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Chapter 156: Bad Timing
Chapter One Hundred Fifty-Six
A week after Bellatrix’s visit to Andromeda’s, Remus picked up on the signs that either hopelessness or work for Voldemort had drawn her away from her usual watch on Lupin Cottage. During the week, he’d kept especially vigilant, every morning as he left Nymphadora at home with her mother while he was out on patrol, and every evening, when Andromeda left to go home to Buckhurst Hill, and then one last time before bed that night.
At the next Order meeting, Kingsley drew Remus aside when it broke up and made another offer to Remus to take on a few night patrols, and though Remus was torn between giving his all for the sake of those innocents who couldn’t fight for themselves and being there for his wife, his eyes betrayed his feelings as they drifted in his wife’s direction as she, Molly and Fleur were chatting away about this and that in the kitchen—three women all bonding over the fact that they were all married and all with children on their minds.
“Don’t worry about it.” Kingsley gave an understanding smile and put his hand on Remus’ shoulder. “I know how much she needs you, not to mention little Lupin-to-be. And anyway, we’re not short on magical arsenal. Denise has been a great asset.”
He glanced in the direction of his new girlfriend, who had now gracefully inserted herself into the conversation with Nymphadora, Molly, and Fleur—she wasn’t married, didn’t have children and wasn’t expecting any in the next year or so, but she daydreamed on the same aspirations.
Kingsley gave Remus’ shoulder another squeeze when he tried to apologize.
“We know you’re one of the least selfish people there are, Remus. We all have to survive for ourselves as well as for other people. Don’t you ever feel guilty about that.”
Remus managed a smile. “I’ll try not to, King.”
Meanwhile, when they got home, Nymphadora said that Fleur and Bill were hoping that she and Remus might come visit them at their new home in Pembrokeshire.
“Shell Cottage sounds just lovely, and I think the sea air would do us some good, don’t you?” Nymphadora added as a point of support in favor of making the trip.
“Well, I have a day off this Saturday.” Remus drew back the curtain in the kitchen and scanned the trees beyond the lupine field, as usual. “And I’ve not seen high nor hair of Bellatrix in the whole of this past week. Same goes for Dolohov.” He let the curtain fall and looked at her. “If you want to go, then I say it’s an excellent idea. And I quite agree with you that the sea air would probably do us some good.”
Nymphadora’s face brightened. “I’ll let Fleur know then.”
“And who knows?” Remus mused aloud as he followed his wife to the writing desk as she prepared a letter to send to Bill and Fleur. “Maybe we’ll find out whatever problem it is they seem to be having.”
“Problem?” asked Nymphadora as she spread a sheaf of parchment out before her.
“Fred and George said Bill and Fleur were having…issues.”
“You know, now that you mention it, I thought Fleur did seem a bit…distracted at the meeting today.”
“Yes, I thought so as well,” said Remus, as he stood behind her and laid his hands on her shoulders, giving them a small, gentle massage. “Bill too, for that matter.”
For all of that, Remus and Nymphadora were welcomed to the sanctuary of Shell Cottage with much joviality when Fleur answered the door at their arrival.
“And you brought us lunch?” Fleur sensationalized over the small sandwiches Nymphadora had made up and put in a basket. “You shouldn’t ’ave.”
“It was easy because I didn’t need to cook them,” Nymphadora joked. As a matter of fact, Nymphadora had had a lot of time to make small improvements to her cooking since pregnancy had confined her to the house most days (when she wasn’t succumbing to her fatigue and falling asleep on the sofa in the middle of leafing through Magical Motherhood magazine).
“Just don’t get the idea that this is long term,” she’d warned Remus with a teasing smile. “The second I’ve got this kid out of me, I’m back in the thick of the storm, or at the very least back at my desk at the Auror Office, mark my words.”
Remus had chosen not to remind her that according to her pregnancy book, after giving birth, she probably shouldn’t be running back to work quite so soon, because he knew she was speaking out of a case of cabin fever much similar to Sirius’ own case inside 12 Grimmauld Place, and probably James and Lily’s too as they were shut up in hiding in the weeks preceding their deaths.
Shell Cottage itself was indeed quite lovely, with even the roof being tiled with actual seashells. And the salt breeze was divine, coupled with the swaying rhythm of the ocean beyond, the cries of seagulls, the faint mist of ocean spray.
“This’d be a wicked place to raise kids,” Nymphadora complimented as they all took lunch in the little dining room.
Bill and Fleur shared a furtive glance, to which Remus and Nymphadora glanced at each other in turn.
But then Bill said with an air of forced cheerfulness, “I’m glad you brought up the incentive to place protections on Muggle homes, Remus. Dad and I’ve been doing our part to do that on our way home from work every day.”
Remus nodded. “Glad to hear it.” It was a feeble attempt at optimism, but he suspected that whatever was going on between Bill and Fleur, it had to be bad if they preferred to talk about the reaction to Remus’ grim report from the last Order meeting.
The last time he’d gone on patrol, he’d begun to peel back the deceiving quiet in the wake of the silent Ministry takeover, and then the havoc Harry, Ron, and Hermione had wrought when they’d broken in. While passing over a small Muggle farm, he’d noticed the front door oddly ajar, and within he’d found the bodies of the poor Muggle family, all huddled together in fear, their faces frozen in shock as the last sight they would ever see in this life—a flash of green—broke across their doomed vision.
Since then, more and more of these cases started popping up. Sometimes in the houses, Remus would find a “D” carved into the wood of the front doorframe, and he began to think that Antonin Dolohov had been to these houses, which meant they all would have to have shared the unfortunate fate of so many other of Dolohov’s Muggle victims—soul-wrenching torture before the mercy of death. And indeed the bodies of these Muggles expressed more signs of having undergone extreme pain before the Killing Curse descended on them.
Meanwhile the deaths were cropping up on the Muggle news as odd cases of inexplicable carbon monoxide poisoning, and Potterwatch was doing its best to report the reality of the situation. For Remus though, he also thought he sensed an underlying taunt in the little carved “D”. It was something Dolohov had never done during the First War, and he did wonder if Dolohov wasn’t in fact trying to goad him to track him down, as if to say, “Here I was, Lupin, come find me,” just as much as Voldemort was probably trying to goad Harry out of wherever he’d disappeared to with all of these senseless deaths.
Which was why keeping people strong in their faith that Harry had not abandoned them was one of Remus’ priorities on Potterwatch, hence a new segment he took over called “Pals of Potter”, which not only assured people that Harry was out there still fighting for a way to bring down the new regime, but that Harry was in fact still alive.
Talk of the Muggle killings, along with increasing rumors concerning strange incidences of witches and wizards disappearing without trace, of Muggle-born students at Hogwarts dropping out of school rather than show up out of fear of what they knew would happen now that Severus Snape, Death Eater and traitor, ran the school (former students like Dean Thomas, Justin Flinch-Fletchly, and the Creevey brothers came to Remus’ mind), made Nymphadora go solemnly quiet, and Remus could see in her the keen sadness she felt for all of those innocent lives so needlessly and evilly erased, not even knowing why, all those poor Muggle-born children left to fend for themselves, some of them even torn away from their innocent Muggle families (who were probably then killed) and dragged off to heaven knew where.
She picked at her little sandwich, and this time Remus and Bill exchanged a furtive glance, and Bill made another attempt to change the subject again.
Yet the only truly cheerful subject had to be Remus and Nymphadora’s coming baby, but Bill and Fleur seemed strangely uncomfortable touching that subject in the slightest.
When lunch was finished however, Nymphadora thought she might get Fleur alone, and kindly offered to help her with the washing up in the kitchen. Fleur tried to insist that there was really no need, but just as Lily would not be deterred from doing her part in any situation in spite of her pregnancy, nor would Nymphadora. And Nymphadora wasn’t even showing yet.
Remus also couldn’t help but notice that as Fleur finally said, “Well, if you insist, Tonks. Thank you,” something like happy relief flickered across her fair face, like at last she’d found a reprieve from something.
After the two women disappeared into the kitchen with all of the plates, Bill invited Remus into the sitting room.
The room itself was delightfully cozy, squashy armchairs, a sofa, and coffee table and cabinets nestled into the little room, along with lamps, a victrola on a small table, and a little writing desk in the bow of a bay window. On the desk, Remus spotted a stack of recent letters from Fleur’s parents that Fleur kept, perhaps to reassure herself that they too were doing okay after everything they’d endured in the wake of the Death Eaters and Ministry Officials smashing up their daughter’s wedding.
Bill crossed over to the liquor cabinet and withdrew a crystal decanter and two small crystal glasses from a shelf.
“It’s a bit early to be drinking, isn’t it, Bill?” Remus asked tentatively.
Bill poured himself a measure and then Remus. “Just a nip of bourbon,” he said, and as he handed Remus his glass, a thought suddenly occurred to him, based on his observation of Sirius’ behavior at Grimmauld Place, how maudlin and confessional his mood would become as a consequence of drink.
“Loosening the tongue?” he asked Bill.
Bill gave a mirthless laugh and took a swig of his bourbon. Remus did so likewise. Then Bill poured himself another measure.
“Something like that,” said Bill. After a second swig of bourbon, a slight flush bloomed at his cheeks, and his expression relaxed, and only then did Remus realize just how much tension his friend had really been holding.
“Well?” Remus prompted, handing Bill back his empty glass.
Bill set it aside before pouring a third measure in his own. “Fleur and I…have been having trouble conceiving.”
Now it all made sense. Of course a couple that already feared it might be barren would want to steer clear of the subject of children and pregnancies. Of course there would be tension—was one of the parties to blame for the lack of progress?
On the other hand, Remus thought they might be jumping the wand. They’d only been married a little less than two months now.
“That’s just it though,” said Bill. “You and Tonks were married just two weeks and presto, she was pregnant.”
“Yes, that’s about what we timed it at,” said Remus steadily, and indeed he and Nymphadora had come to the conclusion that conception had to have occurred sometime around the time of that dreadful Ministry hearing they’d been dragged to, probably that very night actually—a passionate night he would forever hold in his heart as he had so many others.
He didn’t let it show on his face now however and cleared his throat seriously. “And if you’ll remember, I was supposed to be sterile.”
“Well we all see how that went,” said Bill. “But what if…what if with me—I mean with us—?”
“You and Fleur aren’t trying to blame each other, or yourselves for that matter, are you?” Remus asked, raising a shrewd eyebrow.
“What other explanation could there be?”
“Was she on birth control potion before?”
“Sometimes that slows progress for some time after she’s gone off of it.”
“But Tonks was too, wasn’t she?”
Remus shrugged. “It could have just been luck. Honestly, Bill, I wouldn’t worry too much about it right now.”
Bill was about to pour himself a fourth measure of bourbon when he prudently stopped and corked the decanter at last. “Perhaps you’re right,” he sighed. “After all…maybe it’s for the best. I mean…it’s getting to be so dangerous out there.” He looked up at Remus. “If you had known that you were able to give Tonks children, would you have done, knowing you’d well be facing the prospect of looking after a pregnant wife, of raising a child, in a war-torn world?”
“Perhaps not,” said Remus. “But it doesn’t matter now. This child’s on the way, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And you and Fleur…I foresee a beautiful one in your future.”
Bill laughed again, but this time it was more genuine. “Are you a fortune-teller now?”
Remus shook his head, laughing himself. “You both come from good stock. I think that whatever makes the universe tick…when the time comes, you’ll have a little one of your own coming along. I know it’s always hard to hear, but just be patient.” He reached up and gripped Bill’s shoulder. “Maybe your genes have more sense than mine to wait.”
Now this really made Bill laugh. “So your genes can see the future?”
Remus let him go with a smile. “Maybe they can. You simply never can know these things for certain.”
Remus could tell that Nymphadora and Fleur had indeed had the same conversation that he and Bill had had—or had at least touched on the same subject. Nymphadora actually picked up on it more easily, being a woman, and that was part of her tactic for getting Fleur alone to speak with her on such womanly matters. Luckily though, the conclusion of their conversation seemed to also come to the same optimistic ending that Remus and Bill’s did, so that when Fleur and Bill waved farewell to them from their doorstep, they were both much happier than when they’d met them at the beginning of their visit.
And of course there was no need for Remus and Nymphadora themselves to discuss what had transpired. They knew each other too well, and in knowing each other too well, a thousand understandable words could pass between them in a single look.
Before Disapparating directly for home at Lupin Cottage, Nymphadora and Remus took some time to themselves further down the beach, out of sight of Shell Cottage. Despite being beyond its wards, they somehow felt safe by the seaside (and Remus did scan the area for danger with a little Hominem Revelio, and found no lurking traces of danger whatsoever).
“It’s peaceful here,” said Nymphadora as Remus stood with her, looking out onto the vastness of the ocean with his arm around her shoulders. “I wish we could stay.”
“Would you have me uproot Lupin Cottage and plant it here, so to speak?” Remus asked, looking at her.
Nymphadora smiled as she caught his eye. “Of course not. Lupin Cottage has its own kind of peace, a safe haven in the sanctity of the woods.”
Remus laughed and kissed her cheek. “My dear, you can be so utterly poetic sometimes.”
“I get it from you, you know,” Nymphadora giggled, kissing him back.
They turned from the sea into each other’s arms, entwined in an embrace framed by the light of mid-afternoon and the soft sea mist.
Remus touched his forehead to hers and closed his eyes. “Let’s see how long it takes for us to make this moment last forever, hm?”
“By then forever will have probably passed us by, don’t you think?”
Nymphadora snickered and nuzzled against him, burrowing into the hollow of his neck. He pulled her closer against him.
“I think…when the baby’s born…well, once it’s old enough, we should see to it that we take it on trips to the seaside.”
“Of course we will, love,” Remus promised, the soft tufts of his wife’s pink hair tickling his nose. “My parents always took me on holidays to the seaside when they could, and yours too I expect—”
“I mean we wouldn’t be good parents if we didn’t treat our son or daughter to the sea air and excursions down by rocks….”
“Squidging its little toes in the sand….” Laughter bubbled out of Nymphadora again at the very thought, and Remus joined her, happily infected, squeezing her more tightly against him as the two of them swayed to the rhythm of the sea’s tide.
“Indeed. Even by then, we might come out of this war yet, and our little one can bask in the glow of our victory in the summer seaside sun, eh?”
“A dream like that’s got my vote.”
Remus drew back and kissed Nymphadora’s brow, meeting her tender twilit eyes with his own tender brown ones. He traced the line of her jaw with a knuckle, tucked back a pink lock of hair.
“Just think: if we can stand with Harry…help him any way we can—I know he’s out there, they’d have made his death public otherwise—we may yet see the end of Voldemort and our child will be—”
A band of several wizards draped in dark, sinister cloaks surrounded them at a distance, wands drawn, all of them Death Eaters free to walk about unmasked.
Remus’ voice died in his throat as he and Nymphadora looked about like two rabbits caught in a snare. With one arm locking Nymphadora protectively against him, he whipped out his own wand with his free hand. Nymphadora drew hers too, and Remus had the sudden sickening, suck-down-the-drain feeling in the pit of his stomach that the only chance of saving her life and that of their unborn child in this wholly unprecedented situation was to lay down his own life.
He held her close, thinking she would be the last thing he would feel. She too clutched him with the same kind of earnest.
“Put those away,” one gravely, twisted voice admonished, and Remus turned to meet a face to match.
Antonin Dolohov leered at him, triumph pirouetting in his cold eyes as he broke ranks and approached. “Lupin. Thought I might stumble upon you, sooner or later, now the Dark Lord’s put a little Taboo on his name. You en’t afraid to say his name, are you? You mongrel idiot.”
Remus felt Nymphadora bite back a retort, but he made one of his own. “Is that what this is? I said his name, and up you appear? Like daisies?”
“Good way to track Order members, innit? But oh…this is just too good that I’ve finally got you. After all these years…I’ll have my vengeance on you for the sake of my miserable father. Your blessed parents paid for it, and now…it’s your turn.”
Antonin pointed his wand.
“No, please,” Nymphadora moaned, trying to get out from under Remus’ sheltering arm to try and protect him.
Remus held her back, looking his death squarely in the face. “You can have me, Antonin, only swear you’ll let my wife go.” He knew it was an empty plea—as if they really would, and even if they did promise, like they’d ever really keep it—but he had to try.
Antonin and the other Death Eaters sniggered. “Not likely, Lupin.”
“For God’s sake, you’d kill an innocent pregnant woman?”
“By Salazar, Lupin, I’m insulted! You act like you don’t know me at all!” But Antonin’s wicked grin spread wide across his twisted face. “You think I’m going to really make this easy?” He shook his head and tucked away his wand. “Tsk, tsk. We really do need to do some catching up, don’t we? I’ve had years to bide my time on this, and here you are, ready for the slaying. I’ll make your death so painful, you’ll beg me to end it for you all the more quickly. And as for your wife, I’ll just be so kind as to make a gift of her to her aunt, and she can do as she pleases with her, the chit.”
He winked lecherously at Nymphadora, and Nymphadora glared back at him, hard.
Antonin glowered at her mark of defiance—so like her dead cousin’s—and nodded to the other Death Eaters. “Bind ‘em.”
The other Death Eaters fell upon them, grabbing them both by their arms and dragging them apart, even as they struggled to hold onto each other.
“Remus!” Nymphadora cried out as they bound her hands behind her.
“Dora!” Remus called out as they did the same to him. “Dora, listen to me, whatever you do, don’t let them—!”
Antonin cut him off with a right hook to his jaw. Remus staggered back against his captors at the pain, stars exploding in front of his eyes. Immediately after he felt the sensation of Disapparation twist him away, and because of the pain from Antonin’s blow, he came out of it gasping and thinking he might vomit.
While he didn’t he was certainly dizzy enough to fall to his knees, and when he did they hit cold hard stone. Panting, he looked up to see that he was in the same dungeon they’d taken him too many years ago when he’d tried to hunt Dolohov down after he had Ramirus abducted from St. Mungo’s orphanage by Greyback and led him into getting trapped thanks to oily-haired moonstone-dealing Mickey.
Only this time, James, Sirius, Lily, and Aurelia wouldn’t be bursting through the door at the top of the stairs to the rescue. In fact…no one would be bursting through the door to the rescue. No one knew they were here, and by the time any one figured it out, it would be far too late.
Antonin might draw out his death, but not long enough for anyone—even Bill and Fleur, who had been so close, their cottage just a hundred feet or so away—to figure out they were gone, figure out where they were, and then organize and execute a rescue party, if it even managed to make it without getting itself killed in the process.
“Comfy my dear? No? Good.” A hand grabbed Remus by the hair at the back of his head and wrenched it back at a painful angle, while several hairs were torn clean from his scalp, and Antonin’s voice breathed hotly in his ear. “See where we’ve got her, mongrel? And you’re going to watch every bit of it. I know how to really make you suffer before you die, and that’s making you look on the wife you know you won’t be able to protect, that you know it won’t make a difference if you had the choice to offer up your life for hers.”
Remus blinked, his eyes quicker to adjust in the dim light than most, but he caught sight of where they had Nymphadora, and he could see why Antonin had asked her if she was “comfy”: they’d dragged her to a post in the room—some kind of medieval Muggle whipping post by the look of it—and bound her uncomfortably to that, slumped almost to her knees and strung up by her poor arms, forcing them to hold up the majority of her weight.
Her eyes were wide and stark with pain and fear. “Remus,” she whispered desperately.
This is all my fault, Remus thought miserably. If we’d just stayed in sight of Shell Cottage—if I hadn’t said the name—
He knew he couldn’t have known about the Taboo—though that had to be what all these recent disappearances were about—but still, the condemning name had passed his lips and brought this doom upon them.
“Poor, poor Lupin,” clucked Antonin. “I can see why you married her though: quite a tasty bit of tail if you ask me.”
“Maybe we should have a bit of fun with her,” suggested a squat Death Eater with a wheezy, lascivious laugh.
“Good idea, that.” Antonin licked his lips and released Remus’ hair as he walked over to where Nymphadora was tied up. As he did, two Death Eaters behind Remus grabbed him by the elbows.
“What’re you…? Get away from her!” Remus struggled against his captors until one of them grabbed him by the hair at the back of his head like Antonin did, pulling it back to expose his throat, and this time he felt the cold, deathly sharp edge of a knife blade pressed against it.
“Stop it!” Nymphadora spat as Antonin kept trying to touch her face with the caresses of a libertine, pressing her face as much as possible against the post.
“Now, now, we wouldn’t want your dear husband to pay for your noncompliance, now would we, sweet?” Antonin taunted.
Nymphadora timidly showed her face, and gave a tiny gasp at the knife pressed to Remus’ throat.
“Dora, it’s not worth it, don’t let him touch you.” Remus croaked, his voice strained against the pain of the blade, which stung all the more every time he spoke or swallowed. “He’s going to kill me anyway. Please.”
“Remus….” Nymphadora’s beautiful eyes grew bright in the face of their hopeless situation, in the face of Remus’ inevitable death lying just before him.
Worse than that, he knew that once he was dead, Nymphadora would be dragged off to Bellatrix to meet her fate, and both her and the baby—their poor child would die before it was even born.
Everything had been so wrong. Luck had not favored them by giving them a child, but in fact it had mocked them by giving it to them, a child that would never see the light of day.
More than that, but for all of his pleading, it would probably do nothing to keep Antonin from having his own way with her, and what then? What would be the point of all they had been fighting for? What point would there be in believing that their love for each other would be enough to save them?
“So you’ll not have me then?” Antonin feigned disappointment. “Even when I’ve a knife blade to your husband’s throat, you won’t have me?”
Nymphadora shook her head, even as tears spilled from her eyes and glided without a sound down her beautiful cheeks.
Antonin gave her a smack across the face; Nymphadora gave a shout of pain and buried her face in the post again.
“Doholov, you get away from her!” Remus snarled with a reborn rise of ferocity.
Antonin ignored him as well as Nymphadora’s whimpers and clicked his fingers. The knife blade pressed deeper, more painfully into his skin, until the sting of welling blood emerged like a large pinprick, somewhere in the neighborhood of Remus’ jugular.
But Remus kept his teeth gritted, forced himself not to cry out.
“You animal,” Antonin growled, this time in real disappointment. “I’ll have you screaming if it’s the last thing I do. But I’m just getting started….” He gestured for the knife to be taken away, and Remus slumped a little at the reprieve from the pain while the blood trickled down his neck.
“Ah, don’t like that, mmm?” Antonin taunted. “How about we try…silver, eh?”
Remus raised his head, eyes bugging out. “Wait….”
Antonin withdrew a knife of his own from his belt, a silver one. Even as he advanced on him, Remus’ huge eyes desperately darted here and there for anything, anything that could aid them, or at the very least Nymphadora.
He couldn’t, he just couldn’t go down without fighting, without trying.
But there was nothing, nothing….
And then one of the Death Eaters holding him ripped back the sleeve of his robes, and then unbuttoned the cuffs of the sleeve of his shirt underneath, ripping that back as well, exposing his pale arm already littered with scars from all of his moonlit excursions over the years.
At least he would be free of that, when this was over. But after everything he’d gained, he’d face a thousand more full moons rather than lose Nymphadora.
Instead of watching the silver blade draw nearer and nearer, he sought Nymphadora’s face, and she was gazing at him from across the room with pain and love in her eyes.
“Please, leave him alone,” she begged them. “Remus….”
“I’m so sorry,” he tried to tell her. “I’m so sorry, darling, please—”
But he was cut off by the white-hot slice of pain across his arm as Antonin cut into it with the edge of the silver blade of his knife. He gave a choked cry that felt wrenched from the deepest part of his very gut, and he doubled over as the searing burn of the silver flashed across his vision, rendering him dizzy and shaking with agony.
And then it came again, and again, and again, and all he could do was scream. There was no holding back, it was too much. The only thing that gave him strength—or perhaps more pain, he couldn’t be sure—was underneath his own screams, he could hear the shrieks of his wife begging them to stop.
But then it did stop.
Panting hard, Remus slumped against his captors, only to feel their hold on him fall away amid a new and confusing windstorm of cries, a hail of falling bodies around him, and he meanwhile, left weak and trembling and sick, collapsed on the stone floor, with the echoes of Nymphadora crying out his name.
He blinked his eyes against the white, cringing at the ringing in his ears, and in his fuzzy, reemerging vision, he saw the silhouette of Nymphadora being untied from the post and dragged off by vague forms.
He tried to get up, but he too was dragged up and hauled away, and when he made a vain attempt to struggle out of the hands of his new set of unknown captors, he earned himself a smack in the head that caused new stars to explode in front of his face, a blackness following in their wake that swallowed him up.
And he knew no more.
A/N: I know JK Rowling has said that in her universe, silver has no effect on werewolves, but I’ve used it against Remus before in this fic, and unfortunately it does play a significant role later on when we get back to the present with Ted ;) so, please forgive me for this slight breach in Potter lore.