Finally, after all those sleepless nights of constant plotting and pondering, Tom had finally, finally completed his mind-control brand.

Now, who to pin it on?

Well, the answer to that was obvious.

Poor Lestrange. Poor, poor Edmund Lestrange.

Just kidding. He wasn't stupid. Contrary to what his jokes indicated, Tom could under no circumstances risk actually going after a human test subject right away, even if it was Lestrange. The human mind was a complicated thing, and the list of what exactly could go wrong ran for miles. The best thing to do would be to start with things that had simpler minds than Lestrange. Tom wasn't worried about finding a suitable pre-test specimen. There were at least thirty different species of animal dumber than Lestrange was – although, the fact that none of them were chordates might be an issue…

TOM! YOU JUST MADE A CNIDARIAN EXPLODE!

Re-lax, Jerry! I have this covered. We're wearing a HAZMAT suit, remember? Besides, it's not as if jellyfish had brains to begin with.

Where'd you even get that?

Get what?

That HAZMAT suit?

I conjured it…?

From where?

with magic…?

But how'd you know how to conjure one?

I imagined it…?

But where'd you come up with that?

You told me…?

When?

Just now…?

What?

Jerry, are you all right?

What? What are you talking about –

Jerry!

I'm all right! Nothing's wrong! I swear!

Are you sure?

Yep. I'm fine. Absolutely fine.

You're behaving rather oddly, Jerry.

I relapsed slightly. Dead person, fragmented mind, violent death, and all that. I'll be okay.

You sure?

I'm sure. Continue.

It had taken many more months of messing around with various mammals, before moving on to some stolen - er, summoned monkeys and apes. It wasn't as if the world would go bananas over some little Dixout or Haramboo whatever its name was, would they?

The problem with using animals as test subjects was that all species had drastically different mental capabilities when compared to humans. It wasn't really a matter of intelligence, since that could be measured differently from animal to animal, but there was definitely a case to be made of how close to the human thought pattern each animal was. That included behavorial patterns and personality as well as simple "intelligence".

Tom's brand was designed to be strong enough to infiltrate the free will of a human, but not strong enough to overload their heads; thus, it seemed to work the most like the expected result when used on fellow primates. The first design Tom had used ended up turning his experimental rats and rabbits into living zombies; however, they had absolutely no negative effect whatsoever on chimps. Raccoons, ravens, and cats had varied reactions – they scored strongly on problem solving and lateral thinking areas on average, but differed from (most) humans in that they were solitary, not social, creatures. Then again, humans were also similar in that regard, as many of them were bad at following orders, and not just because of stupidity. Training certain humans was just as hard as training certain pets.

From these tests, Tom realized that human reaction to his brand would be varied, as well. For example, Minerva was a smart and strong-willed girl who acted according to her own brand of justice, but also paid excessive attention to rules and authority. Thus, she would most likely be harder to control than some of the dumber lackeys in Slytherin, but easier to control than, say, a prideful case like Orion Black or Abraxas Malfoy, or some of the more hotheaded Gryffindors, despite being more book-smart than the lot of them.

Which only led to even more issues regarding the mind-control brand. It seemed like he would have to tailor them specifically to the individual rather than simply mass-produce them as initially intended – or otherwise provide some sort of a safeguard check – making the prospect of bringing the whole entire world under this one control even less and less likely. At least there was proof that this runic method could work, unlike a single spell; however, it was also obvious that they had a long, long way to go before the rune could be applicable on a massive scale.

Maybe…you could spell it to maximal power, but then put certain gates on it so that it doesn't release it all at once and melt the person's brain. And then design the flow gates so that they'll only clamp down according to how much or how little independent will the person has. Like, all commands start out as a simple suggestion. If someone tries to resist, a gate will open and let more magic in so that the suggestion becomes a command, and the more they resist, the more forceful and magic-backed the order becomes. It's like the Chinese Finger Trap thing – the more you fight it, the stronger it latches on.

Any idea how to actually go about doing this?

I don't know. I don't remember.

Maybe a pressure gate?...hmmm…

He'd need more test subjects. Human test subjects. But definitely not ones from Hogwarts – random kids going missing in the middle of the night was too risky and too conspicuous. Something like that would certainly spark a highly inconvenient investigation by the Ministry of Magic – which he didn't particularly care about – and the teachers of Hogwarts – whom he cared a little more about, the main reason being Professor Dumbledore.

He couldn't use any of the children from the orphanage, either. The Muggle authorities might be low in numbers because of the war, as able-bodied young men that normally ended up joining the police force were instead being recruited into the military, but that didn't mean that orphan children getting snatched up in the night and then reappearing a few days later with their brains completely liquefied wouldn't stand out in some way, shape, or form.

Nothing could be traced back to him, in the event that anything went wrong and someone's brain started boiling. But this wasn't like money. He couldn't just create a mind-control chain and have random people be tested – casting a spell was a lot different from rune application. Spells could be accomplished through sheer willpower; runes required a lot more thought because the magic had to be applied in a certain way for it to remain stable. And certain people just physically didn't have the control to make a proper rune, let alone an Arithmantic rune, even if they had all the willpower in the world. Such a level of control had to be established at a young age, like Tom had. After a certain age, it was completely impossible – like trying to train ducks to obey their mother when they had already accidentally already imprinted upon a ticking clock.

Tom could provide the will through mind control. But there were limits; he could not provide a way. His subjects were limited through their own bodies. If he commanded someone normally unable to execute complex gymnastics flips to do so, then perhaps they might be able to if it was merely a matter of coordination. However, if he commanded that same person to catch enough smoke to fill a bucket with their bare hands, they'd be grasping at the air forever. Similarly, the difference between forcing someone to perform a spell they did not know, and inscribing a brand that was way out of their league, was the difference between making someone "try harder" or making someone "completely redirect the flow of their own undisciplined magic".

He needed to be there, to observe the changes and effects specifically. Secondhand information just wouldn't do, especially since most of these people wouldn't know what to look for. That was the main limitation of the brand – he could project commands, but not his own memories or thoughts. To do so would require possession, which was a different matter entirely, and not quite the safest one.

Tom hadn't expected their first trial run to be absolutely perfect, but he hadn't anticipated so many new problems, either. They hadn't accounted for all of these factors in the initial design process, and now it was coming back to bite him in the behind.

Even application of the Dark Mark in itself turned out to be a rather annoying process, and Tom was almost starting to regret designing the rune to be located on the brain. Unfortunately, there really was no other way; anything placed superficially would not only be more easily spotted, but also much weaker than optimal performance. Since power decreased over distance, it was only natural that the brand would be strongest when it was closest to the brain – even more so when it contacted the neurons directly. Efficiency was key, and he would rather suffer through the procedures now than suffer the result of any future pains that could have been prevented with a little less laziness.

Theoretically, physically applying the brand to the brain instead of burning it in from a remote area would be a lot easier, but then that led to the complications of actually having to physically cut through the skull as well. Tom was not a trained brain surgeon, and he didn't want to kill or lobotomize anyone by accident just because he didn't know what the thickness of the average human skull was in relation to a surgical saw. As useless as the central authorities were, there were still some things so blatantly obviously suspicious that even they couldn't overlook, and a mysterious pile of dead people was one of them.

Thus, one had to be extra careful not to accidentally stop at the skull when sending the brand through the eye sockets. There was a chance that a brand located that far away from the brain might still work, but it definitely wouldn't be as strong as intended. When the brand did not actually touch the brain, its strength increased gradually as expected, but once contact was actually made, its effectiveness shot up at least tenfold, and Tom wasn't going to be dumb enough to let an opportunity like that slide.

It was then that Tom realized another concerning turn of events – no matter how smart he was, there was no way he was going to be able to pay attention to so many people at once. There were billions of people in the world, and if all of their minds were connected to his, he would certainly go mad from all the idiocy. It didn't matter if he had an eidetic memory; it wasn't possible for him to waste all that time and energy visiting the minds of every single pathetic little peon on the planet personally.

What he needed was a way to keep track of them all.

He could come up with some sort of command structure, but that would involve entrusting other people with command of weaker versions of the brand, and there was no way that was a smart idea. There was always that one lieutenant that just happened to be smarter than all the others. Another way was slapping on an extremely strong layer of loyalty-inspiring magic, but he would have to control it very carefully to make sure that it didn't run away from him and create a world of fanatics, or worse, just a bunch of mindless zombie-like cronies instead. Lestrange himself was already bad enough.

Two billion people, Jerry. Two billion people on this planet. It's enough to make any man go mad. Hell, I can't even stand being in the same room with four other people, let alone keep track of our entire planet.

But these seals are designed to be dormant, right? As long as you set the default state to "go about business as usual and don't try to kill or otherwise hurt Tom Riddle in any way" you're good to go. Then you'll only have to worry about controlling the actually important people.

But if there's two billion brands floating around on the planet, how are we supposed to find the specific guys we're giving the orders to among everyone else?

Well, everyone's an individual, biologically speaking. You could use certain aspects of their physiology as identity markers.

Like that DNA thing you told me about?

Exactly. And this might fit in with the tailoring-to-an-individual problem we had before, too. Instead of us personally making one specific seal for each individual, make the actual brand itself automatically adjustable. Flexible, if you will. Like letting a liquid take the shape of its container. A rigid layer for the control, and a soft layer to fit the shape of said victim.

And then use those identity markers to distinguish between different brains, like in telephone numbers, where people only bother with remembering how to find the actually important people. Otherwise, everyone will continue to go about their work normally.

And associate those identity markers with more easily remembered titles, like their name.

But what if one day some guy named John Smith becomes Prime Minister or something?

Then you call him "John Smith the Prime Minister" or "John Smith #11839" as opposed to "that one guy" or "that other dude". Whatever helps you remember. It's not like you're saying that to them out loud.

Kind of like how you remember all the characters in that bedtime story you told me once?

Which one was that?

The magical fairy tale with the knights and queens and dragons.

I've told you magical fairy tales about knights and queens and dragons?

You know, the one where everyone was murdered at this one wedding? The one where the guy who wrote that story six decades from now "was a dick and liked givinig the same name to multiple characters"?

Oh, that one. Yes.

The main problem with all those guys is that they think that in order to have power, one must have some sort of station. An important position, or becoming landed nobility, and so on.

But they don't have mind control like you.

Maybe not, but there are other ways of exerting tons of indirect control. Like those evil bankers with the face-changing dudes on the other side of the ocean. No one pays much attention to them, but they'll be around long after all those other guys have killed each other off. Like Switzerland. If the Nazis win, Europe will be destroyed, and if the Allies win, they'll probably be really unforgiving to Germany. But the land of banks and cheese will continue to be the center of this continent long after the Thousand Year Reich has crumbled to dust.

You seem to like Switzerland.

I'd rather be living there than in London right now.

Really, Tom could care less if someone in some war-torn nation decided to take up a torch and dethrone their current ineffective leader, or if thirty different insurgent groups tore each other apart from the inside. Unless their idiocy was affecting the output of the world in a negative way – say a country that was sitting on vast supplies of natural resources cut production because someone decided they might have a highly inconvenient civil war, or the whiny brats called politicians of Europe decided to destroy an entire generation of their own continent just because some extremist with a gun went after some thrice-be-damned archduke – then he might put a stop to it. But if they were built a worthless patch of sagebrush anyway, then there was little reason to pay any attention to the whole affair.

Even so, Tom was not one to leave loose ends. If he had such a powerful tool as this brand at his disposal (as soon as he got it past the beta testing stage), he wasn't going to just use it sparingly. Something like this deserved to be distributed across the ends of the globe, and wherever else he managed to stretch his empire. Otherwise, someone insignificant could cause plenty of serious issues later on. After all, Joseph Stalin had been born to a housemaid and a cobbler and wasn't even ethnically Russian, and now he controlled that entire godforsaken patch of ice.

You could just pre-manufacture the brands so that your minions can distribute them for you without having to know how to actually cast the spells. Or, better yet, make the brands self-replicating, like bacteria. Bacteria that can survive forever and never die and can self-replicate even without a host in any kind of environment…

And how would we do that?

I mean, if you manage to evolve to Air 2 and Water 2 you can unlock Extreme Bioaerosol.

See, this is the important Muggle stuff that they should be teaching us. Along with vaccines and whatnot. Do wizards just never get sick except for the common cold and dragon pox? How do they have, like, a 0% infant mortality rate?

*Magic!*

"Tom, can you explain to me how a Dutch Oven works?" some girl who had infiltrated his study group (along with one, two, three, eight other tagalongs) asked cheerfully. God, he hated her. Do your own damn work. I'm not even in Muggle Studies anymore – why are you bothering me?

"Certainly. A Dutch Oven is actually a large cast iron pot and lid, used for baking items over a campfire, which doesn't have the cover that a normal oven does…"

Honestly. Why were they even asking about Dutch Ovens? Only Boy Scouts used those things anymore…most people didn't even know what the heck they were. Was the concept of a gas stove completely foreign to these idiots? They went to London at least once a year to do some back-to-school shopping for their children; how did they not know this?

But never mind the plebes. We have a working brand, but we don't know how well it works on various test subjects. Where are we going to get actual people to work with, and not get caught? This is ridiculous!

Patience. We'll find a way.

Easy for you to say.

Tom…have a little faith in yourself. I know we'll find a way.

Really?

I just don't know what it is. But I know that a solution exists.

You sound like a useless mathematician from a bad joke.

So fatalistic.

"…and if you turn to page twenty-three, that's a Muggle weaving loom! See how ingenious these people are, when they can't conjure cloth for themselves…" she explained, as if it would interest him, a person who had grown up in the Muggle world.

You really think we can do this? The problem just seems so…

Patience. A solution shall come.

You sure?

I'm positive.

Good. Because if I have to sit through this shit for the rest of my life I'd rather die.

Would you?

All right. So I won't die. But I'll probably just go insane and jump out a window. How's that?

Wonderful. A worthy dream. I think I'm going to cry; it's so beautiful.

Shut up.

Now that's just hurtful.

Don't you know any places that might lend us a bunch of unregistered humans?

Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of illegal labs and political prisons scattered all about the globe.

Oh, goody. Where to, oh Mr. Tour Guide?

Let's see. Our first stop is at Dachau. From there, we'll move on to Sachsenhausen, and then Buchenwald. Flossenburg and Mauthausen are next, and finally, Ravensbruck will be our very last stop.

Dachau? Sachsenhausen? Ravensbruck? What the hell are those things? They sound German. I don't want to go to continental Europe at this time of year. I hear it's snowing bullets.

Yeah, but if you use a Portkey you'll be able to avoid all that. Plus, they're just concentrated prison camps. It's not as if you'll be walking out in the open battlefield. Anyway, there's very little actual fighting in central Europe right now; most of the battles are actually being fought in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Great Britain itself.

And how do you propose we access them at this point in time?

Portkey. Duh.

But you already made me promise Slughorn that we'd go to his holiday party thing last week. Not that I want to go, but we can't ditch, either.

Time-Turner. Simple. Or, better yet, just schedule the prison camp tour on a different day from the party.

I don't want to go to that thing, though.

Tough luck.

Tom groaned.

"Tom? Is something wrong?" Minerva asked, looking up from her book. Filius and Pomona, both of whom had also been completely absorbed in their schoolwork before, were now also shooting plenty of concern in Tom's direction. Evidently, being out-of-character was serious business, and Tom Marvolo Riddle, the Great Being of All Things Perfect, was never allowed to be unhappy. Ever.

"Oh, it's nothing, Minerva. I'm fine, honestly!" Tom backtracked, trying to cover up his mistake. "I'm…I'm fine."

No, he wasn't fine. He was going to have to suffer through another few hours of one of Horace Slughorn's stupid "evening soirees" with only Jerry for company.

You're saying that like it's a bad thing!

Sucks to be you!

"You sure don't sound fine," Pomona said, pursing her lips.

Oh, lovely. What a great moment for the least intellectually proficient member of their group to suddenly become the most perceptive. No, Tom didn't sound fine; he was never fine. And the other members of the Hogwarts Four, as people had taken to nicknaming their cute little friendship circle that involved one member from each house (shocking, that people who had differently colored ties could associate with one another without trying to claw each others' eyes out with blunt spoons!) didn't realize it until now.

No wonder Salazar Slytherin finally abandoned the school, if this was the type of company he had had to suffer through. Then again, it wasn't like Salazar Slytherin had been the epitome of intelligent life, either. Tom had always wondered where people got these foolish ideas about racial superiority from. Probably a bunch of spoiled rich brats trying to justify their own self-interests when sheer born talent simply wouldn't cut it.

"I'm all right. Honestly."

"If there's something bothering you, Tom, you can tell us," said Filius. "We're your friends. We're here for you."

"Thanks…" Tom forced a smile. "I'll keep that in mind, Filius."

"Well?" Minerva pursed her lips.

Tom raised an eyebrow. "Well, what?"

"Aren't you going to tell us what's wrong?" she asked.

Tom sighed, mind scrambling for something he could make up. "Look. It's no big deal. I can take care of it myself. If push comes to shove, I'll ask you guys for help. Yes, there are a few rather troublesome things in my life, but they're quite personal…" Jerry had always taught him that candidly admitting what people wanted to hear made them back off more easily than just insistent denial. Of course, it was more realistic if you did try a little bit of weak denial first.

"Oh, Tom!" Minerva said softly.

"It's nothing. Really. Well, it is something, but we can't do much about it. You know how it all is. Both the wizards and Muggles are starting a war, and I…"

"Ah, yes, the Grindelwald business," Filius squeaked sadly. "It's nasty stuff, it is."

"Why can't people just get along?" Pomona sighed sadly.

Because people like you are stupid. "Yes. Why can't they?" Tom mused. "One day, the four of us together – we'll put a stop to this sort of thing. It's ridiculous. You'd think that after the first one, and then the Kellogg-Briand pact that followed, that people would learn that this sort of thing never brings any good."

"What's the Kellogg-Briand pact?" Pomona asked.

"It's just this treaty made a few years ago that outlawed war. It was wonderful in theory, but no one specified a way to enforce it, and so…well, you see how well that's working out," Tom sighed. "You can't really enforce not using force, because then you'd just be breaking your own rules," he said wistfully.

"Is that's what's bothering you, Tom?" Minerva asked. "We're only fourteen, Tom. We shouldn't be worrying about such things at this point in time."

My mind isn't perfectly intact like yours. It's fragmented. I have brilliant plans here and there, but I often have to think on my feet just as much as the next person.

Then what's this stuff about coming from 2015 and knowing the future?

I remember – well, not quite remember, since it hasn't happened yet – anyway, the things that I do know and don't know happen to be very specific.

Is this just another excuse? Or do you seriously not know?

I won't lie to you. I seriously don't know.

Oh.

I'm not infallible, Tom. Everything has a weakness. Better to confront them, then to delude yourself into visions of invincibility. No matter how many lies you give the world, you have to remember exactly what you are on the inside, otherwise the day someone else finds out the truth that you yourself deny is the day you die.

I see.

"I know, Minerva. I know. And yet I can't help but think about it all the same."

"Don't worry, guys! I'm sure if we work together, we can find a solution!"

Typical Pomona.

"Tom's such an amazing person, isn't he?" Tagalong Girl finally said.

"Look, if you're not going to do anything productive here, maybe you should leave," Minerva cut in curtly.

"Like I'm going to take orders from some four-eyes Scot like you."

"That wasn't very kind – " Filius stuttered uncomfortably.

Tom?

What?

GET OUT. NOW.

Why? The fun's just starting! You didn't tell me to get out when Orion and Abraxas started hexing each other in the halls!

That's because they weren't two girls fighting over one guy!

What do you mean, one guy? I thought they were fighting over productivity and seating rights.

Tom?

What?

You're an idiot.


A/N: So, like with Conperviate/Anifute, anyone have a better name for the mind-control rune? "Dark Mark" is so tacky.