40

In one of Harry's dementor-induced flashbacks, he presumably hears his mother protesting against Voldemort:

Harry was falling again through thick white fog, and his mother’s voice was louder than ever, echoing inside his head –

‘Not Harry! Not Harry! Please – I’ll do anything –’

‘Stand aside – stand aside, girl –’

‘Harry!’

Voldemort tells her to stand aside - why did he not just kill her?

  • 6
    No canon backup for this, but I always assumed it was nothing more than the inherent sexism common for the time frame, specifically among those with 'older' perspectives (as compared to the 'Modern-thinkers'); she was a pretty young female, and a new mother -- they are trophies, bargaining chips, etc.. not combatants. Note the reference to her as 'Girl', showing what he thinks of her as. Sexist of him, but not uncommon for the time. – K-H-W Apr 27 '12 at 19:17
  • 5
    And yet one of his most powerful 'allies' was Bellatrix. As well as this she had supposedly thrice defied him. Regardless, he could have just killed her, even if he did it's in a sexist manner. – AncientSwordRage Apr 27 '12 at 19:21
  • 7
    Yep, but, psychologically speaking, Bellatrix was a specific case; a dangerous, powerful woman. Lily was just a cute, young, new wife & mother in his eyes; it's a form of invalid identification, where someone looks at someone who seems to fit a category, and dismisses them as only being what the category defines. Bella vs Lily is kind of like 'Phil, the child Prodigy' v.s. 'Kids' the category, to Voldy's perception. IMHO, anyway. – K-H-W Apr 27 '12 at 19:28
  • 2
    Just let me note that Voldemort also says to Harry in PS that he would not have killed Lily. – b_jonas Apr 28 '12 at 15:50
  • 2
    Voldemort said a lot of things. None of which were the truth; including the fact that he atleast thought himself immortal – dog0 May 21 '12 at 18:47
63

Because Snape asked him nicely.

After Snape overheard the part of the prophecy he did, he told Voldemort about it. Voldemort determined it referred to Lily's child, and Snape asked him to spare her. Then he went the extra step and told Dumbledore in an effort to save her. Per Snape's memories in Book the Seventh:

'Well, Severus? What message does Lord Voldemort have for me?
'No - No message - I'm here on my own account!
...
'I - I come with a warning - no, a request - please -'
...
'What request could a Death Eater make of me?'
'The - the prophecy... the prediction... Trelawney...'
'Ah, yes,' said Dumbledore. 'How much did you relay to Lord Voldemort?'
'Everything - everything I heard!' said Snape. 'That is why - it is for that reason - he thinks it means Lily Evans!'
'The prophecy does not refer to a woman,' said Dumbledore. 'It spoke of a boy born at the end of July -'
'You know what I mean! He thinks it means her son, he is going to hunt her down - kill them all -'
'If she means so much to you,' said Dumbledore, 'surely Lord Voldemort will spare her? Could you not ask for mercy for the mother, in exchange for the son?'
'I have - I have asked him -'
'You disgust me,' said Dumbledore, and Harry had never heard so much contempt in his voice...

Evidently, Voldemort gave her a chance to humor Snape. But when she gave him trouble he killed her anyway, not understanding the power of Snape's love for her, and in the end, that act, that single spell, was what led to his defeat.

  • Severus's love technically only indirectly led to Voldemort's fall; it was his regard for Severus and thus offering Lily the chance to [step aside] but when she refused that is what was directly responsible. Many have a problem with this though because they believe some people have absolutely no sympathy, no honesty, no compassion whatsoever when it's really not that simple. People are so much more complicated than 'just something'; e.g. Voldemort also spared the child on Halloween - the one who if I recall complimented Voldemort on his 'costume'. – Pryftan Apr 27 '18 at 2:31
  • (Unless of course..you consider the fact he turned against Voldemort. But it's not just that that led to his downfall.) – Pryftan Apr 27 '18 at 2:33
23

Voldemort only gave Lily a chance because Snape had asked him to spare her because he loved her. Voldemort did not and could not understand love and this is what led to his downfall. He underestimated the power of Snape's love for Lily and he turned one of his most loyal allies against him, creating the most successful double-agent for Dumbledore. He underestimated Lily's love for Harry - hence even asking her to step aside in the first place and thinking she might - meaning that she was able to protect Harry from the killing curse and almost destroyed Voldemort in the process. Snape's love for Lily made him take terrible risks throughout his life as a Death Eater and I can't begin to imagine how horrific it must have been for him to have to sit and 'serve' this monster who had killed the love of his life. His love for Lily meant he would even protect her son, a boy he couldn't stand, the son of his arch-nemesis in the romantic stakes James Potter. In the end Voldemort did not spare Lily but he certainly gave her chances that were denied other victims. He must have held Snape in high regard to even consider doing this.

  • 9
    +1 primarily for that very last sentence. I'd never really thought about it before, but even considering sparing Lily at the request of another person is pretty seriously out of character for Voldemort. – Anthony Grist May 22 '13 at 13:26
  • @AnthonyGrist Is it? Maybe usually but not entirely. He spared that child on his way to the Potters Field (eh, that is house) didn't he? Of course that was on his own accord and perhaps only Severus ever was able to succeed in such a thing (and I do agree with why as the answer suggests and I've thought it too) - but more generally it wasn't 100% OOC; it just usually was. – Pryftan Apr 27 '18 at 2:35
  • @Pryftan Voldemort is never shown as killing just for the sake of it. There's a huge difference between deciding not to kill a random child (who he had no reason to kill) for reasons that were entirely his own and considering the opinion/feelings of another person enough to not kill somebody he had plenty of reason to kill. To be clear, not killing isn't what's out of character for him; it's putting any value in what another person (Snape) thinks and feels. – Anthony Grist Apr 27 '18 at 8:58
  • @AnthonyGrist On the first part: That's essentially what I was saying. On the second part: well definitely true. I even referenced that but perhaps not clearly. I was just trying to say though that there are exceptions and indeed maybe Severus was the only exception; afaik indeed Severus is the only exception but my point still stands. As of course does yours. – Pryftan Apr 28 '18 at 2:10
4

I would say it's because Voldemort is actually more concerned with ensuring his invincibility than anything else. He is arrogant. He assumes that no one is actually a challenge to him except the child of prophecy. So killing James and Lily was something he didn't deem worthy of his attention as much as killing Harry was since Harry (and Neville) were the only real threats his immortality faced.

  • 8
    True, but not quite an answer - Voldemort frequently kills people who are no challenge, or are not even interesting to him, just because they're there. (see Cedric Diggory). It's not enough for him not to have a reason to kill them; he needs a reason not to. – Tynam Aug 27 '12 at 12:45
  • 1
    @Tynam Although it's quite likely that if he didn't kill Cedric Cedric would have been able to help Harry. Of course they could have incapacitated him but he sort of defaults to killing. I'm not saying that Voldemort was right in this; I'm just saying that you could argue that Cedric was a liability at the graveyard. – Pryftan Apr 27 '18 at 2:36
3

A big part of Voldemort's power was his 'carrot and stick' approach to leadership. On one hand he is utterly ruthless with his followers but at the same time he is intelligent enough to realise that he needs to be able to offer them rewards as well. Despite his undoubted power, without support threats and violence alone won't get him what he wants. He is also perfectly capable of manipulating what he perceives as weaknesses in others such as love and loyalty.

He probably realised that Lily meant something to Snape so if he had been able to spare here he would have enhanced Snape's loyalty and also had an effective threat to hold over his head.

Equally handing over the wife of one of his enemies to one of his supporters would have appealed to his own vanity and cruelty at least as much as just killing them outright and send the message that he can not just eliminate but completely dominate anybody who opposes him while he can give his loyal supporters anything they want.

Saying 'support me and you can have whatever you desire', is ultimately a better recruitment strategy than 'support me and I may not kill you unless I feel like it'.

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