A/N: After more than two years, I've decided to go with the Cerebrand for the mind control rune. The Peace Sign, on the other hand, will still be used, but for something different. Because, as we all know, skulls and snakes are tacky as fuck.
...Do people still read this story?
"#28. My pet monster will be kept in a secure cage from which it cannot escape and into which I could not accidentally stumble."
Fourth year turned into fifth year, and with his fifth year came more discoveries, rewards, and all-around awesomeness.
As well as something far less fun that he nonetheless had to deal with.
He was traveling between his nice new lab a lot more often nowadays, and it did wonders to alleviate his boredom. He still had to be present in his now-quickly-becoming-useless classes to keep up appearances, but at least he had more fun things to look forward to now that he was
Unlike Salazar Slytherin's ultra tacky snake-lined, medieval-architecture obviously evil lair, Tom had designed his lab with efficiency in mind. Should anyone stumble upon it by accident – unlikely, since he'd made it invisible and undetectable and unplottable and protected with parseltongue, blood wards, biometric passcodes, multi-factor authentication security keys, and a cake (a lie, according to Jerry) – it would look like a futuristic Muggle facility.
The walls were painted in light colors and simple patterns so that dirt was easily spotted; the place was kept sanitary to the highest standards. Each wall could also have their opacity adjusted at a moment's notice, either two-way or simply one-way, for ease of observation. Each test subject was given ample room to move around, a reasonable place to sleep, an accessible area to keep themselves clean, and an adequate amount of nourishment.
Now, Muggle governments dealing with limited funds and systemic prejudice would probably find it easier to put prisoners in neglectful situations, but Tom had magic. And magic meant that the problem of starving prisoners rioting or camp-wide epidemics was literally solvable with a few flicks of the wrist, no resource management required. For Tom, if you were too stupid and lazy to put aside that little effort to prevent yourself magnitudes of trouble, you didn't deserve to be an evil overlord.
Yes, it was still a prison, but it was a happy prison (and Tom knew because he made sure to always reapply the Contentment Charms to keep them nice and pliable). This had nothing to do with good or evil, or course – it was just a matter of common sense that niceness was more practical than assholery. He wasn't going to kill these guys of neglect, or have them kill themselves from madness, after all the trouble he went through to procure them.
Except for a few special ones which were kept in isolation in the basement for the purposes of experiments on psychological warfare. Hey, it was important to understand how humans naturally reacted to disrupted sleep cycles, mental torture, various forms of distress, and clamshell packaging.
Hey, it was called the basic scientific method. You wanted to change as few variables as possible for every test. Ideally, just one, though sometimes it couldn't be helped. Different people reacted differently to different things. But, he could minimize the amount of random variation that might mess up his experiments. Humans who had certain things tested on them needed to have their basic physical and mental needs all standardized. Excepting the humans who had tests done on said physical and mental needs.
After all, Tom had to make sure that everything he was doing, well, worked – regardless of the specific situations of his, ah, loyal subjects.
His test subjects were housed in multiple wings, grouped according to definite physical traits like blood type, gender, age group, region of origin, and DNA markers. The most secure wing was where all of his personal labs were, as well as Bert the Basilisk's new home. It was simply easier for Tom to keep him here, than to risk discovery in Hogwarts every time he wanted to harvest some basilisk skin.
Bert, being a large animal, was given free reign of the sunny island; however, he was also forbidden from killing any of the local wildlife. Chasing them for fun was fine, but Bert was a Scottish basilisk and therefore an invasive species. Tom didn't want to have to waste time and energy relocating his facilities to a new island just because one of his pets unwittingly collapsed the food chain of a local ecosystem.
Tom cared about the environment. Because according to everyone around him ever, Tom was a perfect goody two shoes hero and could do no wrong. Except when he was, but it wasn't as if Tom had a concept of right and wrong anyway, so screw them.
Bert, for the most part, was compliant. The reflective goggles Tom gave him meant that no one was getting petrified or outright killed and the sunny breezy location was just about heaven for a cold-blooded reptile. And compared to the conventional supply of livestock Tom had to keep him happy, the random animals around the island were far smaller and less tasty.
Bert had taken a liking to pig meat especially. Cows, sheep, goats and even oxen were okay, but he supposed Bert just enjoyed pork. This was especially convenient for Tom, because he didn't even need to do any magic to increase the amount of pigs.
I think we should have seen this coming. Pigs are terrifying, man.
I think the founders missed their chance.
Is that why Hogwarts is named…Hogwarts?
What, as in we get everywhere and destroy everything and claim it as our own, and no one can get rid of us once we've sat our arses there?
I mean…isn't that the exact definition of the British Empire?
Oh shit, you're right!
Damn things had taken over the island within weeks of him dropping them off there. He could've sworn he'd started off with only four. They'd escaped from their pens somehow before Tom had had the chance to apply the multiplication spells on them. Not that Tom needed to; in hindsight, the pigs running off before he could had been a blessing in disguise. Now there were at least 30-50 feral hogs ransacking the place every other day. Which was, admittedly, not good for the local environment of the island, but it kept Bert happy and gave him regular exercise. Honestly if it hadn't been for Bert, Tom wondered if his magic would be enough to keep the pigs in check.
Maybe yes, maybe no, but Tom had better things to do instead of killing feral hogs. His mind control experiments had gone exponentially faster and more powerful now that he had a large, willing population of human test subjects that he didn't have to carefully hide! Admittedly, they were mostly muggles, and both Tom and Jerry had been worried that their mind control rune would react negatively with wizard magic, but they needn't have worried.
At first, Tom was forced to do everything himself. Once he got the first successful Cerebrand™ working, however, it was only a matter of time before he was able to start up a chain of command within his own lab. (There was also testing of the anti-seal, the successful recipients of which were summarily killed. Currently the only copy in the world was in Tom's use, and he was aiming to keep it that way.)
And yes, there was the possibility that someone could discover the anti-seal. However, Tom had specifically designed the Cerebrand so that there would be no anti-seal…once it had been applied. The anti-seal was more like a vaccine than a cure. This disease had no cure.
By the time anyone discovered the anti-seal independently, it would be too late. By the time anyone figured out what was happening in the first place, it would be too late.
That was one of the nice parts about the rune – it allowed Tom to stratify his power in a pyramid-shaped command structure, so he wouldn't have to personally directly order around all the billions of people on earth. Another great part of its design was that it was energy efficient. Unlike the Imperius, which required constant maintenance, the Cerebrand acted up if and only if there was an order and drew power from its recipient rather than Tom himself. It not only saved both sides a lot of energy, it also reduced the chance that someone would realize a peer was being controlled.
There was a problem, however. While Muggles could receive the Cerebrand, they couldn't cast it on other people. And they outnumbered wizards by at least three orders of magnitude.
What he needed was a more convenient vector. Something that could store a pre-formed rune sticker until it came into contact with another person, like one of those cursed family artifacts all the old pureblood families had hidden away in their basement. Something that every human on earth needed, something that could be mass-produced easily, something that could be passed from man to man quickly.
Fantastic! We'll bribe industrialists to poison the air and then sell our own air in plastic bottles, causing more pollution and driving up the demand for plastic bottled air. It's perfect!
I was thinking like an airborne virus or something. Except it's magic, so it can replicate without a host.
Oh. Well. That works too.
After several more rounds of beta testing, the mind-control seal was finally completed for human use. Immediately, they commenced exports of their newest product. The beautiful brain virus that everyone only talked about in science fiction was now a reality.
Patient zero beyond the testing facility, was, of course, Edmond Lestrange, if you didn't count his puppeteers, the Black brood, or their puppeteer, Abraxas Malfoy. Because if there was going to be anyone who was assholish enough for other people to suspect of being the next generation's Dark Lord, it was that guy.
Tom's first order to Lestrange (passed through his first few catspaws) boiled down to: "Replicate this spell on anyone you see if and only if it is absolutely certain that you will not get caught and the person you are up against is not powerful enough to stop you. Do not remember who gave you this command. Act as you normally would otherwise. While you perform the replication spell, give your subject the same command I just gave you."
I love recursion!
I thought you hated it.
That was before I understood it.
Funny. I thought you'd hate it even more?
I do, but I also love it. It's a touchy subject.
So Lestrange would spread the disease – er, rune to all of his dorm mates (barring Tom) first, and then those dorm mates spread it all around Slytherin House, and then Slytherin House spread it to the rest of Hogwarts and basically every teacher. Minerva had been the one to nail Slughorn while his back was turned. The rate of growth was exponential. Hogsmeade was under his control by the next weekend, and by a lucky shot someone's visiting relative brought it back to Diagon Alley, and before Christmas pretty much all of Magical Britain was under his control.
Except for Dumbledore.
Because dammit, no one was ever sure if he could catch them or not. At some point Tom minorly regretted putting in the "don't get caught" provision, but ultimately it was for the best. He needed to nail the entire world if this was going to work and Dumbledore discovering what they were up to was not conducive to his plans. If anyone could independently come up with an anti-seal while fighting off everyone else that was trying to hit him, it was Albus Percival Wulfric Brian (snort) Dumbledore.
But in order to break down the walls around Grindelwald – and Tom was going to take down that guy if it was the last thing he did, but for an entirely different reason why Dumbledore was taking him down – he needed enough support to get his disease – er, magic mind-control stamp carriers into Grindelwald's vicinity, where hopefully one of his inner circle would eventually come into contact with it and bring it directly to him. Assuming that Grindelwald didn't have the exact same powers of evasion that Dumbledore did.
Which, he very well might. He was, after all, supposedly Dumbledore's equal in magic. But at least Grindelwald was too far away on the Continent to actually trace the root of the Cerebrand.
In order for this to be done quickly, he would need capital, and lots of it.
Which he had, because Bert. Speaking of which, he needed to be fed. Tom made a quick detour to stop by the kitchens for some food. Stupid thing was getting spoiled. He had all the pigs he could ever want, but every now and then he'd ask for pate de foie gras or some shit, and Tom was too busy to torture some ducks and geese for their livers.
He never thought that he'd have to ever tickle a fucking pear, but there he was.
~Bert!~ Tom yelled. ~I've brought food – where did you get all that?~
Bert was parked in front of an enormous pile of steak tartare. He looked up.
~What are you talking about?~ Bert asked. ~You just gave this to me.~
~Just now!~ Bert shrugged and began to happily munch away at the frankly disturbingly large pile of food. Was Bert getting fatter? Or was he just sizing up proportionally? He'd shed his skin again a short while ago. Could snakes even get fat?
…What the heck?
Did someone disguise themselves as me or something? Did someone discover us and make it past all our security?
It would have had to be someone who spoke Parseltongue, and also smelled exactly like you, enough that Bert wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Highly unlikely. Time-turner tomfoolery, maybe?
Maybe…oh, fuck –
It was red.
How the hell could this have happened?
There was only one place they could have been before this, and it was the kitchens.
The kitchens, with all.
Tom had never moved so fast in his life. Skidding to a stop in front of basement kitchens, he practically blasted the bowl of fruit off the wall and kicked the frame in.
The house-elves all froze and dropped what they were doing. They stared at him.
Tom stared back.
Then someone screamed, and pandemonium exploded.
Clouds of flour exploded everywhere. Overturned saucepans hit the tile floor with a great deal of excitement and mess. There was gravy and soup and hot oil all over the countertops. A pig in a concerning level of distress charged out of the cutlery drawer, dragging several cutting boards' worth of half-chopped vegetables along behind it. The Benny Hill theme was playing on loop in the background. Fire and sharp pointy objects became sharp pointy objects on fire. Someone's eggs got overcooked. Also there was most definitely a singing banana involved at some point.
Throughout all the chaos, however, there was one thing that stood out to Tom.
"Wait a second," Tom asked, "did you just summon a bunch of food in one turn?"
The house-elves blinked. One of them, Cuddles, said, "Yeah, so?"
"That's against the rules, isn't it?"
And suddenly, a great dark cloud passed over all of their eyes, and they all sprouted identical demonic smiles. Now, the wizarding world had a shit ton of fucked up stuff, but a horde of house-elves with glowing eyes and slasher smiles?
This to date was the scariest thing Tom had ever seen in all his life.
Giggles fell over in a pile of giggles. "Screw the rules, we make them!"
"Stupid wizard," said Flaky, and with a snap of her fingers, the whole mess of a kitchen returned to its proper order.
Tom looked around, and sighed. "I've been here before, haven't I?"
"Please, you discovered the kitchens during your first week of school, when you were trying to cram ahead in all your classes, remember?" said Lumpy.
Tom felt burning anger bubble up from the inside of his gut. "So you're telling me, that this entire time, I've been trying to figure out why I can increase the amount food but can't conjure it, and it turns out that it was an arbitrary rule you guys came up with…to fuck with us?"
"The official documented reason is 'for shits and giggles', but yeah," said Toothy. "That poor Gamp fellow; couldn't distinguish between a law of the universe and a bunch of elves surrounding him with anti-food-conjuring spells. We've got to please the unions somehow, you know. The culinary house elves, us included, are among the largest voting bloc of the British constituencies. Maintaining a monopoly on the food production arts is how we stay in power."
"Ah, yes, the unions," Tom muttered. "I should have known. If you're so powerful, how come you're all in tea cozies?"
Sniffles and Nutty shared a look, like they had already explained this to him before. They probably had, on multiple occasions.
"They're not really tea cozies, are they."
"They just look like them."
"And you don't actually punish yourselves when you do something 'wrong'. You just pick a conveniently loud and hollow surface and combine that with some pitiful acting."
"Well," Flippy had a perverted grin on his face, "sometimes. But I assure you, it was entirely consensual and desired."
Aw, gross, I did not need that mental image.
FUCK OFF, JERRY! I DID NOT NEED THAT MENTAL IMAGE EITHER!
"And you only pretend to serve wizards. Cleaning and cooking is really easy for you, and a small price to pay for your real reason for – oh, let me guess, there's a central government for elves in general and house-elves are simply the MI6."
"Do you know how many rare books those old Pureblood families hoard in their libraries? SO MANY! And they don't even read them! Some of them aren't even wizard knowledge; they're like Mermish Gobbledygook. But it's useful information all the same. They're better off in our hands, anyway; we certainly put it to better use than they do."
Holy shit, it's like the mice in that one story you told me about the hitchhikers and galaxies.
WHAT DID I TELL YOU TOM? IT'S A CONSPIRACY!
"All right, fair enough," Tom admitted. "I suppose obscure knowledge about a diverse array of magic being put to use in world domination is far superior to collecting dust on some puffed up aristocrat's bookshelves."
"See, he gets it," Flippy jerked a thumb at Tom.
"And you were Obliviating me all this time because you needed to protect your secret, which I apparently have rediscovered every time I've been down here?" Tom asked.
"Pretty much," said Toothy, raising his hand. "Sorry, Tom. It's nothing personal. Don't bother fighting back; it makes it far more unpleasant for all of us."
Fuck! No! Not again!
Not like you could remember the other times.
Not like YOU could either!
…At least you're not dead, though.
…Why am I not dead?
"Why am I not dead?"
"Pardon?" Toothy asked.
"If you're so powerful, why don't you stop me from ever coming back? It must be easy magic for you to set up a convenient little accident. There's even a war going on; you could frame Grindelwald and his ilk, and blame it on them doing this to freak out Dumbledore. Maybe the German house-elves are in on the game; maybe they're playing their own. But either way. Why do you insist upon wiping my memory multiple times, instead of a permanent one-time thing? Huh?" Tom demanded, narrowing his eyes.
"Uhhh – "
And then it clicked for Tom.
"You've tried, haven't you. All of you." The joy was bubbling up in his chest. Everything was coming together. "You've already tried, and it didn't work."
And suddenly it was Tom's turn to do the evil grin thing that all evil people have to do.
"Here, now," Flaky stammered, "we could just be a merciful race that doesn't believe in murdering children, content in our intellectual power rather than – "
"Cut the bullshit. You own the universe. You could have silenced me and had no one notice, should have silenced me and had no one notice. And yet you didn't. Not because you chose not to, but because you were unable to." Tom felt the light literally burning behind his eyes. Literally. Literally literally, not the fake modern definition of literally. There were literally lasers shooting out of his eyes and burning graffiti into the kitchen walls while the elves around him watched in fascinated horror. "Because you've done it before, multiple times, every time I've ever come down here, but for some reason it. Didn't. Work."
"YOU KEPT COMING BACK!" Cuddles screamed. "NO MATTER WHAT WE DID, NO MATTER WHICH DIMENSION WE SHOVED YOUR LIVING BODY OR DEAD CORPSE INTO, YOU KEPT SHOWING UP BACK AT OUR KITCHEN THE NEXT DAY ASKING FOR SNACKS AND FOOD FOR YOUR DAMNED BASILISK AND WHATEVER OTHER SHIT YOU WANTED – WE EVEN TOLD DUMBLEDORE THAT YOU WERE 'BORROWING' SLABS OF RAW MEAT FROM THE KITCHEN AND SUGGESTED THAT IT WAS LIKELY YOU HAD A PET MONSTER SOMEWHERE AND EVERY SINGLE TIME HE TELLS US 'OH TOM IS A GROWING BOY AND NEEDS HIS FOOD' OR 'I'M SURE THE PET MONSTER IS PERFECTLY HARMLESS' OR 'I'M GLAD RUBEUS HAGRID AS A FRIEND HE CAN COUNT ON' AND – "
Tom wasn't even listening to the house-elves ranting anymore. He was simply brandishing his wand over and over again. "Anifute! Anifute! Anifute! Cerebrand in the water supply! Anifute!"
Ahhh, I love it when the bad guys monologue.
Wait, does this make us the good guys, then?
Nah, we're still bad guys. Evil is a very diverse group of people, you know! And shoving us all into the same typecast is highly prevalent in the fiction industry, and I'm just tired of that. For once, I want to see a morally dubious character facing off against other morally dubious characters where no sickening upright sunny hero is involved. I'm not even talking about antiheroes, or bad guys who become good guys in the end. I mean, literally, bad guy versus other bad guy, Pennywise versus Slenderman.
Don't say Madame Bovary; I hated that fucking book.
I was going to say Mark Zuckerberg versus Congress, but whatever.
Wait wait wait are you making a modern reference? You can't make modern references! Only I get to make modern references!
It was chaos in the den of the house-elves. Slowly, and then quickly, one after another, they collapsed and fell into despair. Where they formerly pretended to be servants to mess with wizards, now they actually were slaves for all eternity.
Over the next few months, Tom stood by and watched as the worldwide elf (he didn't use "house elf" anymore because they were in fact just a tiny population of elves who chose undercover work as their specialty) population internally imploded on itself. He had to admit, they put up a good fight. They were some of the most organized and powerful magical beings on the planet. They even had a system of "survivors" to warn the others and fight back. But it wasn't enough. They weren't just fighting against other wizards, or Tom anymore, but their own infected.
They even resorted to trying to kill off their Cerebranded members, to cull their damaged population. But it was no use. On average, one elf could kill one other elf. Maybe there was one elf that could kill multiple, or one elf that took multiple to kill. In contrast, a single infected elf could infect all the others too.
The last elf that "fell" so to speak was one of their regional leaders in Indonesia who had holed himself up on an uncharted island with a few of his remaining followers. Tom supposed this was what it must feel like to be in a zombie apocalypse. Unlike wizards and humans, who didn't know what had even hit them, the elves had been smart enough to get the word out, and thus smart enough to realize what was happening, but helpless to stop it. Better to be stupid but content, he supposed.
Anyway, with the house-elves now on his side, taking care of the goblins, mermaids, and other sentient creatures had been easy enough. He even got the house-elves to infiltrate the houses of many rich witches and wizards and take them out. It was glorious! Grindelwald hadn't even broken out of continental Europe yet!
See, this was why you didn't fuck with Tom Marvolo Riddle.
(And Jerry, whoever the fuck he was.)
But at the end of it, though…after the whole silent war against the house-elves, and their slow but inevitable defeat…there was still one thing that was confusing Tom. One thing, that he had no idea how to approach, even after capturing and interrogating all sorts of elves from all walks of life, from their greatest intellectuals and researchers to their most powerful politicians and spymasters.
Seriously though, what the hell were those elves even talking about? Because if they had tried to kill him before but failed…did that mean he was already immortal? But how did he even achieve that? Because he could have sworn he'd remember something like that. Unless the house-elves wiped his memory of his own immortality, too…but then that would mean he would have figured out immortality in his very first year, or possibly earlier than that. If the house-elves were so powerful, shouldn't they have seen this coming? Unless seeing the future was impossible because of all the potential timelines, and…
Crap, this is getting confusing.
You know what this means, don't you?
Yeah, it means we're getting another go at the Time-Turner.
A/N: Did you know that all the elf names in the Potterverse could easily be names in the Happy Tree Friends universe?