Chapter 8 : Guardians of the Blue Room
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Hermione's heart was pounding faster than she thought possible. It wasn't just because she was walking fast along one of the dimly lit corridors or because she was scared of the vicious Death Eaters who had attacked her precious school. Her heart was racing because the potion inside her was bubbling again, making her notice every little movement the blond boy walking beside her made.
She was aware of his sweaty palm (Malfoys don't sweat), his fingers tangled with hers, his accidental sidesteps causing his hip to brush hers and most of all, she was aware that they were not alone.
They walked side by side with Harry and Ron; the latter still resembling a ripe tomato and questioning constantly Malfoy's very unwelcome presence there.
"For the millionth time, Ron, I. Can't. Get. Rid. Of. Him. Just leave it, please." Hermione's voice held a pleading tone, almost begging.
Ron leaned forward a bit, watching her past Harry - who was keeping a close eye on Ron - and frowned, saying: "Could we just knock him out. We could levitate him-"
Hermione sent a murderous look in his direction and he fell silent, embarrassed. He was trying to understand the situation. Hermione had explained everything about the pairing magic and the separation potion after they'd left the first and second years to the care of Professors Sprout and Vector at the shelter, but he still had a hard time understanding it all.
Malfoy hadn't said anything for a long while which annoyed Ron a lot more than an open fight. The other boy was so infuriating, strutting along like he owned the damn place. He had seen him smirk a couple of times and one time he had noticed that the slick git had walked way too close to Hermione.
And she didn't seem to mind at all.
Harry had been awfully quiet, too. It felt as though everyone else belonged to a secret society and only he was left out. What was going on in the world?
"Maybe we should separate," Hermione said quietly, looking everywhere but her two best friends.
"WHAT?" Ron screamed, unable to keep his voice down. "Leave you with that... that... monkey brain?"
"Hey, I resent that." Although he sounded offended, there was an amused undertone in Draco's voice, too. He was having the time of his life; seeing the Weasel squirm was like an early Christmas present.
"Shut up," said Ron and Hermione together.
"Er... shutting up would be best for all of us," Harry whispered urgently, looking for any sings of danger. He was having a hard time being the only adult of the group.
"They started it." Draco pointed nonchalantly at the two blushing troublemakers.
There was something in Ron's eyes that warned Harry and he grabbed the other boy by the waist before he could reach the grinning Slytherin. "You! I'm going to hurt you. Mutilate. I'm... Pain! Loads of pain," Ron bellowed, struggling against Harry's grip.
Draco leaned closer to Hermione and whispered in her ear, "Your friend seems a bit incoherent," all the while looking at Ron over her shoulder.
In that instant their world froze. Seconds passed as they stood in front of four very grown-up and capable Death Eaters, one of them being Malfoy Senior. The tall man looked at his son then Hermione, and finally his eyes settled to their united hands. It seemed as though madness enveloped him. His nostrils flared as he took sharp breaths through his nose and there was no mercy in his cold, deadly eyes.
Draco knew instantly and instinctively that his father would not only kill Hermione; he would take her soul, too.
His eyes turned to Potter's briefly, just long enough for him to tell the other boy that they were going to run, and he'd better make something extraordinary happen - right about now.
Potter nodded ever so slightly.
Draco squeezed Hermione's hand, letting her know that they were leaving. They were going to run for their lives.
Harry released Ron very slowly, keeping his eyes on the enemy. Lucius Malfoy was the biggest threat; the others were just minions, nameless and faceless. He stepped between the Death Eaters and his friends, blocking the perfect view Malfoy Senior had of his son and the Mudblood and making him notice for the first time who he was up against.
He looked at Harry from head to toe, finally acknowledging him. "Mr. Potter." It was almost a question.
Harry took that moment to distract them all. A bright red light shot out of his wand and filled the corridor, blinding the four men in front of them. "Run!" he yelled as loud as he could.
Draco pulled Hermione with him, not looking back. He didn't care what would happen to the others; he just knew that they had to get out of there. He could hear people shouting spells and curses, but Potter must have created a protective shield. Nothing hit them, nothing at all.
After a few seconds of running, he noticed that Granger was shouting at him. "...can't leave them! Stop! Stop, you idiot." She was leaning backwards, trying to stop him from dragging her behind him.
He couldn't stop. It was the eyes that made him run. He could never go back. There was no place for him. No home. No mother. No father.
"Shut the hell up!" That made her fall silent, the harsh words. They always worked. He turned to look at her briefly and saw tears in her eyes. She was fighting them, but he could still see them. "You heard him. We could do nothing."
"We could've fought with him."
"Not this time," he said quietly.
He slowed down a bit, trying to collect his scattered thoughts. He had seen his father, the person he'd admired all his life. Now, the same person wanted his head on a silver platter. Draco had seen it in his eyes. He wasn't going to ask questions. He wouldn't listen, he would just tear his son apart. He would and could.
The thoughts were too much. He wanted to hide, disappear. The pain was coming back, all the miserable thoughts. He was a loser, a disgrace. He belonged nowhere... nobody needed him... he... should... just... die... no one... there was no one...
"Draco, what is it?" Hermione had taken his other hand into hers, and was now looking straight into his eyes. "Where did you go?" Her voice sounded tender and worried.
It was a stupid question. He was there. "It's nothing. Let's go." He pushed her away, picking up pace again.
Hermione was at a loss with the boy. She didn't know what to say to him. Something had happened back there, something had been said without words. Lucius Malfoy had shaken his son to the very core. And Harry, he was fighting them all. It was hard for her to admit it, but he was doing it almost without effort, like he really was becoming the man he was supposed to be. Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or was Harry really born a hero? Her best friend, silly, dense, skinny Harry? She hoped they would be all right, all of them.
"What was the purpose of us leaving the safety of your room if we're not going to fight?" She had to ask, she just had to.
The pure agony on his face made her regret every taunting word she'd ever shot at his direction. It was unbelievable how clearly she could read him at times and then other times he would just pull the rug from under her feet with his complexity. "I'm sor-"
"No, you're right. It's just... I can't fight him." He didn't add that he couldn't have protected her either.
"I know. I shouldn't have said that. It's just... Harry."
The words hung in the air, making her feel uncomfortable and almost guilty, as though she had said something wrong. "What is it now?" Her voice was strained.
"Nothing. Just keep going."
"You're acting weird."
"More than usual?"
"Don't try to joke. I'm serious."
Draco stopped and turned to look at her. "Do you love him?"
"We're in a middle of an attack and you stop to ask me something like that?" Hermione was completely amazed; the boy was so unpredictable.
He didn't even flinch. "Well, do you?"
"Of course I do. He's my best friend."
Draco let out a disapproving sound - a sharp exhale through his nose - and then started walking again, making it impossible for Hermione to study his expressions.
"Wait!" She was getting frustrated again. It had been a meta-conversation and she wasn't quite sure if she understood it correctly. If she did... her view of life was about to change drastically. "I'm... wait! Bloody hell! Stop now!" She did everything she could to make him stop. She leaned backwards. She tried to take hold of a random pillar. She even stopped walking and let him pull her along the corridor.
"What is it with you? What happened with your father? Draco. Dammit. Talk to me."
He turned around so fast she didn't have a chance to react. He pushed her against the stone wall, holding her both wrists. "You have no idea how close to death you were. He saw you with me. He saw you. He thinks... Didn't you see his eyes?" His breath was harsh against her cheek.
Hermione didn't know why she did it; why she freed herself from his grip and carefully and very slowly pulled him closer to her. Her fingers curled around the back of his neck, finding his long soft hair and capturing him into a warm embrace. At first she felt him tense, but then after a short while he started to relax in her arms, letting her be the one in control of the situation.
"We're not going to die and he's not going to get me," she whispered in his ear. If she had thought about everything rationally - whom she was with, the binding spell, the attack - she would have questioned her actions. But at that moment, she followed her intuition. He needed her. It was as simple as that.
That was the first time in years anyone had held him without any after thoughts. He could feel Hermione's steady breathing, her heartbeat, her stroking hands in his hair. He felt safe. Nobody was demanding anything from him.
His own hands left his sides and found her waist, and very lightly, he embraced her back.
I need you. The thought escaped all the barricades he had ever created in front and around himself. It made him ache. It was an even deeper ache than the one he had felt when he realised for the first time that she was a real person to him. It was an ache full of fear. Fear of loss. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown.
He lifted his head from her shoulder, pulling back a bit. "I guess the binding spell is dying." He didn't want to say something so indifferent, but he just couldn't bear the thought that she would laugh at him. He was pretty sure that she would do just that if he ever told her that he needed her. It was just ridiculous.
The ever rational and knowledgeable Hermione Granger said, "I don't think so. I think there was some kind of a catch in that spell. There has to be a reason why it works so irregularly. I think it's because... um..."
"Please, do continue." There was a tinge of humour in his voice. He was hiding again, he could admit that even to himself, but he also found it rather funny that the girl could sound so professional when an almost stranger was holding her in such a loving manner.
"Er... shouldn't we let go now?" She sounded a bit timid.
"Why? Because we must go. It's war. People are dying. We are not even friends."
"Then why did you hug me like that?" He was smirking again. Life was easier that way.
Hermione tried to put some air between them, but Draco wouldn't let her. She felt trapped. The boy was almost like two different people and right now, she wasn't sure which one was talking. "Because you needed it."
He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, "And why should you care?" She smelled of strawberries. Did she wear a perfume? It felt like it was her real scent. He breathed her in, loving the feel of her inside his system.
Draco felt her fingers curl tighter around his hair, pulling him closer. She was so easy; all he had to do was lift a finger and she would come running. How disappointing. He released her and waited her to do the same, but she didn't move. She kept leaning into him.
"You think I'm always like this?" Hermione's voice was sharp but very quiet. "You think you can make me feel like this because you're so damn irresistible. Well, you do remember the potion, don't you? This is because of it. You have no power over me." She pushed him away from her and suddenly they were separated.
He was shocked. He definitely hadn't expected it all to end like this. It had been such a warm moment. How did he manage to ruin it, too? What a bastard he was. "I'm sorry." He tried to reach for her, but she dodged his attempts easily.
What was she up to, the silly girl? They would probably die without the contact.
"Give me your hand, Hermione. Don't be stupid."
"Go to Hell." She spat the words out of her mouth. "You use me. You take what ever you want and give nothing in return. I hate you. Get out of my life."
"Hermione, listen to me. We need each other to get out of this situation." He swallowed his pride. "I need you."
"You need no one. You've made that perfectly clear. Now leave before I make you feel sorry for ever calling me a Mudblood. Go!" She had started to pace back and forth, back and forth, looking at him like he was the worst scum on earth.
Draco had no idea how to handle a furious girl. He had a bit of knowledge how to make girls upset, but how to undo that? He really didn't know. He tried the only method he could think of. He charged at her and as they collided, the wall behind them gave way and they stumbled inside a pitch black space.
What happened? was the question in both their minds. They couldn't see anything and there were no sounds or smells; the whole place felt empty.
"Where are we?" Draco finally asked, more out of curiousity than anything.
Suddenly, there was light. It was blueish and revealed a very large angular room. The opening, which had let them in, was located in the middle and they could see both ends of the room clearly. But it was the two giant people crouching on the opposite walls that caught their attention. Blue paint covered their naked skin, making them look wild and threatening. They weren't regular moving paintings; they seemed to live in the walls.
Hermione had never been more afraid. The instant terror that rose in her after seeing those monstrous figures made her almost choke on her tongue. They were the Guardians. Their situation had just gone from bad to worse.
"Shush... and don't let your eyes leave the one you're looking at now, not even for a split second," she whispered, moving slightly, so her back was against Malfoy's. "Did you read Hogwarts, A History?"
"Of course I did, why?"
"You remember how Hogwarts gets all its rooms?" Slowly, she started leading them into the middle of the room. Their only chance of survival was - ironically - constant vigilance.
"That book is big enough for mice to raise a family in it. How could anyone remember everything."
Hermione snorted. "At least you've read it." She paused for a moment and then continued, "Hogwarts is mostly pure magic and almost all of its rooms have been made magically. This is one of those rooms that are in the making. The castle is making them on it's own.
"Like all babies, these rooms need guardians and the ones looking at us are them. If you don't keep your eye on them, they'll lash at you until they kill you."
"You're kidding me, right?" He turned just for a second to try and see her expression, but it was enough. He felt something very sharp cut his chest, swiftly and professionally, drawing blood, just enough for him to suffer but not die. He couldn't keep the pain inside and let out a scream, returning his eyes to his attacker just in time to see the giant lick the long nail of his forefinger. It tasted his blood. The bastard.
It smiled wickedly, ready to cut him again when given the chance.
"Are you all right? What happened?" Hermione sounded worried. How very kind of her.
"I need to sit down." A little shakily he started to lower himself down and she followed his actions. "I think it ruined my shirt. I don't have the money to buy new shirts." He didn't dare to look down in fear of another attack, but he was pretty sure that the whole front of him was covered in blood.
"I told... ah, forget it. Can you stay awake? Did it hurt you too badly?"
There were two things Draco Malfoy hated the most: people who said, "I told you so" and pain. He had never been good with pain. He could remember quite a few incidents in his years at Hogwarts that had been too painful for him. The bloody horse-bird was one of the worst. Now the pain was definitely making it hard for him to concentrate on the terrifying giant grinning at him.
"I'm surviving, but I should probably tell you that I don't particularly like painful experiences and at the moment I'm barely hanging there. The blue person is really not liking me and it's a bit difficult to look into its predatory eyes now that I'm definitely on its menu.
"So could you please tell me how we'll get out of here? I'm quite eager to leave. Yesterday would have been the correct time, don't you think?" He groaned and almost doubled over, but Hermione grabbed both of his arms and held him against her back.
"Keep your eyes on him!" she yelled, fear lurking in every corner of her mind.
"Look. I'm trying, you silly bint. I'm trying. It cut me pretty deep."He breathed in with difficulty and added, "Do they like to torture their victims, eat them alive or just play with them? Or what's the lucky coincidence that I'm still alive? Blue looks like a bloody cat that ate the pixie."
To Hermione, Draco's words were a clear warning sign. He was joking again; he was in serious trouble. She had to think of something soon. How would they get out of there alive?
In all the long years that Hogwarts had stood on the misty fields of Scotland, nobody had escaped from the Blue Room unharmed. Some had lost their limbs, some their eyesight or their voice. Some had gone in with a friend and come out alone, mindless with fear.
All had lost something very dear to them.
They needed to speak alone without the listening ears on the walls. "Can you get into the Colour of Magick?"
Draco was silent for far too long and Hermione was beginning to think that he had passed out. Finally, the words came. "Maybe... Could you try to heal me first? Just a bit?"
Hermione shook her head although she was aware that he couldn't see her. "I can't. Wands don't work here and I really don't know how I could do that even if they did work. I can't see you and I can't concentrate either. The Guardians feed us fear on purpose; it makes us an easier target. We need to get out of here, somewhere where we can think properly."
She could feel Draco's mind linking with hers. They were getting so good with this. Why did it all have to end with the potion? It would have been so wonderful to explore the magical world beyond words and tools. Why did it have to be him?
She invited him in to her world; the world she had created for them. It was a comfortable room with two armchairs and a fireplace. It was simple yet very detailed. The wooden frames of the chairs had beautiful carvings in them and the green velvety fabric looked like it was made of thousands of leaves. The open fireplace was made of natural stones and the burning fire was eating away large logs of birch.
Draco noticed that there were neither windows nor doors in their hideout. Hermione had really thought of everything. There was even tea waiting on the small table between the two chairs. He sat on the nearest one and waited for her to do the same.
"Are you holding its gaze?" Hermione asked warily as she sat down.
"I can control myself in the outside world if you're asking me that." He poured some tea for himself and then turned his eyes to hers, asking if she wanted some. She nodded slightly and he filled her cup, too. They were fine china, the cups, blue roses and green leaves painted on their surface. He felt like pointing out to her how she could always think about the little things while under such horrifying predicaments. She was bloody marvelous when it came to stressful situations.
There was even milk and honey. How did she know that he liked his tea like that? Maybe she liked it that way, too. And to his amusement, she really did add a spoonful of honey and a dash of milk into her tea. He smiled and received a questioning look from her. How could he not like a girl who used honey in her tea?
"What?" She sounded dubious.
"Nothing. Talk. Obviously you have something to say."
She watched him suspiciously for a moment and then asked, "What do you value the most in life? What is the most important thing you have?"
Draco looked at her, surprised. What did that have to do with anything? "I don't... what? Why d'you need to know?"
"The Guardians want it. They won't let us leave until we give them what we value the most."
His life was in absolute depression. The whole beginning of their seventh year had been one big downfall. And now this. It was as though Fate really didn't want him to be happy.
"What do I value? I don't have anything anymore. They can take whatever they want."
"Draco, you can't think like that. Do you want to be a professional Qudditch player? As a Seeker you'll need your eyes the most. Or if you want to be a teacher, your memory is the most important thing you have." She looked rather embarrassed when she added, "And there is always the possibility that you like me."
He spit his tea all over his trousers. "Not that much," he managed to blurt.
She looked hurt, but quickly hid it. "Well, we can't take the risk that neither of us have any hidden emotions towards the other. We have to know now where we stand."
"Isn't it obvious? You want to get rid of me - you said it just minutes ago. And I'm more than happy to oblige as soon as the frigging potion has done its part of the agreement. That's where we stand."
"I don't think so," Hermione said quietly.
Draco eyed her under his brows. "What is it with you girls? What if there is a bit of lust between us? It doesn't mean that I love you. Stop acting like it matters." He leaned away from her, resting his head against the top of the chair and looking at the ceiling. It could never be you, he thought.
"Fine. So we don't talk about this and go back there. What happens? The Guardians will choose the one who is more loved by the other and kill that person. That's what you want?"
He turned his gaze back to her, wondering just how stubborn she could be. She really did want to dig up this smelly uncomfortable subject. Well, fine by him. "You want to know what I think of you? Bloody well ask then."
She wasn't at all sure if she wanted to know. Was it really essential for their survival? "What do I mean to you? And please be honest." Suddenly, she was very afraid of the answer. What if he liked her? What if he didn't? What if there was something else behind his actions?
He stood and walked behind her chair, resting his hands on her shoulders. His long elegant fingers caressed the back of her neck, massaging the stiff muscles there and helping her to relax. A sigh escaped her lips.
Draco leaned over to her and whispered in her ear, "You're an occasional pleasure element but mostly just a thorn in my flesh. I don't love you; I hardly even like you. But sometimes you make me feel good and I don't want you dead. That's as honest as I can get." He kissed the sensitive skin behind her ear and then returned to his seat.
"Did that answer to your question?" he asked innocently.
Hermione didn't say anything for a long while nor did she look at him. She kept staring at the flames in the fireplace. She was hurt by his words. She didn't want to be, but she was. Somehow she had been certain that there was something more going on underneath everything. Now she was pretty sure that she had imagined everything - or maybe it was all one-sided.
Finally she spoke, her voice professional and uncharacteristically cold. "Yes it did. It also told me that you'll be the one they'll take."
He hadn't expected that, not after his own words. He regretted being so cruel. "Hermione, I-"
"Just don't. I don't want to listen to you anymore. I've done my listening. You listen now." She took her cup and threw it into the fireplace. "You have to hit me." It was a command.
"What? Hermione, I'm not going to hit you." He stared at her, bewildered. What was going on? The mind of a woman really was a complete mystery.
"Hit me. Hurt me. Show them you don't care about me. Dig up all the anger you have towards me." Suddenly the room disappeared and they were standing on a field full of flowers of all colours and shapes. Birds were singing and crickets were chirping; there was even a warm summer breeze. "They can see us now. Hit me."
"Why?" He took a few steps back, trying to get some distance between himself and the crazy girl.
"It'll save your life. For heaven's sake, hit me!" Hermione was getting really angry. She hated the Slytherin bastard standing a few feet away from her; his stupid wide eyes and the confusion on his face. The selfish brat.
She took a few quick steps in his direction and then threw a wild card. "No wonder your mother went crazy. Nobody deserves a son like you. You're a disgrace. I've never met anyone as cowardly as you are. A bit of pain and you'll pass out. A bit of obstacles and you'll start to stumble. You're pathetic! Pathetic!"
Her words hit their target. The anger in him was very lightly guarded and now it roamed freely. How dare she? Who did she think she was? His fists clenched and unclenched themselves without him noticing.
"Hit me, you bastard. Show me how you handle a woman. Hit me!" She poked him in the chest to emphasize her words. "Not even Voldemort wants you. Nobody cares what becomes of you. Nobody. You're completely useless, utterly indifferent. Just get the hell out of my life and-"
He hit her with an open palm, making her stumble backwards. He walked menacingly to her and grabbed the front of her shirt. "What's wrong with you? Who are you?" The words were accusing, but hurt lingered underneath them.
She had managed to break him. Good.
"I've had enough of you. I should have done this the first day you called me a Mudblood." She took hold of his arms and kneed him where it hurt the most. He doubled over and fell to the ground, groaning in agony. She let out a laugh of pure mirth, which made his pain-filled brain white with rage. Everything became so clear. She was the enemy. Always had been. She had a rotten heart; she was a betrayer.
Draco didn't hesitate to hurt her. He kicked her legs from under her and when she lay on the floor, bewildered, he crawled to her and pinned her to the ground. He started strangling her with the very same hands that had caressed her gently just moments ago.
He could hear laughter and soon realised that he was the source. His own throat was forming that horrible sound and the Guardians were laughing with him. He wasn't in control anymore. He had lost it. All sense of right and wrong; everything that made him human.
Hermione lay under him motionless, her eyes closed. She looked like there was no life left in her.
Draco rolled away from her, panting heavily. Had he killed her? His eyes found her neck and under the black and blue marks was a very faint pulse. He exhaled in relief. What had made him do that? Was he really that kind of a person?
He pulled his knees close to his chest, holding himself for a moment. This was bad. Very bad. Had he gone berserk? Shouldn't it be a battle thing? Was she his battle? His eyes returned to her. Would she be all right? Had he hurt her badly?
His mind was too full of fear to notice that they were out of the Blue Room and in the same corridor where they had been earlier. He didn't notice anything else except her. She was breathing, wasn't she?
Hermione coughed. "You did it. You saved us."
He hadn't expected that, anything but that. "Saved us? I almost... killed you."
She leaned on her elbows, smiling. "But you didn't." Her voice was very faint. "You did the right thing. We didn't lose anything too valuable."
He was very confused, scared and confused, not a combination to his liking. She wasn't making any sense and right now, he needed sense, lots of it. "What did we lose? I'm... Please?"
Hermione's smile grew wider. "Only the separation process. We can't have it again. Can you live with that?"
She could almost hear his mind working on her words and soon, the confusion on his face turned into realization. It made him look quite gloomy. He moved to her side on all fours and then spoke, staring at her intensely. "You said all those things to get me to hate you, and now you say that I'm stuck with you?"
"Yes. Lucky you." She said it lightly, but her insides were turning to ashes. She was very scared of him. He had been a weird companion for all these months and now, she just didn't know what to think of him. He had tried to kill her. He had held her. He had told her private things. But still, she had no clue who he really was. Maybe he didn't know that either.
"This means we will lose our minds if we don't practice wandless magic together, doesn't it?" He already knew the answer but needed to be sure.
"Yes. We have to end the training together."
"I think you won."
"What? How can you say that? You're the one who's been a 'thorn in my flesh' the whole time. You're constantly hurting me." She was very upset by his words. He was being an arrogant and idiotic Slytherin, as always.
Draco leaned closer to her, almost touching her lips with his. "You said they would take me. I think it means that you don't want me out of your life. You won." He let his mouth linger near hers, breathing the same air with her. It was difficult to resist the urge to kiss her. It was ridiculous after everything they had said and done. She had hurt him. He had hurt her. They should be furious. He should be furious, but all he could think of was her slightly parted lips.
He felt extremely stupid.
"What happens next?" Hermione asked, breathless.
"I really don't know." He sat up, took her hand and stood, pulling her up with him. "Let's find out."
A/N: It's finally here. I'm so sorry it took me forever to update. I lost my IT, but one of my dear readers (Crystal Allan) made me fall in love with this story again. I really do hope to finish this before the year ends. That's the optimistic view. :)
This chapter was betaed by my dear friend Vickie. Without her constant support this chapter would never have seen the light of day (well, it's night time here, but you know what I mean).
I hope it was worth the wait. :)
Some of my reviewers have wished to see more action between the two. That will happen in the next chapter. I tried to squeeze in some scenes in this chapter, too, but the characters weren't willing. All things have their own time.
UPDATE: Oh, and Ron's angry burst is of course very similar to that one in A Knight's Tale. I can't believe I forgot to put this here. Gah!
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