginning. Delighting in sharing his understanding of Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts, they shared many an afternoon looking through books that he already knew inside-out, and he told her of some editing he had done to the instructions that the books provided. He had never had an opportunity to share what he had learned and what he had invented with anyone else before. She was a captivated audience, even if she showed dislike for some of the concoctions that he found most interesting. He adored being able to share more time with her, especially when it was to share the knowledge he revelled in but had so little opportunity to express.
James, on the other hand, had been too arrogant for all that. Oh, he could usually blag his way through teachers' questions, and even now, he could see that the boy took after his father. He couldn't help the instant dislike that he just couldn't shake off or ignore. Even if he was Lily's boy too, Severus couldn't just bring himself to like him.
It wasn't just the fact of how much of the father there was in him.
This was the reason Lily was gone. This boy. This innocent, ignorant boy was what made the Dark Lord Severus had once followed take Lily's life, and in turn, Severus' own. Lily had died for him, to protect him. Lily's choice or not, if not for the boy Voldemort would never have had to destroy the only meaning that Severus had ever had in his life. From that first meeting, so many years ago, and yet so close in his memories, even through the fights... even when he had to watch her get married to that boy that had so taunted him and made his school life hell. Even through it all, he still loved her. She was the only one that meant anything in this cold life he's lived. Even when he turned to the life of a Death Eater, one word from her would have changed it all.
The knowledge that it was her child that the Dark Lord hunted did change it all.
But even his pleas had not stopped it. He had risked himself in making demands of that creature so far beyond the realms of humanity, and gone even further in conferring with one of his key enemies. But still... it had meant nothing.
His attempts meant nothing.
She had died.
She to save this boy. He could not like the boy; he couldn't even bring himself to try. But he knew that, even with this, he would care for him. Dumbledore felt that the child was in danger; that Voldemort would return and be after him once more. He would watch over the boy, despite the essence of the father that was so very obviously living inside him. Severus would always regret not being able to prevent Lily's death, and as such it was his responsibility, more than anyone else's, to protect the only connection left to her. The muggle woman didn't count. She had never wanted anything to do with Lily. Scorning her; hurting her feelings. More than once, Lily had come him in tears, telling him of how that muggle had dared to taunt her and insult her.
He never got to apologise to her.
That was one of the things that what hurt and frustrated him the most. She never even knew that he had begged for her life. She died thinking he was still working for the opposing side. His thoughts had always returned, again and again to this, ever since that day. Never did they leave him alone, simmering always like the potions he surrounded himself with; a coiling miasma layering itself over his mind that he could never quite shake. Polluting his mind; sickening it, decaying it, turning it in and in and in until all he could think was about that night; of the thoughts of him that she might have died with. That he had betrayed her. That she might have thought that he done nothing to stop this. That... that she might have thought he had stopped loving her.
Maybe that was why... his thoughts had, of late, turned more and more to the regret that he hadn't seen her again before her death. That he hadn't tried to tell her that she had his heart, even after all the years of silence that had fallen between them. That he had tried. That he had tried to save her life. That it had been his idea to put them all under the protection of the Fidelius Charm...
Maybe that was why he did it. Why the accidental, subconscious apology slipped out.
"Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
Not that the boy would understand... how could he? Not many understood the language of plants these days. He had taken and interest in it from a child, always reading more than he needed around his subject of interest.
When he asked the boy looking at him through those green eyes in the wrong face that question, there was more to it than Severus himself had actually intended. There was hidden meanings in flowers, and he always remembered, from the first time he read it, that Asphodel was a type of lily. He had, on occasions, looked through whole books of lilies, seeing which he would most associate with her, based either on the appearance of the flowers themselves, or on their magical properties. This was one of the former, the delicate petals of white with pink-red stripe through their centre. Sweet, pure, but not without an angry streak. Its meaning translated as something like "My regrets follow you to the grave", a meaning that came back to him, again and again over the years.
When infused with Wormwood, it created a powerful sleeping draught, called the Draught of Living Death. He had known that concoction from early in his studies. Understanding potions came naturally to him; the way they mixed together, the combinations and orders that could mean the difference between a poison and a cure. How very similar two potions could be, while creating completely different reactions in the drinker. Wormwood, in Victorian Flower Language, meant absence or bitter regret.
So, when asking Harry James Potter what the two mixed together created, there was more to it than he had meant. There was little chance that the boy would know the potion that it would create, even if he had studied the first year texts, "1000 Magical Herbs and Fungi", and "Magical Draughts and Potions", cover to cover, he doubted that particular brew would be featured as anything but a passing mention. He had barely even thought when he asked, the question had come unbidden from his mouth. Slipped through his defences when faced with those eyes that had haunted his thoughts for so many years now. He had said it before his mind had even caught up with the implications.
Because, ultimately, what it meant was something he couldn't escape. A fact he had lived with for so long, but that he would hide from everyone for the rest of his life, to the best of his abilities. Especially from this boy. Only Dumbledore knew of his love for Lily Evans. Only he knew of the torturous existance that Severus had lived in since that horrible day in Godric's Hollow. But no-one would suspect the question's meaning. The apology veiled behind the appearance of the frightening Professor Snape doing his usual best to make things difficult for Gryffindor.
Asphodel and wormood, when brought together, created a very important meaning.
"I bitterly regret Lily's death."