Chapter 30 : For The Best
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For The Best
The final week of school felt emptier than any James had ever spent at Hogwarts. The seventh years had no classes, but instead were supposed to take advantage of the free time to go see their Head of House for career consulting or set their affairs in order for leaving school (needless to say, it was Slughorn’s busiest week of the entire year). James was not interested in doing either. He was set on one career, and discussing it was pointless until he got his N.E.W.T. results; as for his immediate plans, he was simply going to return home and figure out things from there, like many other people were planning to do. The only thing that he needed to figure out was when he might be able to see Lily once they were living hundreds of miles apart, but he was putting off that discussion for some reason.
She seemed keener on talking about it, though, and James had a feeling that she was going to bring it up at the first opportunity. As a result, he was a little apprehensive about his plans with her for that evening: they had decided to take advantage of the post-exam freedom and sneak down to Hogsmeade for a few hours.
He grabbed his Invisibility Cloak from his trunk and everyone looked up at him. The radio on the floor next to Peter’s bed was filling the room with the Quidditch match between the Bigonville Bombers and the Kenmare Kestrals, which had been in progress for several hours. It had been a rather lazy day for all of them, and James’ movement seemed to trigger everyone’s consciousness.
“Are we going somewhere?” Sirius asked.
“Er—I’m actually—I’m going down to Hogsmeade with Lily,” James explained, feeling like he was somehow letting them all down.
“Oh,” Sirius said, raising his eyebrows coolly. He was brooding about something, and had been ever since James had explained to Lily about them being Animagi. Though this was another conversation he wasn’t interested in having, he also knew that ignoring Sirius wouldn't stop him from dwelling on it.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Sirius shrugged. “You must really trust her is all.”
“She is pretty trustworthy,” James replied. “What else is wrong?”
“I don’t know—I know you’ve fancied her for a long time, and all…”
“Well, you don’t know, you two could end up hating each other in a month.”
“Didn’t we already talk about this a week ago? It’s like I said: even if things don’t work out, she’s not going to tell anyone,” James responded.
“Yeah, I know,” Sirius said, “but now it’s the cloak—”
“She knew about that before I ever told her.”
“—and sneaking to Hogsmeade, and—well,” Sirius hesitated and glanced sideways, “we’re all your friends, and we don’t want you to get in over your head.”
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” James said. “I’m not that pathetic.”
“I’m not saying you are,” Sirius said, sounding almost bored.
James waited a moment; when no one spoke, he said, “Do you feel better now?”
Sirius considered it for a moment. “A bit, yeah.” He paused. “She does kind of have you wrapped around her finger, though.”
James shook his head while a chorus of maudlin imitations of himself talking to Lily.
“All right, all right; that’s enough,” he said. “I hope you all feel better now, because I have to be going.”
“Oh yeah, you don’t want to keep her waiting,” Remus said, smirking.
“Just because I want to be on time—” James began, but gave up mid-sentence, since they were all snickering again anyway. “You know, I’ll just leave you all to laughing.”
Lily was sitting in the common room when he reached the bottom of the stairs, looking both very pretty and somewhat gloomy. She did look a little more cheerful when she saw James approaching though, which he was happy about. It was nice to know that he could brighten her mood.
“I was thinking,” she said as they climbed through the portrait hole, “maybe we should just stay inside the castle.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound like any fun,” James replied.
“I know, but it’s going to be really hard to sneak out of here unnoticed,” she continued.
James stopped and pulled out his cloak, letting it unfurl in a slick of silver. Lily grinned.
“Of course,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking. But you know, we’re still going to have to unlock the front doors, and I’m pretty sure Flitwick charmed them so no students could get out.”
“Who uses the front doors?”
Lily badgered him with questions all the way to the statue of the hump-backed witch that concealed the passageway to Honeydukes, but he didn’t explain, feeling that it was more mysterious and exciting that way.
“This is so illegal,” Lily whispered once they were in the Honeydukes cellar. “This is breaking and entering, and—wait, did you steal all of the sweets you brought back to the castle?”
James placed his hands on her shoulders. “Calm down, darling.”
“You just called me darling,” she said, scrunching up her nose.
“You sound like my mum,” she said.
“Well, you were kind of losing it there,” James replied. “Anyway, come on, let’s go to the Three Broomsticks. Just be quiet, or else you might wake up their vicious guard dog.”
There were only a couple other people visible on the high street, and they seemed in too much of a hurry to notice that two students were walking around the village. James didn’t really care much anyway—it was almost the end of the year, and who was going to bother punishing the Head Boy and Girl, anyway?
Lily seemed to be more distressed, but James couldn’t see why she should be, now that they had successfully made it out of the castle. It was a very strange thing that girls did, he was finding: they apparently needed to be asked what was wrong half-a-dozen times before they would being to reluctantly talk about it. Or maybe it was just Lily. Either way, he was starting to feel like everyone’s agony aunt these days.
Oddly enough, though, once Lily started talking, she went on in an uninterrupted stream for about five minutes. He had a bit of trouble following everything she was talking about, but he got the general idea. It was something to do with Mary and Anna being upset with one another, or with Lily—or perhaps both—and getting into an argument with Mary about werewolves.
When she was finished, she sighed. James took her hand and squeezed it.
“I’m sorry if I’ve been in an awful mood,” she said. “I wanted to tell you, but we had exams, and I thought you’d get upset.”
“Have you been listening to a word I’ve said?” she asked.
“Of course,” he replied. “What I mean is, if I were surprised by people like Mary, I wouldn’t be bothering to keep secrets for Remus.”
“I suppose,” Lily said.
“He’s well shot of her, though,” James said, trying and failing to keep his voice neutral. He could not help but get angry whenever anyone expressed such bigoted views—that they were common did not make it any less frustrating. He did know, however, that there was usually little to be done in terms of convincing someone otherwise, and Remus preferred to keep his head down in these situations.
Lily smiled at him sympathetically, and he was about to change the subject to avoid her pitying him when her eyes widened.
“Oh, look, it’s Professor Dearborn. Of course there would be a teacher here on the exact night we decide to sneak out of school,” she said, the skin between her brows wrinkling in consternation. Sure enough, Professor Dearborn’s bald head was visible at the bar.
“He won’t care,” James said. “He’ll probably congratulate us for breaking the rules and then buy us some Firewhiskey.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” James replied. “Well, not about the second part. But look, he’s seen us already, and he doesn’t look upset.”
In fact, Professor Dearborn did exactly what James had predicted. He came over to their table and hardly mentioned the fact that they were supposed to be back in Gryffindor Tower, instead asking about their Defence Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T.
“I heard from a reliable source that you both did a hell of a job,” he said conspiratorially.
“Really?” Lily asked, all worry about him punishing them apparently gone. Now she looked positively thrilled.
Dearborn nodded. “I knew Potter here had a talent for the subject, but it seems like he’s not the only one.”
“Well, I did teach her everything I know,” James joked. Dearborn laughed.
“I’m sure,” he replied. “Now, what is it that you two are going to be doing when you’ve graduated?”
James and Lily did a sort of duet of wishy-washy, incomplete explanations. Usually, James was not much bothered by lacking future plans, but Dearborn made him feel more inadequate for whatever reason. James felt more inclined to impress him than other teachers.
When they were finished (in other words, trailed off lamely), Dearborn nodded thoughtfully.
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” he said, “but—if you don’t—I think I might have a prospect that both of you would find interesting.”
James glanced at Lily uncertainly.
“I don’t mean to push anything on you, of course,” he continued. “In fact, you should both enjoy your last few days without worrying. Forget I ever brought it up.”
“Is—is it a job?” James asked. It was strange for Dearborn to bring something like this up, but James felt that any job that he might suggest was sure to be at least somewhat interesting.
Dearborn hesitated. “I don’t want to say anything too soon. If you’re interested, though, we can always meet some other time to talk about it.”
James glanced at Lily again, but her expression was unreadable.
“Sure,” he said. If Lily wasn’t interested, that was fine, but he at least wanted to know what it was that Dearborn had on his mind.
It was getting late, and once Dearborn had departed, James suggested that they go back to the castle. Lily was very quiet as they walked back to Honeydukes and traversed the passageway—James didn’t know whether it was because she was still upset from her problems with Mary and Anna, or if she was mad at him for not listening very well, or if she had simply been thrown off by Dearborn.
Typically, it turned out to be none of those things.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked.
“No, I’m fine,” she replied.
He pulled her into a nearby classroom and removed the cloak. “Just tell me what it is, please.”
She sighed. “I just don’t like thinking about leaving school.”
He thought he had an idea of where this was leading, but he put his arm around her nonetheless.
“Why not?” he asked. “It’s exciting. We get to go out and make our own lives, and fall flat on our faces.”
Lily laughed softly. “I know. I just—” She hesitated.
“Well...I’m scared,” Lily said into his shoulder.
“Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, sighing. “I mean...what’s going to happen? I don’t know what I’m going to do for a job, or where I’m going to live, and—” she paused. “When are we going to see each other? We live hours apart.”
James tightened his hold on her. “Don’t worry. It’ll all work out.”
“But how?” Lily said, sitting up and looking at him. “I can’t leave and say goodbye to you without knowing when I’ll see you next.”
“We can Apparate,” James said, brushing her hair behind her ear. “We’ve done it before.”
She sighed and looked down at the floor, still unhappy. James wasn’t sure what he was supposed to tell her.
“I promise, it’ll be fine,” he said. “I love you.”
She smiled at him just slightly. “I love you too.” He kissed her, and when they broke apart, she said, “I’m sorry, I know I’m being melodramatic.”
“It’s all right,” he told her. “And as for everything else, you’ll get it sorted.”
Lily nodded, biting her lip. “I was thinking...I mean, I don’t know if it’s going to work out...but...maybe...I should move closer to London. There are more jobs there, and we could—”
She stopped, looking embarrassed, and James took her face in his hands.
“Listen to me,” he said, “there’s nothing to worry about. If you lived halfway around the world, I’d find a way to see you. You don’t have to move closer.”
“What if I want to?”
“Well, what if I want to move closer to you, then?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lily said, laughing.
“Let’s make a deal. I won’t be ridiculous if you calm down,” James said. Lily eyed him suspiciously.
“Somehow I don’t think it’s possible for you to keep that promise.”
“Well, same to you. Shall we try to prove each other wrong?”
Lily nodded and kissed him again. “I don’t want you to stop being ridiculous, though,” she said, her lips brushing against his as she spoke.
“However you like it,” he replied, pulling her back to him. Sometimes he was not too devastated by the thought of being separated from Lily, if only because it was becoming a bit torturous to spend time with her like this. Physical distance might actually help preserve some of his sanity. Of course, it would probably chip away at it just as easily, but he really did believe that everything would work out for the best. It always had, after all.
It was traditional for the graduating seventh-years to attend a separate supper party the night before the Leaving Feast, as a sort of send-off. At seven-thirty on Thursday evening, once regular dinner had concluded, Lily headed to a small antechamber off the Great Hall with James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter, where a good number of their classmates were already gathered around several tables that each seated fourteen people. The teachers were not sitting separately at a high table as they usually did, but instead were scattered amongst their students. They would not be students much longer, Lily reminded herself, and she knew that it was why the teachers were sitting with them. They were about to join the world as fully-qualified adults.
Lily headed towards an empty section of one of the tables with James and the other boys and sat down, looking around the room. It was somewhat reminiscent of one of Slughorn’s parties, in a way. Gold candelabras floated like chandeliers above the tables, bathing the room in amber light. Professors McGonagall and Sprout were in conversation at a table two away, both wearing finer robes than they did regularly.
The more she looked, the more Lily noticed that the room seemed under-populated, given how many students were in their year. Some of the Slytherins seemed to be absent, but Snape was sitting next to Slughorn. Lily felt a little bad for him, having no one to sit with but his teacher. It all made her feel a bit too contemplative, especially when she started thinking about how it could have been her sitting next to him instead, had things turned out differently.
She felt her hand being squeezed and was pulled from her thoughts. James was smiling at her in the strange, contented way that he sometimes did, and Lily was reminded that she was quite happy with where she was sitting.
“How do you suppose we’re going to get food, then?” Sirius asked the table at large, and Lily noticed for the first time that there were no empty serving dishes on the tables as there usually were in the Great Hall, just empty plates and cutlery.
“Maybe it’s going to be a buffet,” Remus suggested, shrugging. Lily noticed that the four of them were more subdued than usual, and wondered what it must be like for them to be leaving. James seemed to be unfailingly optimistic about it, but Lily had a hard time believing it was that simple.
Peter was in the middle of pointing out that there was no table for a buffet when Lily felt someone sit down beside her: Anna.
“Hi,” she said, sweeping her brown hair behind her ear. Lily was taken aback for a few moments. “Something wrong?”
“Erm—no, nothing,” Lily replied, shaking her head. “Where’s Mary?”
Anna shot a dark look across the room. Lily followed her gaze and saw the back of Mary’s head sitting with a group of Hufflepuff girls.
“Why aren’t you two sitting together?” Lily asked.
Anna shrugged. “Same reason you two aren’t.”
“What? You two got in another argument?”
“No, not really an argument,” Anna said lightly. “I was trying to get her to be reasonable and patch things up with you, but she was being really stubborn about it. Eventually it devolved into her telling me that I always hold her back, and that it would be best if we parted ways so she could go forward into her future without any limitations.”
Lily’s mouth hung open in shock. “She said that?”
“Not in so many words, but that was the general thrust of it. She’s gone loony, if you ask me. Anyway, you don’t mind if I sit here, do you?”
“No, of course not,” Lily said, feeling a rush of warmth toward Anna for standing up for her. She had obviously jumped to conclusions about her friend’s loyalty, and felt silly for it now. She should have known that Anna would be sensible enough to see that Mary was not being herself.
The mystery of the evening’s faire was solved soon afterward: all they had to do was tell their plates what they wanted to eat, and it would appear moments later. All the boys seemed to consider this the most exciting moment of their entire school career and ordered plate after plate of food: roast beef, potatoes, meat pie, cake, and so it went on, until all of them were complaining of stomach aches. Meanwhile, Lily listened to Anna enumerate all the job interviews that her family had set up for her in the coming weeks. As dismissive as Anna was, Lily could see something like excitement in her eyes—almost enough to make her jealous and discomfited about her own future.
Lily was not so disorganized that she had failed to give any thought to her plans, of course, but all she had really decided was to play to her strengths, at least to begin with—which meant she would likely end up in something involving Potions. She had not yet resigned herself to asking Slughorn for help; there was something that made her want to try her own strength, and it felt like cheating to rely on a teacher’s help when she was no longer a student.
The ivory taper candles were half their original size by the time everyone finished their meals and Dumbledore stood from his seat, goblet in hand. For all the attempts to emphasize equanimity between students and teachers, the seventh-years still fell silent when their Headmaster was waiting to speak.
“Another year past,” Dumbledore began, smiling, “and yet, regrettably, no longer shall any pass for you as students of this school. You must face the rest wholly independent, and I know that I speak for every one of your teachers when I say that I hope you have learned in the past seven years not only how to write essays and perform spells, but also how to step out into the world as confident and capable adults.”
He paused, and the room was still. Lily had a feeling that he must be about to say something about Voldemort.
“None of us can deny that our world is in turmoil,” he continued, confirming Lily’s suspicions. “Life is hard and tumultuous—but so it has been for all of the past graduates of Hogwarts, and so it shall remain for all that follow you. No doubt that you shall have cause to dwell on trouble and heartache that none of you should have to suffer, but you will also experience your share of joys and successes.
“My greatest wish is that you will take those first steps into the world with a bond between yourself and every other person in this room: that the experience of attending school together means that you will not hesitate to help each other when you are in need. It no longer matters what Houses you belong to. It is what you share—what makes you similar—which will matter much more.
“And, so, I would like to propose that we raise our goblets and toast to your futures: whatever may be in store, may you live happily, healthily, and without homework.”
Laughter broke the heavy silence as they all lifted their goblets, and the celebratory feeling had been renewed in the room.
“Cheers to that,” Sirius said. “If I never have to see another library again in my life, it’ll be too soon.”
“But where will you get all your Fifi LaFolle novels, then?” Remus asked, smirking.
“I’ll just borrow them from you, I expect,” Sirius shot back, turning the joke around.
Lily laughed, feeling genuinely light-hearted. As usual, Dumbledore had made her see things in a radically new way with few words. He was right, after all: leaving Hogwarts would not have been easy no matter what, and she would only make it worse by worrying. She could choose to be positive, and she would. At the very least, she would try. Since when had she started being so pessimistic, anyway?
Their dinner concluded soon afterward, and everyone returned to their common rooms and dormitories. Within the Gryffindor common room, it felt like there was some sort of invisible barrier between the seventh years and the other students: an aura of exclusivity borne of the knowledge that they were not really students anymore, like the rest. Perhaps it was all relative, though—Lily remembered feeling a similar kind of distinction at the end of the previous year at being an incoming seventh year, and at the end of fifth year, for finishing O.W.L.s.
Of course, that was not the only division, which Lily was reminded of when Mary went straight up to the spiral staircase without a word to anyone else, but she tried to keep herself from being bothered by that. If what had happened with her and Anna was anything to go by, there really wasn’t any point in fretting over it, since Mary obviously wasn’t.
From there, everything was just about tying up loose ends. People began packing their things and reminiscing over the past seven years with wistful expressions. Lily had little to look back upon that brought back overwhelmingly pleasant memories, but she was doing a good job at getting her things packed up.
On Saturday morning, she was putting her last few items away before heading down to the train when Mary joined her. Lily had a moment where she felt some strange mixture of hope and discomfort. She shouldn’t really even want to speak to Mary at all, but there was some nostalgic part of her that had not yet given up hope that things might go back to the way they were—even in the face of what she had heard from Anna the other evening.
But her conflicted feelings were apparently for nothing, since Mary stayed as silent as she had been since their last conversation. They both stood there in absurd, forced silence for nearly ten minutes, filling their trunks. It was only when Lily realized that she had re-folded the same pair of socks three times that she realized how very silly they were both being, and she turned to face Mary.
“We can’t leave without saying anything to each other,” she said quietly. Mary did not immediately react, but Lily saw her cheeks flush pink. When the silence had drawn on too long to expect a response, she started to feel like an idiot. “Fine. Forget it.”
Mary then turned to face Lily, avoiding eye contact and digging into her pockets. She pulled out a folded piece of parchment.
“Snape asked me to give you this,” she said. Her voice sounded constricted, but the accusatory tone had still fought its way out.
She stared at the piece of parchment. Mary held it in between two of her fingers, clearly trying to adopt as casual a pose as possible. Lily wasn’t fooled. She knew what it would mean if she took the note from Mary, how it would be the absolute final blow to whatever was left of their friendship. She couldn’t even be sure that this wasn’t a set-up: that Mary wasn’t just trying to see if Lily would take the bait to further prove her point.
And then there was the fact that it was a note from Severus. She knew he couldn’t possibly have anything to say that she wanted to hear...or at least she was fairly sure of it. Still, she could not help but feel an itch of curiosity. She did want to read it. Now she had to decide whether her attachment to a long-broken friendship would supersede that of an only-just-broken one.
“He said he knew you wouldn’t give him the chance to talk to you, but he had something really important to tell you,” Mary added, since Lily had neither spoken nor moved. “Actually, I think he said warn you about.”
Her friendship with Mary was beyond repair. She kept telling herself that, but only now did it really sink in. She knew what she should do, so she took the parchment from Mary and then pulled out her wand and Vanished it. Lily couldn’t bring herself to apologize out loud, not when Mary had said things that she so strongly disagreed with, but she hoped that her actions could speak for her.
“Well,” Mary said, smiling in mollified sort of way, “I’m glad to see that you’re finally growing a spine when it comes to this kind of thing.”
Her words put a very sour feeling in Lily’s mouth, and she stood there and watched as Mary latched her trunk shut with two sharp clicks.
“Good luck with everything,” Mary said. And then she left the room.
Lily felt a rush of anger and spite. She wanted to go after Mary and yell at her, but she forced herself to stay put and take deep breaths. It was, however, becoming more and more difficult to keep positive.
Her mood was lifted slightly as they left—not because she was glad to put Hogwarts behind her, but because the seventh-years were not traveling to Hogsmeade Station by horseless carriage as they usually did. Instead, they gathered at the edge of the lake and piled into the same boats they had first arrived in on a September night seven years before, and it made Lily smile with affectionate familiarity. The novelty of crossing the lake in the boats had put everyone in high spirits, and there was a great deal of loud chatter and laughing echoing across the surface of the water.
The boats were slightly more cramped than they had been during Lily's first trip in them. Six years and the difference between being a child and nearly an adult had made it more difficult to squeeze in more than two or three people in each boat. She thought it was strange that the boats hadn't just been magically altered to be made more spacious, but perhaps it was yet another form of symbolism to hit home the changes and growth they had all experienced.
Lily climbed into one of the boats and sat behind Anna. Several boats over, she glanced the sun shining off of Mary’s blonde hair where she stood with the same group of Hufflepuff girls. And on Lily’s other side, James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter all piled into a single boat, which sunk down in the water at least six inches and seemed to be on the verge of capsizing. As the boats began to glide across the lake, they were also by far the noisiest group, much to everyone else’s amusement.
“Some things never change, do they?” Anna asked with a wry smile.
Lily laughed. “It does seem reminiscent of first year somehow, doesn’t it?”
They watched a moment later as James tried to stand up at the boat’s prow, and all four boys fell into the water with tremendous splashes. Lily could hear Hagrid’s voice yelling at them above everyone’s laughter. Of course, the four boys took their fall in stride—in fact, seemed to be quite happy about it, and it took them a few moments to quell their laughter enough to try to climb back into the boat.
“Your shoes are squishing,” Lily told James as they walked across the platform towards the train.
“I know,” James said, looking down at his feet in confusion. “I keep drying them, but the next second they’re just as drenched as before.”
He fell behind for a moment trying to dry them off.
“Wonder how long I can keep this up before he realizes,” Sirius remarked. He had just pocketed his wand.
“You’re doing it?” Lily asked.
“Well, not just me,” Sirius said. “Peter started it.”
Lily grinned as James rejoined them, an irked expression on his face and a squelching noise still coming from his shoes.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” he said.
“Just wait for them to air-dry,” Remus suggested, doing a rather impressive job at keeping his expression believable.
It wasn’t until they all settled into a compartment (Anna included, surprisingly) that James finally caught on.
Finally, the train starting gaining momentum, taking them down the railroad tracks and away from Hogwarts. Lily kept her gaze directed at the castle until its last turret disappeared from view—coincidentally, it was the top of Gryffindor Tower that she saw last. It still hadn’t quite sunk in that she would not be on this train again in September; no matter how many times she said it in her own head, she couldn’t fully believe it.
The train ride went by too fast. On the crowded platform at King’s Cross, Lily found that she did not quite know how to say goodbye to Anna.
“Good luck,” she said, even though it seemed like a lacklustre thing to say. “Write and tell me how everything’s going.”
“I will,” Anna said, “and you, too.”
“Of course,” Lily said. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see James.
“Ready to go?” he asked. The two of them had planned to go sit and have coffee for a while before returning home, prolonging their goodbye. He did not seem at all bothered by leaving Platform 9 ¾, and Lily envied him for it. He was not really leaving anything behind, after all—he would probably see Sirius, Remus, and Peter the very next day. The strange part was, Lily couldn’t quite figure out what it was that she felt like she was leaving behind.
Lily nodded and then looked back to Anna. “I’ll talk to you soon, then?”
“Yes. See you later, James,” Anna replied, walking towards her parents.
All in all, it felt like a very awkward, hollow goodbye as Anna walked away, and Lily wished she had said a little more—something that could convey her gratitude for Anna’s friendship.
“All right?” James asked, taking her hand in his. Lily shook her head loose of thoughts.
“Yes,” she replied, smiling. “Let’s go find somewhere to sit.”
They walked through the barrier and crowds of people in King’s Cross, out onto Charing Cross Road, and neither one of them said a word. Considering how badly her attempts at telling people how she felt had gone so far today, she found the silence calming. With James, there would not have been the right words, anyway, and she felt that perhaps he was quiet for the very same reason that she was.
In case anyone’s wondering—Fifi LaFolle is a fictional romance author, made up by JK Rowling, who lived from 1888-1971. Her books were called the “Enchanted Encounters” series. That may shed some light on Remus and Sirius’ small exchange in this chapter.
Until next time!
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