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My thesis is that Peter Pettigrew chose the Death Eaters since it was safer - specifically, you had a lot more chances of not getting killed compared to staying on James Potter's side.

Based on canon, is that supported?

Who died more, Death Eaters or Order of the Phoenix?

I'm willing to accept answers from various angles:

  • Compare by absolute # of death, or by percentage of fighters

  • You may include DEs killed by Voldemort himself (it's a risk)

  • Ideally, the question scope is the First Voldemort war (e.g. before James/Lily's death), which is most relevant to Wormtail's choice. But I'm fine if you ALSO include Second wizarding war (Harry Potter years) as well.

I would prefer to only include DE and OotP combatants - the assumption here (from the original discussion that raised the question) is that Wormtail would have chosen to either be OotP or DE as the two strongest factions, not be a wallflower.

  • Is death the only outcome you care about or would being sentenced to Azkaban also be a concern? I don't recall if Voldemort had control over the dementors in the first war or not so this is just me wondering out loud. – Dason Jan 21 '12 at 17:30
  • In absolute numbers, or as a percentage of each group? The entire (original) Order of the Phoenix fit into a single photo, but the books suggest that Voldemort had a lot more followers than that -- so if the same number died on each side, that's a bigger blow to the Order. – Joe White Jan 21 '12 at 17:32
  • @Dason - death only. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 21 '12 at 17:45
  • @Joe - as the question says, "Compare by absolute # of death, or by percentage of fighters". Don't care which one, though a really good answer would do both :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 21 '12 at 17:45
30

(New! list of deaths, from HP wiki. Analysis at the end.)

I'm going to say that it was generally safer to be a Death Eater because the good guys will at least try to capture them, while the Death Eaters won't hesitate to kill. Consider the three groups fighting:

First, the Order of the Phoenix. They were probably the most powerful of the groups, but also the most principled. I'm pretty certain they didn't kill the death eaters they fought unless absolutely necessary.

Second, the Aurors (not all of whom were OotP, I'm quite certain). At the beginning of the war, they weren't allowed to use the unforgiveable curses, and they were supposed to capture rather than kill. Eventually they were given the authority to kill, but presumably they still captured when it was practical to.

And thirdly, the Death Eaters. They were, as I'm sure we all know, ruthless. They had no compunction about killing, and I would venture that at least those fairly high up the ranks were at least as powerful as the Aurors, and probably even as powerful as some in the Order. That makes them quite dangerous. Voldemort himself, while fond of torturing his followers, only actually killed them on rare occasions (e.g. hearing about Hufflepuff's cup, he didn't want anyone else to know about it, and the news put him in a murderous range, so he just killed anyone in the room he could).

So from a practical standpoint, the weaker Death Eaters were most likely to be captured, not killed, by either the Order or the Aurors, and the stronger ones were less likely to be either captured or killed because of their skill (though probably more likely killed than captured).

The Aurors and Order, however, would almost certainly be killed if they were defeated.

So, for a quick calculation, let's say the Order primarily fought the stronger DEs and had a 2/3 probability of beating them, of which 2/3 of the time they'd capture them alive. That would result in 1/3 (3/9) of the time, the Order member would die, 2/9 the DE would die, and 4/9 the DE would be captured. That means that even though the Order member has a better chance of winning, they have a higher probability of dieing. Let's say the probabilities are similar for the Aurors vs. weaker DEs, and say 9/10 of the time a stronger opponent (OotP/Strong DE) would beat a weaker one (Auror/weak DE), with the OotP always capturing and the DEs always killing. The exact final ratio would depend on how often the strong wizards faced strong vs weak DEs, and vice-versa, but in all cases, it seems the Good Guys are more likely to die.

So, unless you count life in Azkaban, it seems the Death Eater's side would probably be safer.

Now for some absolute numbers described in the book:

                 OotP   DE      Other   Muggles  
First War      | 10   | 3-4   | 1     | 12  
Second War     | 8-11 | 5+-8+ | 15    | 2  
---------------+------+-------+-------+--------
Total (approx) | 20   | 15    | 16    | 14  

So this shows a higher absolute number dead for the Order, and considering that there were slightly more Death Eaters than OotP (from another post I can't find at the moment), their rate of death is certainly higher. However, there is a fairly strong reporting bias (especially in the first war), so it probably wasn't quite as lopsided as it seems. Interesting to note, however, that not fighting in the war was also fairly dangerous. (And my 1/3 vs 2/9 = 3:2 estimate isn't terribly far off for the second war).

The actual list. Asterisks (*) indicate the ones I'm not quite sure should be counted in that particular category or at all.

OotP: 18 - 21
- (First war) - 10
James Potter (V)
Lily Potter  (V)
Marlene McKinnon
Edgar Bones
Gideon Prewett
Fabian Prewett
Benjy Fenwick
Dorcas Meadowes
Mr. Bones
Mrs. Bones
- (Second war) - 8-11
Sirius Black
Amelia Bones
Emmeline Vance
Albus Dumbledore*
Mad-Eye Moody
Ted Tonks*
Dobby*
Fred Weasley
Severus Snape
Remus Lupin
Nymphadora Tonks

Death Eaters: 8+ - 12+
- (First war) - 3-4
Rosier      (Moody)
Wilkes      (Aurors)
Mulcibr Sr. 
Regulus Black*
- (Second war) - 5+-8+
Quirrell*        (Harry - sort of)
Barty Crouch Jr* (Dementors)
Igor Karkarov
Gibbon
Peter Pettigrew
Several (V's fit of rage after hearing about the cup)
Vincent Crabbe*
Bellatrix
Voldemort

Misc. wizards: 16
- (First war) - 1
[Dean Thomas's Father]
- (Second war) - 15
Bertha Jorkins (V)
Barty Crouch Sr (BC Jr)
Cedric (Peter Pettigrew)
Broderick Bode
Florian Fortescue
Mrs. Abbott
Montgomery
Octavius Pepper
Charity Burbage
Rufus Scrimgeour
Gregorovitch
Bathilda Bagshot
Gellert Grindelwald 
Dirk Cresswell
Colin Creevey

Muggles: 14
- (First war) - 12
12 (Peter Pettigrew)
- (Second war) 2
Frank Bryce (V)
German Woman (V) 

Pre-War: 3
Muggle Tramp (Locket horcrux)
Hepzibah Smith
Albanian Peasant (Diadem horcrux)
  • 1
    An excellent analysis, Kevin. It definitely verifies there were less Death Eater deaths from what we know from canon. @DVK - I stand corrected :) – Slytherincess Jan 22 '12 at 14:43
  • 1
    Almost a bit of a stretch to call them "wars" when only 65 people died in 2 wars combined :) – DLeh Aug 12 '14 at 13:00
  • Regulus Black, Igor Karkarov, "Several ", Peter Pettigrew, and arguably Barty Crouch Jr (though he wasn't actually killed, technically), were killed by the Voldemort or his side. Gibbon was also killed by a fellow DE, albeit accidentally, as opposed to the others were were intentionally killed. There were several others, such as Crabbe and Voldemort himself, who were killed by their own spells backfiring. So I guess this raises the question: which is more of a danger for a Death Eater: Auror/OotP, or fellow DE/themselves? – Acccumulation Jun 20 '18 at 18:46
-3

Based on pure skill, OotP wins this. The reason they lost so many during the First war was because they were outnumbered 20 to 1 (Lupin says so). Also the DE had no qualms about killing whoever they fought with, while the OotP and the Aurors killed only when they had to. But the DE suffered more friendly fire (Voldemort kills a room full of them and Pius Thicknesse just for interrupting his thinking).

During the battle of Hogwarts, everywhere it is described to be flashes of green and red, which are presumably Stupefy from the goodies and Avada Kedavra from the baddies. About 60-70 good guys died in the battle, while only Bellatrix and Voldemort is known to have died from the baddies, the rest were presumably captured.

Wormtail was probably right, the DE died less, but were captured, while the Order lost many because they did not kill (heck, even DD, their leader, chooses not to kill DE at the Dep. of Mysteries, the same DE that killed Fred, Lupin, Tonks and others).

Being on baddy side was not totally risk-free though, as some of them certainly died and many of them at the hands of their charming leader.

  • 2
    You have some good points, but to get a high rated answer you need to provide evidence to support this. For example including the verbatim quote from Lupin, or providing evidence to the "60-70 good guys died in the battle" claim. – Moogle Aug 12 '14 at 8:50
-4

OotP was certainly outnumbered in the first wizarding war, Lupin himself says they were outnumbered 20:1. and they were not liberal with the killing curse. Not all DE's are strong, I just think Voldy, Bella, Dolohov and Snape were the best. They killed 100+ wizards and witches and also ABWBD, Tonks, Lupin moody and others... definitely DE's win on numbers and skill (because killing curse was not used by the good guys), but depending on pure talent OotP wipes the floor.

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