BONUS #6

Poll Results

You know, Tom, I've noticed that public opinion is very interesting.

Stupid, more like.

Come on, at least pretend to be happy. PR, man! PR!

Fine..."All of you guys worked really really hard and these pictures are all really awesome and well-done! We had a hard time choosing any one of them, so we let you guys choose for us! Once again, thanks for participating!"

...Turns out none of you were good enough to beat a stock photo of a bunny from the internet, but we'll keep the links to your artwork on boomvroomshroom's profile.

Be nice! Think of the PR!

But they're fourth-wall viewers. They already know that I'm evil. I might as well milk it for all its worth. You'd think that people who have already read this far would enjoy the snark.

True enough.

Bunny: 24

Helvetica Black (Hero): 13

eggstraeggstra (Ghost): 13

0bananas0 (Cat/Mouse): 5

pimasta314 (Illuminati): 5


"#275. Whatever abuse I heap onto my followers, I will make sure to dish out a reasonable amount of praise at random intervals as well. Not only will that confuse potential defectors so they can't decide if they are being treated unfairly enough to try to escape or not, but also constantly keep my followers motivated since they know reward is possible."

"That…is interesting. That is very interesting," Professor Slughorn murmured, stroking his moustache. "I think we'll be expecting great things from you in the future, Mr. Riddle. That's it for today. Come back next week, same time…We'll start the first real test then. And then after you master the basics, we can start working on special techniques like mental layering and all that…have you read about it yet, Tom?"

"Is it when a person can use many insignificant, irrelevant, or false memories to distract an intruder?" Tom asked.

"Yes, yes. Exactly," Professor Slughorn puffed out his chest proudly.

"I have a few ideas on what to use, theoretically, but I'm not quite sure how to apply them yet," Tom told him. "Anyway, I think I'll just focus on mastering the most basic forms right now. I'm just doing this to learn more things, and I don't want to put myself – or you – in any unnecessary danger or trouble just because I couldn't learn to be patient."

This only made Professor Slughorn beam even more. "Well, that is absolutely correct, Tom! And, I must say, a very mature statement. At this rate that you're going, however, I highly doubt you'll have to wait long to get to that stage. Perhaps in the next few weeks we'll work on simply blocking an intruder. You'll have mastered that in about a month or two, I think. Normally, it would take people longer, but you're already so far ahead in just clearing your mind. Hm. Yes, once you've mastered blocking you can get to actually actively confusing a potential intruder. Do you know why this is more advantageous than merely blocking them?"

"Because when you just block someone, they know you're hiding something, and if they're strong enough they'll keep looking?" Tom asked, pretending like he was unsure of his answer, and then continued at Professor Slughorn's affirmative nod. "But if you just feed them a false memory, they'll just think that they already found what they came for, and they won't look any further, and you'll be safe for the time being?"

Professor Slughorn puffed out his chest in pride. "Exactly!" He cheerfully poured himself another glass of alcohol and took the opportunity to glance at the clock. "Well, it is getting late, Tom. You should leave quickly now or you won't make curfew! I would hate to see a star student get in trouble simply because of this. Ah – hang on…just to be safe…" He grunted and began rummaging around in his desk drawers for some paper and a pen. "I'll write you a note. Just in case you don't make it back to the dormitories in time. I'll just say we were talking and I lost track of time…no one can fault you for that, Tom…I know my own faults very well, and one of them happens to me my tendency to yap on about the silliest things…"

No, REALLY?

Jerry shrugged apologietically.

Slughorn was still talking. "If only I could tell other people about this, Tom! You'd be famous all over the country – no, all over the world! I don't think you understand how magnificent this accomplishment is…a near-perfect Occlumens at age twelve after only one summer of self-study…but maybe it's not such a good idea, after all. People would get jealous. It wouldn't be safe for you anymore. You might get hurt. No, maybe being famous at twelve is not as good as it sounds. Being famous, in general, is not worth it. It's why I'm here, as a Potions professor in a little school, instead of traveling the world…but maybe, when you're older, you can tell these stories with less repercussion, yes…"

Um, Jerry?

Yes?

What are we going to do about him?

Slughorn?

Maybe we overestimated his secret-keeping abilities. He looks ready to burst.

Hmmm…I guess we are jumping into this a little quickly.

Should we wipe his memory?...only, then we'd have to start over…and I want to get this Legilimency business over with so that we can get back to other things.

Don't wipe the memory exactly, but just compel him to "forget". And add some secret-keeping Compulsion charms to him.

Do you think it will work?

It's our best shot. Look – once we master this to the point where we no longer need a teacher, we can mind-wipe him for good.

All right.

(Professor Slughorn was still muttering blindly to himself when they walked out.)

They continued this method of training with Professor Slughorn – walk in for an hour-long private session, spend about half of that time listening to Slughorn singing psalms about him, and then modify his memory so that he'd forget all about it, and simply "remind" him of where he had progressed to (or rather, that there had even been progress in the first place) at the next class. In this way, he could keep the man clueless enough not to brag to someone he considered "trustworthy", without having to start over at every session.

Over the course of the next few months, Tom's Occlumency lessons with Slughorn progressed quite smoothly. Well, as smoothly as one could get, with Lestrange badgering him about where he was going every night.

"Where were you, Riddle?" he would demand, hands on hips, with a tinge of worry in his eyes. "We missed you. You didn't have any trouble with any of – "

It was at moments like this that Tom regretted that he still had to cater to Lestrange's little insecurities. Honestly. He preferred the annoying, snotty little brat that absolutely hated him to this new, equally aggravating and arrogant little worm who worshipped the ground he walked on. At least the previous one left him alone sometimes. This version of Lestrange was like some psychotically attached girlfriend. There was no way he could ever meet anyone worse.

Tempting fate, are you?

Oh, god no.

"For your information, Lestrange," Tom turned up his nose, and Lestrange, sensing that Tom the God of All Things Holy was not pleased with him, cringed, "I do not need to justify everything I do at every second of the day to you." He smirked as he watched Lestrange's attitude backtrack almost immediately.

"I am so sorry – I was merely concerned for your wellbeing – "

Tom shot him a dangerous glare, but on the inside, reveled at this opportunity to continue twisting Lestrange's words. Rule number one in the Court of Riddle is that anything you say can and will be used against you. "Are you implying that I am incapable of taking care of myself?"

"No – of course not – I would never dare – "

"What sort of trouble do you think I would be 'running into', anyway?" Tom asked him.

Lestrange's eyes grew wide. "Nothing; nothing at all!"

"Don't lie to me, and don't ever try to hide anything from me," Tom hissed at him, seemingly getting angry for no apparent reason whatsoever.

"Well – it's just that – " Lestrange, once again, was showcasing his uncanny ability to magically dig himself a deeper grave even when he was already in one. "I – you see – I – well, I couldn't help but notice that you continue to spend time with – well, with that Gryffindor half-blood, McGonagall, and the half-goblin, Flitwick, and that Hufflepuff – "

"Are you suggesting that I am incapable of choosing my own friends?" Tom asked. "Or do you suddenly consider yourself the director of my associates?"

"No – I would never dare be so presumptuous – "

"Then what is the matter, Lestrange?" Tom snapped.

"I – but they are half-blood – "

"That was apparent; do you think I'm so stupid I can't determine simple fact for myself?"

"No – not at all – "

"If you haven't noticed, Lestrange, I'm half-blood."

"But you're…different!"

"Really? Am I? I seem to remember that both Filius and Minerva – " Tom smirked at Lestrange's wounded expression at the fact that he was on first-name terms with those "inferiors" and not him – "are beating you in almost every single class. Scratch that, every single class. Even Potions. And Slughorn is our Head of House."

"Riddle, please – "

"Thanks, Ed. You're the greatest friend anyone could ever ask for."

I never thought pretending to be bipolar could ever be so funny.

"Please – wait, what?" Lestrange's face had twisted from absolute anguish to extreme confusion.

"I am very lucky, to have someone who cares so much about me. If you must know, I was actually only speaking with Professor Slughorn, but thank you for your concern," Tom said sweetly, flashing Lestrange his most brilliant smile and patting his cheek. (To the non-infatuated mind, that was condescension; to Lestrange, it was a display of affection, and he responded accordingly, like a lovesick puppy – and god how Tom hated puppies.) "You are simply amazing Ed; did you know that? Simply amazing."

"Oh. Well. Thank you, Tom."

"No problem. Now get out."

"Wait – what?"

The poor thing just looked so confused.

Maybe having Lestrange around wasn't so bad after all. He certainly couldn't get away with doing that with Minerva or Filius or Pomona or, god forbid, Professor Dumbledore. And the Blacks and Abraxas Malfoy were all just so caught up in their own little world that Tom couldn't be bothered to deal with them just yet. But poor little Edmond Lestrange was just so perfectly clueless and vulnerable that he just couldn't help but take advantage of him. Sure, he could just as easily take out his frustrations on Lestrange's little cronies, but where was the fun in that? Lestrange was the most "prestiged" out of all of them, which only made the satisfaction Little Orphan Tommy got from picking him apart that much better. Besides, none of them had such entertaining reactions. They all just crawled about around him, mostly. Lestrange was the only one bold (and stupid) enough to deal with him directly.

Really, he should have known better. Poking around at Tom Marvolo Riddle, honestly. He deserved all that Tom was dishing out to him, and then some. The Hogwarts motto, as stupidly phrased as it was, was still an extremely powerful statement that more people unfortunately (or fortunately for Tom) did not pay attention to. If some idiot decided to go poke a dragon in the nose with a stick it was his own damn fault for getting roasted alive.

Never tickle a sleeping dragon.

Like wizards didn't have that sort of common sense.

Then again, they probably didn't.

After all, why else would they have second-year students handling something as potentially fatal as Mandrakes of all things? Tom knew that making a sound-cancelling charm was not a difficult concept – but they didn't teach it until about fourth year. So why were they grubbing around in the dirt with earmuffs of all things? He knew for a fact that Professor Root and Professor Knowley were good friends who did everything together, including (probably) planning their class schedules. Was it really that hard to teach kids a new spell before the Mandrake thing, or just move the Mandrake thing up to fourth year? Or, better yet, Professor Root could just teach them himself, and spare them the trouble. He was a qualified teacher. Surely he could do a simple Sound-Cancelling charm around all of their ears.

But noooo, they were relying on earmuffs that didn't even come with adjustable size straps.

That the Slytherins were doing this lesson with the Hufflepuffs wasn't making this any better. At least Pomona had chosen the seat across from him (Lestrange and one of the Selwyn cousins were fighting over who got to sit in the only seat next to him, since he was at the end of the table right in front of the teacher and neither of them could be bothered to swallow their pride and associate with the Hufflepuffs). Even though she wasn't as amazing as Minerva or Filius in anything requiring a wand, she actually knew her stuff when it came to Herbology.

Maybe a little too well.

"Oh, isn't this so exciting?" Pomona was asking him, like they weren't dealing with a potentially lethal exercise. "Mandrakes! They're very powerful plants, you know!"

"Yes, they are," Tom agreed halfheartedly. Anything that can kill me before I'm immortal is "exciting", I suppose…why is Hogwarts the "safest place in Britain" again?

In Hogwarts, you are safe from outside attacks…not Hogwarts itself.

Haven't they ever lost any first-years here?

Probably, but, you know, they're first-years. You forget about them as easily as you can drop-kick a puppy over a fence.

"Pay attention, class!" Professor Root clapped his hands. "Today's lesson is extremely dangerous and I will be extremely disappointed if you are the first student to break my perfect track record, so listen up! That includes you, Mr. Lestrange!"

'Extremely disappointed'? Tom thought, incensed. Someone might DIE! And look at those idiots! They're all LAUGHING!

Are you actually concerned?

YES! I mean, look at me! Someone this flawless should not have to die in something as stupid as a Herbology accident!

Oh. Thank goodness. I thought you were actually serious.

About what? Oh, you mean the other students? Forget them. In fact, I'm kind of hoping that Lestrange isn't paying attention properly, so that he doesn't put his earmuffs on right.

He probably won't die. If these are new Mandrakes –

- then they'll only knock you unconscious; yes, yes, I KNOW. I can read, too, you know. I'm not going to kill off such a massive source of income just yet. And I KNOW I can do a sound-cancelling charm, but still! Oh, don't be that way, Jerry; I KNOW no one has died at Hogwarts yet, but wouldn't it be embarrassing if we were the first?

Us. Be the first to die.

It could happen! I like to stay prepared, thank you very much. This is why we have to become immortal! I can't die! I just can't DIE! Not here!

Oh, Tom, you are so adorable.

WHAT?

Shut up and stop freaking out. We're fine.

Easy for you to say; you're already dead.

As it was, Tom did end up being completely fine, but that didn't make his concerns any less valid, because Lestrange, too busy smacking around Selwyn to pay attention to Professor Root's instructions, hadn't. Since he would be spending the rest of the day in the Hospital Wing, sleeping off the damage to his ears, Tom found himself spending time studying with all three of his original "friends" for the first time in weeks. After all, the only reason why so many lackeys constantly followed him around nowadays was because Lestrange just wouldn't give up and no one else wanted to be shown up by him of all people.

Sometimes it felt nice to finally be sitting next to people who actually knew what they were doing for once. Sort of. They were still stupid, compared to him. But at least they didn't grovel at his feet. He could, at least, say that he could suffer through a study session or a meal with Pomona, Filius, and Minerva without running through too much of his patience.

"Mandrakes are so awesome! Aren't they, Tom!"

"I prefer Professor Dumbledore's class myself."

"But you prefer Charms, don't you? It's such a versatile subject!"

"I think Transfiguration is versatile, too!"

"But the plants, Filius! The plants!"

…Most of the time.

Oh, god, kill me now…

The Mandrakes are still in the Herbology room if you want to use them.

You're not helping.

You said "kill me now"!

It was a figure of speech!

I would rather not tempt Fate.

Do you really believe in that crap?

I have nooo idea. Logically, it's not supposed to work that way…

But these are wizards we're dealing with.

Talk about a warped imagination.

Well, next time someone tells me to "go to hell", I can just point out to them that other people work just as well.

Aren't you a bit young to start quoting Sartre at me?

Whatever.

Luckily, before Tom could go too stir-crazy, winter break came along, and the majority of the school's population departed for home, leaving Tom (mostly) to his own devices. The lack of human contact allowed him to cool down somewhat, just enough to regain his composure – because, sometimes, sneaking off to the Room of Requirement to find some goddamned peace and quiet just didn't cut it.

The winter passed just like the previous year, except that instead of socks, Tom bought Professor Dumbledore an entire case of raspberry jam instead. Professor Slughorn himself had been bribed with a box of crystallized pineapple, Headmaster Dippet received a plate of treacle tarts, and the upper-class Slytherin underground was introduced to the concept of magical blue rock candy.

Don't you think there are sweets that will sell better than something as simple as rock candy, like, I don't know, Girl Scout cookies?

Obviously you've never tried the stuff from Los Pollos Hermanos.

Don't you mean "Los Hermanos Pollos"? The noun goes before the modifier in Spanish.

No, I'm definitely thinking of Los Pollos Hermanos.

What does Hispanic chicken have to do with rock candy?

…They might be aspiring Dark Lords, but they had a duty to those poor deprived people. The orphanage hadn't given him the most privileged of childhoods, but it was better than growing up in a world where people were more creative with their childrens' names than their senses of taste. Seriously. Tom could name at least ten different types of fruit-based flavorings alone that didn't involve pumpkins of some sort. It was like this world was merely a bad rendition of Halloween.

Hey – our mind-control spell is stronger than all of the current conventions of mind control or memory modification. And unlike the Imperius Curse, the effects of mind control still stay, like in a Confundus Charm, even after the connection breaks.

But it's still not perfect. You can only control one person at a time, and even though the effects stay, you can no longer continue sending orders after a certain distance. What you need is something that stays there and can't be removed.

We'll figure that out when we get there. Meanwhile, we haven't even touched immortality since last year…

Because there isn't any base information we can work with. Your research will go a lot faster once you've completed your education.

There's the Philosopher's Stone. We could steal it, and then just attach it to the inside of my stomach with a Permanent Sticking Charm so that no one can steal it from us.

The Philosopher's Stone extends your lifespan, but it doesn't protect you against injury.

What about Horcruxes? Hey! Don't look at me like that! I have a really, really brilliant idea that I swear won't make me go crazy, okay? I'll just make one, but get this – I'll make the Earth my Horcrux, so the only way to kill me would be to blow up the entire planet! And then I'll be totally immortal! Or, until the Sun explodes, by which point I'd probably not want to stick around anyway.

Tom, as stupidly genius that plan is, Horcruxes are not a good idea. Even one is too much.

Well, then, what do you suggest?

I don't know. But we'll figure something out. I mean, biologically, the reason why humans age is because your cells can only divide a certain amount of times before the end caps on your chromosomes deteriorate. If we could just magically preserve our own cells, we'd be all set.

Maybe that's how the Elixir of Immortality works. Every time you take it, it extends the length of your telomeres, which extends the length of your life. That might also explain why you don't get auto-heal from it.

Now if only there was a way to prevent dying from non-age-related reasons that didn't involve a complete resurrection…

At least there were some positive things going on. Or, at least, positive for Tom. Not so much for the victims. For one, the market was suddenly jumping up again as Adolf Hitler (and Gellert Grindelwald, the current Dark Lord) started becoming more aggressive. He had received news through his chain of political/stockbroker middlemen that Czechoslovakia had now ceased to exist, carved up into little territories for the Germans and Hungarians, and more Nazi troops marching on Lithuania. The Free City of Danzig was reincorporated into German territory, and the Polish Corridor separating them from East Prussia was likewise thinning.

The German economy had been steadily improving before, since Adolf Hitler's takeover, but following this neo-imperialist news report, it was positively roaring now. The same was true for England; though Neville Chamberlain was still trying the appeasement route, it was quickly becoming clear that the words of the upstart Winston Churchill was gaining credibility. The politicians tried to deny any rumors of upcoming conflict, but they couldn't lie to Tom about the economy. When the amount of government commissions to several extremely specific industries suddenly increased by that much, you just knew that national leaders were scared enough to start preparing for yet another armaments race.

Though Tom and Jerry still scoffed at the incompetence of the people in power, they at least could give the Muggle governments credit for doing something, even if it was too little too late. The isolationist Magical British government, on the other hand, was still sitting on its ass, twiddling its thumbs, and pouring tea, its face turned so far in the wrong direction that it had actually crossed the right direction twice before settling on its current position. And even then it was still so blind that a man with a glaring purple shirt could have rushed in and stabbed all their eyes with knives and it wouldn't make a single difference in the world. Hell, they probably had earplugs shoved so far down their auditory canals that they had probably punctured the eardrum and were rubbing up against their brains by now.

Someone is being a bit salty today.

I'm just pissed off. We're not making any progress on any of the things that matter.

Hey. Cheer up. Good Evil Overlords are always waaaaaaay upbeat.

Because it throws off the general public?

No, because statistically, people make poorer decisions while they're in a pissy mood.

Jerry, I'm just hating life right now.

Want to go make Lestrange's life miserable again?

Nah. That's getting old. I mean, it's still funny, but…I don't know. Right now, the only thing that will really, truly make me happier is finding something, anything, new on either of our two projects. Even a tiny lead will make me happy. I just need some evidence that we're progressing.

Well, you could always think of our failure as progress. Now we know what road not to continue going down on, right? Better to know to quit right at the beginning than follow a false lead only to figure out that it's impossible when you've wasted years that trail, thinking that you're almost done.

I guess that's true. I just feel so stuck in this place, you know? There's got to be more to the world than just – sitting here and screwing around. Sometimes I just wish I was seventeen already. Even though I know that once I'm immortal – because I will be immortal – this will seem like nothing but a blink of an eye.

It seems all so far away, doesn't it?

God, I hate this place.

You hate everything, Tom.

Not everything. I do like some things.

It has to be an actual thing for it to count, not a hobby like "plotting to take over the world."

I like money.

Well, everyone likes money.

I like magic, when it's not being stupid. Or books, when they're not dead wrong and the authors actually know what they're doing…shoot, I really hate everything, don't I?

You better find something to entertain yourself outside of Evil Overlordly duties, or else you're going to go mad from boredom. It's like when you finally ascend to the throne and you wonder what the hell all that work getting there was for.

Power? Security? The challenge?

The challenge ends when you've won.

I think Alexander the Great said that when he finished conquering the world, he wanted to turn around and conquer it again.

Why stop at the Earth, Tom?

Why indeed?

Feeling better, Tom?

Oh, loads. Wait! Here comes Malfoy and his pet gorillas! Quick! Give me something really rude to tell him!

Ah, that prissy bastard. I still don't understand how he was the fastest sperm. Looks like someone's mother forgot to say "Fetus Deletus." You know how scary it is, to think that people like him will grow up to reproduce? I'm still wondering how closely related his parents were. Then again, that can be said for all Pureblood families.

(Five seconds later)

"I'm sorry, Riddle, who did you get this note from again?"

"Orion Black, why?"