(A/N: What exactly is the nature of a soul? And when Lord Voldemort so willingly split his own soul in half, what damage did he do to himself? This oneshot explores some of these ideas.

The inspiration for this story came from a trilogy called His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman. It's an excellent book and I highly recommend it. I was inspired by one of Pullman's most brilliant ideas, in my opinion, which is the daemon. Essentially, a daemon is the corporeal manifestation of a person's soul. It takes the form of an animal. What animal form it takes depends upon an individual's personality. For example, in HDM, Lord Asriel, a strong and dominant character, has a snow leopard daemon. That's just about all you need to know for the purposes of this story.

With that in mind, I hope you enjoy reading.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling. Credit for the notion of the soul in this story must go to Philip Pullman.)

A Broken Soul

And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they saw the true form of their daemons, and spoke with them. --Northern Lights, Chapter 21

"Sir – what do you know about... Horcruxes?"

That question proved to be a defining moment in Tom Riddle's life. He spent much of his early adult life seeking the full answer and after that obsessing over it. His reward was immortality. The price... well, he didn't learn the true nature of his sacrifice until the very end.

He had been studying the matter for two years when the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. He knew the theory, he knew the nature of Horcruxes and he knew how to brew the potion which would prepare his soul for being torn away. The only thing he didn't know was the name of the spell. No textbook divulged it; no wizard he had met knew or could be coerced into saying it. Then he heard of a Russian wizard, who was said to know the secret of immortality. There were rumours that he was centuries old.

On a miserable little island north of Scotland, Tom found him. He approached a small cabin nestled in the shadow of a hill. The sun beat down on his back. Tom knocked on the door and opened it without waiting for an answer. Sunlight streamed in from the gap in the doorway, illuminating the room. Inside, it was dirty and cramped, the only other light coming from a lacklustre fire. The flickering shadows played over the face of an old, immensely fat man. He was leaning back on a wooden chair, his feet propped on the table and downing a large glass of brandy. Tom wrinkled his nose at the powerful stench of alcohol and sweat, mixed with the fumes of the fire, coming from this man.

The wizard turned. Seeing the young, black-haired boy standing in his doorway, he wiped his mouth, put down the glass and grinned widely. His skin stretched, waxy pale, in contrast to his yellow teeth. He said something in Russian.

"I'm sorry, I only speak English," said Tom.

"Ah! English!" The wizard pulled out his wand and pointed it at Tom, still smiling. He spoke fluently. "It has been a long time since I had any English visitors."

Tom had his own wand ready as soon as he noticed the wizard's hand straying towards his robes.

"I have a question for you, if you don't mind," he said.

"Of course! I know what they're going to ask me, always the same question. Never come to know this old wizard's name, or ask after his health or even bother with saying hello. They barge in, these trespassers-"

"I'm sorry, sir," said Tom quickly. "I did not mean to intrude. I came in search of wisdom. I've heard that you might have the answers I'm looking for."

The man gave him a beady look from under wispy white eyebrows. He was completely bald; the firelight danced off his pate every time he jerked his head. "You're certainly more polite than usual! I've been threatened many times, but of course it is useless – come, sit down. Brandy?"

"No, thank you."

Tom closed the door behind him, which immediately darkened the whole room, and swept over to the table, taking a seat opposite the old wizard. At the same time, the wizard refilled his glass. There were only two things on the table: a bottle of brandy and a stubby candle.

"Go on then," said the wizard. "Ask me." He held his glass in one hand and tapped his wand on the table with the other. He seemed genial enough, but Tom kept his hand closed over the wand hidden in the folds of his robes.

"How old are you?"

The wizard threw back his head and laughed. His belly shook and the firelight shimmered over his pasty face. For a moment, Tom was reminded of a Chinese mummy, like one he had once seen in a museum on a trip with the orphanage, perfectly preserved over the years, the skin stretched and grey and foul.

When the wizard's fit of wheezy laughter had subsided, he stared at Tom with his small, dark eyes again. "That's what they all ask," he said. "Wie alt sind sie? How old are you?" He leaned forward across the table with a secretive manner. Tom bent his head towards the old man too, his muscles tense, his fist gripping his wand hard, scarcely daring to breathe.

The man chuckled in Tom's ear. "To tell you the truth… I've lost count." And with that he leaned back again with a great bark of laughter and took a swig of brandy. Tom tried to stay patient. He was experienced at getting people to tell him their secrets. He still wasn't quite sure how to deal with this man, so he settled for the same tactic he used on his teachers – politeness and charm.

"You've lost count, sir? Does that mean you're very old?"

"Oh, this one has been well trained in his manners!" he chortled. Then his tone suddenly changed, became sharper. "Where do you come from, boy? What's your name?"

"I come from a little village in England, sir. My name is Tom."

"Ah, Tom, Tom – a good old English name."

A spasm of anger passed over Tom's face at these words, but he smoothed it over instantly. His expression was polite and attentive. He waited for the old man to continue.

The man put down his glass for a moment and cracked his knuckles. "Well, Tom, Tom, if you want advice from an old sage, you've come to the right wizard." He chuckled again. "I was born over eight hundred and fifty years ago. Now I can guess your next question."

"How?" said Tom instantly. "How can you still be alive?"

The wizard tapped his nose with his wand and winked. "That's the secret they all want to know. Ah, but it's bad magic, Tom, Dark Magic… I've dabbled in my time. I moved here for some peace. Dying, Tom, everybody keeps dying. Never mind old age, they all insist on fighting wars too, so people can die a bit quicker. I fled to this country from Germany… awful place, Germany; you don't want to go there. But death always follows and so eventually I found this secluded spot. It reminds me of my childhood."

What, cold and dirty? Tom thought, but he didn't say that. The old man was rambling; it was time to get some answers.

"I've… heard something about Horcruxes, sir," he said. "Is that what stops you from dying?"

The man frowned. Tom licked his lips nervously. He knew this was the delicate part. Most wizards were extremely reluctant to admit they'd ever even heard of Horcruxes.

"Horcrux… yes, that is the name in your language. Long ago, Tom, I decided I didn't want to die. I got embroiled in Dark Magic… and Horcruxes are the Darkest." He looked directly at Tom. "Do you fear death?"

"I…" The truth was that he did, of course. Death was the only thing that could stop him. Without death, he had nothing to fear. Without the fear of death, he could do anything he wanted. He could become the most powerful wizard in the world… respected, exalted… feared. Let others fear. He had no need. But as a mortal, he was still vulnerable. All the time he had been in this room, he had trembled inwardly. He knew the man before him would not hesitate to kill. He imagined the spell that in the future he would so often use on others being cast on him. A flash of green light… and his consciousness would be extinguished forever. In his mind's eye, he saw blackness. Total blackness. Nothingness. What could possibly be worse than that? He shivered.

The wizard saw the haunted look in his eyes, noticed the shiver. He nodded. "You remind me of myself, Tom. How far are you willing to go to prevent yourself from dying?"

"I'll do whatever it takes."

"You know the creation of a Horcrux involves murder? It involves ripping your soul apart. It means you throw away all notions of morality."

Tom nodded. "I know. It doesn't matter."

The old man cackled. "Well, it looks like I have a genuine young Dark wizard on my hands. How much research have you done?"

"I've spent two years searching for the answer, sir. But there is still one piece of knowledge I lack."

"And what's that?"

"The name of the spell to create the Horcrux."

The old man laughed again. He gulped down the rest of his brandy and choked, spraying spit across the table. Tom's mouth tightened but otherwise he didn't react. The wizard was drinking himself into a stupor with no persuasion whatsoever. This would make it easier to modify his memory when the time came. Tom knew he couldn't kill the man, but he could make sure he forgot this visit.

"And why should I tell you, hmm?" the wizard asked.

"Don't you want to pass your knowledge on, sir? I could be a willing apprentice."

"Tom, Tom, what would you do with your immortality?"

He disliked the way the old man rolled the name 'Tom' off his filthy tongue, the way he kept repeating it as though he liked the sound. Nor did he like the wizard's patronising tone. He narrowed his eyes.

"I wouldn't be living in a hole like this. You are wasting your immortality, sir. Once I have conquered death, nothing can stop me. I seek power."

Drunk as he was, the old man couldn't fail to hear the note of disgust in Tom's voice. He wiped a trickle of alcohol from his chin and lifted his wand. "Power, hey? That's what they all want, Tom. All through history – and I should know, I lived through it, boy – these warlords have sought power and all the time they were looking behind their backs, scared that one day their enemy would take his revenge or their ally turn against them. Fear of death, Tom, it drives us all. The best way to stay alive is to keep your head down. Not that you'll take any of my advice, I can tell."

Tom snorted. He felt only contempt for the wreck of the man before him. He had one useful piece of information and that was all he was good for.

"Let's not waste time," said Tom. He stood up, robes billowing, silhouetted by the light of the fire. "Tell me the incantation."

The old man blew his cheeks out stubbornly. "No."

"Very well. If you refuse to tell me of your own free will – imperio!"

Although the wizard had his wand raised, the alcohol had slowed his reactions and he wasn't quick enough to counteract. His wand arm slipped and his eyes glazed over.

"Tell me the name of the spell," Tom whispered.

And the old man did.

He hadn't expected it to be so easy. All the preparations were in place. He had chosen his victims. He had taken the potion, which tasted like fire and chilled his insides. His throat was burnt and his chest numb. The coldness spread throughout his body until he thought his bones might crack and his muscles turn to stone. There was still a part of him urging himself to stop but his will was set.

He walked through the village with his head down, dressed in Muggle clothes. The stolen wand was tucked inside his sleeve and in his pocket was the diary. It was late evening and the sun had just set. Long shadows extended from the trees and hedges, shrouding the manor in darkness. The place was set apart from the rest of the village, as such stately homes often were. Tom sped up. He didn't want anybody to see him.

The door was locked but it was no barrier to a wizard. Tom stepped inside and breathed in the musty air. He could feel hatred pounding inside him. So his filthy Muggle father lived in luxury while he had been left abandoned and brought up in an orphanage! Despicable. The man deserved to die.

He tiptoed through the hallway, noting the richness of the carpet and the unmoving portraits on the wall and the grand, elegant furniture. All served to increase his anger.

He found them in the drawing room.

The three Riddles looked up. Their mouths opened in surprise. The sudden entry of a teenage boy was obviously unexpected. They were all dressed in smart Muggle clothes, the men in suits and bow ties and the old woman in a dark frock. The youngest man – his father – stood up with an expression of great indignation.

"Who the devil are you?"

Tom's fingers curled around his wand. He moved forwards so that all three of them were in his line of sight – easier to pick them off – and raised his wand.

"You don't recognise me?" he asked.

"Thomas?" said the old woman. She had tightly curled grey hair and a deep frown wrinkling her forehead. "Who is this boy?"

So far the Riddles only looked puzzled and angry. Tom tightened his grip on the wand. This was the moment he had been waiting for. His moment of revenge.

"Avada Kedavra!"

A flash of green light and his grandmother crumpled to the floor. Horrified, his grandfather put a hand on the table to steady his shaking body and stared into his wife's sightless eyes.

"What have you done?"

His father was staring at Tom, speechless. Tom smiled. The power he held was intoxicating. Let him experience more torment. He raised the wand again – another flash of green light and the old man too crumpled on the floor. Tom Riddle Senior staggered backwards. Now there was real fear in his eyes. He opened his mouth but seemed unable to speak.

"You asked who I am," said Tom. "I'm your son. You abandoned me. You deserve this pain."

His father shook his head helplessly.

Tom pointed the wand at his father for the final time. He had to be quick here – he had to say the spell to create the Horcrux as soon as he had cast the Killing Curse or the energy required would be lost. He pulled the diary out of his pocket and spoke the fatal words. Green light rushed to envelop his father. Tom whispered the final spell.

It happened instantly. He dropped the diary. A bolt of pain struck his body; he felt his soul rip away. He screamed. The agony, the emptiness; he thought his heart had been torn out; he clutched his chest instinctively, and yes, it was still beating and his ribs were intact, but still there was a gnawing, painful void. He saw her. She appeared for a few seconds, or perhaps an instant: a writhing serpent. Her scales were a vivid, poisonous green and she was screaming, her long fangs spitting venom. Something snapped; she was cut in half. He was screaming with her now, the pain was his own – she was him and he was her and he had ripped his own soul in two. The snake disintegrated into glowing particles; he breathed in and absorbed some of the light, but the spell was working; it drew some of the light into a vicious whirlwind, swirling, swirling and the diary glowed with blinding intensity, and then it faded. It was over. He slumped back. Some of his soul was back inside him, but it was maimed now, injured beyond repair. It hurt.

He retched and vomited on to the polished wooden floor.

Breathing raggedly, he regained his composure enough to pick up the diary and examine it. Inside its pages, a piece of his soul was safely encased. He had created his first Horcrux, taken the first steps along the path of immortality. He smiled and slipped the diary back in his pocket. The ache in his chest was worth it.

But the pain didn't stop. He grew used to it after a while. It was like a background noise, a faint continuous ache, easily ignored, yet it remained ever-present. He would never be whole again. His soul couldn't speak to him. No longer did he hear the voice of caution, or of conscience. He couldn't feel. He couldn't love.

The moment he ripped his soul away, he was no longer Tom Riddle. He carved a new, everlasting identity. He became Lord Voldemort.

Voldemort's journey to conquer death didn't end with just one Horcrux. The ordeal had been terrible, but vivid experiences fade over time and his will was strong. His initial intention had been to split his soul into seven pieces and he still intended to do exactly that. He took the ring from the body of his uncle – the uncle he had framed for his parents' murders by using his wand to kill them. It would house the next piece of his soul.

His next Horcrux victim was a rich elderly witch, Hepzibah Smith. He felt the pain of the tear again but less intensely than before. He heard the screaming – not the old woman, she was already dead – and not coming from his mouth either. It was an inhuman scream, the cry of a serpent. He didn't know if the sound was real. He clutched his aching chest once more and imagined the writhing snake extinguishing into the air. Faint sparkles of light appeared, coiling and uncoiling before dissolving into the ring, which glowed momentarily.

It was over quickly. He felt sick. He heaved and coughed before forcing down the bile in his throat and standing up straight. The damage had increased. That place in his ribcage which seemed to be the source of the pain was a little emptier, the torn scrap of soul still inside it exposed and bleeding.

He mastered the pain. Control was all it took. His mind was still intact, after all, and so was his body. His soul still existed, even if it wasn't whole. He was preserving it, not killing it.

Over the years, his appearance changed. He didn't care. He reminded himself of the old wizard with his waxy skin, but Voldemort had gone further than that. Much, much further. He cast spells on himself to prevent aging, to increase his power. He immersed himself in the Dark Arts. The darkness filled the gap inside him, where his soul should have been.

He didn't miss love. He had never loved. He didn't miss conscience. It had been a thorn in his side. He came to regret losing the voice of reason – the one that tempered his recklessness, for it cost him later on.

Voldemort's worst fear came true on the night he went to kill the Potters. He had killed so many others, so many times. The spell came naturally to him. He didn't hesitate. He didn't remember the protection that love could give, for he had never known it.

His own curse rebounded upon him.

He had thought the self-inflicted pain of tearing away his soul was bad enough. This, the death of his body, was worse. Much worse. He was ripped, mind and soul, from his helpless, pathetic body – the shell that had once housed him and was now useless. But what could one do without a body? The body provided him with his last moments of pain, but as spirit he could feel nothing.

The Horcruxes did their job. They kept him in the mortal realm. He was conscious, able to think, able to dwell on his miserable existence: a blind existence; no sounds, no smells, no feelings, only drifting helplessly alone, touching upon the minds and souls of others encased so comfortably in their various forms of flesh.

He found that he could possess animals, use his will to destroy their puny minds and take over their bodies. Remembering his Slytherin heritage, he chose to inhabit snakes whenever he could. He had always felt an affinity with these reptiles and he realised it wasn't just because of his ability to speak Parseltongue. The snake was the essence of his very being, his soul.

He kept seeing her, wounded and hissing in agony, poison pouring from her mouth, or else chopped up into bloodied pieces, or splitting into a thousand scaly fragments. His imagination tormented him. There was only a fragment of her left inside him; he couldn't even feel the other pieces any more; they had so long been separate from him, trapped in dead matter.

Had the Prophecy come true? Was he doomed to exist in this wretched form eternally, until his thoughts drove him into insanity? He knew one thing: he would revenge himself upon the boy who had reduced him to this. His mind dwelt upon it constantly. He would regain his powers, he would return and he would kill Harry Potter.

Harry Potter.

How he had come to hate that name. The boy had prevented his return once; he would not do so again.

Hope flickered within him again when an old servant returned. Under his guidance, Wormtail brought him back to a near-human form. He had a physical body again – but, oh, how wretched it was! Weak and pathetic as a baby. He hated it.

Wormtail's care was the only thing keeping him alive. He detested being so dependent upon another human being, especially one as snivelling and weak as Wormtail.

He had briefly possessed another serpent before Wormtail restored him and he maintained enough control over the beast to keep it nearby. He spoke to it in Parseltongue, gave it a name, Nagini, and developed a close affinity to it; so close, in fact, that it was not long before he was referring to Nagini as 'she', not 'it'. She was a beautiful, supple creature. Her vivid green scales glinted whenever she shifted on her rug in front of the fire and her sharp fangs sprayed deadly poison.

He knew what drew her to him. She reminded him of the thing he had torn apart. On the darker days, when he hated being trapped in this puny excuse for a body, and he felt more keenly the loss of his old self, and the ache in his maimed soul hurt more than ever – on these days, he looked at Nagini and he imagined his younger self, when he was still whole.

He thought then, that if his soul was separate from his body, that it would take the shape of a snake like her – the one he had seen when he first mutilated his soul. And she would drape herself around his shoulders, her smooth coils passing along his skin, and together they would be strong and healthy.

These despondent thoughts were destroyed in an instant. Triumph. Exultation. These were the feelings of Lord Voldemort when he finally returned again. His body – he had never realised how much he loved his own body until he examined his long white fingers again, noticed how complicated their design was, the way they curled around his wand. And the movement! To feel the earth beneath his feet, the precise balance of his bones and joints when he walked, the smooth flexing of his muscles. It was pure joy, the joy of possessing a working physical body.

Few could appreciate just how good that was.

Not only that, he felt rejuvenated. The magical protection that had saved Harry Potter now ran in his veins too. Potter lay helpless before him and he tormented the boy with glee. He relished the touch of the wind on his skin, the presence of his Death Eaters, the fear emanating like a stench from the boy and most of all the power. What control magic gave him!

But he was overconfident. So elated at his return and his slighted pride so strong, he was determined to beat Potter properly. He hadn't duelled in a long time. He felt the familiar excitement building up inside him. He wanted to draw out the boy's pain, make him beg for mercy.

But Harry Potter escaped.

He regrouped, gathered his Death Eaters, made his plans. He kept Nagini beside him. She wasn't a true replacement in the way he sometimes wished her to be; no mere animal could replicate the connection between body and soul. But she was the closest he had.

He believed his sacrifice was worth it. After all, his Death Eaters, though they liked to think they had his personal trust and friendship, were mere puppets to be used or discarded at will. Only he was everlasting. He was the puppet master. All others were beneath him.

The war was a terrible struggle. Many lives were lost. They didn't matter. What mattered was winning. Voldemort spent the blood of his followers without mercy. But victory was hard to come by.

He realised three years later, at the very end, that it had all gone wrong since that moment in the graveyard when he had let Potter slip out of his grasp. Or perhaps his fatal mistake had been that moment he had attempted to kill the baby Potter. It mattered not. All his problems traced back to Potter. The boy had to be stopped.

Their final battle was in the ruins of Godric's Hollow. How fitting, he thought, that this should be the place where it ends. Potter seemed to think so too. He had grown into a dangerous enemy: seventeen years old and battle-hardened from the long years of confrontation.

"I shall be very happy to kill you at last," Voldemort hissed. "Now you have no-one to hide behind, Potter. They're all gone."

He saw the pain in his adversary's eyes – the pain of loss. The kind of pain that only fools like Potter felt. The black-haired teenager's scar stood out starkly against his pale face. He was alone.

"I don't need to hide any more," Potter said. "I don't need anybody to protect me. I came to deal with you myself."

Voldemort laughed. "Try. You cannot kill me, you worthless boy."

"I can," said Potter quietly. "I know about your Horcruxes, Voldemort. They're all gone now. The only piece of your soul left is the one still in your body and I'm here to destroy it!"

Voldemort's eyes widened. "I – you lie!"

"I'm not lying." Potter's face was battered; he hadn't emerged from his earlier battles unscathed. Though Voldemort's Death Eaters had failed to kill him, they had given Potter more scars than the one on his forehead.

Voldemort looked into the green eyes of his nemesis and he knew then that the boy was telling the truth. Potter's stance was determined, his wand gripped and ready.

Then Voldemort realised the truth. His eyes were opened. He saw, with perfect clarity, the she-wolf standing next to Potter, her hackles raised, her lips curled back in a snarl. She gave him strength, a strength that he lacked, and she dazzled with the purity of Potter's heart. The fragment of soul left inside him trembled.

And Lord Voldemort was afraid.

(A/N: Thanks for reading and please review! I'd love to hear your thoughts and constructive criticism is welcome.)