Harry had his wand out, pointed and ready. Despite his terror and desperation, his hand held steady. Everything had come down to this moment.
"Are you ready, Mr. Potter?" Voldemort asked, his smooth and sibilant.
Harry lifted his chin. "I was born ready."
Voldemort's laugh escaped like air hissing from a balloon. "No, dear boy." He shook his head with amusement. "You were made ready."
"It was you who made me." Harry defiantly raised his wand.
"I have few limitations, but the crafting of a great wizard is not something that can be achieved by one man alone."
For a second, Harry felt his face scrunch with confusion. Had Voldemort just complimented him? And what the bloody hell did he mean by crafted? It didn't matter. It was obviously a ploy to distract Harry, to give Voldemort an opening to attack. Harry snapped his attention back to his enemy, expecting to see Voldemort starting a cast.
Voldemort had lowered his wand. "You truly do not know." Voldemort heaved a vexed sigh. "Hogwarts really has begun to fail if even the most basic principles of magic are no longer taught."
"The Principle of Proportional Wizarding Angst. You have never heard of it?"
"No," Harry replied warily, looking for the trap. There had to be a trap. This was Voldemort. And that sounded made up. It sounded like something Trewlany would use to explain divination and why Harry would be dying at two over scones.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake." Voldemort had lowered his wand and was now rubbing his forehead. "I knew this would happen. I knew that fool Dumbledore would start killing knowledge, sanitizing the truth for mudbloods."
"Blood doesn't make a difference to strength." Harry knew this. Hermione was one of the strongest witches at school and she was a muggleborn.
Voldemort stared at Harry, disbelieving, much like Snape did when Harry had something incredibly stupid. "Oh course blood doesn't affect magical strength. It is how one raises their children that give them power."
"What has that got to do with being muggleborn? Wizards and muggles raised their children in much the same way."
"Oh, Harry." A disappointed Voldemort sounded strangely like Hermoine. "You dear boy. You really do know nothing." He put slid his wand into the sleeve of his robe. "Come now. I think it is time for a lesson." He motioned harry closer.
Harry took a step back and eyed Voldemort's empty hands. "In pain?" he asked, searching for a sembalence of familiar ground.
A small smile graced Voldemort's scaly lips. "That is not an inapt description. But come, sit." Harry took a step back. Voldemort sighed. "I swear on my magic that I will not attempt to kill you until I have announced this lesson complete."
Harry blinked stupidly, and not just from the light of the spell Voldemort called upon. This was not the plan. This was not the back up plan. This had never crossed Harry's, Ron's or even Hermione's mind as a possible option. But as Harry watched Voldermort move to sit on a log, Harry was beginning to suspect that it was, indeed, happening. "You're quite serious about this."
"Quite." Voldemort waved Harry over. Cautiously, wand still out, Harry sidled over to a large stone that was politely out of arm's reach and perched upon it. Under Voldermort's disapproving stare, Harry lowered his wand so it pointed towards the hem of the Dark Lord's cloak. A smaller concession than Voldemort would realize, given Hermione's history with cloak hems.
"Now boy," Voldemort leaned forward, all business, "where do you think magic comes from?"
"Um… in…side?" Harry answered hestinently.
Voldemort stared harder.
Voldemort sighed. "You have never once wondered what the source of you magic is?"
Harry gave a half shrug. "I figured if it were important someone would have told me."
Voldemort dropped his bald head into his hands, bracing his elbows on his knees. "I knew it. I knew this was going to happen. Didn't I say this was going to happen? But 'Oh no, what does he know? He's just a Dark Lord. Can't know a thing about magic,'" he mumbled into his own hands. "Right." He lifted his head, still rubbing his face. "There is no helping it now." His hands dropped to his lap. "Magic comes from emotions."
"Emotions?" Harry knew he sounded more skeptical than was wise around either a teacher or an evil wizard. "Why would it come from emotions?"
"Why wouldn't it?"
Harry frowned. "Because emotions are unpredictable. If magic comes from emotions, what's the stop someone from glowing just because they are happy, or setting someone else on fire, or," Harry frowned hard as an old memory slithered to the front of his mind, "ending up on the roof of a school… because they are scared... of their bully of a cousin." Harry rubbed at his scar. "Bloody hell. Accidental magic."
Voldemort's small nod was accompanied by a soft smile. "Correct. Five points to Slytheren."
"I'm a Gryffindor."
"I'm giving the points to me for being able to teach you. According to Severus that is quite an accomplishment."
"You haven't though. Taught me. I still don't understand. Accidental magic is caused by emotional outburst, but I don't particularly feel anything when I cast."
Voldemort smile melted away. "Perhaps I awarded myself points prematurely. Do you honestly mean to tell me that when you cast a spell you feel nothing?"
"Yes. I feel nothing when I cast."
Voldemort raised his eyes to the sky and murmured something indistinguishable, though Harry thought he might have heard "give me strength", but that was probably just his imagination. "Harry," Voldemort still stared at the clouds above, "what does the summoning charm do?"
"Er, summons things?"
"Well," Harry answered slowly, "anything I want."
"And what is want?"
"…the opposite of a need?"
Voldemort lowered his head until he was looking at Harry with something akin to horror, which was a terrifying expression on the face of a man who more closely resembled a snake. "You are an absolute idjit. If you defeat me I will never live it down. I think that I would actually prefer to be remembered for choking to death on my own wand. No. Shut up." Harry closed his jaw with a click, biting off his wondering of why anyone would put a wand in their mouth. "A want is a desire. Desire is an emotion. You can summon because you have feelings about the act of summoning. All spells are based off of emotions. The Killing Curse doesn't work because we can't logic people to death. It isn't "someday you will be dust so why not now?" Its "I want you dead." It is why you have to really mean it. You have to really mean magic because it is merely the manifestation of emotion."
"That… actually makes a lot of sense. But I still don't understand why being muggleborn would affect this."
"Because muggles have spent their entire history finding new ways to make themselves feel safer."
"So muggles are emotionally stunted." Voldemort stood and began to pace with agitation. "And when you try and take a mudblood from parents who coddle them and toss them into wizardry, the parents get upset at the smallest thing. And fools like Dumbledore start catering to them. Child attacked by a Dementor?" He waved an arm theatrically. "Banish the Dementors. Child poisoned in the Forbidden Forest?" Another wave. "Make the Forbidden Forest more forbidden. Child stumbles down a flight of stairs? Put bubblewrap at the bottom of all of them!" This time he saluted the world with his fist. He held the pose, and then, with a sigh, dropped his arm. "Muggles insist that we make the world safe for them at the expense of wizards."
"Er, wouldn't bubblewrap help everyone who fell down the stairs?" Harry asked cautiously.
"No! The point of magic is that falling down the stairs is supposed to hurt! Why do you think the Hogwarts stair cases are so bloody dangerous? Not only are some steps cursed, but they move willy-nilly, making basic navigation and exercise in pain. Wizarding children are supposed to be cesspools of angst and despair because the stronger the angst of youth, the more power the wizard has!"
"The more angst you have, the more emotion you have. The more emotion you have, the stronger you are magically. The reason I went after you, Mr. Potter, is that I knew your mother had muggle relatives. I had hoped that if I somehow failed to kill you, you would be sent off to be coddled by them and you would come face me happy and weak. Had I known that your relatives would put a pure blood family to shame with their exceptional parenting techniques I would have gone after the Longbottom boy. His family would have at least been grateful if he survived."
"They treated me like a House Elf!"
"And then everything I tried to do later to correct this added to your growth. I tried to kill you in first year, the trauma added to your magic. I tried to kill you in fourth year and now you still have dreams about that Diggory boy! Fifth year Bella finished killing off your family! Then I killed your owl while aiming for you! Every move I made helped you grow stronger. I just can't win."
What did one say when a Dark Lord was lamenting on their failures? "Er, sorry?"
Voldemort continued on as though he hadn't heard the apology. "At least I have nothing on what Dumbledore did to make you strong. Sending an innocent man to Azkaban just so you could find out that you had to stay with your mean family because someone nice and safe was being wrongfully tortured and you couldn't do anything, couldn't save him? Beautiful. And then you couldn't do anything to clear the man's name because the witness you needed had just slipped through your fingers. You were so close. It is such a beautiful failure. I am actually impressed by Dumbledore's resourcefulness."
"Dumbledore had nothing-"
"Dumbledore orchestrated everything. The Principle of Proportional Wizarding Angst, remember? Every decision that caused you pain, that developed your angst, was orchestrated knowing by Dumbledore, or was my failed attempt on your life. It is how any good pure blood family raises their child. Narcissa hasn't spoken to Draco for more than five years in an attempt to foster his magic. She turns her head and sniffs in disappointment whenever he walks into a room. Crabbe turned his son's niffler into his son's school tie. He has to wear it every day. We cause our children pain because we love them and need them to be strong!"
Harry shook his head in denial. "That's insane!"
"It is why we are so hard on mudbloods! We have to beat the mollycoddling out of them so we can beat the magic into them! When you pamper children they grow up like flowers, pretty and week, killed by the first frost. That Diggory boy didn't even try to dodge! Oh no, he had a supportive father who liked to brag about him. He was well loved at school. If Wormtongue hadn't killed him he probably would have drowned in his own tears over losing the Triwizard Tournament. But you," Voldemort's eyes gleamed, "you escaped only because the ghosts of your dead parents showed up to show how happy you all could have been had they just survived. I could feel your angst growing, your power growing." Voldemort gave a full body shudder.
"I'm strong because of what you did when you killed my parents! I can stand up to you because of the prophecy! This is all just coincidence!"
Voldemort gave Harry a pitying look. He sighed. "Name the strongest children you know."
"Traumatized orphan. Next."
"Social pariah. Next."
"Possessed by me. Next."
"Neville. Dear lord. Class loser with a terrifying grandmother." Harry's hand covered his mouth as realization dawned.
"Luna Lovegood, possibly insane. Cho Chang, boyfriend murdered by a Dark Lord. Viktor Krum, physically disabled in a way that not even magic can heal. You see? And the reason your friend Ron is so weak is that his greatest trauma is that he's a ginger. Hermione is a mudblood in a school of racists. It's all about the angst.
"Hermione actually has impressive angst-seeking instincts." Voldemort continued thoughtfully, stroking his chin. "It's a rare skill that I had thought lost. Many of her decisions have enhanced her angsting experience. Making friends with you and that idiot Ron was a more damaging decision than having no friends at all. Neither of you appreciate her sacrifices, nor do you support her interests, though you constantly use her and abuse her trust, as though she wouldn't notice that you only speak to her when you need answers to your endless questions. And they aren't even good questions begot by clever thinking. Nope, you just ask her to repeat what you have already been told.
"And oh, her ridiculous attempts at social change. I wish I had thought of that at her age. All the effort she has put in to saving magical creatures, just to have ignorant wizards and a corrupt Ministry ignore what is as plain as the nose on their face. SPEW was a stroke of pure genius. And she was behind your Defense Association. She had to have known that the club would be found out, that she would fail there as badly as she had with the hippogryph.
"That girl has angst instinct. If I had ever tried to kill her she would easily be more powerful than you. More powerful than me. If she had ambition she could be the next Merlin. He sought his own angst as well." Voldemort sounded genuinely impressed. More impressed than he did when he talked about Harry, at any rate.
Harry licked his lips. "No. This can't be right. What about Dumbledore? He's one of the most powerful wizards ever."
"He doesn't know if he or his evil boyfriend cast the curse that killed his younger sister."
"Angst makes the wizard, Harry."
"I understand. That's awful. That's amazing."
"That's a lesson complete."
"That explains so much!"
"Avada Kadvra." Harry Potter fell dead to the forest floor. "I think having give that lesson contributed to my angst."
"And mine as well," a clear voice rang through the woods. Hermione stepped out from behind a tree. "I suspected, but I'm glad you put it into words. And now you've murdered my best friend. The one who I erased my family's entire memory to protect." She looked at him with deep brown eyes. "And you did nearly kill me. There was, after all, a troll in the dungeon." Eyes filled with angst.
"Oh bloody hell."