Chapter 2 : Plausible Deniability
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When Rose came down the stairs and entered the Gryffindor common room the next morning, she was slightly surprised to see Roxanne sitting alone at one of the tables reading a book. She made her way over and let her bag slip onto the chair across from her cousin. “What, are you not hungry?” she asked.
Roxanne looked up and grinned. “Starving, actually. But I was waiting for you.” shoved the book she’d been reading into her bag and stood up.
Rose picked her bag back up and slung it over her shoulder. “Why?”
Her cousin pushed the portrait open and climbed out “We need to talk business.” She looked positively gleeful. Roxanne’s enthusiasm tended to be infectious. Rose felt a smile spreading across her own face as they climbed out of the portrait hole. “Where does that git have classes today?”
Rose thought as they padded down the corridor. “We’ve got Care of Magical Creatures is right after you, and History of Magic with the Slytherins at the end of the day.”
Roxanne shook her head. “No go,” she said, and they began descending the stairs. “We’ve got double Charms last, and I don’t fancy us trying to skip out on Harding. She’d probably put us in detention for weeks. What’s he got before Care of Magical Creatures?” Her long braids bounced up and down as she skipped the last few steps.
“I know they’re with the Hufflepuffs, and the Hufflepuffs have Charms first thing.”
Roxanne considered that for a minute. “That has promise.” She rubbed her hands together. “Oh, this is going to be fun.”
When they entered the Great Hall a few minutes later, Roxanne circled around the table to sit down in the empty space next to James while Tyler and Marion moved over to make room for Rose.
“Good news,” James said cheerfully. “Extra Quidditch practice tonight. It’s supposed to rain, and I want us to practice playing in adverse conditions more than we did last year.”
Rose groaned. Sometimes James had a very interesting definition of the phrase ‘good news.’ “Oh, James, but Mondays are terrible for me.”
“Why, what do you have today?” he asked. “Out of curiosity. I’m not rescheduling practice.”
“Herbology, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Charms, Care of Magical Creatures...” Rose said, ticking them off on her fingers.
“Oh. You mean that Mondays are physically exhausting.”
“Yes,” she said crossly, grabbing several pieces of toast off one of the serving platters. “That’s exactly what I mean.” She had yet to escape a Monday without some kind of bite or bruise or other injury. Granted, they hadn’t had very many Mondays yet, but even so, it was a pattern that she was less than thrilled with.
He shrugged. “Sorry, Rose. Grin and bear it. I have faith in you.” He reached for the bowl of fruit to pull out a pear.
“If it makes you feel any better, we’ve got Care of Magical Creatures, Herbology, and Charms today, too,” said Roxanne, eying the bacon on her plate. “We’ll all be falling off our brooms.”
“Well, if you’re going to get a black eye in Care of Magical Creatures or Herbology, today’s the day,” Marion joked. “You won’t be able to see through all the rain anyway.”
“Hey, Roxanne, has your father invented any new snackboxes James hasn’t heard of yet?” asked Tyler. She shook her head and continued to shovel food into her mouth. “Too bad.” He looked momentarily crestfallen, but then he brightened. “We could all just boycott practice. He can’t get mad at all of us.”
“Watch me,” James said as he poured himself some juice. He was clearly not taking his team’s whining very seriously.
Whatever Roxanne said about the sixth-years’ schedule, Rose still felt that she had gotten the worst end of the deal.
“Got back your first homework ‘graded to O.W.L. standard’ yet?” James asked.
She grimaced. “Yeah.” He waved his hand to indicate that she should keep going, and she sighed. “I only got an A in arithmancy.” Rose was rather worried about that. Arithmancy had always been one of her favourite subjects, and hearing her cousins Louis and Lucy talk about it had made her excited to continue on with it at N.E.W.T. level, but at this rate, she wouldn’t have the necessary mark to do so.
Marion shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. You’ll bring it up. I got an A on my first arithmancy assignment last year, and when the O.W.L. results came this summer, I’d gotten an O.”
“Really?” Rose asked, cheering at the idea.
“Really. You’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
“Nobody gets better than an A their first assignment,” Tyler said. Rose looked at him skeptically. “All right, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you really don’t need to worry.”
Roxanne and James had their heads together and were conversing quietly. Rose heard James mutter, “So you think we should just duck out of Woodmore’s class a few minutes early?”
“Yeah, she won’t mind.”
He was probably right. Professor Woodmore had only been teaching at Hogwarts for a year, and as a former Gryffindor, any mention of the duties of Gryffindor Quidditch team tended to result in less homework or early class dismissals.
Rose cleared her throat. “Speaking of O.W.L.s, how many N.E.W.T.s did you all end up signing up for?”
Roxanne raised her eyebrows. “Why, Rosie, trying to figure out how many you can aim for?” Rose shrugged, and Roxanne’s face broke into a smile. “Seven, but we’ll see how that goes.”
Tyler cupped a hand over his mouth and whispered loudly to Rose, “She’s insane.”
Roxanne ignored him. “Just see what you still like at the end of the year and how you do on your O.W.L.s.”
“I dropped Potions,” James said lazily. “I didn’t want to be an Auror anyway. I heard that dark creatures are where it’s at these days.”
“Heard from where?” Marion asked, frowning.
“Somewhere,” James said vaguely, and Rose bit her lip to keep from smiling. She knew exactly where he’d heard that; their cousin Victoire was so enthusiastic about her job that she sometimes said more than she really should.
Roxanne looked around. The Great Hall was starting to empty. “I guess we’d better get down to class, especially if James and I want to warn her we’re leaving a little early. Stick to Albus until you get there, then he can’t suspect you.”
The five of them got up. The sixth years headed for the door, and Rose went down the table to meet up with Albus and her other friends. She reached them just as they were all getting up and slinging their bags over their shoulders.
“Did James really schedule another practice for tonight?” asked Albus as she fell into step with them.
She nodded, and Damien commented, “Looks like it’s going to rain. That’ll be fun to fly in.”
Rose looked up at the grey clouds streaming across the ceiling of the Great Hall and barely managed to keep herself from sighing. “Oh, he knows.”
An hour and a half later saw Rose and the rest of the fifth year Gryffindors and Ravenclaws staggering out of greenhouse five. Professor Longbottom had handed back their first homework during class, and to Rose’s relief, she’d gotten an E on it. She wasn’t as optimistic about the homework she’d handed in, but there wasn’t much she could do about it now.
On the bright side, she didn’t have a black eye. Yet. On the downside, she was sporting several bites from the fanged geranium, one of which was in a spot on her arm that she knew would make passing the Quaffle more difficult and more painful.
At least Longbottom was used to students swearing in his class. He hadn’t batted an eye when she’d cursed loudly at the last bite, though several other students had. Albus saw her looking at the bite on her arm mournfully and said, “That’s going to make Quidditch later painful, isn’t it?”
“James won’t take that as an excuse,” he commented.
“Nope.” Not that she really thought he should. He was right, they did need practice playing in the rain, whatever their Mondays were like. She shook herself, and remembered that with any luck, Malfoy would be showing up to care of magical creatures after encountering whatever prank James and Roxanne decided to pull.
That cheered her up significantly. Teach him to call her a coward.
She turned to Albus. “So, how did you do on the homework?”
“An A. That’s pretty good, right? For the first homework?”
“Yeah, definitely!” She related what Marion and Tyler had told her over breakfast to him, and he looked a little more cheerful.
“Well, that’s all right, then.” As they headed down the hill to Care of Magical Creatures, he asked, “What do you think we’ll be doing today?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe bowtruckles or crups?”
They arrived a few minutes early, and found Hagrid sitting outside his hut. While Professor Woodmore had officially taken over Care of Magical Creatures lessons the year before, Hagrid still had a tendency to offer up his opinion and expertise.
They waved to him.
“All right, there?” he asked.
“I’m great,” said Albus, “but Rosie’s got Quidditch practice tonight.”
“Looks like it’s goin’ ter rain,” said Hagrid, surveying the sky. “Yeh’ll have a time seeing anythin’ in that.”
“That’s the point,” said Rose and Albus together.
Albus looked around. A few sixth-years were still packing up and chatting, clearly not concerned with getting anywhere fast. Rose could not wait until she had that many free periods. “James and Roxanne leave already?”
Hagrid nodded. “They lef’ a little early, as a matter o’ fact. Said somethin’ to Professor Woodmore about Quidditch.”
Albus looked at Rose. “He wanted to get the pitch reserved because anyone else could get to it, now that he’s got a better grasp on the weather conditions this week.”
Hagrid smiled. “Gryffindor goin’ ter win again this year?”
“Of course,” she said, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “James isn’t worried about that. He’s worried about setting records so that nobody ever forgets us.”
Albus and Hagrid both laughed. She felt a slight twinge of guilt for lying to them, but it was better for everyone that they not know exactly why James and Roxanne had left early.
Al looked past her, and his eyes widened. “Scorpius?”
She turned around, and let out a loud giggle before she could help herself. True to their word, James and Roxanne had taken it on themselves to turn his hair bright red.
Rose was not going to breathe another word of complaint about whenever James scheduled practice for the rest of the week.
Malfoy was looking distinctly irritated. “Yeah. I know.”
Albus just shook his head, clearly struggling to find words. “What happened? When did that happen?”
“Well, I didn’t do it to myself,” Scorpius snapped. “I was leaving charms with Noah, and suddenly he started laughing.” He looked at Rose. “Do you have any idea what happened, Red?”
She shook her head, still giggling. Albus gave her a sharp look, and then walked over and began peering at his friend’s hair.
Rose really wished she had a camera with her.
Al yanked on it. Scorpius jumped back. “Ow! It is still my hair, damnit!”
Albus frowned. “Sorry. Somebody must have jinxed you.”
“No, really?” he snapped. “I can’t think of anyone who’d want to do that.”
Albus shot another glance at Rose, who couldn’t seem stop herself from giggling. She shook her head. “It wasn’t me, honest,” she protested.
“No, I guess it wasn’t, not if it was after Charms this morning.” He shook his head. “Well, I’m sure it’ll fade out… er… eventually.”
Scorpius rolled his eyes. “Great. Until then, I can walk around looking a long lost Weasley cousin.”
“Hey, our hair is much nicer than that,” said Rose. “You look like you’ve used an expired potion.”
He shot her a withering glance and stalked off. Albus followed him, giving her a suspicious look.
“Really, Rose?” someone said softly, and Rose looked around. Natalia came to a stop next to her.
“How was Charms?” Rose asked brightly. Natalia narrowed her eyes, and Rose held up her hands. “Hey, it wasn’t me. I swear. I was in Herbology, and then I was here. Ask Al.”
Natalia shook her head and laughed. “So you’ve got an alibi and everything. How convenient.”
Rose smirked. “Ask me no secrets, I’ll tell you no lies, Talia.”
Natalia shook her head, but she was unable to stop the grin from spreading across her face. “He’s not that bad, you know.”
“If you say so,” Rose replied, shrugging. “But that’s neither here nor there, because I didn’t do it.”
“Didn’t do what?” asked Colleen. She and her brother Daniel, who was in Hufflepuff, were walking toward them. She stopped short. “Oh, my-”
Alex, who was just behind them, saw Malfoy’s hair and let out a loud snort. “Did you do that?” Malfoy looked over at them, and his scowl deepened.
“I was just saying that I didn’t!” Rose protested. “He just told Al it happened on the way here from Charms, and I’ve been in Herbology with you and I came straight here, you know I did.”
Alex gave her a look of deepest skepticism, and Colleen asked, as she and Daniel moved toward them, “So you have no idea who did it?”
“None at all,” Rose lied. Woodmore called the class to order, and she turned around.
“Liar,” murmured Natalia, quietly enough so that no one else could hear it.
“Maybe a little,” Rose whispered back. As she turned her attention back to Hagrid, she saw Malfoy, his hair flaming red, staring at her with his eyes narrowed.
She gave him an innocent smile and looking away, fighting the urge to giggle. She had no idea how she was going to pay attention in history of magic later.
After the lesson, which had ended up being about bowtruckles, she made a show of rummaging through her bag for something and waved their friends ahead. “I’ll catch up with you,” she called. Natalia stood next to her until she straightened and slung her bag unto her shoulder, and they both waved goodbye to Hagrid and Professor Woodmore.
“Tell me the truth,” Talia said, fixing her with a look. “I know you all too well for that.”
Rose smiled. “Okay, yeah, it was James and Roxanne.”
Talia laughed. “But you all have plausible deniability?”
Talia put her arm through Rose’s. “I won’t betray your secret.” They walked arm in arm for a moment, and she asked, “Any reason why?”
“He was a jerk last night when I was in the library with him and Albus.” She shook her head. “He called me a coward and said that I was a conceited snob.” She paused, and then added, “And he kept calling me ‘Red.’ And ‘Cherry.’”
Talia made a face. “You’re kidding me.”
This was exactly why Rose liked Natalia so much. They could always count on each other for backup. “Come on, let’s get some lunch.”
She was on her way to Ancient Runes later that day when she heard someone talking in a very agitated way. She peered around the corner, and saw Malfoy and Albus walking toward her. She hurried past the roped off section of swamp in the corridor and ducked behind a portrait to the secret passage concealed by it, crossing her fingers that they’d stop near it.
They did. Her grandmother had always said that eavesdroppers never heard anything they wanted to hear, but she didn’t care what she heard, so surely that wouldn’t hold true. She was dying of curiosity.
“Look, I know you said she was with you the whole morning,” Malfoy was saying, “but seriously, do you really believe that she didn’t have anything to do with it?”
Al sighed. “Honestly? No. I don’t really believe that. But she was with me, so unless someone admits it, she has what she loves to call ‘plausible deniability.’ And you don’t know that it was her.”
“Oh, please,” Malfoy said disgustedly. “Someone jinxes my hair red less than twenty-four hours after I start calling her ‘Red’?”
“Yeah, why was that again?” Al asked, his voice taking on a bit of an edge.
Malfoy clearly saw that he was entering dangerous waters, because he took a minute to answer. “Well, she calls me ‘Malfoy’ all the time, and I can’t just call her Weasley. There are half a dozen Weasleys at this school.”
“So you just decided on ‘Red’?” Albus sounded somewhat mollified.
Malfoy hesitated for a second, and then said, “Yep.”
“You really don’t like her, do you?”
“Not at all,” Malfoy admitted, after a moment. “Sorry.”
“Why? She’s my favourite cousin—not that that’s a reason for you to like her, but she’s a very nice person, really.”
There was a moment of silence, and Malfoy said, “Look. You’re one of my best friends. I don’t want to offend you.”
“But, well…” he paused again. “Look, some of your family is perfectly nice, but…”
“What?” Rose could hear Albus slide his bag down onto the floor. “Just spit it out. There’s no one around.”
Malfoy sighed. “Look, it’s just… honestly? You and Lily, and maybe her brother excepted, all the Weasleys who have ended up in Gryffindor have been arrogant, self-satisfied prats.”
“I know it looks that way, but—”
Malfoy cut him off. “Do you want me to finish?”
Al sighed. “Go ahead. Am I allowed to disagree afterward?”
“Sure.” Malfoy sighed again, started to say something, paused, and started again. Rose could practically feel the awkwardness of the situation oozing through the portrait. “Damn, Al. I know they’re family, I know you have to love them, but your brother? Roxanne? Red? They all strut around this school like they own it, along with Thomas and Jordan. Maybe your sister and her friend, the other chaser, just haven’t caught it yet, but the rest of your Quidditch team seems to think that being smart and good at sports makes them God’s gift to the school. To the world.”
“Rose isn’t really part of that group,” Albus said slowly. Rose rolled her eyes. She wasn’t sure who he thought he was fooling with that. Of course she was. “She’s on the team with them and all, sure, but…”
“Oh, don’t give me that,” snapped Malfoy. “She might be one of your best friends, but she spends a lot of time with them, too. Are you really telling me that she doesn’t?”
Al sighed. “No, I’m not.”
“Who’s her favourite cousin, apart from you?” Malfoy pressed.
“James,” Albus admitted after a minute.
“It’s not just Quidditch. She seems to be with them whenever you’re off with your friends who she doesn’t approve of, which is everyone who’s not in Gryffindor—”
Rose scowled as Albus interrupted. “That’s not really fair. She’s got a lot of friends in Hufflepuff, too.” Malfoy gave a disgusted snort, and Albus sighed again. “Go on.”
“Look. I don’t like the five of them. I just don’t. They’re all great Quidditch players. Okay, we get that. They’ve been on the team for years. In that time, we’ve all kind of noticed that they’re good players. If we hadn’t, their holding onto the cup for that long might have tipped us off.” Malfoy was clearly getting agitated. “That doesn’t mean they have to swagger all over the school like they own it.”
He must have looked at Albus, because Al said, in a very tired voice, “Keep going.”
“They’re all…” he made a disgusted noise. “Well, for all the pranks they pull, and despite all the Quidditch practices they have, they’re all still at the top of their classes, and none of them have easy courseloads. How many N.E.W.T.s are they each taking? Six? Seven?”
“Rose isn’t taking any, yet,” Albus said. Rose felt that as a defense, this was lacking, especially since Malfoy was definitely overestimating all of their abilities except maybe Roxanne’s.
“Yeah, well, she’ll get all O’s on her O.W.L.s, and next year she’ll be doing the same thing.” She could hear Malfoy slide down against the wall, and heard Albus sit next to him. She looked at her watch. Class started in a few minutes, and there was no way she was going to make it on time unless she left right now.
She didn’t move. This was far too interesting.
“I don’t know,” she heard Malfoy say. “I don’t like any of them. Maybe the fact that I actually have to see her more often and deal with her beating me in almost every subject makes me like her even less. She’s a bitch regardless, though.” Albus didn’t say anything. She was starting to get distinctly annoyed with his lack of defense when she heard Malfoy say, “You can stop shutting up, now,” in a wry tone of voice.
“Are you sure that’s it?” Al asked.
Malfoy sighed again, and she could hear him shift a little. “No. I’m sure that’s not it. It’s just harder to put the rest of it into words.”
“You think she’s hot, don’t you.” Despite the wording, Rose could tell it wasn’t really a question. She winced. Awkward situations like this made her feel embarrassed even if she was just observing them.
There was another pause, and Malfoy said, in a strained sort of voice, “Was it that obvious?”
“This summer? A bit, yes.”
Rose felt her face getting warm. When her mother and father had gone to Brazil that summer, they’d left her and her brother with the Potters. James had been gone for most of the time she was there, so it was a relatively subdued stay, and she’d had a perfectly good time even with Malfoy visiting at the same time. Mostly, she’d just ignored him. She had assumed he was likewise ignoring her, but apparently, that had not been the case. She almost wanted to escape to class, whatever she would be missing. She hated this level of awkward, and had not really expected the conversation to take this turn.
“Why didn’t you say something?” Malfoy asked, sounding a little irritated.
Albus laughed. “Say what? ‘Hey, Scorpius, I thought you hated Rose, but now you can’t seem to concentrate on a word I say because you’re too busy staring at her.’ Would you have even admitted it?”
“Probably not,” Malfoy admitted. “I wasn’t that bad. Was I?” he asked uncertainly.
“No, you weren’t,” Albus assured him. “I thought I was imagining it for the first few days.”
“What convinced you that you weren’t?” Malfoy asked curiously.
“I kept having to repeat myself.” Rose could tell that her cousin was barely containing his laughter.
“Sorry.” To her surprise, Malfoy did actually sound sorry. She supposed she shouldn’t be; he was a git, but at least as far as she’d observed, he wasn’t a bad friend. Albus certainly seemed to like him, for reasons Rose was sure she would never understand.
“It was a little irritating,” Albus said after a moment. “But I figured it was probably much worse for you than it was for me.”
Malfoy groaned. “Yes. Yes it was. I don’t have any desire to be with her, you know,” he said. “She opens her mouth and I want to punch her.”
“Please don’t,” said Albus. “She is my favourite cousin. I’d have to punch you back.”
“Honestly, that worries me less than what she’d do.” Despite the discomfort she was feeling from the rest of the conversation, Rose found herself smirking.
“With good reason. Can I say what I’m thinking now?” Al asked. Malfoy must have nodded, because he continued. “Look. I’m not touching any of your issues with Rose with a ten foot pole.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Malfoy snapped. “I don’t have—”
“Oh, shut up,” Albus said tiredly. “Yes, you do. I don’t know why, but yes, you do.” Rose was expecting Malfoy to fight back, and was rather surprised when he didn’t say anything and let Albus continue. “Look, I’m not saying that what you’re saying about them isn’t true. I just think that you’re seeing them in the worst possible light. I don’t know Marion or Tyler all that well, but I do know my brother. He can be arrogant, yes, but he’s also really a fundamentally good person. Mostly, he’s just fooling around. Roxanne’s kind of the same way. I don’t think either of them takes very much very seriously.”
He paused, and Malfoy prompted him. “And Rose?”
Albus sighed. “Rosie is… look, honestly? She is a good person. She can be pretty judgmental, and she’s got a bit of a temper, and she can be a little arrogant and, okay, even vindictive sometimes, but she really is a fun person to be around.” Rose was just starting to feel rather irritated at this lackluster defense when Albus added, “She’s one of my favourite people in the world.”
Her irritation vanished, and she was possessed with the sudden urge to hug her cousin.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Malfoy said skeptically, and she could hear him get up. He laughed. “It’s probably better for us all if I don’t see that side of her. If it even exists.”
Albus got up, too. “Yeah, well. I’m so tempted to skive off Divination, we’re going to be late, anyway.”
“Why did we let Noah convince us to take this stupid subject, again?” Malfoy asked, and she could hear them walking away. “We should go, though.”
Albus gave a very unenthusiastic, “I guess,” and their voices faded away.
Rose groaned. If they were going to be late, she definitely was. She ran to class, murmuring an apology when she walked in several minutes late. She pushed the conversation she’d heard out of her mind; she needed to concentrate on class.
She’d nearly forgotten it by the time she entered history of magic almost two hours later, but seeing Malfoy with his bright red hair and Albus sitting in the back of the room playing hangman brought it back. She could feel her ears go red.
Malfoy looked up, and called, “Hey, Red! When’s our next family reunion?”
Several people laughed. Rose gave him a withering glare, and sat down in the front row. She could feel her face getting warm, Malfoy saying ‘Was it that obvious?’ ran through her head again. She was very glad that class was starting and that Professor Binns was clearly too detached from the world to notice.
Very soon, she was too detached to feel much of anything. Nothing could make this class anything but dull, and especially when she had it at the end of the day like this, Binns had a talent for making her want to go to sleep. Today even goblin rebellions seemed dull, and she could usually manage to pay some attention to them. Rose made a mental note to ask Lucy for her notes.
When class had finally ended, she waited for Albus at the door. “I should get some work done before dinner. Keep me company?”
Albus looked at Malfoy. “We were actually headed for the library now,” he said, hesitantly. “You’re welcome to join us, though.”
Malfoy forced a smile onto his face. “Any friend of Al’s is… someone I will do my best to tolerate.”
Rose stared at him for a moment, and then laughed. He looked a little taken aback. “Sure, Al, I’d love to.”
They passed by the portrait covering the other end of the secret passage she’d been hiding in a few hours before, and she stopped, feeling suddenly very devious.
“What?” asked Al, stopping with her.
“Oh, just a shortcut,” she said breezily. “Haven’t you ever used it? It’s very convenient. Fred found it his third week here, and he showed it to James and Roxanne, and they showed it to me. Were you not there?”
Albus shook his head, and he and Malfoy looked at each other and shrugged. “Lead the way,” Malfoy said.
She was glad for the bad lighting; it gave her a chance to compose herself before they exited through the second portrait.
Rose pushed it aside and walked out into the corridor. She saw Albus and Malfoy look around, and then look at each other. Malfoy’s face looked even paler than usual—or maybe that was just the hair.
She looked at them, smiling in what she hoped was a carefree manner. “See? It’s really useful, isn’t it?”
Malfoy’s eyes flicked to Albus, and then back to her. “Yeah, it is. You use it a lot?”
“Oh, all the time,” she said, cheerfully. “I was running late to ancient runes today, actually, and it saved me.”
Malfoy’s face definitely looked paler, and Albus was beginning to look uncomfortable. “Rosie, what are you saying?” he asked carefully.
Rose shrugged. “Nothing. Just that it’s a useful passage.” She frowned. “Why? What did you think I was saying?”
Albus shook his head. “Nothing.”
She smiled, and turned toward the library, flipping her hair back. After a moment, they both followed her. She felt very pleased with her acting abilities just then.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Thanks so much for reading, and if you have a moment, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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