Chapter 21 : twenty-one
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I stared at Carlotta horrifically.
“They take a passing interest in my life from time to time, you know. And Flick – my housemate – has mentioned you to them.”
“Oh, don’t worry, they know it’s nothing serious,” she added. “But they’re nosy. Really nosy.”
We were playing wizard’s chess. Wizard’s chess. Of all the things we could be doing on a Monday evening, playing bloody chess certainly wouldn’t be in my top ten. But Carlotta had some ridiculous fascination with the pieces, so I had no choice. Most irritatingly, they seemed to like her more than they did me.
“I’ve met your entire family,” she pointed out. “Turnabout is fair play, I’d say. And besides, you’re getting off scot-free here; most of my extended family live in Spain. You’ve only got my parents to worry about. Oh, and my brother and sister, of course, but they’re harmless.”
I was still gazing at her in shock, only half-aware that the black rook was getting irritated with its position on the board and loudly conveying its eagerness to move.
“My family,” she confirmed. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll survive the ordeal. You’re free on Saturday, right? They’re coming for lunch, you can join us.”
“Marvellous,” she beamed. “Oh, and by the way, I’ve told them you play football, so you might want to brush up on your sporting knowledge there. They’re not massive fans but they might notice if you know absolutely nothing about the sport you play.” She shot me a cheeky wink. “Your rook looks like it’s about to spontaneously combust, by the way.”
My retort – and indeed my next chess move – was interrupted by Albus falling out of the hearth onto my rug. He brushed the ashes off himself and looked around the room, an intriguing combination of shock and anger on his face. Then his eyes fell on me and a look of mild surprise crossed his face.
“What on earth’s up with you?” I asked, confused.
“Scorpius Malfoy, that’s what’s up!” he exploded.
“She’s been seeing him! Rose has been seeing Scorpius Malfoy! Behind our backs! Scorpius Malfoy!”
I suppressed a groan.
“I can’t believe this.” He began pacing up and down the room. “Malfoy! I thought better of her than this! And she wasn’t even ashamed when I caught them!”
“Whoa – you didn’t walk in on them-”
“No, they weren’t doing anything. They were watching television, would you believe? Scorpius Malfoy, watching television!” He let out a short, slightly hysterical laugh. “I can’t believe this!”
I had to hide a smirk. Despite the seriousness of the situation, I couldn’t help finding it amusing – Rose’s worry about his reaction had been entirely well-founded.
“I’m missing the issue here,” I said. “So she’s seeing him. What’s so wrong with that?”
He stared at me as though I’d just told him that I was retiring from Quidditch.
“What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong – he’s a Malfoy, James! Look at where he comes from! Who his parents are! His dad hates ours, and Rose’s – he was a Death Eater! I – his granddad! His granddad did horrendous things! He killed Muggles! He was-”
“His grandmother saved Dad’s life,” I reminded him quietly.
“I – only to save her own stinking skin! That doesn’t redeem what they’ve done-”
“Al, do you think you’re like Dad?”
“I – what?”
“Do you think you’re like Dad?”
If he’d been calmer, he’d have noticed the trap. As it was, he was too worked up, and he walked right into it.
“Well, in some ways, I guess, but I’m not completely like him-”
“Do you like it when people compare you to him?”
“Of course not! I’m my own person, I’m not him-”
“Don’t you think Scorpius would say the same thing about his dad?”
He said nothing, but just stared at me, stunned.
“Of course you’re not Dad. Neither am I. And of course you don’t like being compared to him and what he’s done. Who would? Don’t you think it’s the same for Malfoy? In fact, he has it far worse than we do. At least our name isn’t tainted, at least there’s a good association with the name Potter. He – and the whole family – have to live with a bad reputation. His dad and granddad have shown they’ve changed their ways; they’re not like that any longer. I know it doesn’t change what they’ve done, but they can’t take it back. All they can do is try to change people’s minds, and hope they’ll be recognised for something other than their sins. If we continue to judge them for the mistakes they’ve made, how can we move on from what’s happened? And to judge Scorpius, who hasn’t done anything, for what his dad and grandparents did before he was born ... look, that’s harsh, Al. I don’t mean to lecture you, because I’m really not that type of person – and I really don’t like how preachy this is getting – but so long as Rosie’s happy, surely that’s all that matters?”
It took him a while to find words.
“But ... he teased me, James! He teased me at school about my name-”
“Someone with the name Scorpius Hyperion really can’t take the piss out of someone else’s name, ridiculous as yours is. We said this at the time. And he soon stopped, didn’t he? You were both eleven, and we’re all idiots at eleven.”
He was clinging at straws, I could tell. And I wasn’t going to let him.
“Tell me you didn’t yell at her, Al...”
He looked sheepish.
“Well ... I was angry! I got back to find her cosying up to a Mal – a complete jackass! What do you expect?” He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “Do you, er ... do you think I should maybe apologise to her?”
“It might be an idea,” I suggested. “What did you say to him?”
“I didn’t have the chance to get much out before he left,” Al confessed. “I, er ... I think he got the gist, though.” He shifted on his feet slightly. “Do you reckon she’ll have calmed down yet?”
“This is Rose we’re talking about. She’ll be mad for days. The longer you leave it, the more imaginative her spells will be when you try to approach her. You’re best catching her now, when Langlock is her best weapon.”
He winced at the thought.
“Good luck,” I added with a cheeky grin, just before he Disapparated, looking anxious.
I turned back to Carlotta and our neglected chess game. My grin faltered as I saw the look on her face.
“What did he mean about killing Muggles?”
I frowned, and the smile slid from my face.
“Al was talking about someone, he said he killed Muggles. What did he mean?”
I felt my stomach contract as I recalled his comment.
“I – it’s nothing, really-”
“Al didn’t seem to think it was nothing,” she said coolly. “James, if you’ve been keeping something from me-”
“I’ve not been keeping anything from you!” I cried.
“Well then, you can tell me what Albus was talking about,” she said firmly, folding her arms.
I sighed heavily, and ran my hands through my hair.
“Look, this was nearly thirty years ago, it’s not relevant-”
“In which case there’s no point in hiding it from me.”
I took a deep breath, and silently cursed Al for the trouble he’d gotten me into.
“Okay. So there was this wizard...” I paused, realising that I’d have to start further back than that. “There ... there used to be this prejudice. In recent years it’s diminished; it’s really frowned upon to make these thoughts public now. But it used to be more of an issue. There were some people who thought that having magic made them better than people who didn’t. They were generally purebloods – that’s what we call people whose families are completely magical. Mum’s family is a pureblood family, though they’ve never shared that opinion. You get different types of witch and wizard, you see. Some magical people come from two Muggle parents. Nobody knows how it happens; it’s as mystifying as Squibs like Lily existing. My Aunt Hermione is a Muggleborn. People who are a mixture are half-bloods. Dad’s a half-blood; his dad’s family was a pureblood family but his mum was a Muggleborn, so Dad’s a half-blood, and so am I.
“People don’t tend to give a damn about this any more, because most people don’t care what blood you have. But it used to be an issue, because some people used to discriminate against Muggles, and wizarding people who had Muggle blood or associated with them like Mum’s family. There was one wizard who ... well, he went bad. He started gaining power – this was about seventy years ago now. He gathered followers, and when he was strong enough, he stepped his campaign up. At first, it was just Muggles, and then it was Muggle-borns too, and then anyone who had Muggle sympathies. He was sort of defeated, when Dad was one, but then he came back, when Dad was fifteen. He was defeated for good a few years later, and his followers were all dealt with too. So ... it’s all okay now. It’s not an issue any more.”
She didn’t look impressed.
“And this guy ... your cousin’s fellow...”
“His Dad and grandparents used to have those views too. They were quite ... involved. But they redeemed themselves, that’s the point. They’re not like that any more. And to judge Scorpius for it is unfair.”
She didn’t seem appeased.
“So, your kind used to kill my kind.”
“Well, when you put it like that...”
“It’s the truth, though, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not! Because not all witches and wizards thought that! My family fought against him, they risked their lives doing it! It’s a ridiculous notion, that having magic makes you superior-”
“Fought? What, was this a war or something?”
“Yeah – didn’t I say that? People didn’t just let this guy get away with killing Muggles. They tried to stop him and his followers. And he wasn’t going to take that lying down, so he waged war against anyone who got in his way. And so ... and so they fought. And ... and people died. So ... that’s what Al’s problem is. He can’t see past what Malfoy’s family have done.”
It looked as though she was struggling to comprehend what I’d told her.
“What I don’t get,” she said slowly, “is why you didn’t tell me this in the first place. This ... this is relevant, James! I’m one of these Muggles, and if I’m going to mingle with magical people, then I need to know these things, don’t you think?”
“No, because it’s not relevant any more! These prejudices don’t exist any more, people don’t discriminate against Muggles, they don’t bat an eyelid at non-magical people, because it doesn’t matter!”
“It does, though! It still happened! Did you think you could just get away with not telling me?”
“Well ... there was never an appropriate moment! Was I supposed to bring it up when I was first explaining magic to you? Levitating a glass of water scared you! It was hardly the right moment to explain how some elitist idiots used to persecute Muggles. And then ... it’s not exactly the kind of conversation you have over a drink, is it?”
“I just...” She chewed her lip. “I don’t like that you’ve kept something from me, that’s all.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, it’s just ... I guess I don’t want you to feel as though you can’t be around us, that’s all...”
Her expression softened, but she still didn’t look totally appeased.
“Your mum’s brother ... the one who you said died in an explosion ... it wasn’t an explosion, was it?”
“It was,” I said tentatively. “Part of a building exploded...”
“But it was a magical explosion?”
“It was in the last battle. This dark wizard died a few hours later...”
She closed her eyes, and buried her head in slightly trembling hands. She remained in that position for a few minutes, and I didn’t dare say anything else.
Finally, she raised her head.
“Is there anything else you haven’t told me?”
I thought about my grandparents, dead at twenty-one. I thought of my other namesake, Dad’s godfather, who was wrongly imprisoned for twelve years and then killed in action. I thought of Teddy, whose parents had been killed when he was only months old. I thought of Mum, possessed by Voldemort at the age of twelve; of Uncle Bill, scarred by a werewolf; of Grandpa Weasley, attacked by a venomous snake; of Albus, and the men he was named after; of Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione, who spent nearly a year on the run. I thought of Dad, and the prophecy, and the Horcruxes-
“No,” I said firmly. “There’s nothing else.”
Later that week, I found myself back inside Lily’s wardrobe.
I peered through the keyhole and saw she wasn’t in her room, but Maddie was sitting at her desk. I rapped sharply on the inside of the wardrobe door and waited for her trademark response.
“Come out!” she said with a grin. She sat up and spun round to face the wardrobe as I pushed the door open.
“You’re far too easily amused,” I said dryly.
“Got to get my kicks from somewhere. You here for Lily?”
“No, I was hoping to chat to Kit, actually.”
“Kit?” She looked at me, bewildered. “What on earth do you need Kit for?”
“Just need to ask him a question.”
“And I won’t do?”
She sounded hurt but her sustained grin said otherwise. Maddie had a thick skin; she didn’t get upset easily.
“You’re lucky; he’s here at the moment.”
“Whereabouts? With Lily, I’m guessing?”
“Look out the window.” She nodded towards it, then turned back to her desk.
I crossed to the window and, looking out of it, saw four figures on one of the nearby tennis courts.
“Why aren’t you out there with them?”
“I thought you knew about tennis, James? You can’t play with uneven numbers.”
“You know what I mean!”
“Work.” She gestured towards the books in front of her. “I’ve fallen behind in the past few weeks, what with all the hockey going on. Lily needed a break from her work though, she’s barely had any leisure time recently. She works herself to the bone, you know. It’s admirable but she needs some down time every now and again. So I told Kit to get his ass here, and I kicked her out to have a knock up with him.”
“But Lottie and Robbie are here too...”
“Yeah, that wasn’t in the script. They just rocked up. They’re never ones to turn down a game of tennis, so they joined in.”
“Has Lily gotten better?” I asked as I watched her. I wasn’t massively clued up about tennis, and quite frankly the scoring baffled me, but I did know that Lottie and Robbie were really good. The whole family seemed to be sickeningly good at all sports. If Maddie could fly then I wouldn’t bet against her being stupidly good at Quidditch too. But Lily seemed to be holding her own – in fact, she seemed to be bettering them.
“She’s been practicing a lot. Looking good, isn’t she? She wants to make the team this summer, and there are some good players coming up. And of course, she wants to be better than Rosalind.” She slammed her textbook shut. “Right, that’s me done. Bugger off outside for a minute. I need to change into my tennis gear.”
I stared at her in horror.
“Are you kidding? Rosalind’s out there! You’re throwing me to the dogs!”
“Well, you’ll just have to cross your fingers that she doesn’t leave her room then, won’t you?” She grinned evilly, and shoved me out into the corridor.
It was a nervy couple of minutes’ wait. Last time I’d come across Rosalind, she’d practically proposed marriage. It hadn’t been an enjoyable moment and I really didn’t fancy reliving it. Luckily Maddie didn’t take long to change, and thankfully nobody passed as I was waiting for her. She emerged from her room in her tennis dress, and one of my old Weasley jumpers over the top, and led me down the stairs to the court where the others were playing.
Kit looked relieved when we approached them.
“Thank god, now I can sit out,” he said, leaving the court.
“I’m not contagious, you know!” Lily told him, as she approached me to give me a hug. “What are you doing here? I wasn’t expecting a visit.”
“Do I need an excuse to see my favourite sister?” I raised an eyebrow, and hugged her back.
“You only visit if you want something these days, it seems.” She sounded affronted and made as if to hit me round the head with her tennis racket.
“Do you want to join in, James?” Lottie called from the other side of the net. “Kit can carry on; we could play three against three?”
“Na, I’m fine watching. I don’t play tennis,” I replied.
I headed back to where Kit had settled himself down at the side of the court.
“Are we carrying on, or starting from scratch?” Maddie asked from her stance on the same side of the net as Lily.
“Hang on, this isn’t fair! You two are better than we are!” Lottie cried indignantly.
“Fine. Robbie, swap.” Maddie walked round the net to the other side, and Robbie followed the orders and joined Lily. “There, does that even things up a bit for you? Except you really didn’t think this through, because now, instead of being against two girls, you have to face Robbie, and you know what his serve is like. Actually, this probably hasn’t evened things out for you at all-”
“Do I have to draw straws?” Kit called across to them in amusement.
“Oh, shush, Atkinson.” Maddie scowled, and hit a ball in our direction. He yelped, and dodged it. “You can keep score.”
Kit turned to me as Maddie served to begin the match.
“Is this just a fleeting visit, then?”
“I was hoping to chat to you, actually,” I replied.
He looked slightly confused. We’d always been friendly towards each other – aside from the period when he’d been hesitant to accept that Lily was from a magical family – but I’d never sought him out to speak to him before. For that matter, I’d never really needed to talk to Maddie either.
“No, it’s not about her.”
He looked bemused.
“Well ... is it guy stuff, then? I thought you went to Freddie with all of that...”
“Well, normally I do, but he doesn’t have the expertise that you do.”
The bemused expression deepened.
“I need you to teach me about football.”
A look of comprehension replaced the confusion.
“Ah. Something to do with Carlotta?”
“She’s having me meet her parents,” I said darkly.
The bemusement reappeared.
“Meet her parents? That sounds ... serious...”
“It’s not. She wants to get her own back for me throwing her at my entire family. Even though she was the one who wanted to see the Quidditch...”
He let out a laugh.
“She has got a point there. But why do you need to know about football?”
“She’s told her parents that I play football for a living. That’s what I told her when we first met. But I haven’t the slightest clue about it, aside from the fact that you kick a ball into a net, and I don’t know if that will hold up. I’m not sure how knowledgeable her family are.”
He pulled a face.
“I don’t know if I’m the ideal person to help you here. Football’s not really my thing; I’m more of a rugby person. Robbie might be able to help you more...”
“I can hardly ask him to teach me about football, can I? What would that seem like to him? From what I’ve gathered, nearly every Muggle bloke knows something about football.”
“Well, yes, that might seem a bit odd,” he conceded. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do. I’d say that you really need to know about the offside rule, that’s always a talking point...”
We were chatting for about twenty minutes before the others realised that Kit wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to scoring their game.
“Christopher!” Maddie said indignantly.
“You’re meant to be scoring!”
“I’m entertaining our guest,” he retorted, gesturing towards me.
She rolled her eyes in exasperation.
“It’s a good thing I’ve been keeping score, then; Lottie and I are two breaks up-”
“I don’t think so!” Robbie butted in. “I’ve been keeping score, and we’ve broken you!”
“No-” Lottie began.
“Alright, kids, break it up!” Kit called over to them. “I’ll start keeping score, you guys just play. Bloody siblings,” he muttered under his breath as they got back to playing. “They’re ridiculously competitive, those three. They’re a bad influence on Lily-”
“Are you kidding me? You didn’t grow up with her. Trust me, she’s already far too competitive for her own good, without needing their input. They probably all encourage each other.”
“Think yourself lucky you don’t have to spend all day, every day with them.”
“No, I’m sure a squad of professional Quidditch players can’t possibly be as overbearingly competitive as those two.”
We fell silent, and watched them play.
I mainly watched Lily, simply revelling in the fact she was enjoying herself so much. I did worry about her sometimes, though less now than I had back when we’d first found out that she was a Squib. She’d adapted ridiculously well right from the start, and truthfully all I worried about now was that she was doing too much. We all seemed to worry about that, but she wasn’t going to lighten her workload, especially not now she was so close to completing her studies, both Muggle and wizarding. It was definitely a relief to see her happily occupied away from her desk. Maddie was right; she did need breaks from her swotting.
During my school years, I’d spent a lot of time with Lily in the summers. It was a near guarantee that I’d bump into all of my cousins practically every day at Hogwarts. It was odd if I didn’t see them, as we all shared the same common room. But my only opportunities to see Lily were during the holidays, so Albus and I spent most of our time with her when we could, and by now I was ridiculously well-versed in interpreting her body language. It was mostly her sad moods I picked up on, because I’d always been on the lookout for those, worried at first that she wouldn’t enjoy life at a Muggle school. Of course, I’d soon realised that this worry was ill-founded; it hadn’t taken her long to become completely happy in the Muggle world.
But my experience meant I noticed her smile seemed that little bit wider now, her laugh that little bit louder, when she was talking to her tennis partner.
“Hey, Kit,” I murmured, “am I over-thinking things here, or does Lily have a thing for Robbie?”
He glanced at me, still trying to keep half an eye on their game.
“You’ve finally caught on, have you?”
“Yeah, I first noticed it a year or so ago. She’s not obvious with it, but when you’re around her that much, you pick it up.”
I nodded in agreement.
“But – a year? Well – have you talked to her about it?”
“Nope. I figured if she wants to talk, she’ll come to me about it. I’m not going to push her to say anything.”
Maddie was the ideal friend for Lily in many ways. But one thing she wasn’t was an emotional soundboard, someone for Lily to talk to about things. That was where Kit came in. From what I’d gathered, she went to him about nearly everything, so it surprised me that she hadn’t talked to him about this. It wasn’t so surprising he hadn’t raised the point; he wasn’t the type to intervene unless he thought he had to.. Clearly, here he didn’t deem it necessary. But-
“A year, and she’s not done anything about it?”
“I wonder if it’s because he’s Maddie’s brother, and she’s worried about what Mads will think.”
“Does Maddie not know?”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Of course not, she’s utterly obtuse when it comes to this kind of thing,” he said. “She keeps nagging Lily to ask him to be her prom date, too, which can’t help things-”
“She’s not asked him yet? But they were talking about this two months ago-”
He shrugged again.
“Beats me. I think she’s too scared to, personally. Scared of rejection. I don’t see why he’d say no, though; I mean, he clearly likes her well enough as a mate. Or maybe she doesn’t want him to take her if it’s only going to be as friends? I don’t know, I don’t like to dwell too hard on how girls’ minds work. I just watch from afar, keep an eye on her, make sure she’s okay. And at the moment, she seems fine. She’s a strong girl.”
I nodded in agreement. My eyes were still on her.
“She’s lucky to have you as a friend, you know,” I said.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught him pulling a face. I knew that he hadn’t forgiven himself for how he’d reacted when she’d told him about magic. She’d forgiven him entirely, and had put the matter out of her mind, but I could tell he felt he’d let her down, especially when Maddie had accepted it so easily and his own parents had known for years. It was part of the reason he tried so hard now to be there for her; he felt as though he owed it to her, to make up for letting her down.
We fell silent again, watching the game, but it didn’t last for much longer.
“Do you guys mind if I sit out?” Lottie said, at a convenient break. “I’m getting a bit knackered.”
“Oh, same,” Lily said. She looked slightly relieved, as though she’d been waiting for someone else to agree with her.
Maddie looked across the net at Robbie.
“Singles?” she suggested.
He nodded in agreement.
Lily and Lottie joined us at the side of the court, Lily throwing herself onto the ground in exhaustion.
“I am shattered,” she groaned.
“You’re unfit,” Kit teased.
“Sod off,” she growled.
Kit and Lottie headed off to beg food from his mother, allowing me and Lily to chat more openly, which I appreciated – for about five seconds.
“How are things going with Carlotta, then?” she asked.
I pulled a face and wished Kit and Lottie hadn’t left.
“Not so rosy.”
“What have you done?”
“Albus ... I don’t know if I should be telling you this, because Rose swore me to secrecy-”
“Have you found out about her and Scorpius?”
I blinked at her in surprise.
“Course I did. She told me when she first started seeing him.”
“And when was that?”
“Not long before Christmas. She told me not to tell you or Al. When did you find out?”
“I visited her a couple of months ago – it was just after Carlotta found out about magic, actually; I was hoping she’d help me – and he was round. She told me not to tell Albus, said he might take it badly. Well, he found out the other day. Turned up in a stonking rage, moaning because Scorpius’ granddad used to kill Muggles-”
“Oh, what an idiot,” she groaned, rolling her eyes. “I knew he’d be like this. He shouldn’t judge Scorpius for what his family did-”
“Yeah, I know that, and I told him as much. Unfortunately, he picked a time Carlotta was around for his routine ‘The Malfoy family persecuted Muggles’ rant.”
She groaned again.
“I told you that you should have told her earlier! It’s not as though you could avoid the subject topic forever-”
“I know, and I wasn’t trying to avoid it! It’s just ... there was never a convenient moment to tell her that some of our kind used to persecute hers, you know? And then Albus decided to go off on one again...”
“Enough about Al. What did she say?”
“Well ... she wasn’t best pleased. But I think I managed the situation well...”
“I’m not sure I trust your judgement on that,” she said dryly.
“Well, I told her that our family fought against Voldemort, and that this all happened before we were born and that people didn’t persecute Muggles these days, and she seemed pacified...”
“You told her everything she needs to know?”
“Yeah. I told her everything she needs to know.”
She looked satisfied. I wondered whether to bring up the situation with her and Robbie, but then Maddie threw herself down onto the ground next to us, looking as though she’d barely broken into a sweat, and effectively decided the issue for me.
“Where are the others?” Robbie asked, standing over us.
“Gone to beg Mrs A for some food,” Lily said lazily.
“That sounds like a good idea.” He grinned, and headed off to find them.
“Bring us something back, Robbo!” Maddie called after him.
“Oh!” I said, suddenly remembering. “You’ll never believe this. Cato’s taking Brie out on a date on Saturday.”
“Really? How does Freddie feel about that?” Lily asked.
“I don’t think he knows yet. And I’m not going to be the person to tell him.”
“I wouldn’t think that Brigid was his type,” Maddie said, an unreadable expression on her face.
“Why not?” I frowned.
“Well, she seems a bit ... uptight...”
“Only because Freddie’s been an idiot,” Lily chipped in. “I think it’s a good thing! She’s finally moving on from Freddie, and she deserves to have a bit of fun. She probably won’t end up with Cato forever, but there’s no reason why she can’t go on one date with him.”
“So long as he doesn’t mess her about,” I said in my most threatening voice.
“What are you going to do, throw your pygmy puff at him?”
I elbowed her, and she squirmed, squealing.
“It sounds like someone’s dying back here!”
Kit was heading towards us, with some bags of crisps.
“Come to save me, have you?” She grinned, and sat up.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” he replied, and threw one of the packets at her. She tutted as she caught it, and shook her head.
“Honestly, what kind of a friend are you?”
I found myself smiling, as I watched her interacting with Kit and Maddie.
She’d be fine. I knew she would be.
She always was.
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