Um so. I basically promised an epilogue and totally didn't follow through. And then I saw a BEAUTIFUL GRAPHIC OF DYING-FROM-AMAZINGNESS for this fic made by the jrghjfsdj AWESOME Sofia and freaked out. Link in my profile.
Without further ado...
"You wouldn't believe how obnoxious he was."
"I'm sure I could believe it. Give me a description." Hermione pushed her laptop screen back, propping it up with two volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It had only been a month since she'd bought this for the second semester of junior year, and she'd already opened it and smacked it shut enough times for the lid to go floppy. Honestly, technology.
Tom's exasperated sigh came through the speakers so loudly that she had to turn it down. Her roommate rolled over in her bed.
"God, where do I begin?" Tom said, gripping fistfuls of his dark hair like they were anchoring him to his sanity. "Well, firstly, he's interning at Goldman Sachs, which, as we all know, is a terrible idea. JP Morgan is the clear choice for anyone with a modicum of intellect. You know, it's really astonishing, some of the dimwits who go to Princeton."
"Is he rich?"
"Of course he's bloody rich." Tom rolled off-screen for a second. He emerged with a pair of sunglasses on his nose. "How do these look, by the way?"
"Alright, I suppose."
"In other words, cavalier, dashing, handsome. That'll do." He folded them up and leaned toward the camera. "Hermione, I don't think you understand the severity of my situation. There is no one here close to as interesting as you are. And this ... this person ... I have to suffer through class with him twice a week. I think I may actually be rotting inside."
"Oh, the melodrama." Her eyes narrowed. "Hang on. You're not doing anything bad, are you? To numb the boredom?"
"Calm down. The closest I've come to nefarious intent was sneaking into all the eating clubs through the chimneys to deliver some unwanted Christmas presents."
Hermione rested her head in her hands. "You need a hobby."
"My hobby is planning what I'm going to do when I emerge from this hellhole."
"Something entrepreneurial, I presume?"
"Can you see me working for someone else?"
She made a snorting noise in the back of her throat.
"That's what I thought," he said, massaging his eyes with the heels of his hands. "I'm afraid we'll have to sell that ring on your finger, though. A startup isn't cheap, and the risk of failure is high."
"Hold on, did you say "We'll"? What makes you think I'm going along with your entrepreneurial aspirations?"
"I assumed, naturally."
"And why would you do that? I could get a job anywhere I wanted, you know. An economics degree from Brown is nothing to sniff at -"
"Oh, so you're going to join up with the Goldman Sachs crowd, are you?" he said, with an unbecoming sneer. "Going to prance off and kiss arses on Wall Street simply to have the privilege of -"
"Tom, stop that. Stop it right now." Hermione's voice shook with hurt. "How dare you think I'd settle for pandering to people in positions of power. How dare you suggest that I'm consciously seeking a path other than self-actualization! And if I were to go down that road, your belittling it wouldn't do a bit of good, and you know it."
The sneer faded, and he looked back at the camera. His dark hair was rumpled, the dust of a five o'clock shadow lying across his jaw. "Sorry," he mumbled. "This is just ... it's such an irritating situation. There are already innumerable factors that could contribute to the failure of the startup I have planned, and your non-participation was not a barrier I'd planned to have to surpass."
"The startup you have planned?" she said. "And were you planning to tell me about these plans before you got me involved in them?"
"Of course. At some point."
She rolled her eyes. "Incorrigible."
"Look, I'm miserable, all right? I thought Princeton was pretentious enough for my tastes, but everyone calls me a quote, hipster, unquote, and I don't even know what that means, and there are some people here who are depressingly normal. I mean for God's sake, there are people who are bad at mathematics, Hermione. Bad at maths. It's Princeton University."
"Oh, first world problems," Hermione said. "Goodness, when did you start worrying about things?"
"I'm not worried! I'm simply trying to ... I'm plotting."
Hermione let out half a laugh and glanced back at her roommate, who started to snore. "That," she said, turning back to the webcam, "reassures me not one jot of this seeming innocence you have going on."
"Oh, my seeming innocence is flawlessly maintained, darling." He crooked a smile up his cheek. "The Princeton population is convinced of my utmost respect for everyone and everything Princetonian."
"Do you really not respect anyone there?"
"A few of the professors."
"Anyway, this is all beside the point. Are you going to tell me what your plan is or not?"
"I'd love to." He steepled his fingers and prepared to start his speech, but stopped. "Does this hand position make me look more evil?"
He moved his hands to the back of his neck and told her his plan.
"This was not part of the plan," Hermione said in a small voice.
Tom threw another glass at the wall. "Goddammit!"
"Please stop throwing things. It's not exactly going to help the situation."
"I know it won't bloody help the situation. Nothing will."
Hermione settled onto the sofa. "Come here."
He stared at the mess he'd made for a while, the rage fading from his features. "I can't believe this. Can't believe it."
"Come here," she repeated.
He settled into the cushions beside her. Hermione reached over and tilted his face to hers. "Tom?"
"It doesn't matter that someone stole it. We've got our apartment. We've got degrees from two of the best universities in the country. We have your idea. We don't need money."
"But we do need money. At the very least, I need a few terabytes to parallel the capacity of the human mind - and that would be for an AI of considerably low intelligence." He sank down into the sofa, gritting his teeth. "Jesus, imagine if the first words a robot ever spoke were 'Hey, bro,' like one of those idiots from the T.I. Eating Club. Shoot me."
Hermione laughed. "Don't worry. If you have anything to say about it, it'll probably be something along the lines of, "Excellent; now my plans of world domination shall be actualized."
"Actually, now that you mention it -"
She gave him a class-one glare, and he fell silent with something close to a cheeky grin. "Simply trolling, my dear Hermione."
"Well, stop it. You know how uncomfortable referencing your own questionable morality is."
He responded with a sardonic snort. "The fact that I've made mistakes in my past? Yes; truly horrifying, I'm sure."
"You think you're being sarcastic, but your sordid past would horrify some, I'd be happy to inform you."
"Well, then. Good thing it's our secret, isn't it?" He tackled her back into the sofa, and she let out an ungraceful squeak, her cheeks flushing. His predatory smirk pressed to her forehead, her nose, her lips. "I'm not worried, you know," he murmured.
"I know. Worrying is my job."
"I'll let you get back to it, then."
"We've got a free afternoon," Hermione said, pushing his hair back. "And we're finally moved back in together. You know, Harry and Ron didn't even think we'd make it past sophomore year."
"Shows what they know."
"Yes, Tom." She rolled her eyes. "Anyway, my point is that we'll be absolutely alright. There's no reason to worry." She considered for a second. "Well, besides the fact that I have to put up with you for the foreseeable future. Now, there's a horrifying prospect if I ever heard one -"
"That's enough of that." He kissed her again, cutting off her cheerful deprecation. She threaded her arms around his waist, tugged him in, and smiled.
She knew they'd make it.
The television blared.
"Sorry, my Prada's at the cleaner's! Along with my hoodie and my fuck-you flip-flops, you pretentious douchebag!"
"Hoodie and flip-flops? Pretentious douchebag? Sounds familiar," Hermione said acidly.
"I did not wear flip-flops."
"You might as well have. Goodness knows why I let you out of the house like that." She propped her feet up on the table, stretching out with a yawn. "Regardless, I think it went well."
"Quiet, quiet, this is the most enjoyable part of the entire film."
"I like standing next to you, Sean. It makes me look so tough."
"Oh, that's such a fantastic line," Tom snickered. "I'm saving that for the future. Makes me look so tough."
"Did he talk to you about when he'd be calling -"
That was when the phone rang.
In an instant, the television was off, Hermione had grabbed up Tom's mobile, and he was standing next to her, listening to the voice on the other end.
"Hello?" she said.
"I assume this is Ms. Granger?"
"Yes, this is she. Is this Mr. Fairweather? Did you want to speak to Tom?"
"No, no, that's quite all right. In fact, I'd rather speak to you."
Tom took half a step back, looking affronted. Hermione glanced at him. "Er ... well, okay," she said. "Um."
"Since lunch, I've looked through the proposal. In fact, I sat down and read through the entire thing in about five hours."
"As if. It's five hundred pages of text," Tom whispered.
Hermione rolled her eyes and covered the mouthpiece. "He has a photographic memory, Tom."
He folded his arms and looked away.
"Well," Hermione said into the phone, "did ... did you think it was reasonable?"
"I've never seen a proposal like it, that's for sure. Bits of it seem to assume wild leaps of financial faith, and some sections just spew overconfidence."
Hermione forced herself not to look at Tom. "Right."
"But on the whole ... let me speak honestly here: It's pretty awesome. I showed your h3y-br0 prototype to a few of my colleagues. In fact, Troy's sitting in the other room right now, having a chat with h3y-br0 about the weather. Looks like you two have got the real deal on your hands. Not gonna ask how you did it, 'cause that's not my job. It is my job, though, to offer you a shit-ton of money, so let's talk over that for a second."
Hermione's pulse pounded. A grin stretched so widely across her mouth it hurt. She turned to Tom, whose look of satisfaction paralleled any she'd ever seen.
"We'd like to start you off with a conditional booster investment of fourteen million dollars."
The phone slipped out of her nerveless fingers. In one sharp grab, Tom snatched it out of the air and pressed it back to her face. "Be. Coherent," he whispered.
"Oh God," Hermione said. "That ... fourteen mih ... luh ... what?" Mission: Coherence, failed.
"Yep," Fairweather chuckled. "Go ahead, take a second, absorb it. Biggest investment we've made pretty much ever. But come on. You guys fuckin' invented artificial intelligence. Least we can do, am I right?" The smile faded from his voice. "But we do have to talk about the 'conditional' part of 'conditional booster investment'."
"Yes, of course, of course." Hermione cleared her throat and scrabbled for a pen and paper on the counter.
"The parts of the proposal you wrote, Ms. Granger. They're excellent. And they also read rationally and reasonably. But a couple chapters that Mr. Riddle handled ... not that they're not, you know, pretty much genius. They are. But some of my colleagues have expressed a little bit of doubt in the amount of ... ambition there."
Hermione spared another glance at Tom. His face stayed immobile, though she saw something in the set of his jaw that made her a little nervous.
"Our proposal," Fairweather said, "is that you lead the company. You would sign all the documents, do all the managing and all the planning. It'd be your name listed first on everything."
Her stomach dropped to her feet.
"See, people get freaked out over the idea of technology taking over everything, right? We felt like the amount of caution in your discussions - the analysis, the backup plans, all that - it'd go over well with the public. But Tom's plans ... he's really head-on with some of this stuff in Section 17.9, you know? I mean, frankly, that's some scary shit."
"That's theoretical," she said. "It's a precautionary measure for if the AI's start self-perpetuating. Which, given the limitations we've prescribed on their IQ, we've hoped ... well, we've tried to make it a non-issue. But Tom was just trying to -"
"Look, we're not trying to step on your boyfriend's toes here. We just think your writing is more solid. And hey, in an age of web tech, that's more trustworthy sometimes than great people skills. He seemed like a nice guy. We'd love to work with you both. But we need you, Hermione, covering the bases."
Hermione aimed a helpless look at Tom. Luckily, his glare was directed at the phone pressed to her face, not at her.
"Can you do that, honey?" Fairweather said.
"Please don't call me honey, Mr. Fairweather. Yes, I daresay this arrangement will work for all parties involved. I'll speak with Tom and I'll send you an email tomorrow. Is that all right?"
"Awesome. I look forward to it. Don't leave us waiting too long, okay?"
"Of course not. We'd love to get started as soon as possible."
The line went dead, and Hermione placed her phone on the counter. "I ... so," she said.
Tom turned away.
Suddenly, the quiet hum of the refrigerator seemed far too loud. What could she say to break the silence? As if she should have to remedy some decision of their financial backer to put her above Tom in the chain of command. It wasn't even that important a point, was it? A technicality, really ...
Hermione cleared her throat. "This ... I don't think it's as big of a deal as you may th -"
"It was my bloody idea," he said, every word crisp and venomous. "And they want to take it away. Misattribute it. Just like that."
She fell silent. His words cut to the core. She'd put in just as much stress as he had, just as much hard work. And in that second, what truly bothered her was that she found herself comparing this life to what it might have been, had she found herself with someone normal. Someone inoffensive. Someone just as human as Tom, but nowhere near as powerful, or magnetic, or occasionally terrifying.
It wouldn't have been as interesting, but at times like this, in the interminable and oppressive quiet, Hermione thought she might have preferred normality.
And how could he tread on the work she'd done? All the effort she'd given to his idea? He'd simply had the concept; she'd helped exact it just as much as he had.
"All right," she said, a little more sharply than intended. "I think you know what my stance on this issue is, and I think you can probably predict my arguments, and I'm quite sure I can predict yours. As such, I'm not particularly inclined to have this quarrel, so I think I might just go to bed, Tom. You can stay here. You can brood and lurk and think on it all you'd like. Or you can come to bed."
"You're going to say I'm being oversensitive and petty, aren't you?" he said. "And power-hungry."
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I am. And you're going to accuse me of secretly attempting to control things beyond my grasp, which is ridiculous on any number of levels, so I'll defuse that theory right now."
"Well, not as ridiculous as your inevitable accusation that I'm attempting to turn back the clock to a previous state of mind, henchmen and secret meetings and the lot. I've long left that behind, so don't think my affrontedness can be simply pinned to a desire for power."
"All right." Hermione pursed her lips. "Well, you're going to say that I'm not as aware of nuance and connotation as I should be. And you'll follow up by saying that the distinction between this start-up being a joint effort and an effort spearheaded by one or the other of us is paramount. And then you'll conclude by saying my subtlety, as always, is wanting. And I find that rude."
He nodded. "In any case, we both know that you're eventually going to respond that I'm attempting to exert too much control over you, and that you don't appreciate my intrusion."
"To which you'll reply that I rather enjoy it - though, I might add, I don't - and that intrusion is simply part of your unique charm."
Tom raised an eyebrow. "To which you will say, "That's bullshit.""
A long pause.
"Well, that's because it is bullshit, Tom!" she burst out. "After all this time, do you really still expect me to sit back and take a subordinate position? No! I won't have it. I've put in as much work on this as you have. I've been there right from the moment you elected to bring me into this partnership, and as this is a sheer business operation I have just as much right to the brand of this invention as you do."
"Oh, despite the fact that it was my idea in the first place, right?"
"Like the idea of artificial intelligence hasn't been in the forefront of everyone's minds since the Gerard papers of 2014!"
"You are selfish. You are selfish and you act so sanctimonious and I'm sick of it."
"I AM NOT SELFISH!" she screamed.
Her words rang in the air, rang off the corners of the room. He just stared at her, dark eyes hard and unforgiving.
"Call me anything you want, but don't you dare call me selfish," she hissed. "I've given up everything I could have had to chase after your dreams with you. I'm here with you, and that in itself is evidence that I am anything but selfish. It's you who's selfish. You're the one who's trying to pin the blame on me because you have this victim complex. You know what? Standing next to you makes me look so goddamned tough, Tom. Because at least I can handle the idea that the world isn't responsible for all my problems. At least I can accept responsibility for my actions."
He raised a hand. Forced it back to his side. Stumbled back, cursing under his breath.
He stopped across the room from her, clutching to the wall like he wanted to tear it from the floor. "Why do you do that? Why do you fucking snap at me? I almost hit you, you idiot! You know I've got - why do you say shit like that, when you're well aware -"
"That you have violent tendencies? Yes, I know! But I'm not afraid to speak honestly with you, because I trust you, Tom. I trust you not to." She slammed a hand onto the counter, closing her eyes. Breathe, Hermione. Breathe.
She took a shaky breath. "You know the second you break that trust, I'm gone. I love you, and I want to be with you. As long as you're the Tom who has enough respect and self-restraint to override his stupid, animalistic impulses."
"I ..." Tom shook his head, resting his forehead against the wall.
They stood as ice statues for long minutes. The silence rang in their ears.
Tom drew a slow breath. "Don't leave me," he said. "Please."
She took a few tentative steps toward him. "I'm not leaving you, Tom. You think I'm giving up over this? No. No."
He closed his eyes. The touch of her fingers on his cheek cooled his inflamed temper.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have ..."
"Been honest? Yes, you should. I'm not thanking you for it, but it's done."
Hermione curled her fingers around his biceps and laid her head on his chest. "Look," she whispered. "Look at me. I trust you. So trust me, will you? I'm not going to leave over something so stupid."
He hugged her to him, nestling his chin amidst her bushy hair. "I ... so ... I'll handle the publicity, then, will I?"
The knot dissolved in Hermione's chest, and half a smile tugged at her lips. "Doubtless you'll be the face of the operation, Tom."
"Am I allowed to be both the face and the hidden mastermind?"
"Not exactly hidden, then, are you?"
"Well." He let her take a step away, and he smoothed her hair away from her reddened face. "It depends on how much power I ostensibly show."
"I think it would be better if you agree to be the head of interpersonal relations, I agree to be the head of 'Making Sure Things Stay Normal,' and we both work on the rest together. All right?" She hoisted herself up on the counter, tilted his head to hers, and pressed a kiss to his lips. "Tom, look at this holistically. We just got offered fourteen million dollars."
"I used to make that much in my sleep," he said, with the usual bite of cynicism.
"I know." She drew away slightly. "How does it feel to earn it instead?"
He pulled her back in. "Delicious."
"We're overjoyed to announce our new line, which has a full 360 degrees capability in sight and motion-sensing. No more awkwardly bumping into a robo on the sidewalk." Tom grinned, relishing in the camera flashes. "They'll also be more stable, more coordinated, and less likely to eat your house keys. I honestly don't know how their taste for metal developed in the last line, but that's a glitch you can patch with our new software."
Laughs from the crowd.
"A couple last questions," Tom said, tapping the podium impatiently. He had to be gone in a few minutes, or he'd risk missing everything he'd planned. But he had to satisfy the swath of reporters before him... and some of them looked familiar. They must have been at the last press conference.
That bloke in the hat. Had he been the one who'd asked about robots' rights last time? God forbid he suffer through that obnoxious slew of constitutionality issues again.
"You, in the red," he said.
"Mr. Riddle, is it true that you and Ms. Granger have received a 40% pay hike with the release of the new line?"
He chuckled, flicking his hair out of his eyes. "No, we haven't got bonuses or pay rises. I told Hermione we should get a raise for all the extra time we've been putting in, but she insisted on giving more money to charity or something. Honestly, that woman."
Laughs from the audience. Tom almost snickered to himself. Of course they thought he was kidding. "Yes, you, in the yellow."
"Why does Ms. Granger never do these press conferences?"
He wrinkled his nose. "Because she doesn't like crowds." You dolt. What a waste of air time. "Next? In the sunglasses, yes."
"Any possibility that this line will self-perpetuate?"
Tom stood up a little straighter. "Interesting question. No. You can ask any of the robos themselves - they're all quite down-to-earth, and they're aware that their IQs have been limited to certain specifications. They won't be able to create robots smarter than themselves any more than your average human being with IQ 100."
He sensed the stirring of human rights issues and made an executive decision. "I'm afraid that's all we have time for today. Please do email or telephone our public relations department if you have any terribly pressing inquiries. We'd love to hear them."
With that, he stepped away from the podium and through the curtain, unexpectedly nervous. He'd spent the better part of two years planning for this day, but still. It was an important day indeed.
After a hurried set of steps, he slipped out of the building into a limousine. Hermione sat in the back seat, a driver-robo in the front. They pulled away through the streets.
"Lovely job as usual," Hermione said. "When you said the charity thing, I almost laughed."
"As did I. People take astoundingly little notice of the truth when you say it directly to their faces."
Hermione yawned. "I'm so tired. I'm sorry, Tom - I'm sure this has been an awful birthday for you."
He shrugged. "Well, it is release date. We knew it'd happen when we scheduled it for today."
"I'm still sorry. It's your twenty-eighth."
"You say that like it's important."
"Well, it is important. You're now closer to thirty than you are to twenty-five."
He shifted uncomfortably. "Our next project should be immortality."
"It can be a private one, if you'd like." She leaned her head on his shoulder, yawning again. "Regardless. It's your birthday, so we should do something to celebrate. What would you like to do?"
"I don't know. Get married?"
She sat up, and her mouth snapped shut from its yawn. The sleepiness drained from her eyes in the space of a split second. "Er. What?"
"I'm sure we could find a place," he said. "It's not too late yet. We could have dinner, go find a nice dress and a tuxedo, get married."
Her eye twitched.
Tom almost laughed. "You're not sure whether or not I'm joking."
"You had better be joking, Tom Marvolo Riddle."
"What would you do if this were actually my proposal technique?"
"Strangle you in your sleep, possibly."
"Wouldn't it be more satisfying if I were awake?"
"I don't put that much thought into my death threats, Tom!"
"Well, better this than a huge ordeal, right?" He smirked.
"Yes." She closed her eyes, leaning her head on his shoulder. "God, I think I would die of embarrassment if -"
"Pull over here," he said.
They halted. He covered her eyes before she could look out the window.
"Why are we pulling over?" Hermione said sharply. "What's - we're not home yet, are we?"
"No," he whispered, and kissed the shell of her ear. He could practically feel her cheeks flooding with warmth. "We're not home. But I have something to show you. I think you might want to see it."
"I ... are you ... is this ..."
He nodded to the robo in the driver's seat. The door clicked open, and Tom walked Hermione outside into the center of Times Square.
A magnificent metal structure stretched into the triangle of steel gray sky above, taller than any building surrounding it. Atop the tower stood a platform, whose contents were invisible to the street at large.
"I hear voices," Hermione said, through gritted teeth. "Lots of voices. Where are we?"
"I told you. I have one last personal project to show you. May I?"
"Where - are - we - Tom - Riddle."
He took his hands from her eyes, pride racing through his veins. Oh, she'd hate him for this, and she'd love him for it. And the glory of this final unveiling - the grandeur of it - well, Incendio Incorporated would forever be cemented in the annals of time. That was a nice side bonus.
The crowd swarmed around them, though many stood in place, staring up at the platform for the grand unveiling. "What's up there?" she whispered. "Tom?"
Tom withdrew a shiny object from his pocket and pressed a button on it.
First, a huge sheet of silvery silk fluttered from the platform. It snagged on the side of the metal structure, swaying in the wind.
Then a car toppled off the edge of the platform.
Screams erupted around them as two tons of metal plummeted toward the earth. Some people tried to run. Others simply froze with the breath caught in their chests.
Tom Riddle let himself enjoy the chaos for a second. Then he raised his hand and pressed the button again.
The car righted itself, and with a whirr, stabilized itself in midair. Times Square went silent. Fleeing people froze in place, twisted to stare. Cameras flashed.
A ladder rolled down from the side of the car. Tom Riddle started up the silver rungs and held out a hand to Hermione. He was a suited silhouette stamped against the gloaming. "Marry me?"
Time seemed to have slowed, or even reversed. Hermione's indignation - her heated embarrassment - dwindled to nothing.
The people around her regarded her with astonishment, and Hermione found herself relishing it. Yes; sometimes normality seemed like it would be enough. But sometimes, the insufferable know-it-all in her wanted to cry out, I am Hermione Granger! Hermione Granger, the woman who publically received her due recognition perhaps once a year. Hermione Granger, the woman behind modern technology as the world knew it.
But at this moment, she hardly even cared for the validation. It was him. It was him, striking her with awe anew for the thousandth time.
"God, it's like magic," she murmured.
And though she didn't know it, she struck him with awe anew simply by saying those words. She made him ache with her childlike wonder and appreciation. The look in her eye, a reminder of love; the extension of her hand to his, a demonstration of compassion.
She joined him on the ladder, hand strong and small and devoted. "Yes," she said.
They climbed into the sky.
Welp! That's that. I hope you weren't expecting children scenes. I don't know, I don't really picture Tom as the fatherly type, and I wasn't about to go all old-person-depressing-death-scene on you guys.
Hope you liked it. I guess this story is wrapped up for good. I'll get back to working on Ad Infinitum, then... *facepalm* i am so bad at doing anything on a set schedule
I LOVE YOU
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