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Chapter 4 : Midnight Rescue
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Ron had been horrified to learn that the cloak and the map were now in Snape's possession. He told Harry he should go tell Dumbledore and make the Headmaster give them back. But Harry never would do that, even though their loss was a sharp blow. For he knew he had been wrong in using the cloak and the map to sneak around the school and Dumbledore would probably side with Snape. At least this time.
Still, there was one thing Harry did have to be grateful to his potions professor for.
Snape had treated his burn well. Whatever that Burn Paste was made of, it had cooled and vanished the pain of his blistered flesh almost immediately and though he hadn't examined the burn since, Harry knew it was healing. He knew he owed the teacher a thank you.
He knocked tentatively upon the office door, waiting until he heard a silky, "Enter, Mr. Potter," before turning the handle and walking inside.
Snape was seated behind his desk, grading what looked like a mountain of exams, a red quill and jar of ink at his elbow. He looked as if he had a crick in his neck and straightened up slowly. "I see you have decided to be prompt, for once, Potter. Good, for I have much to do and very little time to do it in. Have a seat." He waved the boy to a chair in front of the desk.
Harry nodded and sat down.
To his surprise, Snape approached him with a familiar container and a soft cloth. "Let me examine your hand, Potter. Make sure it isn't festering. Did you get it wet?"
"No, sir. I knew better than that." Why is he being so concerned? It's just a burnt palm. I've had worse at the Dursleys and nobody ever cared. He can't fear I'll report him or something either, since it was my own fault I fell asleep. Unless he does this for any student who gets burned?
Severus cast a Relaxing charm upon the bandage so he could gently peel it away and examine Harry's palm. The hand was still very red and swollen, though the blisters had shrunk and no longer oozed and the edges of the burn were starting to heal, the skin debriding naturally. "Hmm. It's started to mend, though I think you will need three or four applications before this will be healed. You are lucky, Potter, that magic mends burns very quickly, if you were in a Muggle hospital, you would be suffering for a week or more."
Harry nodded, he knew that all too well.
"Hold still." Snape began applying the salve.
Harry sucked in a breath. Careful as the other was, the skin was still very tender and he winced. But it didn't hurt as badly as last time and he was able to hold still without Snape's assistance. The salve was cool and tingled as it was applied, but it felt wonderful.
Snape summoned another clean bandage and wound it deftly about Harry's hand. "There. Better?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Severus snorted. "Humph. Now you thank me. You're welcome, nevertheless. Rumors to the contrary, I do not like seeing students in agony . . .unless the agony is caused by not studying for one of my exams." He waved a hand and the salve and cloth vanished. "You will return here tomorrow morning and I shall apply the paste a third time. For now, you may as well begin your detention early. Follow me."
He led the way into the classroom and pointed to a formula up on the blackboard. "You will go and harvest the following ingredients for me—goldenrod, blue artemis, and the bulbs of the malus mandragora. Here is a diagram of the plants and what parts you will need to gather. Read it carefully. You have an hour and a half. You can go to a small meadow beyond the greenhouse, take the trail out back of it and you will find the spot." It's the one where I found you, sobbing your eyes out. I'm sure you'll recognize it again.
Harry studied the paper and then looked at the familiar gathering basket and shears, this was the same basket Hermione had used last night, though he seemed to recall her having a knife and not shears. Before he knew what he was about, he had blurted, "Why did Hermione get a knife and I have scissors?"
"Because I don't know if you can be trusted not to cut yourself," Snape said dryly. "Also, these plants do not need an athame to harvest, only shears, Potter. Didn't you pay attention to Professor Sprout in Herbology? Or did you just muck about with your friend Weasley?"
Harry didn't answer, feeling a faint flush crawl up his neck, for Snape's assessment was dead on target. He and Ron used to write down Quidditch stats in their Herbology notebooks and play paper games of chess and invent Quidditch plays instead of paying attention to Sprout. She was such an easy going witch it was easy to skive off in her classes. But now Harry was starting to regret not paying closer attention, especially with the way Snape was glowering disapprovingly.
"Never mind, the answer is written all over your face. One would think you had learned by now that Herbology goes hand in hand with Potions. If you cannot harvest ingredients properly you cannot brew an effective draft." Severus lectured. "There is more to life than Quidditch. And more to school than socializing."
Harry felt himself grow even redder and resentment flared in him. He sounds like my bloody father! But he isn't, so where does he get off acting like it? I don't need this crap. He was tempted to say something rude, but mindful of Hermione's warning, managed to keep his tongue behind his teeth for once. He kept his eyes on the basket and pretended to take Snape's lecture to heart.
At last Snape dismissed him, and he walked rapidly out of the door, the gathering basket on his arm bumping against his hip.
Severus turned back to grading his last set of exams, giving Harry twenty minutes or so to reach the meadow and make a start, poor as it would probably be given the boy's tendency to not pay attention, before locking his office and stridingdown the corridor, black cloak billowing behind him. He took a secret passage out of his dungeons known only to Slytherin Heads of House, and emerged just behind the greenhouse.
Then he made sure no one was about before calling upon his magic and becoming Moon Fire.
Harry was kneeling on the ground, digging up bulbs when he felt the ground tremble beneath the pounding of hooves. He quickly dumped the bulbs inside the basket and stood up, brushing off his jeans. He reached into a pocket of his robes for an apple and a piece of a sugared donut he had stuck in there from lunch. He had never quite gotten out of the habit of squirreling food away for later, even though he knew he would never starve at Hogwarts. The kitchens never really closed, and the house elves were always willing to make one a snack if you knew how to ask properly. Still, old habits died hard, and that particular habit was not easily broken since he had to return to it every summer in order to avoid becoming a skeleton.
The drumming of hooves grew louder and then the stallion appeared, circling the meadow on flying feet.
He swept past Harry, mane and tail streaming behind him like black fire, his eyes fixed upon the human who had invaded his private meadow. Harry watched in awe, for the way the horse ran was like poetry in motion, an effortless glide, and his hooves barely seemed to touch the earth before becoming airborne.
"So beautiful!" he murmured. "I'll bet you could outrun any racehorse out there."
Moon Fire slowed, snorting. I have outrun unicorns, Potter, one of the swiftest equines upon the planet. I am sure a racehorse would prove no challenge. He stopped a scant six feet from the boy, blowing through his large nostrils. He was not tired, however, his endurance was incredible, and he was barely winded. He lowered his head, staring into Potter's eyes.
Harry met his gaze for one instant before holding out the apple on his palm, the unbandaged one.
The stallion tossed his head and pawed the ground, once, twice.
Though a good portion of his mind belonged to Severus Snape, Potions Master, there was another part that was purely wild horse, an untamed stallion who bowed his head to no man, and whose greatest joy was running beneath the moon. The wild horse instincts sometimes fought the human mind, clashing, especially when something unknown came up. The boy in the meadow had surprised the stallion mind, though the professor had known perfectly well the boy would be here.
So Moon Fire shuddered and did not approach Harry at first, swiveling his ears and sniffing the air cautiously.
The sweet scent of apple permeated his nostrils and slowly he stepped forward. He lowered his head and whistled, watching Harry intently, ready to spring away at any moment.
Harry, recognizing the wariness, remained utterly still, murmuring, "It's okay, I won't hurt you. See, I have a snack for you. Want it? Then come and get it."
Come and get it? Ah Potter, I'm not your pet beagle, to come at your beck and call. Moon Fire snorted. But he took another step forward.
Harry remained still, holding the apple. "You want this, I know you do." He made a soft clucking noise.
Moon Fire walked the last few steps to stand over the slight boy. Then his head swept down and lifted the apple from Harry's palm so quickly and neatly that Harry barely realized he was moving before the apple was gone.
There, I've taken your offering, by Selene' s Wandering Eye! He crunched the treat, enjoying the tart sweet taste upon his tongue.
"Here. How about this?" Harry held out the sugared donut next, elated. The stallion had returned and had gone so far as to eat out of his hand!
Moon Fire walked forward and smelled the second thing Harry carried. He could smell the sugar and he started to salivate. He dipped his head and made the donut vanish as well. A sugar donut, I haven't eaten one of those in months. I had forgotten how good they tasted.
As a thank you, he blew softly into the boy's hair. "Hey! That tickles," Harry said, and the green eyes laughed up at him. He felt a pang of sorrow flicker through him, for he had seen another pair of eyes laugh just that way, long ago. He is HER son too. And I must discover what has happened to him living in that house. Not that I can't imagine, given Petunia's hatred and jealousy of all things magical. Still, supposition is not proof and it is proof I need if I am to petition Albus to remove him from Privet Drive. Irrefutable proof. Of course then there would be the question of where the boy were to live if he weren't at Privet Drive, but Severus decided he would cross that bridge when he came to it.
Harry lowered his hand, wiping the remnant of the sugared donut on his jeans. He did not try and pet the horse again, he knew now what a mistake that had been. He had been reading up on equine behavior in the library after class for around an hour and had discovered that a wild horse tended to shy and startle at sudden movements, especially a hand touching them. It was the prey instinct in them, they tended to view anything new and strange as a threat. That the horse had eaten from his hand willingly was a great milestone.
"I'm sorry I scared you before," Harry said, keeping his voice low and soft. The book had said that talking to an animal calmed them and got them used to your voice. "I didn't mean to, I just wanted to feel how soft your coat was. It's like silk . . .like a black silk tie Uncle Vernon had once, that he used to wear when he was taking an important client out for dinner. I was never allowed to lay a finger on it, but I did once, just to see . . .and your coat feels just like that. I can't believe you came back and that you ate out of my hand."
The horse flicked his ears forward and snorted. Tell me more about your Uncle Vernon. He was so uptight he wouldn't let you touch a tie. How old were you then? Old enough to remember, and therefore old enough to not have sticky fingers, I'd wager. He waited for Harry to resume talking.
"I used to dream about a horse like you sometimes . . .alone in the cupboard. That someday a horse would come and carry me away. It never happened, of course. Aunt Petunia used to say if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. But I always thought that sounded stupid, and I used say if wishes were horses I'd ride right the hell out of here." He shook his head. "That never happened either. Guess it doesn't matter much now." He looked down at the basket by his foot. "Guess I better start gathering these plants, I've only got an hour left and if I'm not done, Snape will probably give me detention again."
He pulled out the diagramed sheet of parchment and studied it.
Meanwhile, Moon Fire grazed and thought about what the boy had let slip. A cupboard? What did you mean by that? Were you hiding inside one? From your uncle perhaps? I used to hide in closets from my father when he went on a rampage. Sometimes that kept me safe from his fists. And I used to daydream about getting away too, only my dream was going to Hogwarts. Did they ever tell you about Hogwarts, Potter? You knew next to nothing when you came here, even less than most of the Muggleborns. I recall Malfoy saying to one of his friends once that you didn't even know magic existed till your eleventh birthday. They kept you ignorant of your birthright, the fools! But you can't deny a wizard magic forever, especially not one as strong as you. Sooner or later blood will tell.
He looked up and saw Harry kneeling on the ground next to a small spiky plant, preparing to cut it. No, Potter, what are you doing? That's not blue artemis, that's foxglove, which is poisonous in large quantities! The blue artemis looked similar to the foxglove, but it was larger and had prominent blue veins running through it and bell like flowers. A neophyte botanist might make that mistake, however.
Moon Fire gave a sharp neigh and walked over to where Harry was crouched. He placed his hoof directly upon the plant and shook his head. Not that one!
Harry nearly fell over. "Hey! Stop that, I needed that plant for my assignment. Now you've crushed it."
And a good thing too. Moon Fire removed his hoof and then trotted a few steps beyond, where a patch of blue artemis lay. He whistled imperiously and stamped a hoof upon the ground. Here, Potter! Look here! This is blue artemis.
"Huh? What's going on?" Harry muttered.
The black horse neighed and stamped a hoof again. Selene's Grace, Potter, come here and take a look.
Harry rose and walked over to where the stallion was and then he saw the patch of spiky blue leaved plants. He checked his diagram and saw that these matched the ones pictured exactly. "These are what I need for my potion. But how did you know that? Was the other one poisonous? Is that why you wouldn't let me pick it?"
The black horse bobbed his head. He looked at Harry as if to say, Well, what are you waiting for? Harvest it.
Harry quickly began to harvest the blue artemis.
Moon Fire watched, relieved that the boy at least knew proper procedure on how to harvest the plant. Perhaps the mistaken identity might have something to do with the boy's poor vision as well? Perhaps he needed new glasses? He'd been wearing the same ugly black lens for five years. Surely it was time for a new pair? How long had it been since the boy had seen an eye doctor? More proof that Potter was being neglected, for Severus knew that Dumbledore sent the Dursleys a stipend each month for their nephew's upkeep. Clearly, they weren't using the money on the boy's behalf if they hadn't purchased a new pair of glasses for him in five years.
His tail swished angrily, slapping against his flank and he began to graze, biting off the tender shoots with a vengeance.
Harry settled back onto his heels. "Hey, think you can help me find the other one? The goldenrod? I'm not too good at finding these plants growing wild like this, I can't see too well with my glasses, even when they're clean." He removed the glasses and rubbed them on his shirttail and then put them back. "Still kind of blurry. I need a new pair, but they'd never buy me one. As long as I can see to do chores, that's good enough for them. I wouldn't have gotten them at all if my teacher back in primary school hadn't insisted and then Aunt Petunia just took me over to the Masons bin and had me pick one out of there. But they were better than nothing."
Moon Fire's ears went flat back against his head. Skinflint Muggles! She didn't even make sure you had your eyes examined? Perhaps they could have corrected your vision when you were younger. Now it may be too late. He trotted about in a circle, coming to a stop before a nicely blooming patch of goldenrod, their golden blooms waving in the sun. Once again he stamped a hoof and neighed. Here. This one will do nicely.
Harry came over. "Thanks for your help. I'd still be here if it weren't for you, and Snape would take strips off me for being late, the damn greasy git!"
You watch your mouth, Potter! Moon Fire shook his head and then leaned down and lipped the boy's hair hard.
"Ouch!" Harry cried rubbing it. "What do you think I am, a hay bale? Quit it!"
Moon Fire snorted and slobbered all over his shoulder. Next time mind your manners! Really, you are the most insolent child!
"Ugh! Gross!" Harry grimaced. "Do all horses behave like this?" He tried to brush off the slobber, but only succeeded in making his robes wetter.
Moon Fire danced backwards, a mischievous gleam in the black eyes.
Harry stared. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you did that on purpose."
"Nah. Animals don't do things like that." He shook his head and continued harvesting the goldenrod.
When he was finished he stood up and dusted off his hands on the back of his robes. "All done. And I still have five minutes to get back to the dungeon. Too bad I couldn't ride you. But I don't know how and even if I did, you'd probably never let me on your back."
Moon Fire whickered an affirmative. Got that right, Potter! Black Beauty I'm not. You want to ride something, ride a broomstick!
"Didn't think so." The boy laughed. Then he turned and called over his shoulder, "Maybe I'll see you again tomorrow? I'll bring more apples and donuts." He waved, his face creased with longing. "Gotta run, before Snape gets on my arse."
Then he turned and began to walk back to the castle briskly.
Moon Fire watched him depart. Then he trotted out of the meadow and down the track, moving around the path Harry was walking down, galloping lightly over the ground. He had reached the greenhouse and the secret entrance in five minutes, shifted forms and then slipped back into the tunnel.
When Harry tapped upon the office door, he found Snape still at his desk, grading away.
"Back already, Potter?" Severus beckoned the boy over. "Let's see how well you did." He peered inside the basket, picking up a sample of each kind of herb. "Fine, now start brewing the potion, and do not waste any ingredients."
"One more thing. You'll return here tomorrow at seven o'clock to make up the other detention you missed." He added hoping that the boy might reveal more of his past to Moon Fire.
Harry just nodded then turned away to start chopping. Same old Snape, giving out bloody make-up detentions! But a part of him rejoiced in spite of himself, for perhaps then he would see the black horse again, the moon stallion, as he had taken to calling the horse in his head.
Harry nearly whistled as he made his way down the path to the greenhouse. Snape had once again set him to gathering ingredients, though this time they were inside the greenhouse, but that was all right. He could gather them faster that way and then take a detour to the meadow to see if the horse were there. Hopefully, he would be, Harry had brought extra apples and two donuts this time, one for himself and one for the horse.
He made short work of picking the herbs for this new potion, and then started up the small track to the meadow. Dusk had fallen by then and the moon had just risen, lighting the night enough so he didn't need to fear stumbling in the darkness.
His sneakers squeaked slightly on the damp grass, as it had rained a bit earlier, but he ignored the slightly slippery surface and continued climbing towards the meadow. I hope he's there. Hope the rain didn't make him go somewhere else to look for shelter. I just want to see him again. Just one more time—
A hand grabbed him from behind and yanked him off his feet.
"Hey!" he yelled before a hand was clamped over his mouth ruthlessly.
"Quiet, kid! You're going to be a guest of our Lord! Now don't struggle and we won't need to get rough!" ordered a gravelly voice right in his ear.
Death Eaters! His mind screeched frantically. You have to get away from them! Gathering all of his strength, he began to twist and kick backwards at his captors, opening his mouth as far as he could and biting down hard on his assailant's hand.
"Ow! Little bastard bit me!" cursed the one holding him.
But he had loosened his hold long enough for Harry to call out.
"Help! Professor Sprout, help! It's De-oww!"
A swift backhand to the face silenced him abruptly. He tasted blood on his lip.
"Dolohov, you idiot, he's not to be harmed!" snapped a woman's voice. "The Master said he was to be taken without damage."
"The little prick bit me, Bella! I'm not going to take that from anyone!" blustered the gravelly voiced man. "Here, you stop wriggling about like a greased pig!" He grabbed Harry, who was still fighting for all he was worth, and pinned his arms behind his back.
"Behave, Potter!" scolded the woman in a singsong voice. "Or else you'll find out how we punish naughty boys like you!"
For some reason her words sent an icy chill down Harry's spine. He knew he never wanted to find out what she meant by that, she sounded utterly insane. "Let me go, damn you!" He could not tell how many there were in the fading light, but he suspected there were at least three, maybe even four.
"Don't just stand there, Goyle and Wormtail!" snapped Dolohov. "Grab his feet and then Stun him."
"Should've Stunned him first," grumbled Goyle.
"Where's the bloody Portkey?" Wormtail whined.
Harry thrashed and wriggled, fighting desperately to get away. He couldn't allow himself to be captured, not again, not like the graveyard.
"Hold him, damn you!"
An enraged whistle split the night air, impossibly high and filled with fury.
There was a thunder of hooves and then something dark and huge charged into the knot of Death Eaters, scattering them like ninepins.
The four followers of Voldemort fell backwards and Dolohov lost his hold upon the still-fighting Harry, who twisted hard and wrenched his shoulders free of the other's ham-fisted grip and scrambled away.
Harry felt a thrill even through his mortal peril. The stallion had returned!
Get away from him, you skulking cowards! Moon Fire squealed. He lashed out with his hooves, catching the smirking Wormtail in the chest and sending him flying. His ears were flat against his head and his teeth bared, he could feel the outrage of his goddess pulsing through him, for those who killed children were anathema to her. Fight them, my avatar! Fight! Her voice was a quicksilver flame in his head and the crescent upon his brow flared.
Thy will be done, Lady, he acquiesced, though he would have fought them anyway. He spun, rearing up until he was almost vertical, then he sprang forward upon his hindlegs, once, twice, and lashed out with his front hooves, screaming a battle cry. His maneuvers were instinctive, thousands of warhorses had used them to defend their knights in battles centuries ago.
He drove Dolohov back with two blows of his hooves, then leaped into the air and caught both Goyle and Bella with a flying kick before they could use their wands.
But his main objective was not to kill the Death eaters, but to get the boy out of danger.
Harry was almost free of the circle, when a black shoulder rose up in front of him and the stallion's head was thrust into his face.
Mount, Potter! Quickly!
Harry found himself pressed hard against a satin shoulder. "You came back!" was all he could think to whisper.
Moon Lady save me, this is no time for a joyous reunion scene! Get on my back, Potter!
Harry threw an arm over the stallion's back, but was too small to jump up and swing a leg over the tall horse. "Can't get up . . .!"
"Get the devil horse! And Potter, he's getting away!" Bellatrix shrilled. A red jet shot out from Wormtail's wand.
It missed, but Moon Fire had had enough of Harry's fumbling attempts. He whirled and grabbed the back of the boy's robes, sinking his teeth firmly into the fabric and then he practically threw the boy onto his back. Harry landed with a jolt, scrambling upright and grabbing a handful of the silky mane. He had just managed to wrap his legs around the horse when Moon Fire threw up his head and began to run.
Hang on, Potter! Hang on tight and don't let go!
The stallion prayed that the boy had a good grip upon him, because if he fell off there was no way he would get back on before the Death Eaters hexed him. He sprang up and over Dolohov, the crescent flaring blindingly, making the dark wizard scream as the light burned his retinas.
Harry was thrown onto the stallion's neck, but managed, through some miracle, to stay atop the horse, even when he landed. He sat up, trying to remember any movies he had watched where they coached horsemanship, but was unable to remember anything, and just concentrated upon trying to move with the big horse and stay on his back.
He had a death grip upon the long mane and though he bounced up and down at first, he at last managed to grip hard enough with his thighs to quit sliding all over. Riding a horse was not as easy as it looked, especially not at a full out gallop through trees with dark wizards chasing you.
They were coming after them on brooms, shooting hexes from above, and Moon Fire plunged into the forest, using trails unknown to any save the unicorns and himself to try and outfox their pursuers. Stay on my back, Potter! Just stay there! We can lose them in the forest, going across the castle grounds would have been too obvious and left us with no cover.
Moon Fire continued to run, his flying hooves leaping over the occasional fallen log or stream with effortless ease.
Bellatrix, Wormtail, and Goyle were still following, though they could just barely see their quarry through the thick trees.
Bellatrix decided to resort to desperate measures and put a slender iron pipe to her lips and blew.
Something hard and sharp pricked Harry's left shoulder. He reached back and swatted at it, it felt like a bee had stung him.
A moment later he started to feel sleepy and dizzy. "Ow!"
Moon Fire slowed, sensing something was wrong. What happened? Are you hurt?
Harry swayed and slumped over the black horse's withers. "Don't feel good . . .feel sick . . .think I'm gonna pass out. . ."
No, you're not, Potter! Stay awake!
The stallion began to walk swiftly through the trees, knowing they had almost reached their destination—the Vale of Unicorns. Once he crossed the boundary, they would be safe from the Death Eaters. The Vale was protected by an ancient magic that permitted none of evil heart to cross. He could feel Harry just barely hanging on to his mane. He whinnied encouragement.
Harry was half-sitting and half-lying upon the black horse, and though Moon Fire's paces were smoother than an ordinary horse's, the jouncing in his position was making him sick to his stomach. Oh, no. Think I'm gonna sick up. He tried to sit up, but the effort only made him more dizzy and nauseated.
The next thing he knew he was heaving his dinner up all over the forest floor.
The stallion halted, allowing Harry to finish vomiting, they were within the boundary now and could afford a brief rest. Bloody hell, Potter! Did they hit you with a spell or do you just have motion sickness on horseback? He wrinkled his nose at the sour stench of vomit and stepped fastidiously away from the puddle.
Harry groaned softly and leaned his cheek on the stallion's neck. "Sorry. Where . . .are we? Can't see . . .dizzy . . .out of focus . . ."
Moon Fire snorted in alarm. We're safe, but you've been hit with something, time to take you to Amicus. His horn will cure most spell maladies and poisons. He began to walk again, gliding over the ground, trying his best not to knock about his passenger. Hold on to me. Just hold on. Only a few feet more. That's it. Don't let go, Potter. The litany repeated itself over and over in the stallion's mind as he put on hoof in front of the other and finally reached the swath of grass where Amicus and his herd played and grazed.
He whistled softly to the tall white leader when he saw him standing just beyond the trees. Amicus, I need you, old friend. This student of mine is badly hurt. Some kind of spell or poison, I think.
Moon Fire halted just before Amicus and lowered himself to the ground.
Harry slid off to lie unmoving at the feet of the great unicorn, who nuzzled him, smelling the scent of sickness and fear. Worry not, my friend. My horn's magic can heal him.
He lowered his pearlescent horn to touch Harry on the chest—once, twice, thrice.
A golden radiance spread outward from the horn and bathed the boy in an incandescent light.
Beside him, Moon Fire heaved a sigh of relief, swiveling his ears to catch the faint snarls and wails of the Death Eaters who found they could not cross the boundary no matter how hard they tried, and now Harry was safe from them. For the moment.
The DE's are thwarted for the moment, but will they return? And what will Harry think, waking up among a herd of unicorns?
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