28

This may well be because Lily and James were some of Dumbledore's most powerful and avid supporters as well as integral members of the Order of the Phoenix. So the biggest threat to V-Voldemort [get a grip guys, it's just a name!] and his Order.

But why go through all the motions of murdering an entire family, even though they are cooped up in a hidden house and posing no immediate danger?

References preferred. But justified conjecture is also welcome.

Edit: I wrote this just after reading that Neville broke the prophecy. So I thought it might never be answered, which is why I asked the question. I now know the full reason.

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    What research did you do before asking this question? – AncientSwordRage Feb 20 '14 at 20:19
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    Tom Riddle had too many wedgies from James and heart-breaks from Lily? – David Starkey Feb 21 '14 at 3:54
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    I just wanted to point out the irony: the parents of Neville were Aurors and had defied Voldemort thrice as well. Now guess at the end of which month Neville was born: July. By going after Harry, Voldemort fulfilled the Prophecy with Harry as adversary, but Neville would have been in Harry's place had Voldemort tried (and failed) to kill Neville. – 11684 Feb 21 '14 at 12:27
  • bcuz, if it hadn't been in that way, the story wouldn't have progressed :) – Amit Joki Feb 22 '14 at 6:34
  • One word The Prophecy – Hermione Granger Oct 17 '18 at 16:12
48

There was this prophecy:

Sybill Trelawney's first prophecy, sometimes simply known as The Prophecy, refers to the prophecy made by Sybill Trelawney to Albus Dumbledore at the Hog's Head Pub in 1980. It referred to a boy born at the end of July, who has the power to defeat Lord Voldemort (which Voldemort took to mean Harry Potter) and Lord Voldemort himself.

So

In what proved to be a vain attempt to circumvent a prophecy that a boy born at the end of July of 1980 could be able to defeat him, Voldemort attempted to murder him when he was a year and three months old, shortly after murdering Harry's parents as they tried to protect him.

Voldemort feared that Harry was the one the prophecy was talking about, since he was born at the end of July. That's why he wanted to kill him. Harry's parents were 'just in the way'. Voldemort killed them because they were trying to protect Harry

Here is the exact prophecy:

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies ...

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    Sources on these quotes would be great. – phantom42 Feb 20 '14 at 20:15
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    Therefore: The prophecy, which appears only in the later books (which contain many similarly striking examples of character and story errors), cannot be seen as canonical. It was said in the first book that Voldemort was after the Potters (parents). From this, we have to assume the boy was just attacked by "chance", because he was there. And, of course, because that starts the story. – Damon Feb 21 '14 at 13:46
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    @Damon, if it's released by JKR or stated by JKR, it's canon. It may not be your personal head-canon, but that doesn't change its official status. Even if your theory of a ghostwriter is correct, JKR would have likely provided the outline of all plot points and major details to the writer. Alan Rickman has said in interviews that he was given small bits of information about Snape long before they were revealed in books. – phantom42 Feb 21 '14 at 17:31
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    Don't forget that the Prophecy could have also pointed to Neville Longbottom (Don't remember the exact quote), it could be speculated that because of the Potter's standing in the Order of the Phoenix, Voldemort would naturally assume that their child would be as detrimental to him if not more so than his parents. – JustinM - Reinstate Monica Feb 21 '14 at 19:04
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    Like any author, JK did not necessarily have the entirety of every plot point fully fleshed out when writing the first of 7 books... But beyond that, the books are almost entirely Harry’s perspective and what people around him know and/or are willing to share with him — specifically compounded by the fact that the full prophecy was known only to Dumbledore, everyone else’s opinion was not fully informed. It’s a bit of a reach to reject plot development by reading something into statements that was never there, let alone manufacture a ‘ghost writer’. – Dúthomhas Aug 17 '18 at 14:54
13

Because of Sybill Trelawney's prophecy that the one who would vanquish Voldemort. Voldemort believed it was Harry Potter, so he went to kill him. James and Lily were killed because they were standing in the way of the real goal, Harry's death.

5

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies ...

-Sybill Trelawney, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Snape had been listening at the door while Trelawney made the prophecy, but did not hear it completely. He repeated what he remembered, and so Voldemort sought to kill Harry as an infant in hopes to avoid being vanquished. However, Voldemort did not realise that by attempting to kill Harry, he was marking him as his equal.

2

He killed Lily and James because they were in the way of him killing Harry, which was his aim. He wanted to kill Harry because of the prophecy that Sybill Trelawney (divination professor at Hogwarts) made saying that Voldemort would be defeated by a boy born at the end of July, which Voldemort took to mean Harry (the other option was Neville Longbottom). When Dumbledore talks to Harry about the quality he has which Voldemort lacks (Philosopher's Stone film, Half-Blood Prince throughout), he's talking about the fact that Harry's capable of love. Obviously, most people are capable of love but Harry especially is because his parents died while protecting him because they loved him so much- this is mentioned in the book somewhere but I can't remember specifically what was said. :)

2

The Dark Lord wanted to kill the Potters because of the prophecy.

The Dark Lord became determined to hunt down the Potters and kill them after hearing part of the prophecy and thinking Harry was going to be the boy with the power to defeat him. Snape tells Dumbledore this, that the Dark Lord believes Harry is the boy meant, and intends to kill the Potters.

“That is why – it is for that reason – he thinks it means Lily Evans!’

‘The prophecy did 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 –”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 33 (The Prince’s Tale)

It wouldn’t be more trouble to kill the whole family than just Harry - the parents would nearly always be with the child. However, they were just collateral damage stopping him from getting to his true target. This was all to get to Harry, the one the Dark Lord thought was foretold to defeat him. He was much more cautious when trying to kill Harry than either of his parents.

“He pointed the wand very carefully into the boy’s face: he wanted to see it happen, the destruction of this one, inexplicable danger.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 17 (Bathilda’s Secret)

The Dark Lord didn’t particularly care about the Potter parents - though he decided against it after she put up too much resistance, he was willing to spare Lily, on Snape’s request.

“He could hear her screaming from the upper floor, trapped, but as long as she was sensible she, at least, had nothing to fear …”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 17 (Bathilda’s Secret)

That the Dark Lord was even willing to consider sparing her for Snape would have to mean he wasn’t particularly determined to kill her. He’d never put someone else’s wishes above his own.

0

As the other answers have mentioned, Voldemort wanted to kill Harry because of the prophecy. He killed James because James was trying to stop him.

However, what the other answers have not mentioned is that Voldemort explicitly tells us (or rather we are privy to his thoughts about) why he killed Lily. In Deathly Hallows when Voldemort relives the night of the attack we find:

He could have forced her away from the crib, but it seemed more prudent to finish them all. ...

That is to say that although Voldemort had not originally planned on killing her, he made an at-the-moment decision to kill her even though he could have achieved his goal without killing her – even after she stood in his way.

-1

He killed Lily and James because they were in the way of him killing Harry. Voldemort wanted to kill Harry vecause of Trelawny's prophecy. Voldemort actually didn't want to kill Lily because he promised snape he wouldn't. Also Snape didn't like Neville because he could have been the child to defeat the dark Lord and Lily wouldn't have died if that happened.

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