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Listen. Pain.

Harry frowned at the words in Secrets of the Darkest Arts. That was all it said on the subject of horcrux creation. Instructions and a warning. Naturally he would have liked to know more. Listen to what? What kind of pain? He closed the book under the spinning lights in his room.

He gave a hum in thought and thumbed his jawline where the Dursley's broke it and it didn't heal quite right.

He felt Daphne approach. He looked up into her eyes and saw her. "Daphne," he greeted.

"Harry." She hesitated. Then the impossible moment broke. "I've been meaning to talk to you…"

"Yes?" He wondered. "What is it?"

"What kind of family do you want?"

"Oh?" It was his turn to hesitate. "I haven't thought about it. There's been so much going on and to do…"

"I think you can tell a lot about a person by the family they want. Not just the family they have."

"Hmm," he thought. He did some thinking aloud. "I want you. I don't know what my future will be like. It's so dangerous."

"In a perfect world with You Know Who gone what would you say?"

"I'd ask you how many kids you wanted," he said.

"I asked you first."

"I don't know. I really just don't. Your turn. Answer the question."

She made a face. "Maybe three children. But that's pushing it."

"Okay." He nodded. He gestured at her with an open palm. "Let's plan on it."

"Plan on it? You mean…"

"I want my life. I want my dreams. That's why I fight so hard against those forces. That's why I'm working so hard to undo whatever it is he did to me. The horcruxes. The fragment of Tom's soul which resides within me. I wish to exercise it or merge it with my own. I want you Daphne. I want to make you happy."

"You dork. You do make me happy." She smiled at him such that his heart ached. Fuck. Did she have any idea what she did to him? She just had the audacity to stand there and smile like that.

He grimaced.

"What? What is it?"

"It's nothing. You hurt me."

"How so?"

"You smile and it just… it hurts me."

"A good hurt?"

"Yes," he breathed. "And no."

"You don't get to give me a 'yes' and a 'no' simultaneously. I do that to you." She smirked.

"Sorry. But sometimes the answer isn't very enlightening."

"Discover anything interesting?" She quirked an elegant eyebrow at him.

"Maybe. Notes on how to make a horcrux. The more I know the better but the instructions are vague. Perhaps in the moment they won't be but who can say? Soul magic is complicated. I don't want to have to resort to trial and error when it comes to setting myself free. But I may have to. I may have to abuse my soul. It might be the only way."

"In the moment? What's that mean?"

When I murder someone.

"Don't worry about that."

"You'll be careful though. Won't you?"

He nodded. "The important thing is to maintain a connection between the crown and the kingdom." At her look he went on. "The tree of life. The Kabbalah. Everyone has a little Keter and Malkuth. The starting and end points of the Sephiroth. It takes energy supplied by Keter and then it takes Malkuth to act in the world; the kingdom. Theoretically so long as I don't disrupt the connection within these emanations within my soul I should be fine." He drew the Kabbalah in glowing green lights before her. "This is the periodic table of the soul. The top and the bottom are Keter and Malkuth; Sandalphon and Mattatron.

"I see. You need power to act in the world and space in which to act. What about these other circles?"

"The other emanations define the way light flows in this world. So long as a path between the crown and the world is provided any combination of the other emanations is allowable. Everyone has some of the rest. The way light flows governs the way a soul manifests; the personality of the person in question."

"And if the connection is disrupted? What happens to the soul then?"

"It's possible to linger as a Petra; a hungry ghost. Barely alive and desiring to be made whole. These spirits are usually weak and don't last long. They are just fragments. Just shadows."

She nodded and stared at the Sephiroth. Harry hummed in thought. "Or perhaps… that's what Tom is. But he doesn't desire to become reunited with the lost fragments of his soul. He wants his life to stretch on even as he is. Less than a ghost. A wraith. Well, not anymore. He has a body."

"Sounds complicated."

"It is. Naturally. The soul is that which remains when everything else is stripped away. Who are you without your mind and body?"

"I don't know…" she stammered. "It doesn't sound like much."

"Does it? Or does it sound like everything?" He paused thinking hard. "The crown is naturally above the head, above the mind's ability to comprehend. It's where the light of god first touches upon this world. It's where it takes shape and begins to manifest. But even understanding this I gain no further knowledge. The soul and the light continue to elude me and I'm left only in darkness. There is no light for me here."

"What about me?" She asked him.

He smiled. "Perhaps a little light." He amended.

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Voldemort made no major moves and it became spring. The ice melted. The ground thawed. There were birds again.

Harry walked out to the lake by the school. He looked out over the water. Neville joined him. They walked in companionable silence for a long time.

That was until Neville spoke. "I want you to use the torture curse on me. And I want to use it on you."

Harry hummed. He rocked on his heels as he stood. "Okay."

"That's it? 'Okay?' I just told my best friend I want to torture him. And that's all you have to say?"

"I told you I'd help you if you asked. I'll help you. You want to understand. You want closure. You want to know what your parents went through. It's natural."

"Is it?" Neville had to wonder.

"Yes. It is. It's very, very natural. I suppose you'll want to keep this a secret?"

"You can tell Daphne…" Neville decided. "But other than that. Yeah. I do."

"Okay. When do you want to do this?"

"Soon. But not- like, today," he clarified.

"I won't push you. When you're ready, come to me. You have every right to be scared. Torture isn't trivial. I would be concerned if you didn't give the subject appropriate weight. You're approaching this in a healthy manner. I couldn't be more proud."

"Really?" Neville demanded.

"Yes," Harry affirmed. "I can't imagine we'll be at it very long. So it doesn't concern me. You just want a taste. Right?"

Neville nodded. "That's right. Just… just a taste. Just to see."

"See if your parents were weak?" Harry clarified. Neville looked away. "They weren't. The cruciatus isn't a joke. It's designed to make you feel the zenith of pain. Bellatrix was no slouch with it either. You have to mean it. Do you? Can you? Against me?" Harry pressed.

"Well…"

"We're close."

Neville nodded. "The closest."

"So it may be difficult to get the intent right. The spell could fail if our hearts aren't really in it. Just imagine I'm Barry Crouch Jr and you should be fine. I can even cast a memory charm on you to make you believe I really am him. If it will help."

"Thanks but no. I can't do that to you. I want to look you in the eyes when I do it. I think that's fair."

Harry nodded. "Then let's do it." He thumbed the elder wand. He was a little nervous. He wasn't sure he could torture Neville to be completely honest. He would have to focus up to get it right. Neville wanted to know. This wasn't about Harry. It was about his friend.

"Thank you, Harry."

Harry smiled. "Don't thank me yet. I haven't done anything."

"You changed my life. I used to be pathetic. Now the only one better at defense than me is you. I can duel moderately well. I can defend myself. I've grown powerful. I got to feel like I was a part of something."

Harry hummed in thought. "You discount yourself as always. You just needed some confidence. You were conditioned into believing your spells would fail so they did. Now you've reached the summit and drank of the waters there. You did it through your own hard work. How's it feel?"

"It feels good. I feel good. I feel better about myself. But I couldn't have done it without you having my back," Neville informed him. "I think that's just how life is, though. I couldn't have done it without my nan either. I couldn't have done it if my parents were sane. I couldn't have done it if I was less lonely or had different friends."

"The nature of identity is to deny words which is strange since it's something that everyone knows what it is. You are you. I'm me. My familiar Hedwig is my familiar Hedwig though I don't know if he knows that's his name or just a noise I make when I want to get his attention. Which is probably what names started out as anyway. I often wonder if using words to describe identity is a bit like using colors to describe sound."

"You're saying we rely on our friends and family."

"I'm saying we are our place among our friends and family more than we are anything else," Harry corrected. "Emotional connections matter. Especially in the context of mind magic and soul magic. When I ask 'who are you?' And you answer with your name that is less meaningful than if you described your place in society."

Neville frowned. "What's that mean?"

"As much as you want it to." Harry shrugged. "There are likely only so many reasonably unique human identities. What is the parameter space of every reasonably unique human mind? I don't know. I suppose no one knows. There seems to be so much. Who are you besides your DNA bearing in mind that your DNA varies cell by cell. Day by day. Moment to moment. Your mind changes too. I'm not who I was when I started this sentence. I'm not where I was. I'm not when I was. Such ruminations are absurd. Identity seems to be maintained. We could be wrong about that but it hardly matters."

"The soul?" Neville asked him. "Magic?"

Harry frowned in thought. "The soul is in flux. Magically speaking I could be stronger one day and weaker the next. There are other things too. Things from outside. Outside the outer gates. That's probably where souls end up when they aren't here. Outside."

"But that's different from a demon, right?"

Harry nodded at his friend's words. "Demons come from fairy. Outsiders come from beyond even that. They truly don't belong here with us whenever they come through. Demons can at least pretend. Make the attempt. Outsiders don't. They aren't like us mortals or even beasts like the fay."

"What do they look like?"

"They defy description. They come from beyond and perhaps it inevitably varies monster to monster," Harry answered.

"Do they have souls?"

"Not as such. They are Qlipphoth. Husks. They touch upon the light from below. Why do we have souls? Why don't rocks and trees and even bacteria?"

"I don't know."

"The answer is they should. And do. But these things. These monsters aren't like people. In any way. I mean, yes, they have minds. But only when they are here. The rest of the time they are darkness. They are truly alien. And they don't play by our rules."

"How do you fight something like that?"

"You don't, which is the general idea I suppose. Unlike fairies they don't fear cold iron. Unlike the dead they can dismiss light and heat. Unlike dementors or boggarts one cannot use emotions as a shield. Magic slides off them. Grindelwald faced one once. When the French were desperate and he occupied Paris They summoned one. From outside. He managed to defeat it but only just. The French didn't try again."

"I didn't know that…"

"Few do," Harry nodded. He could recall the way spell fire twisted off the monster's hide. Its shadow had been twisted and torn like it wanted to run away from the monster it was attached to. Its long claws and magic made for a fearsome opponent. Grindelwald overcame it with a twist of space and stone. As well as fire. A lot of fire. Harry shuddered to remember its face. Long teeth and jet black eyes which roamed around its head freely, almost absently. It changed moment to moment.

"How do you know so much about Grindelwald?"

"It's inevitable that I would learn about my predecessors. I studied Voldemort as well. Frantically almost. Though Dumbledore and Grindelwald were friends of a sort. They admired each other. I learned a great deal about the dark lord from the headmaster," Harry lied in part.

"Is that right? Well I suppose it can't be helped. If I were you I would have learned as much as I was able too…" Neville trailed off. "But that isn't all."

"Oh?" Harry wondered.

"You admire Grindelwald. You like some of his ideas. About the muggles," Neville accused.

Harry bobbed his head in agreement. "I was raised among them. I always stood out. I couldn't help it. Voldemort did too. I can't help but wonder if my life would have been- well, not 'better' per se, but if I would be happier if Grindelwald would have won."

Neville frowned down at Harry at that. He was taller and more broad. "Do you think so little of Dumbledore?"

"Dumbledore's mistakes cost me personally a great deal. I love him. I do. But it would be remiss of me to not think about it. I think it's natural to wonder 'what if.' What if he opposed Grindelwald sooner? What if he did something about Voldemort while he was a student? What if he protected not just my parents but yours as well? Dumbledore's mistakes cost you too. I wonder how the next centennial wizard or witch will look back on me. Will I be better than Dumbledore? My mistakes get people hurt too. When I walked into Barry Crouch Jr's ambush I endangered not just my own life but Daphne's as well. I know she doesn't blame me but I blame myself. And I should."

"Why?" Neville demanded. "How was that your fault?"

"I should have seen it coming. Prepared better, maybe. The point is my mistake could have gotten Daphne killed. And I would have been without her. And I would have deserved it." Harry grimaced. "For the longest time I knew she wanted more from me. I pushed her away anyway."

"Were you… scared?" Neville asked.

"Yes. I was terrified of ruining what we had then."

"But she wanted you before," Neville pointed out. "You do see that. Don't you? She wanted you before."

"Getting kissed helps. I suppose. It helps a lot. But my mistakes aren't suddenly gone. Neither are my insecurities. But she doesn't care. I know she doesn't. I can feel it and see it within her. She doesn't have secrets from me."

"Mind magic?"

"We're connected." Harry agreed. "I've looked within her and seen how deeply she loves me. But for the longest time I just couldn't make that leap. I could feel her trying to make it easy on me. As easy as possible. But I still had to jump. At some point. There was no angle. When I was ready I jumped. She wasn't going anywhere without me."

"Getting kissed helps?" Neville echoed. Harry chuckled.

"It really really does." Harry paused. "I've killed two people. One was an accident. Two was self defense. I'm eyeing three right now. That's murder."

"You feel guilty?" Neville asked.

"No, that's the kicker. I don't feel a thing. I mean I'm glad Quirrel and Crouch are gone. But this? Killing someone I've never met for reasons I don't really care about? Nah. Don't feel a thing."

"You want to feel guilty," Neville interpreted.

"Yes. I do."

"That's good."

"Think so?" Harry wondered. Neville nodded.

"I wouldn't want to be your friend if you could kill without hesitation. You're struggling." Neville smiled. "Have you told Daphne this?"

"Not yet. She'll just worry over me." Harry shook his head. "She has enough on her plate in Slytherin without worrying about me flying off the handle bars."

"The scions? You're worried about them?"

"I would be crazy if I didn't worry. They are Death Eaters in student's clothing. Daphne is my weak point in a lot of ways. And she sleeps in the same room as them."

"I'm happy for you," Neville said softly.

"Why?"

"Well I'd be worried if you had no tethers here. Nothing tying you down. It would be different if you were just a merciless demigod tearing things up instead of a frightened empath. Still kinda sorta a demigod though." Neville shrugged.

"Think so?"

"She makes you happy. Lean into that feeling. Only good things can come of it."

"Some offense meant…"

"Sure," Neville granted.

"But what the fuck would you know?" Harry asked rhetorically.

Neville just grinned.

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-WG