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A Time to Live by ladymblack
Chapter 34 : Chapter 34: The Unending Quest
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 40

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Author’s Note: If it’s been some time since you last read Chapter 33 (and I suspect it has if you’ve been following along with me), I suggest rereading that before diving into this one to avoid confusion.  This chapter will pick up directly where the last one left off, making the two of them more closely related than usually occurs.  See you at the bottom of the page!
Chapter 34: The Unending Quest

“Oh, come on, we’ll read it after we’ve gotten something to eat,” moaned Ron, taking hold of Hermione’s upper arm and steering her into the canteen.

Her shoulders heaved while she struggled against angry tears, as she started quoting the stupid article, her words barely coherent.  None of the Order had accompanied them for lunch and Ron didn’t know what to do.  He needed to go up to the queue to order food, but he didn’t care to leave Hermione by herself.  There was no need to worry though, because Eleanor, who had been relatively quiet and distraught that morning, put an arm around Hermione, seeming to find comfort in the contact herself.  She quickly told Ron what she wanted to eat, and he knew that he could figure out something to order for Hermione.  He was even more pleased when he noticed the two witches heading over to a table that was being watched over by Stan and his friends.  They would keep any gossipmongers away and Ron gave him the thumbs up to indicate his appreciation and Stan replied with a grimace that was probably supposed to be a smile.

Ron turned back to make a few selections, taking a heavily laden tray over to the table.  It took him a few tries to stop Hermione from hogging the paper to herself and lay it between them so that he could read as well.  It went on in detail, describing nearly everything he and Hermione had done with regards to Harry.  It blatantly denounced Ron for not accompanying her to the reception area at St. Mungo’s and wondered at yet another romance for Hermione, this time with Neville.  What the article lacked was even one tiny piece of the information that they’d painstakingly provided at the press conference.

“So, what was the point of that, yeah?  Harry went nearly mad trying to explain everything to those tossers and they didn’t even include a word of it!” Ron exclaimed, grabbing his fork and attacking a baby potato with such force that it flew off of the plate and landed on the floor.  He knew that his face had probably turned red as he summoned it and muttered, “Tergio!”  The dirt the potato had picked up was siphoned off and disappeared into the air.

“There’s a note at the end of the article saying that there is information from the press conference that they mention on page seven,” Hermione said, quickly flipping to the appropriate page.

It wasn’t as bad as it might have been, although it had certainly been sensationalized to some extent, which wasn’t unexpected coming from this particular newspaper.  At least it tended to stick to the facts that Harry had emphasized repeatedly. 

While articles had been written about the entire trio shortly after the war, Ron still found it rather odd to find himself quoted in the newspaper.  He and Hermione were pleasantly surprised at the amount of information that was included, although what was excluded left some gaping holes.

“You know, I think I like this second one a great deal better than the first.  It had more accurate information,” commented Ron, once he’d gotten to the end of the second page of it.

“Yes, it was written very differently, wasn’t it?” Hermione agreed.  She flipped between that and the front page.  “Well, I suppose it would make sense since they were written by different people.”

Ron grunted and pointed at the name accompanying the article about Harry’s collapse.  “Yeah, there’s that damn William Weevil again.”

“Do you know, I feel like I should know him?  His turn of phrase seems so familiar to me for some reason,” Hermione said, with a look in her eye that Ron was sure held a great revelation.  He wasn’t certain if he loved or hated that look.  While she was great with deductions, her conclusions tended to be rather foreboding.  “For some reason I just get the impression of bugs, you know, as in boll weevils.”

And that’s when her somewhat dreamy expression turned into horror.  “William Weevil-Bill Weevil-Boll Weevil!  No!  She’s only writing under a different name, trying to keep me from finding her out.  Oh, but she forgot just one thing!” Hermione had stood up and was now pacing the length of the table.

“That you’re a genius?” offered Ron, taking a bite of his sandwich.  He rather thought he could see where Hermione was going with this and realized that he’d better reel her in before she just blurted it out in public.  There had already been an extraordinary number of witches and wizards staring in their direction, even before her outburst.  On her next pass by him, he grabbed her arm, causing her to wheel about.  Ron pointedly looked at her seat and she sank down beside him.

“So he is our favorite beetle reporter?” Ron whispered.

“We need to go somewhere private,” she said, grabbing his hand.  With his free hand Ron levitated their plates to follow them.  He wasn’t exactly sure of where she was taking him, but they only walked down the corridor a bit to the Post Office.  Hermione didn’t stop until they’d reached the room where Stan Shunpike and his cronies handled their mail.

Hominum Revelio!” she muttered, sweeping her wand in a wide arc.

The moment she ascertained that they really were alone she aimed a number of spells at the door and turned around.  She looked mildly amused.  “You brought our lunches with you?”

“Well, I didn’t know how long this would take,” he said defensively, sitting at one of the desks and getting back to eating his lunch.  “So you think that William Weevil is a penname for Rita Skeeter?”

“It’s the only explanation.  And I don’t care if I have to go to Azkaban to put an end to this.  We can’t have her mucking around and ruining our investigation.  Harry’s life could be on the line here,” she said, not looking the least bit frightened by the prospect of being sent to prison.  In fact, just then she looked fierce enough to fight every one of Azkaban’s occupants.

Ron, on the other hand, felt his insides go cold just at the thought of her there all by herself.  “If it comes down to it, I’ll admit that I was your accomplice and we’ll go together,” he assured her.

“Don’t be ridiculous.  It will probably be nothing.  I just need to come up with a good plan before I act,” she said, waving her hand casually.

And so they spent a dismal lunch discussing whether to go to the Daily Prophet Office or to talk it over with Kingsley.  In the end, they decided to speak with the Order later that evening.  It amounted to the same thing as telling Kingsley, except that he wouldn’t be acting in the capacity of Minister of Magic.

There were two yellow memos hovering over the desk that Ron and Hermione had been working at when they returned.  Ron snatched the one with his name on it out of the air.  Hermione did the same and frowned at the stamp in the corner.  Ron said, “I think these are from the bloke that explained Snape’s will to Harry.  The other day he said something about having hired Burton to be his solicitor.”

“What does he want with us, then?  I know that we probably ought to have someone on retainer, considering our relationship to Harry, but I don’t think we have time for this sort of thing right now,” she replied.  Ron knew that curiosity was difficult for Hermione to repress and he nearly grinned.

The memos said to meet him in his office as soon as possible.  Ron thought about it for a moment.  “Obviously it’s urgent.  Maybe we should go right now.”

“But we have reports to go over and I should think that finding out what happened to Harry was our priority.  Besides, how do you know it’s that urgent?”

“Well, if it wasn’t urgent then the memos would have just gone into a slot in our inboxes, wouldn’t they?  Since they’re yellow-colored and floating in front of our place of work that means that they’re top-priority,” said Ron, smiling at the look of dawning comprehension on Hermione’s face.  It wasn’t often that he got to explain something to her, and always took great pleasure when he did so.

She nodded succinctly and after Ron asked his partner to monitor things in their absence, they both headed to the solicitor’s office.  The secretary said that they were expected and so only had to wait a few moments for another wizard to exit before she ushered them in, announcing their names.

“Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger, I’ve been longing to meet you.  I’m Sidney Burton,” said the man behind the desk, standing and leaning a hand across to shake their hands.  The ceremony was perfunctory at best, on the parts of Ron and Hermione, in any case.

Hermione sat down without invitation and so Ron mimicked her, wondering what she was up to.  “What do you need from us?” she asked, her voice cold and demanding.

Ron looked at her in surprise.  She was ordinarily very friendly, but she’d basically just told Harry’s solicitor that she had better things to do with her time than reply to his summons.

Burton looked confused for a moment and his tone was tentative.  “Surely you know why I’ve asked you here.”

“Obviously not,” Ron replied, trying to keep his voice devoid of any emotion.  He didn’t want to come off quite as cold as Hermione had done, but he really wished the man would just get to the point.

“Right, well, let’s get right down to details then,” said Burton, rightly interpreting Ron and Hermione’s expressions.  He didn’t look like the type to get nervous, but he was clearly not at ease.  He cleared his throat and fixed his eyes on the parchment lying before him.  “Harry James Potter hereby gives Ginevra Weasley, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger full power of attorney in the event that he should become incapacitated.  Should he not regain consciousness within a week he asks that Hermione Granger execute his will, in his name.”

Hermione gasped and Ron swallowed uneasily.  “In the main, it’s very straightforward.  Mr. Potter asks that you act on his behalf and for his benefit.  Ordinarily I would advise someone to make this request of their closest living relative.  But obviously that would not be wise in this situation because Harry is not close to her and doesn’t fully trust her; not to mention the fact that she is a Muggle.  I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised that he had chosen three people to act in his stead, but he was adamant even when I suggested that decision-making might be difficult with that many involved.”  Burton paused here and sighed.

Obviously Harry hadn’t explained his reasoning.  Hermione, feeling bad about how she had begun the meeting, tentatively said, “Well, Ginny would be his first choice and the one that would make the most sense since she’ll be married to him before long.”

“Yeah, but you saw the state of her.  I’ll bet Harry figured that she might not be in any condition to do it all by herself,” Ron interrupted.

She nodded.  “And he would never choose between the two of us.  The only thing I don’t understand is why he only named me as the one to execute his will.”

“Ah, well I can answer that for you, at least, Miss Granger,” said Burton.  “There can be only one executor and Mr. Potter clearly stated that you would be the best choice for that position since you have an elementary grasp of the law to begin with.”

“Right,” she said hoarsely.

“You’ll be wanting a few copies of the will, I assume.  I would have expected Harry to have already shared it with you, but it’s no trouble,” Burton said, waving his wand at the thick document and passing three copies across the desk to them.

“Thank you, Mr. Burton,” said Ron.

“Perhaps we’ll come to see you about a retainer and such once this is all done.  I’m sure you can understand that time is of the essence right now and we’re needed elsewhere.”  Hermione stood and shook the solicitor’s hand, Ron mimicking her actions once again.

“Bloody Ever-lasting Hell, Hermione!  Why didn’t Harry tell us about this?  We looked like a pair of fools in there,” Ron exclaimed the moment they were out of earshot from the secretary outside Burton’s office.

“You know what he’s like.  He wasn’t about to bring up a topic that was sure to upset Ginny.”  When Ron raised his eyebrows, she conceded, “I might have been a tad upset as well.”

“Do you think you can wait until later to go over that paperwork?  Maybe we can get Beulah and Eleanor to meet us down on Level Seven for our investigation since we’re already out and about.”  Ron looked down at his watch.  It was only a little after one o’clock.  Hopefully that would give them plenty of time.

A quick message to his and Harry’s partners and a seemingly long trip on the lift later (did it really have to stop at every floor?) the foursome was approaching the heavily guarded door to Kurt Reichgard’s former office.  Ron’s eyes had immediately scanned some of the desks scattered around the outer office and found both Katie and Alicia.  He knew that they saw him as well, but didn’t so much as acknowledge him.  He was impressed by their ability to ignore him, as they’d been told to do.

“Hi, Euphemia,” said Eleanor.  She handed the other Auror a black envelope that had been sealed with a blood-red stamp.

Auror Quinn performed some complex spells after perusing the contents of the letter and opened the door for them.  “No one has been in here since he was arrested, so hopefully you’ll find something useful.”

Kingsley and Robards had done a good job of keeping certain things under wraps; making sure that the people whose work was most trusted wouldn’t be compromised in any way.

They entered the room with raised wands, expecting the worst.  Although there was a Sneakoscope whirring somewhere, nothing else happened, even when they shut the door behind them.

“Well?” Hermione asked.  “Where do you want to start, Ron?”

He fought the urge to glower at her.  She was usually the one to give everyone the orders and just now he wished she would continue.  She was making him feel uncomfortable.  But he supposed he could figure it out, and she wouldn’t hesitate to correct him if he missed something.  “Why don’t you start with the files since you can read so much faster than anyone I know.”

She nodded and immediately headed to a series of cabinets towards the back.  “Beulah, do you want to look at what he likes to read?  Eleanor, you can start a magical sweep to see if there’s anything concealed.  I’ll go through his desk and see if there’s anything interesting.”

The two women didn’t hesitate to comply and Ron suddenly realized that he had expected them to protest or even suggest something else entirely.  Shaking himself mentally he began to methodically open desk drawers.  If there was one thing he’d learned over the years with Harry and Hermione, it was not to make assumptions.  He didn’t accept that a quill was what it appeared to be, until he tried it out.  Of course, this made the work ever more tedious.  He’d never wished to be a Muggle, devoid of the magic that had always been a part of his life, but right now he guessed it would be so much simpler if things couldn’t be so easily concealed by magic.  Beulah was close to him, examining one of the numerous shelves of books.  She whispered, “There’s quite a useful spell to avoid what you’re doing.”

He looked up at her and she quickly demonstrated it for him.  It was simple enough and should indicate if an object wasn’t what it appeared to be.  There was another to indicate if any sort of spell or enchantment was present.  To show him what to look for, she found an old dictation-quill, usually used by secretaries, in the back of a drawer.  Surely enough the spell on the instrument caused it to glow blue for a moment.

“There are different colors for different kinds of charms or curses,” she explained, grabbing a scrap of parchment and writing the codes down for him.

“Thanks.  That’s definitely not something they teach at Hogwarts,” said Ron.  A glance at Hermione told him that his statement was correct, since she’d been watching from the first.

“No, I don’t expect that they do,” laughed Beulah, resuming her work on the bookcases, her wand aloft once again.

Her spells helped him to clear at least the thin drawer directly in front of him, not that he had really expected to find anything other than quills and odds and ends in it.  Moving on to one of the larger drawers he was unsurprised to find a package of pictures, the subjects of which were two children, although he hadn’t expected to recognize one of them.  They seemed to have been taken from different angles, occasionally with shrubbery or a window frame in view, suggesting that the boy and girl were unaware of their observer.

“Hermione, didn’t that Gideon kid say that he and his sister were being raised by Muggles?” asked Ron.

Her head came up so fast from the file over which she’d been leaning that Ron was surprised she hadn’t given herself a crick in the neck.  “What has that got to do with anything?” she asked, looking at him with a worried expression.

He smiled grimly at her and, putting the photos back into the envelope, sent the package across the room to her with his wand.  “Blimey,” she squeaked, upon perusing them.  “Do you recall who brought him into the D.A.?”

Ron racked his brains, but he came up blank.  It took him a few minutes to word it properly, but finally he tapped his D.A. coin and sent a message to Neville that said: Wait for me, Auror Office; ASAP.

“Neville led the D.A. the longest last year, so if anyone knows it’ll be him,” said Ron.  “I told him to meet up with us shortly.”

“But you could have just asked him right now,” Hermione pointed out.

“Yeah, but I thought it might be good to have him go talk to the boy about what’s been going on.”

“That’s not half-bad.”  He’d managed to impress her and he smiled inwardly.  She dropped the matter and heaved a sigh.  “This is useless.  Most of these just have Quidditch statistics and such nonsense.”

Ron didn’t need to tell her to keep at it; she had always been more thorough in her work than he was.  About an hour later, Hermione suddenly said, “Eleanor, is it common to keep files from one’s previous job?”

“What do you mean, like pay-stubs?” the older witch asked, ceasing the spell she’d been using on the carpet.

“No, I mean like Reichgard hanging onto the files he had in the Azkaban Prison Authority office.”

Completely forgetting her task, Eleanor rushed to Hermione’s side and ripped the folder she’d been holding out of her hand.  “Impossible!  Not only are these files considered ‘Top-Secret,’ but they are never, under any circumstances, to be duplicated. In fact, there’s an enchantment on them that prevents it.  On the occasions that they are needed for the Wizengamot, someone will escort the original copies from the office.”  Eleanor looked extremely worried about this and Ron wondered if they were getting closer to solving this mystery.

When Eleanor abandoned her search of the room in general, Beulah took her place, saying, “There’s nothing in these books.  All I can say is that they seem to mainly consist of Wizarding Law, Potions and things to do with the Games Department.  He must have been a fan of Potions, to have this many books, but I should think the rest are rather obvious considering which departments he worked for.”

It took a long time, even with the aid of their wands, for the foursome to be confident of their investigation.  They gathered up the items they thought bore further inspection and made to leave.

“Euphemia, are you stationed here all day or just until we’re done in here?” Ron asked, once they’d gotten back to the outer office.

“I’m here until Barry comes to replace me or Gawain tells me otherwise, personally,” she explained.

“That’s good, because we may have missed something, although we’re quite certain we’ve done a proper job of it,” said Hermione, as they took their leave.

Once they were ensconced back in their own office, everyone demanded to know what they’d learned.

Ron pulled the handful of empty vials that he’d found.  “I know they probably just contained cough potions or headache remedies, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to check.  I should probably drop them off at the laboratory before we leave for the night.”

Hermione looked uncomfortable with that thought and Ron rolled his eyes.  “What would you suggest?  It’s not like we have cauldrons and ingredients set up at home or the time to examine them, at that,” he added.

“No, but George does and I think he probably has as many ingredients as Snape or Slughorn, if not more,” she replied.  Then she began handing out sheaves of parchment to people around the room, their desks already heaving under paperwork.  To the room at large, she said, “If everyone can look these over some time tonight and see if there’s anything related to our investigation, it would be really helpful.”

“Rather than tying up their evenings, why don’t we pass it on to some of the Order members who don’t have as much to do,” suggested Ron, hating to think about all of the extra work being passed out.

Hermione gave an apologetic look to the Aurors she’d just burdened.  “I’m truly sorry, but if we’re to get anywhere this really needs to be done tonight.  I don’t think that the Order really knows enough about how the Ministry works and what might be suggestive as you would.  They’re better suited to other jobs.  And Ron and I need to coordinate with the family, find out if anything else has changed with Harry and sort out the Order.”

They needn’t have worried as all of the Aurors hastened to assure Hermione that they were happy to do anything they could to help.

“I just think it’s quite odd that there were so few personal effects in there,” Eleanor said, changing the topic abruptly.

“Maybe he’s just odd like that.  There’s nothing sinister about Dawlish, but he doesn’t keep anything personal in his office,” offered Dominic.

“Yeah, but it’s still weird,’ said Hermione.  “Ron did find those photos stashed in a drawer though.”

“Maybe he didn’t have time to take them home.  It’s not like we saw any photos of the kids on display.”  Ron was thinking about his own brother.  “I wonder if Percy’s desk might have been like that for the last few years.”

Hermione looked shocked.  “I don’t think he ever stopped loving the rest of you, even if he was completely rotten in his actions.”

“Yeah, but the Ministry would never have trusted him if he’d left family photos and mementos about, would they?” said Ron, unconvinced.  “We can ask him later, I suppose.”

He had always expected work to be long and boring.  Therefore, finding that it was already five o’clock and time to go home always shocked him.  But never before had it actually disappointed him as it had this day.  Last minute conversations with everyone lasted for a good fifteen minutes, before everyone finally started filtering towards the doors and lifts.  Hermione stopped at Harry’s desk and grabbed the Aurors robes that he had changed out of the previous day in order to attend the Wizengamot, mumbling something about not wanting them to be so accessible.

The Atrium was full of witches and wizards, many of whom Ron and Hermione recognized from the press conference the day before.  There was no question about it; this was clearly an ambush.  Despite the fact that the lift was full, the reporters wouldn’t allow any of them to exit, asking questions at an alarming rate.

“If you don’t move I’m going to stun you!” Ron roared over the din, drawing his wand.  He wasn’t the only one.  Everyone else in the lift behind him had done so as well.  Clearly they wanted to get out of there as much as he did.

“I thought we would tell you when we had information to give you,” Hermione cried in exasperation.  “Nothing has changed with Harry and if it does, you’ll be the first to know.  I promise.  Now, please, let us leave in peace.”

They backed up slightly, but didn’t relent.  One wizard called, “We haven’t heard from you yet, Mr. Weasley.  How do you feel about everything that has happened?  Are you making any headway to helping Harry Potter?”

“How do you think I feel?  My best mate is under some sort of curse.  While I hope that we’re close to finding the cause, I wouldn’t want to compromise our investigation by alerting the entire Wizarding World to what’s going on, now would I?” Ron retorted, grabbing Hermione’s hand.  He managed to inch them out of the lift slowly but surely.  Backing them into one of the walls, he shot out a shield charm, forcing everyone away.  In the next moment, Ron and Hermione were Apparating to St. Mungo’s.

The reception area was pleasantly quiet in comparison to the ruckus they’d just left behind.  They waved to the Auror on duty, who barely looked up at them from behind his magazine.

Ernie, Susan and Dudley greeted them just outside Harry’s door.  Ron wasn’t sure if he was surprised or amused by Dudley’s insistence at being one of the guards.  He knew that Dudley had once punched a wizard and knocked him out for some time, but he wasn’t sure if anyone would be intimidated from entering Harry’s room because of him.  Despite his size, there was just no getting around the fact that he was a Muggle and therefore unable to participate in a dueling situation.

Dudley must have gotten wind of Ron’s skepticism because he held out a Stunning Snare and then opened his lapel to reveal what Ron knew was a pistol.  “I won’t go down without a fight,” said Dudley proudly and Susan beamed at him.

“Right.”  Ron wasn’t sure what constituted as an appropriate response to that and instead headed into the room to find Ginny and Charlie sitting by Harry.  She was laughing softly and he had his arm around her shoulders conspiratorially.  The next thing Ron and Hermione knew their nostrils were assaulted by the scent of so many flowers that it was almost intoxicating.

“When did we decide to open a flower shop?” asked Ron, looking at the card on one of the numerous bouquets perched on a spindly little table.  All the card said was, “Get well, Harry.  We’re behind you.  Gladys.”

“Who’s Gladys?” was his next question.

Ginny looked pained for a moment and said, “I have no idea.  In fact, not one of these is from anyone that we know.”

It was then that he noticed that no surface remained empty.  There were vases and baskets of flowers literally everywhere.  Hermione was moving from one to the next, inspecting the messages.  Tears were quickly springing to her eyes.

“I think that everyone’s really frightened,” Ginny commented, pointing at the Daily Prophet in front of her, propped against Harry’s knee.

“Do you know what these remind me of?” Hermione asked as she plopped herself down next to Ron on the bed they’d slept in the previous night.  At their negative head shakes she gave a sad smile.  “You know how there’s a plaque at Harry’s house in Godric’s Hollow?  Well, when Harry and I visited over Christmas we found that people had written all sorts of encouraging messages on it.  I thought he would be outraged that anyone would desecrate that monument, but he thought it was brilliant.  Even if we don’t keep all of the flowers we should hang onto the cards.”

They all stared at her stupidly.  “You never told me about that,” said Ron.  He knew he shouldn’t feel hurt, but once things had been smoothed out, Harry and Hermione should have told him about the rest of their trip to Godric’s Hollow.

Deciding not pursue the topic any further, Ron said, “Well, Ginny, what would you think about maybe spreading some of these bouquets around the hospital?  The smells are all getting mixed up in the air.  I think it’s going to make me ill.”

“That’s very thoughtful, Ron,” Hermione beamed.  Ginny gave a half-smile that managed to reach her eyes as she glanced between her brother and best-friend.  “I’m sure that they’ll cheer some lonely people up.”

With Ginny’s approval, Hermione snatched the cards off of more than half of the flower arrangements and tucked them into her purse.  She left for a moment to call for an orderly to assist her.

“So, where’s Mum?  I expected she’d be back first thing this morning,” said Ron, while Hermione was occupied.

“Oh, she’s been here most of the day.  But Charlie showed up and she thought she ought to get back and make dinner for him, Dad and Percy,” she replied, eyeing Charlie warily.

There was a pregnant pause during which no one could bare to look at Ginny.  “She was worried to leave me alone for any length of time, wasn’t she?”

“Of course not, Gin-Gin, it’s nothing like that.  Things just worked out that way,” Charlie soothed.

Ron and Hermione flinched, knowing that trying to placate Ginny wasn’t the wisest course of action at the moment.  But she only stiffened and said, “I would have survived.  It’s not like Harry’s d-d-d-died, he’s just-just-just…”

“Consciousness-challenged?” offered Hermione.  They’d just recently watched a Muggle show on the telly making fun of what Hermione termed as “political correctness.”

Even if they only smiled slightly, the small joke had the desired effect.  It broke the ice and tension that had permeated the room.

“Yeah, well, thanks, Charlie,” said Ginny, letting him know that she wasn’t truly angry with him, but with the situation in general.

“’s alright, kiddo,” murmured Charlie, kissing her on the forehead like he used to when she was little.  Only he and Bill could get away with such phrases and actions with Ginny.  Ron wasn’t sure, but he thought it was because of the immense age gap between them.  Perhaps she thought of them more like uncles than older brothers.  Charlie tweaked a lock of her hair, then turned to Harry and said, “But just so you know, I did come to see Harry too.”

For an absurd moment Ron wondered if Charlie intended to kiss Harry on the forehead as well, but his older brother just clasped Harry’s shoulder and told him to get better soon.

“I’m on night-duty with the dragons at Azkaban, Ron, so I won’t be able to make it to the meeting.  Is there anything you want me to do during the day since I’ll be off?” he said, while he was shaking Ron and Hermione’s hands.

“Actually, if you could take the two to four guard shift tomorrow afternoon that would be helpful.  I’ll let you know if there’s anything else.”

Charlie nodded and stepped into the hall.  Ginny’s eyes immediately volleyed between Ron and Hermione, silently begging to know what they’d found out.  But just then Kreacher and Winky began bringing in platters of food, forcing them to move some of the greenery onto the floor to make room on the tabletops.  It didn’t take long to relate what little information they had to Ginny.

“It was basically just Mum and me all day.  Obviously Order members dropped in periodically, but mostly it was just to tell us that a shift had changed,” sighed Ginny.

“I don’t suppose you know any more about Harry than we do,” said Hermione, although it was more of a question.

“We’ve learned a few things, although nothing to tell us what’s…er…wrong with him.  Healers have been in and out a few times.  Once Mum even ran out to summon one of the nurses to check on him.  He’s still shouting out in pain occasionally, but sometimes we seem to be able to talk him around it and then he just shuts back down.  His eyes never open, but I feel like he knows we’re here.”

“Do you think we were wrong to go to work today?” Hermione asked in a small voice, her guilty eyes piercing Ron.  His breath hitched and his insides squirmed.  What if the best way to help Harry was to remain by his side?

“No!” shouted Ginny, nearly upending her little table.  She looked panicked.  “Who could figure this out besides the two of you?  Who else can we truly trust to properly handle this?”

Her vehemence scared both Ron and Hermione, and both vowed inwardly to redouble their efforts.  “Why don’t we start making a list of points we need to discuss at the meeting, Hermione.  Let’s not waste any time,” said Ron, tipping the remains of his soup down his throat.  It scalded a bit, but the pain helped him refocus.

The rest of dinner was eaten in the midst of a flurry of discussion.  Points needed to be made repeatedly more than once when mouths were full.  By the time pudding was served, they’d ended with more questions than answers, but at least they were beginning to know which questions to ask.  It was better than what they’d started off with in the morning.

Meanwhile, In Gloucester

Neville was just finishing dinner with his grandmother, always served in the formal dining room of their country estate, when the owl that he’d recently purchased arrived from Gideon to tell him he could visit any time before eight that evening.  Neville shoveled the last few bites of his carrots into his mouth and threw his napkin down on the table.  “I’m going out for a bit.  I have no idea when I’ll be back tonight because we have a meeting.”

He moved to peck his grandmother on the cheek, but her raised eyebrows stopped him before he reached her.  “You’ve rarely been home recently and it was the same last summer.  Then you’ll be leaving on that god-forsaken Herbology trip.  Can’t you spend an evening at home?”

“Gran, you read the Sorcerer’s Star this morning.  You know that Harry needs everyone in the Order to help figure out what’s wrong with him.”  He knew that his grandmother only missed him, but that didn’t make up for the fact that he had obligations elsewhere.  Besides, he got the impression that she intended to “show him off” to her closest friends at the earliest opportunity, just as she had before he’d returned to Hogwarts.

She straightened, however, at his words, and said, “I should think so.  Well, just make sure you do your best.”

“I always have,” he sighed.  Not too long ago, his best had never been quite good enough for her.

But then her eyes glistened momentarily.  “I know I’ve been strict with you, Neville, but I’ve always had your best interests at heart.  You know you make me extremely proud.”

“Thanks,” he replied gruffly.  This time he really did plant a kiss on her waxy cheek and even pulled her into a brief hug.  Imagine his surprise when she embraced him in return; she wasn’t exactly the most demonstrative woman in the world.  “I should see you at breakfast, unless Ron has new orders for me.”

“Alright, dear.  Good luck and be careful Apparating after dark,” she called as he strode out into the entrance hall.

“Yes, Gran.”  She really could be trying sometimes, he thought, as he was only Apparating barely two towns over.

After speaking with Ron and Hermione at the Ministry earlier he had sent off a letter to Gideon asking him for a meeting regarding some important D.A. matters.  Then he’d given some serious thought to what he knew about the boy.  He’d been brought to a few meetings during the regular school year by a Slytherin third year, by the name of Hypatia, who had been the D.A.’s mole in that house.  She mostly gave them inside information on what she overheard in the common room, relaying it to various D.A. members covertly.  Additionally, she took on a protective role for some of the younger students in her house.  Gideon had been the only one to actively accept her help, but then he wanted to participate in what she was doing.  He’d attended a few of the meetings that they’d provided for younger students to give them some basic defensive magic.  Gideon had been more than enthusiastic, asking for more instruction in that vein.  Then Hypatia had told Neville during the summer session that she’d even caught him trying to duck out of the queue of Slytherins escaping the castle just before the battle.  While she’d managed to get him out of there, Neville’s knowledge of the first-year said that Gideon would have done his best to defend Hogwarts.  It was hard to imagine that he was the son of Death Eaters and even if that was the case, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to have to explain that fact to the boy.

Neville’s heart thudded in his chest as he approached a nicely appointed home and knocked on the door.  He wasn’t sure what this interview would reveal and was a bit uncertain about meeting Gideon’s Muggle foster parents.  He’d never had much interaction with non-magic folk and was sure he would make an error of some sort.

A man in his mid-thirties answered the door and smiled.  “You must be the Neville we’ve heard so much about.  Gideon told us you’d be coming for a chat with him.”

“Er, yes.  You must be Mr. Gresham.  Is there perhaps an ice cream parlor in the village?”

“Of course, and if you’re feeding him his favorite food that would explain why you’re so popular with him.”  The man laughed and stood back to admit Neville into the foyer.

“Hiya, Neville!”  Gideon bounded down the steps two at a time.  “I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, but we were out all day and I never went to my room until after supper.”

“No problem.  How about we take a walk?” replied Neville.  Gideon grabbed a light jacket off of a hook in the hallway and followed Neville out the door.

“How has your summer been so far?” Neville asked, deciding to start with some pleasantries first.

Gideon shrugged.  “It’s been rather boring away from Hogwarts.  I don’t like having to pretend I’m a Muggle all the time, but my parents have been trying to make our holiday as fun as possible.  My sister…”

Neville looked over when Gideon stopped in mid-sentence.  “Your sister is Deidre, in Ravenclaw, right?”

“Yeah, but she’s, well, she’s angry to be home.  But no one was allowed to stay at Hogwarts over the break, so we had to come back here.  I don’t think it’s so bad as all that.”

Talk about the rebuilding of Hogwarts and possible new teachers for the coming year carried them quickly to the ice cream shop that Neville spotted easily.  He’d managed to get a couple of pounds off of Susan and Dudley earlier, but he had no idea how one figured out how to tell which little piece of paper meant what.  He handed them to Gideon, who had no trouble giving the woman handing out cones the proper notes and passing the change back to Neville.  They trotted over to a secluded bench in the corner and Neville immediately set a few privacy charms about them.

“So, you’ve probably guessed that this isn’t a strictly social visit,” Neville said, trying to keep his voice light and casual.

Gideon frowned.  “I suppose it is odd for you to just come here out of the blue to take me out for an ice cream.”

“No, not that you don’t necessarily deserve a treat.  I don’t suppose you take the Daily Prophet?”

“Yes, actually, my sister and I pooled our pocket money to take out a subscription so that we could keep up with what’s going on.  She hasn’t finished with today’s morning edition yet, so I haven’t seen it.”  Gideon blinked rapidly as though trying to figure something out.  “Surely I couldn’t have done something so awful as to be printed in the newspaper.”

“No, you haven’t done anything wrong.  On the contrary, everyone has been quite favorably impressed with you in the past.  However, I do have a few questions for you that might be able to help us.”  Neville quickly outlined what had happened to Harry, causing Gideon to blanch.

“He’ll be okay, won’t he?”  The young boy’s voice sounded terrified.

“Of course he will be; it just may take some time and effort on our part.”  Neville tried to inject some surety into his voice, but he couldn’t tell whether or not he’d been successful.

“Well, I’ll do anything, anything at all to help.  Do you need me to help you protect him?”  Gideon certainly was still eager for action.  Regardless of what happened in the present with Harry, Neville probably ought to warn Ginny and Luna about this kid’s enthusiasm, since they would be leading him in the D.A. for the coming year.

Neville laughed.  “No, we don’t need you to stand on guard duty.  But I would like to ask you a few questions, if that’s okay.”

At Gideon’s immediate nod, Neville said, “How much do you know about your parents?”

The boy was startled by the question and looked confused.  “Well, my dad is an architect and my mum mostly stayed home until Deidre and I started school last year.  Now she works mornings at the local salon, taking phone calls and setting up appointments.”

Neville sighed.  “That’s really wonderful, Gideon, but I was actually referring to your birth parents.  Clearly you were allowed to attend Hogwarts last year and so at least your mother or father must have had magic.”

“Oh, right.  I’m sorry, but I don’t know too much about them.  Some man from the Ministry of Magic came to explain to my parents, well to my foster parents, about the fact that my sister and I are ‘descended from Wizarding-stock,’ as he put it.  Then he told us that it was necessary for us to attend Hogwarts.  My dad wasn’t too pleased about that since he’d planned for me to go to Eton and then Cambridge, where he was educated.  Eventually, he was told that Deidre and I would be taken away from them if he didn’t agree.”

“Your foster father didn’t seem all that upset to see me at his door.  Has he changed his mind?”

Gideon laughed.  “Once my sister and I started reading some of our textbooks with him and my mum, he decided that it might be useful to have wizards in the family.  He’s certainly changed his tune since then, trying to help us with our homework and all that.  Of course, he’s not much help because he doesn’t know anything about magic, but it’s kind of fun to try to explain it all to him.”

As fascinating as the conversation was, Neville knew that he had to get it back on track if he wanted to get to the Order meeting on time.  He withdrew a newspaper clipping of the picture with Harry and Kurt Reichgard shaking hands, which had appeared in the special edition of the Daily Prophet the previous day.  “This wouldn’t be the Ministry Official who called on you last summer, would it?”

“Yeah, that’s him.  His name is Mr. Reichgard.  He took us to Diagon Alley to get us our supplies and he even came to check up on us a few times during the school year.”

“Did he?”  Neville was stunned.  It wasn’t so much that Reichgard had vouched for his children; that was to be expected.  But hadn’t the man taken a huge risk in spending time with them?  It also raised another question:  Did Snape know who and what Reichgard was?  He must have, since no one’s outside family members had been allowed into the castle the previous year.  Snape could have easily allowed Reichgard into the castle in a ministerial capacity, perhaps checking the safety of the school’s brooms or something.

Neville hadn’t been told of what to do if the suspicions about Gideon’s true parentage were confirmed.  He liked the boy and didn’t want to have to be the one to tell him that his mother and father were monsters.

But the question was taken out of his hands when the shrewd youngster asked, “Are you trying to tell me that that man, that Kurt Reichgard, is my real father?”

Gideon didn’t seem frightened by the prospect in any way, but if he hadn’t seen the Daily Prophet yet that day then he wasn’t aware of everything that had happened, including his father’s arrest.  All he knew of the man consisted of a few brief meetings, which had apparently been quite pleasant.  Neville bit his lip and made a split-second decision.  Ron had never told him to lie to Gideon and so he chose his next words as carefully as possible.  “We think it is very likely that Mr. Reichgard is your father.”

“Really?  I’ve always wanted to know about my real parents.  Mum and Dad don’t know anything about them.  They just found us on their doorstep one night after someone rang the bell.  There was a note, but it didn’t say much except that if they wanted to raise us as their own they were to take us inside.”  Gideon seemed excited at first, but then fell silent.  He suddenly looked angry and said, “If our dad was out there all the time, why did he leave us?  Why didn’t he take care of us?”

“I think that was probably for your own safety,” said Neville, slowly, as he tried to put what they knew into perspective.  “This isn’t going to be easy to hear, but your parents were Death Eaters.  I’m rather impressed that your father didn’t want you to be raised in that kind of situation.  It actually says that he loves you quite a lot.  I’ve known the children of Death Eaters before, and usually they’re brought up to hold those sorts of ideals.  Obviously he wanted you to stay safe and away from all of that.”

He wasn’t sure why he was trying to defend the man who had laid Harry low, but surely it was important for a young man to have some good things to remember about his father, rather than to think of him solely as a rampaging murderer.

A number of emotions flitted across Gideon’s face.  In the end he looked disgusted and said, “I don’t have to go live with him or anything, do I?  I’d really much rather stay with the family I’ve always had.”

“No, no one is going to ask you to live with him,” said Neville, relieved that Gideon had reacted so well to the situation.  They both cleaned up from their ice creams and began the short trek back to the house.

When they arrived at the front porch, he had to make some more quick decisions, since he didn’t like the idea of leaving the two eleven-year-olds without protection.  There was no telling what sort of orders the Death Eaters, who were still at large, might have, and he couldn’t bear the consequences if he didn’t do anything and his fears were realized.

“I know that it’s not going to be a lot of fun, but I would really prefer if you and your sister remained in the house for the next few days.  I’m going to put some protective spells around your property, but they’re not fool-proof.  Someone from the D.A. will come by tomorrow to see if we can set up something more permanent, especially when you leave the house.”  Neville hated to make the kids stay inside, especially since the weather was still so nice.

“Okay.  Is someone going to attack us?” Gideon sounded somewhat frightened by the prospect, but he squared his shoulders anyway.

“I doubt it, but it never hurts to be on the safe side of things, right?”  Neville saw that Mr. Gresham was watching through the curtains, and knew that their time was up.  “Just make sure that Deidre understands the rules as well.  Her safety is in question too, okay?”

“Someone will be along tomorrow to talk to us?”

“I promise you; even if I have to come myself.”  Neville paused for a moment before he turned to leave.  “Just don’t forget all of the spells that Harry taught you over the last few months.”

“But we’re not allowed to use magic outside of school, are we?”

“No, but you can use magic if you’re in danger.  Just make sure that the threat is real before you start rattling off spells.  I don’t want to have to try to bail you out if you use a spell randomly.”

“Okay, then.”  Gideon sounded profoundly relieved that he was allowed to defend himself if something bad happened.

As much as Neville hated to leave, he began performing the best spells that Harry had taught him to protect a residence.  The strange thing was; nearly all of them were already in place.  Only the ones that Hermione had recently researched or modified were different.  Perhaps the children weren’t in as much danger as he had thought.  Regardless, he tore down the old wards and put his own up, feeling more comfortable with them than whatever loopholes had existed with the previous ones.

 Back at St. Mungo’s

None of them said it, but it occurred to all of them that there had been no doubt of Ron and Hermione returning to St. Mungo’s, not only for dinner, but to sleep as well.  There was also no question of whether or not Ginny would go to the meeting at Grimmauld Place.  She was determined to stay, “where she belonged,” as she put it.

Parvati and Lavender had both just come off of their shift by the time they needed to leave.

They had been happy to tell Ron and Hermione that a private Apparition Point had been erected at the end of the hall as per Ginny and Molly’s suggestion.  While the cost had been exorbitant, they’d thought it would make things more convenient for everyone who was constantly coming and going on Harry’s behalf. 

Ginny retook her position in the chair beside Harry’s bed and held his hand.  Lavender paused as they all made their way to the door.  “Would you like me to stay, Ginny?”

“Don’t they need you at the meeting?” said Ginny, sounding tough and capable.  But there was something about her manner and tone that said otherwise.

“Parvati knows everything that I do and she can fill me in later.  It wouldn’t hurt to have someone here, would it?”  Lavender directed her question at Ron, Hermione and Parvati.  They all shook their heads.  “Well, I’ll keep Ginny company then.”

Lavender sat down next to Ginny and immediately launched into some fresh gossip she’d overheard that day.

The rest of them left to Apparate to Grimmauld Place.  People were already milling about in the ballroom when they arrived, where Kreacher had laid out drinks and finger-foods.  Ron peeked at Hermione to see if she was upset at just how much work the house-elves had wound up doing that day.  But she seemed more interested in greeting people and encouraging them to sit down so that they could get started.  Ron drew a deep breath before settling into the chair that Harry usually occupied, at the head of the table.  He caught Neville’s eye and motioned for him to take the seat to his left, while Hermione automatically sat to his right, fresh parchment, quill and ink bottle already in front of her to record the meeting.

The air in the room wasn’t what they were used to for an Order or D.A. meeting.  Everyone was tense and skittish.  Ron wondered if they felt ill-at-ease in their friend’s home while he wasn’t present.

Once they were reasonably sure that everyone was accounted for, including Luna (who had just passed her Apparition test earlier in the day and who was there because they thought she might be helpful), Ron and Hermione called the meeting to order.  There had been no need for shouting since nearly everyone had simply been staring at them expectantly.

Not everyone had been present for the impromptu meeting at St. Mungo’s the previous night and so there was a small recap for them.  Minerva and Hagrid, in particular, were keen to know just what was going on.  They shared a significant look that wasn’t lost on anyone.

“Why can’t that boy stay out of trouble for even a fortnight?” Minerva muttered under her breath, her eyes closed as though praying for strength.

“’s not like it’s ‘is fault, Professor,” Hagrid chided.

“Well, that’s really neither here nor there, is it?” Hermione interrupted hastily.  “The important thing right now is to find out what it was that Reichgard did to him so that we can undo it.”

Information was passed around the table, taking nearly two hours for everyone to explain what they’d done during the day and what they’d found out.  And then it came time to dissect the disparate information that everyone had gathered.  It had been quite easy for everyone to discuss Kurt Reichgard with those around them, since his name had already been on the lips of anyone who received a morning newspaper.  Indeed, everyone had been eager to find out what others knew about him.  But, surprisingly, the information was sparse and varied.  Some people thought he lived further north, some said he had a home towards the south of London and yet others thought his residence was in Wales.

“It’s like he just told people things randomly,” Hermione said, her brows knitted in a frown.

“But no one seems sure.  Maybe his house is under a Fidelius Charm,” Ron spoke out as it occurred to him.

“Bloody hell, you’re right.”  He knew that she must be severely frustrated to blurt out obscenities.

“So, trying to track down his house to find out where he lived is a useless endeavor?” said Seamus, frowning as well.

“Not necessarily,” Neville pointed out.  “I haven’t yet given you my report from speaking with the boy that we must accept is his son.”

It was clear that he had been holding his information back, hoping that it might not be absolutely necessary.  It awhile for Neville to relate everything that he’d learned and subsequently speculated. 

“So, you are wondering if someone might try to go after them now that their father has been arrested?  I have to admit that it is a possibility.  Perhaps we can set at least one person to tail them if they leave the house,” said Hermione.

“That’s going to leave us really depleted.  Maybe we need to put some faith in the Aurors.  It wouldn’t hurt them nearly so much as us,” suggested Ron.

“I’m sure that Robards will be able to spare a few more people to help out,” said Kingsley.  “Just explain it to him first thing tomorrow.”

“If you don’t mind, I said that someone from the order would let Gideon know what’s going on tomorrow.  I can stop by there some time.”  Neville was quiet as he said this, in an aside to Ron.

“I don’t see a problem with that.  Maybe sometime in the afternoon?” Ron whispered back.

Then Hermione announced what she’d figured out about Rita Skeeter/William Weevil and her involvement with the situation.  The room practically exploded in anger, all of it directed towards Rita Skeeter.

“Of course, that makes perfect sense!”

“No wonder no one ever sees her around when she gets her supposed ‘scoops!’”

“Hang on!” Hermione shouted over the din.  Conversation ceased and they all looked at her appreciatively.

“How do we want to expose Skeeter’s secret to the public?” asked Seamus, silently clapping his hands at Hermione.

“We can’t, at least not without implicating Hermione in blackmail charges,” Ron warned.  “But we need to do something, because Skeeter seems to be getting worse.  The last thing we need is for her to publish something to ruin the investigation.”

Thoughtful looks were passed around the table and no one seemed to want to speak.  Then Kingsley started to chuckle.  “We already have an ally here.  Slughorn loves Harry.  And he still talks with Barnabas Cuffe at the Daily Prophet.  We’d do best to let Slughorn have a little chat with the editor and see if they can’t tone things down a bit for now.  Although Rita doesn’t write exclusively for the Prophet, she’s not going to want to upset them since that’s the paper that pays the best.  We can worry about actually catching her once this is all finished.  If I have anything to say about it, we’ll try to see if we can get a waiver for the blackmail that Hermione employed since it was during wartime.”

A schedule was worked out for who would guard the hospital room and when for the following week, to be updated as necessary.  It was this that made Ron fully realize that Harry’s problem wouldn’t be solved today, or likely even in the next few days.  He tried not to think about it.

As the meeting began to disperse, Ron handed George the empty potion bottles that he had scavenged earlier from Reichgard’s office.

“I’ll make it my priority,” George said, with alacrity.  “You really ought to come over to the shop and pick up a few things.  I’ve only just finished them and I think you might find some of them useful.”

“Okay, should I go now?” asked Ron, biting back a yawn.

“No, we really need to get some sleep,” Hermione interjected.  “It’s been a long few days.  Why don’t you just send us a message when you get your results tomorrow and one of us will come and get whatever it is then, George?”

He agreed and pretty soon the room was empty.  It was nearly one o’clock in the morning and all Ron and Hermione really wanted to do was walk up the two flights of stairs, but instead they headed to the front door to Apparate.  Arriving only down the hall from Harry’s room was a boon this late at night.  Hermione grabbed her nightclothes and closeted herself in the bathroom to change.

“How did it go?” asked Ginny, who didn’t seem to have moved a muscle since they’d left her several hours before.  He briefly wondered what she and Lavender had talked about during the time he and Hermione were gone.

Ron gave Ginny a brief outline and then handed her a copy of the minutes that Hermione had taken.

Ginny smiled half-heartedly and said, in an almost hushed tone, “Have you looked outside yet?”

“What are you talking about?”

She waved her hand toward the window and Ron stood up to look out.  To say that he was shocked would have been mild.

Outside, a few hundred people were milling about on the sidewalks.  The many lit candles weren’t necessary to read the banners and signs that the witches and wizards held, since they flashed like neon lights.





These seemed to be the most common phrases.  “I suppose they must have put some sort of enchantment on them to prevent Muggles from seeing the signs,” said Hermione, coming up from behind him and taking him by surprise.

“Obviously, or else they’d be causing a disturbance.  My dad says that the Muggle law enforcement blokes aren’t too keen on disturbances.”

“No, they’re not,” Hermione agreed.  She opened the window, rifled around in her bag for a few moments and withdrew a camera.  When she took the picture the flash probably had burned a few people’s retinas down below.  She tried to shout and whisper at the same time.  “Sorry!”

“So should we not shut the lights off tonight?” said Hermione once they all turned away from the crowd outside the window.  At Ron and Ginny’s look of confusion, she clarified, “In the Muggle world, usually when people are holding vigil like that they’re waiting for the light to go out.  It tells them that the person they’re hoping will be all right has died.”

She shivered after her last sentence, despite the warm pajamas she’d donned.  Ron put an arm around her, guessing that she wasn’t actually cold but could use the comfort.  He grabbed one of the gas lamps off Harry’s bedside table and placed it on the windowsill.  “There, we’ll leave that one on so that they know he’s okay.”

Ginny and Hermione both gave him a look that he couldn’t quite interpret.  “What?  That way they’ll know that he hasn’t…you know…died.”

Hermione closed her eyes with an expression Ron knew quite well to mean that he had been insensitive.  Ginny just gave him a brief hug and said, “Good-night, Ron.”

“I’m sorry, Hermione, I don’t know what to say or do.  This is all just so crazy and confusing.  Maybe if we go to sleep we’ll find that this has just been some sort of nightmare.”  He grasped Hermione’s hand and pulled her over to the bed that they’d shared the night before.  If he thought about it hard enough, maybe he could convince himself that it had all been a bad dream.

A/N: Whew!  This was a very difficult chapter to write.  I had to get enough said in order to move the story along without completely spoiling the ending and it wasn’t easy.  Between that, some family troubles and just life in general, this chapter took me a great deal longer than I might have liked or anticipated.  But I hope it was worth the wait and I’m starting work immediately on Chapter 35.  Depending on how things go, I expect to see the end in either 36 or 37.

A/N #2: There were two new sparks (for those of you following my notes): #1- Ron and Hermione (nearly everyone got this one) and #2-  Ron’s spark to assume a leadership role.  It would take me awhile to go through all of the reviews to find the very few people who got the second one, but house points to everyone for participating!

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