In seeing these two questions and some their answers it prompted me to think of the question I am asking...

Why would Voldemort spare Lily?

Why didn't James' love and sacrifice for Lily protect her?

Why would Voldemort even consider sparing Lily? Was Snape the #1 Death Eater during the first war?

It seems to be out-of-character Voldemort to show even a smidgen of compassion even to one of his own Death Eaters. It seems even more out there when we consider that Lily was a Muggle-born. This would tie to a question about how and when Snape became the double agent, which I think I will ask in a different post...

  • It seems to me in-character that so many believe that someone is 'only something'... Sad really when humans are so much more complicated than that. Consider this too: Lily and James had defied him three times didn't they? If he truly had 'no compassion' full stop, 100% of the time, he would have taken them out right away wouldn't he? But he only did so when Harry became a knowing threat to him (though only on acting upon it would set things towards that goal). Also: what about the boy on Halloween he spared? No compassion? I really wish people would understand how wrong that mentality is.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 2:17

4 Answers 4


Snape was the person who overheard (part of) the prophecy involving Harry and Voldemort, and who then went and told Voldemort about it. It was only after he realised that Voldemort thought the prophecy referred to Harry, and that therefore Lily's life was in danger, that he went to Dumbledore to help protect her.

It would be out of character for Voldemort to show compassion, but it has nothing to do with compassion. Voldemort may be incapable of love, may be cruel and enjoy torturing his victims (and his loyal followers when they fail), but he's smart enough to realise the value in rewarding those loyal to him when they do well.

He tells his Death Eaters exactly that in the graveyard at the end of Goblet of Fire, then rewards Wormtail - incompetent and spineless as he is - with a silver hand. That was for helping him regain his body. Before Voldemort failed to kill Harry as a baby he believed that Snape had handed him the key to securing the thing he desired most: immortality. As long as Harry was dead, there's absolutely no reason for him to care about Lily, and if he can reward somebody who has (he believes) helped him more than any other Death Eater, that's just an added bonus.

There's no reason to believe that Severus, being a lover of dark magic and desperate for family, would have been anything less than completely loyal to Voldemort. He even attempted to use that loyalty to gain the one thing that being a loyal Death Eater couldn't normally get him: Lily.


He was likely loyal until Lily was in danger - he’d willingly joined.

We don’t know much about Snape during the time when he was actually a Death Eater working for the Dark Lord, not a double agent. However, we do know he liked Dark magic, and seemed to want to join the Death Eaters. When Lily (who he loved) accused him of wanting to join them, which she clearly disapproved of, he didn’t contradict her. Since if he didn’t, he’d probably explain to her that he didn’t really want to join the Death Eaters, that means he most likely did want to join them.

“You and your precious little Death Eater friends – you see, you don’t even deny it! You don’t even deny that’s what you’re all aiming to be! You can’t wait to join You-Know-Who, can you?’

He opened his mouth, but closed it without speaking.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 33 (The Prince’s Tale)

It seems very much like he actively wanted to join the Death Eaters - he wasn’t forced into it, or doing it out of cowardice like Wormtail. Though there’s not much evidence for what he was like as a Death Eater, other than that he told the Dark Lord as much of the prophecy as he’d heard, because he chose it he presumably was fairly loyal.

It’s unclear who was the Dark Lord’s favorite Death Eater at that point, if anyone even was, but he wouldn’t have needed to be his favorite - the Dark Lord rewards his followers if they’ve served him well. The Dark Lord didn’t really care about Lily, he just wanted Harry dead, so he could attempt to spare her life as a reward for Snape whether or not he was his ‘favorite’ Death Eater. Snape was likely loyal enough to earn a reward, and he was the one to tell him of the prophecy so he’d know of the danger and be able to kill the boy, so it wouldn’t matter if he was the Dark Lord’s favorite.

  • But did Snape join the DEs because of Voldy, or more so simply because he was really into dark magic, and DEs are all about dark magic? I guess, was he loyal the DEs as an organization, or to Voldy specifically? Commented May 30, 2018 at 18:02
  • 1
    @DCOPTimDowd I’m fairly sure Snape would have been loyal to the Death Eaters as an organization rather than the Dark Lord. He seemed to be joining due to his love of Dark magic rather than anything to do with the Dark Lord himself.
    – Obsidia
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 18:31

There’s nothing that I can remember reading that suggested Snape was the #1 Death Eater. In fact, there’s more evidence to point that the Lestranges were at the top.

The Dark Lord will rise again, Crouch! Throw us into Azkaban; we will wait! He will rise again and will come for us, he will reward us beyond any of his other supporters! We alone were faithful! We alone tried to find him!" —Bellatrix Lestrange on trial for her Death Eater activities


“Voldemort’s fury at the fall of his last, best lieutenant exploded with the force of a bomb.” - Death of Bellatrix

So Bellatrix at least believed herself to be top of the list with her husband and Voldemort held her in high regard. This is further demonstrated as potentially being true as Lord Voldemort chose the Lestrange vault to hide one of his Horcruxes in.

I think we can safely say that Snape was not a top Death Eater during Voldemort’s first reign. His news of the prophecy may have ingratiated him to the Dark Lord, but not enough to put him in the top spot. He was loyal, to a point. We know Snape loved Lilly. Love is the one thing that Albus keeps saying is the most powerful form of magic. It seems it was enough to break ANY alliance Snape had to Voldemort.

Also, I think Snape may have actually begged for the life of Lilly Evans. Voldemort seemed to not wish to kill her if it could be helped.

"Step aside, woman!" said the shrill voice of burning cold. "For you I am not come, only the boy." "Not Harry! Please… have mercy… have mercy…" Lily Potter, Harry thought, seemed not to understand what type of people became Dark Lords in the first place; and if this was the best strategy she could conceive to save her child’s life, that was her final failure as a mother. "I give you this rare chance to flee," said the shrill voice. "But I will not trouble myself to subdue you, and your death here will not save your child. Step aside, foolish woman, if you have any sense in you at all!”

And before that we see that he came right in and killed James, without hesitation.

  • 1
    That final quote is not from canon, although it is based on canon. Snape did beg for Lily's life and Voldemort would have spared her if she'd stepped aside, but that must be a fanfiction quote you've provided. The canon story is mostly told in Deathly Hallows (Bathilda's Secret is the chapter your after)
    – Au101
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 17:36
  • 1
    To be specific, the quote @Au101 is referring to is from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 22:43
  • He most certainly was at the top at one point though whether it's specifically stated or not. He was also literally placed to the right side of Voldemort in Malfoy Manor. You know - 'right hand man'. Maybe not earlier on in the first war but that doesn't mean he never was. He had to prove himself. But consider this: Severus even pointed out - mockingly (understandably) - to Bella how useless she was in Azkaban whilst he was far more useful by having information of years in the making. Sure he concealed a lot but that's besides the point.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 2:21

Snape was loyal to no one except Lily, and by proxy Harry because he is the only living embodiment of Lilly. Even Dumbledore invoked Lily's name from time to time to remind Snape of who he was.

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