Herpo was by no means a pleasant wizard. Though history would give him the title of “foul”, he was not so much evil as chaotic. He did not set out to hurt people. Rather, he wanted to push the boundaries of the possible, and discover all that magic had to offer. In itself, it may not have been such a bad goal, and Salazar Slytherin’s fascination for his work is understandable. Granted, his acrimonious and grumpy demeanour did not help his image. But the real problem was undoubtedly his methods.
Herpo was extremely obsessive, and he would not let anything stand in the way of his projects. Fixated on his ambitions, he didn’t have the slightest respect for his peers, let alone muggles. In his twisted mind, the world was nothing more than a tool to play with, and that included living creatures. In fact, he prided himself on not being shackled by “silly arbitrary superstitions” like morals or ethics. He never killed or inflicted pain for pleasure or out of cruelty. But he often did so for his experiments.
Needless to say he wasn’t very much appreciated. He lived as a hermit, more than a day of walk away from any human settlement. The dense forest around his cave was said to be filled with atrocious creatures resulting from past operations.
He spent a long time doing research on animals. It started with fairly simple attempts to see how much metamorphoses, potions and other spells could change a living being, and how long it could last. But he longed for more permanent results, so he delved into more macabre operations, stitching together different animals or breeding them in twisted ways.
More often than not, his trials failed in strident screeches of pain that echoed miles away through the valley. Around the entrance of his cave, the floor was littered with bones and coagulated blood. But every now and then, a deformed abomination would emerge and haunt the neighboring woods.
Ironically enough, what he considered to be his greatest success was obtained by a relatively simple method: by hatching a chicken egg beneath a toad, he produced a deadly giant serpent that he called Basilisk. As a Parselmouth, he had no problem controlling the monster, and there were always a couple of them guarding his hideout against wandering travelers.
As bad as their fate may seem, those poor souls were the lucky ones, for Herpo did not stop his experiments to animals and frequently took humans as subject, mostly muggles but occasionally wizards too. He dissected more than one to try and find the source of magic so that he could increase his powers, but the answer always eluded him. As his victims piled up, his sanity died out, and soon there was not much human left in him anymore.
Regardless of what became of his spirit, his body however remained one of a man. Even with the extended lifespan of a wizard, he could feel his constitution waning, his muscles becoming weaker, his magical powers starting to fade… So he obviously turned his research towards himself. Surely something could be done to prolong life and vitality. After all, magic had already improved so many aspects of life. He would simply dare to explore domains nobody had ever investigated before.
His flesh was deteriorating, nothing could be done about that. The passage of time wore off buildings, even mountains. His organs were no exception. But what really mattered was his soul, his spirit. And these didn’t have to go down with their mortal vessel.
He first tried possession spells, to make another body his. They turned out to be impossible to maintain over long periods of time, even after breaking all the resistances of his targets. He did not have more luck with potions. He even attempted his unholy acts on “weaker minds”, including animals and – it has to be said – corpses, to no avail.
But failure had never stopped Herpo in the past. It certainly wasn’t going to stop him in this quest, that he came to consider as the most important of his life.
If the easy solutions had been misses, he simply needed to try harder and tackle the harder ones. He would need to transform his soul into a form he could make timeless. This new form could also allow him to craft replicas of himself, should anything happen to his earthly vessel. This would be the only sure way to conquer the ever-looming Death.
He had peeked inside enough bodies to understand how the different parts played together to make it survive and move. He just needed to give the spirit the same scrutiny.
What followed was the most gruesome period of his life, and the tortures he inflicted cannot possibly be described. Physically and magically, he sliced and diced many heads to perfect his analysis of the mind. To properly manipulate his soul, he needed to understand it in its smallest corners.
After several years, he had perfected a spell to split his spirit into smaller fragments that he called Horcruxes. The procedure was difficult and costly, but the resulting shard could be imprinted for preservation. The problem remained, however, to find vessels worthy of his immortal soul.
He first turned to objects, as stones and metal seemed to promise the best chance for longevity. It did not work great. The gist of the spell was to manipulate matter at an elementary level, to shuffle what his contemporaries would call atoms, and arrange them in the same shapes and patterns that formed his brain. But the rigid objects he tried to use were too different from his head to be a decent substrate. Imprinting his mind on them was too imperfect, unreliable and costly. It would require unfathomable amounts of energy for a result that was not even guaranteed.
The solution was straightforward: he needed to use supports that were more similar to his own brain. The closer the resemblance, the less effect the spell had to inflict, and the less chances of errors or data loss. He started working on animals, and moved quickly to humans.
From there on, it was easy. Their minds were vast and complex, but he only had to find a part comparable to his shard and tweak it in order to embed the fragment into his victim. A single matching piece was enough.
By that time, his vitality was already on the decline, so he set out to split his soul into a myriad of little elements and to find the fitting recipients that would keep his spirit alive long after his body departed.
Unsurprisingly, the best candidates were the ones that had some common grounds with him. One had his perseverance, another liked reptiles, another yet showed promising signs of creativity. One shared his views on muggles, another his secret fondness for berries… Surely they would make the best vessels. He began his wicked process.
But when he peeked into their minds, something unexpected happened that shook him to his very core. In the place where he intended to plant the fragment of his soul, he found that it was already there. The part of their brains he was looking at had the exact same structure as the piece he got from his own. They were indistinguishable. No tweaking or adjusting would be necessary. The operation was, for all intent and purposes, already done.
It was not an isolated occurrence. For each scrap of his spirit, he discovered a person who already possessed it. Sometimes it was as simple as finding the area of the brain that loved snakes, forests or experiments… Other times it was impossible to describe in words. But before long he found himself with no shard left to place without even having done any transmutation.
And so he vanished, as all pieces of his soul were safely stored in his heirs as they had been all along. His life that had been spent in misanthropy and solitude ended in an explosion of empathy, as his spirit merged with the many around him. He found comfort and peace by becoming one with everything and losing himself into other people. They would in turn pass on the fragments of his self, through magic, influence or genetics. His horcruxes travelled on and on, and still keep him alive to this day.