Chapter 15 : New Faces and New Places
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I had already made plans with Mandy to stay with her for Easter, although I had not discussed it yet with my family. I figured it would be fine; I had visited Mandy for half of two previous Easter holidays. Mandy’s parents loved having me over and almost treated me like a second daughter. And they were so interesting – especially her father, who was a Muggle and loved everything to do with magic.
After class that morning I wrote back to Nathan.
Thanks for your letter, it’s great to hear from you again! I was actually planning to stay with my friend Mandy for the first half of the holiday, but I’ll be home for the second week! And we can play Quidditch with the neighbours and I can amaze you with how much better I’ve gotten. Hope work is treating you well, can’t wait to see you!
As I put down my quill, I decided it would probably be a good idea to ask my parents if I could actually stay at Mandy’s for the first half of the Easter holiday. I wrote them a quick letter, tied it together with Nathan’s, and set off for the Owlery which was at the top of the West Tower.
The Owlery was a drafty, circular stone room whose floor was covered in straw, occasional owl pellets and feathers. After I opened the door, I whistled for Mercury, my tawny owl, and he fluttered down from one of the highest rafters. I tied the thick scroll on to his leg, and he took off out the large open window. When he left I stayed for a few more minutes staring out the window watching him go.
Life was relatively normal the rest of the day, but the next day brought absurdity at its best. It was April Fool’s Day, and everyone had to watch out in the halls because tricks abounded, but I was unfortunately unaware of the date as I walked up to the Great Hall that morning for breakfast. I met up with Remus, who informed me that Potions was meeting outside today to collect ingredients for our potion. Lily backed him up on it – and she wasn’t the type to play practical jokes, but I wasn’t even thinking of that as I didn’t remember what day it was. When I walked outside, my shoes were turned to stone by a fifth-year Gryffindor I didn’t know, who then hurried inside laughing.
I groaned as I finally realised what day it was, and it dawned on me that under no circumstances would it make sense for Potions to be outside. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to fix my shoes, and I couldn’t walk in them, so I got my feet out and left my shoes there as little stone statues outside. The ground was muddy so I took off my socks too before going back inside. As I approached the Potions dungeon, I saw Sirius, James, Peter, and Remus hurrying into the classroom, evidently having just created a disaster somewhere else. “All right Hastings?” asked Sirius, grinning as he saw me running down the hall barefoot and carrying my socks.
It was better than being late for Transfiguration, I supposed, but I still lost Slytherin a few points for coming to class late and without shoes. I rushed over to my table and rummaged around in my bag for Advanced Potion-Making while Slughorn talked about the potion we were to be making today. When I had finally got the book out and turned it to the right page, everyone was up again collecting ingredients from the cabinet. I walked over and got in line behind Remus, who asked me, “Why were you late? Something hold you up?” He grinned, and I punched his arm.
“I can’t believe I fell for that. I couldn’t remember what day it was!” I griped.
“How did you lose your shoes?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I laughed.
After class I went back outside to try and fix my shoes again, was unsuccessful, and shortly after I came back inside, I ran into Professor McGonagall, who took away more points from Slytherin for my running around barefoot and tracking muddy footprints all over the entrance hall. The only bright side to this was that since she was the Transfiguration professor, she was able to fix my shoes – although rather begrudgingly, and after warning me to be more careful with them.
I walked into the bathroom and was about to go into a stall when a cheery voice stopped me. “Hastings!”
So I turned around, and in front of the mirror was Vanessa Saltz, a Ravenclaw girl with perfectly straight long blonde hair and what would have been a beautiful face if she didn’t have such an obviously fake smile plastered on it when she turned away from the mirror to face me. “Looking forward to the Easter holidays?”
I had no idea where this was leading – I had never spoken to her, and here she was making very contrived small talk. I figured I was in for something unpleasant though; Charlotte had mentioned her a few times as someone she strongly disliked. “Er… I suppose so…” I said. “Are you?”
“Aren’t you going to miss your boyfriend? How long have you been dating?” she asked, turning back to face the mirror and continue applying her make-up, and occasionally looking up at my reflection in the mirror.
“Just under two months. Do you know him?”
“I saw your game against Ravenclaw in the beginning of the year,” she interrupted. “And the way you fell off your broom… Is that why you’re dating Luke, to try and steal some Quidditch tactics from him? It’s okay, you can tell me.”
“No, it’s because we like each other,” I said, nonplussed. “I’m not even on the Quidditch team.”
“You mean you like him. I don’t think he’s ever mentioned you… I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t think he’s really into you.”
“Well I know him better than you do, so forgive me for not being shocked that he doesn’t talk with you about his relationships.”
Vanessa gave me a patronising glance in the mirror. “All right, if you say so. But I’m a Ravenclaw just like him, so I actually spend more time with him than you do… Even so, just look at it objectively. One day he’ll wake up and wonder what he’s been doing messing about with a Slytherin, when there are so many beautiful girls in Ravenclaw!” She flicked her hair behind her shoulder, and I just stared at her, open-mouthed. Real people behaved this way?
I abruptly turned around to leave and find a different bathroom so I wouldn’t have to keep talking to her, but unfortunately she had just finished fixing her make-up and followed me out. Luckily, I saw Charlotte and Hector nearby walking down the hall towards us. I looked back at Vanessa. “Er… okay. Why are you saying this rubbish to me again? I don’t think I’ve ever even spoken to you. Are you normally this mean, or is this an April Fool’s joke?”
“What nasty rumours are you starting this time?” asked Charlotte, having just met up with us and glaring at Vanessa.
Vanessa’s smile tightened. “You know, I’m not completely deaf to what’s happening out there,” she said sharply, all false charm gone from her tone. “Everything with You-Know-Who and all these Dark wizards – I hear they were all Slytherins when they were here at Hogwarts. And aren’t you Slytherins all into that stuff? I don’t need to make things up, your house doesn’t exactly have a golden reputation, does it?”
I could only stare, speechless. And while I wasn’t unaware of the reputation of Slytherin House among the others, it still hurt to hear it said so bluntly, and I took the offence personally.
“Who the hell does she think she is?” Hector asked loudly, still well within earshot of Vanessa. “What a troll.”
Charlotte responded, “She is one of the rudest people I have ever had the misfortune to know. Her life’s purpose is to make other people’s lives hell and to spread hurtful lies about everyone. She’s quite a gossip, but rather than just passing interesting true things around, as I do, she makes things up. The problem is that people believe her sometimes. I got into a fight with her in third year, I don’t know if you remember; I had just left Divination and she was telling false stories about me so I gave her a little taste of her own medicine and told everyone that her life goal is to be a little lying, conniving strumpet just like her mother.”
Hector and I burst out laughing. “From what I can tell, she’s doing a great job of it so far,” said Hector. “So what was she trying to attack you for, Melanie?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “She was attempting to convince me that Luke isn’t actually interested in me. Maybe she likes him and she’s jealous or something… I don’t know. It was a very weird interaction.”
Charlotte shook her head. “From what I can tell she’s nice if you get on her good side or treat her like she’s a queen. Unfortunately, being Slytherins, we are already on her bad side. Sorry Mel – I don’t think you’ve seen the last of her, she’ll probably be after you now. I reckon she didn’t like you much.”
On Sunday almost everyone I knew was in Hogsmeade taking practice sessions for the upcoming Apparition Test, which would be after the Easter holidays. I walked to the library alone with my half-completed diagrams of the odd-looking rare Mimbulus mimbletonia and Screechsnap bushes for Herbology.
I walked up to a bookshelf and withdrew several books with useful diagrams and explanations. As I looked for a table, I heard Vanessa Saltz’s voice call my name behind me.
I turned around, and there she was, surrounded by a group of her friends. “Go away,” I said, before she could say anything else. “I don’t want to talk with you, and I know you don’t like me, so let’s spare ourselves the misery of talking to each other.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Why are you being so rude? I just wanted to say hello.” Her friends giggled.
I spun around again and began to walk away. At the table nearest me, sitting alone, was the curly-haired blonde Hufflepuff with whom Mulciber had tried the Imperius Curse about a month ago. She looked down at her textbook as soon as I met her eyes.
I walked over to her table and she turned in her chair so she was no longer facing me, pulling the textbook up in front of her face. “Are you hiding from me?” I asked accusingly, still irritated from talking to Vanessa. “I haven’t done anything to you.”
She didn’t answer, and resolutely held Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charmes in front of her as if it would make her disappear.
“Just so you know,” I said, “I didn’t use the Imperius Curse on you. That was Calvin Mulciber, and I was only there because I tried to get him to stop.”
She finally set down her book and looked at me. “I believe you.”
“What?” I was startled. “Really?”
“Of course, why should I not?” she asked quietly. “You weren’t lying, were you?”
“No… I just thought you would need a lot more convincing. I am a Slytherin after all. I didn’t think you’d trust me.”
“I know not all Slytherins are the same. And you’re talking to me nicely and not calling me ‘Mudblood’, so you seem all right to me.” I was thankful for her to be so accepting and trusting of me even though there was no logical reason for her to believe me. “Aren’t you a sixth year?” she asked. “Why aren’t you in Hogsmeade taking Apparition lessons?”
“I can’t take the test, it’s before I turn seventeen. So I’m here, drawing and discussing a Mimbulus mimbletonia for Herbology while everyone else Apparates all over Hogsmeade… Do you mind if I sit down?”
“Not at all,” she said, and slid aside some large tomes to make a space for me. We introduced ourselves as I got out my parchment, quill and ink – her name was Althea Seward, and she was Muggle-born. Her parents had considered not sending her to Hogwarts when she had gotten her letter because they were so uncomfortable and shocked by the fact that magic existed, but had eventually relented and were now proud of having a witch for a daughter. “And they considered not sending me back again when I told them about You-Know-Who. They were concerned I wouldn’t be safe at school. But I said Hogwarts is very safe.”
“Wow,” I said. “I can’t imagine what it was like finding out about the wizarding world from a letter!” I’d heard a similar story from Lily Evans on the Hogwarts Express first year, but she’d had a very different reaction from her parents; they had been thrilled rather than cautious. But either way, I’d grown up in the wizarding world, wanting to go to Hogwarts. It was just unreal to me, the idea of knowing nothing about it until the letter. “I wonder if there are any people whose parents actually don’t let them go at all… You’d find out the wizarding world exists but then never get to learn about it!”
“Yeah. I’m glad that didn’t happen to me.” She looked at the book in front of her as if just realising it was there. “Oh, I’m sorry… this has been fun, but I need to get back to work!”
“That’s all right,” I said, and began to label my Screechsnap diagram.
“Do you think I’d be allowed to practice in the library? Just quiet things like the Colour-Changing Charm… do you think it’d be all right?”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” I said. I looked up facts about Screechsnap and Althea practised the Colour-Changing Charm on a book, but wasn’t getting very far – it only changed to a lighter shade of its original brown. I suggested starting with smaller things like quills, which worked well for her, until she’d mastered that and moved onto the book again.
“This is so rebellious,” she whispered to me at one point, her eyes lit up with excitement. “This is a library book!”
At this point, Madame Pince, the librarian, saw the now yellow book and ordered us out of the library, saying she’d had enough of me ruining books. I had never ruined a book, but I supposed she remembered the time Hector had ripped a page out of a Divination book.
We started to walk away, but after Madame Pince had gone, Althea and I simply went to a different table. She immediately spread her books and parchment over the table again; I, being far less motivated than she was, decided I was actually done for the day. I bid Althea good-bye, wishing her good luck studying for her O.W.L.s, and went to check out Native Assyrian Plants and Vociferous Vegetation.
As I collected my books after checking them out, I heard Remus’s voice calling my name. I turned around, and the four Gryffindor boys were walking towards me. “Hey,” said Remus. “What are you up to? We just got back from the Apparition session.”
I looked at my textbooks – all I’d actually done that day was draw and label a Screechsnap plant. “Herbology,” I said. I turned to Sirius and James. “What are you doing in the library? I thought you avoided this place like spattergroit.”
“Got lost,” said Sirius, grinning.
Remus laughed. “I wanted to check out a few books, and we had all come in from Hogsmeade together; the library was on the way back so they came along.”
“How was Apparition today?”
“You didn’t miss much,” said James. “Splinching, falling over, the usual.” He had a very satisfied expression on his face, and didn’t seem like he was paying much attention to what he was saying.
“It must have really been some Apparition lesson – you’re grinning like an idiot,” I said.
“What?” said James.
“I don’t think I’m any more prepared for the Apparition Test than I was before,” said Peter.
“That’s all right, at least you can take the test in May,” I said.
Remus laughed, and then accurately sensing my feelings on the issue, said, “Think of it this way – you have extra time before you take it, so you will pass with flying colours whereas the rest of us who are taking it early have every possibility of failing it because we’re not prepared.”
“Thanks,” I laughed, rolling my eyes. “You always know the right thing to say… even though there isn’t a speck of truth in what you just said. Of course you’ll pass.”
We started walking out of the library together. It had been a long time since I’d played tricks on the Gryffindors, so as we turned to go our separate ways I nonverbally cast an invisible wall directly in front of them, and continued walking. I was very satisfied with myself, because I usually couldn’t do nonverbal magic. I heard a thud, and some swearing, and Sirius’s voice saying “Hastings!”
I turned around, trying to look innocent and puzzled, and not too impressed with myself. “What happened?” I asked in a voice that sounded too surprised. “Did you all lose your balance?”
“Yeah, funny, isn’t it? All of us at the same time, and you were right behind us,” said James as he stood up. “What a strange coincidence.”
“That was a pretty cool bit of magic, though,” said Remus, reaching out at where the invisible wall had been.
“You’re supposed to be on our side!” Sirius told him, and before I could get away he had cast a Slipping Jinx on me. I fell over and slid a few feet.
“Well that was uncalled for,” I said as I got up, trying not to laugh. “All that just because I was innocently standing nearby when you clumsily ran into a wall.” I picked up my bag from where it had fallen on the floor.
“What’s going on here?” asked Professor McGonagall’s voice. “Not fighting in the corridors, I hope?”
“Not at all, of course not,” I said, wondering how much she had seen before she arrived.
“Good,” said McGonagall, although she looked suspicious and waited for us all to leave before she continued walking.
Peter agreed. “We were just saying goodbye.” He threw an arm around me for good measure, and I threw one around Remus in turn until it turned into a big, silly group hug, with Sirius laughing in my ear and someone’s foot stepping on mine. Professor McGonagall shook her head and briskly strolled away, but I thought I saw the hint of a smile as she went.
I ran into my fellow Slytherins on my way back to the common room, and as they were going to dinner I joined them, still carrying my bag.
“News from today!” said Charlotte. “The most exciting thing you missed was Marlene McKinnon Apparating clear across town, but she left one ear behind. And Lily Evans and Lewis Ackerley broke up just after the lesson.” This last bit of information certainly explained why James had been so pleased when I’d run into him in the library – he’d never been particularly fond of Lewis.
Mandy turned to me. “Whatever did you do without us? Did you miss us? Merlin forbid, you did your homework,” she said, eyeing my bag.
“No, I didn’t miss you at all. I replaced you with a new friend.”
“Vanessa Saltz?” asked Charlotte.
“No, although I did run into her again. What did I do to deserve that?”
“Yeah I noticed she wasn’t in Hogsmeade,” said Charlotte. “My first thought was that she was too stupid to Apparate, or had filled her brain with so much rubbish about people that she couldn’t remember the practice session dates… but I suppose it could have been because she’s too young…”
I got a letter back from Nathan the next day at breakfast.
Mum and Dad are okay with you staying at your friend’s place for the first week. Remember before you get all high and mighty about your Quidditch skills, I taught you how to play Quidditch when you were about 4, so you could say it’s all really because of me. See you soon!
I laughed at his letter. I missed him, and found myself really happy to be going home for that second week – I hadn’t seen my family since the summer, what with spending Christmas at Hogwarts.
As such, because I was looking forward to the end of the week, that week seemed to drag on endlessly. As it neared the Saturday we’d be allowed to leave, Mandy was increasingly less inclined to do any work, being already in the mindset of the holidays. I, on the other hand, was more motivated than ever because I didn’t want to have any work to do over break.
I usually worked on assignments with Mandy, so as a compromise we alternated between frenzied study sessions in the library, and lolling out in the grass outside where it was finally getting sunny and warm. A few days that week I saw the Slytherin Quidditch team practicing, and that was usually the cue for us to go inside again and not think about how much fun they were having.
On Saturday evening, Mandy and I met her mother at King’s Cross in London. Mrs Macintosh looked just like Mandy, but a little taller and her hair was a darker shade of blonde. She hugged Mandy tightly, and then me, and then we set out for the house.
We got into the car – a Muggle car, but it had been expanded by magic so it was very comfortable. Mrs Macintosh started it by magic and left it to its own devices while we drove home, asking us about our term at school. The journey passed pleasantly, and eventually we reached the long gravel driveway to the house, which was a perfect white house with a gabled roof, a large front porch surrounded by a garden, and expansive lawn, shaded by a bushy oak tree. As the car pulled in, her golden retriever Chester ran up to greet us. Mandy opened the car door and Chester jumped in as we giggled and petted him. He was a very adorable, but stupid dog.
We took our trunks in and carried them upstairs. After I dropped off my things in the guest room, I went over to Mandy’s room. It was much the same as the last time I had seen it – decorated with both Muggle and wizard decorations. An old, cracked Sneakoscope sat atop an otherwise very neat bookshelf. On the wall was a large Chudley Cannons poster (the worst Quidditch team of all time, but Mandy wouldn’t hear a word against them), and a Muggle poster in psychedelic colours that read “Yes” at the top and pictured five Muggles with guitars and keyboards; as in all Muggle photos, the people were not moving, and I still had never really got used to things like that.
Mandy was my primary source for Muggle pop culture. Aside from my old friend Archie Summerby who had taught me Muggle folk music on guitar as we'd sat by the Hufflepuff common room, most of my Muggle music knowledge came from what Mandy introduced me to. Mandy and I had even tried to sneak out of Hogwarts one day at the beginning of fourth year to attend a Grateful Dead concert in London, but unfortunately, Slughorn didn’t believe that Mandy and I both had “family emergencies” that required us to be away from Hogwarts for the night. In retrospect, we should have said one of us was just going as moral support to the other’s family emergency.
She had also introduced me to the cinema, which was like watching a large photograph for a couple of hours but more interesting and it told a story. Muggles could really think of some ingenious things! The best part about going to the cinema was pretending to be Muggles for a few hours: using Muggle money, and talking about Muggle things like electricity, football, and platform shoes. And Mandy had convinced me to read some Muggle literature, which I enjoyed. Mr Macintosh was always amused when we got overly excited about things like these, and loved our enthusiasm for them – but it went both ways, because I thought his constant amazement at magic was pretty entertaining.
I had always wondered if Mr Macintosh were jealous of Mandy and Mrs Macintosh’s ability to do magic, but it never seemed that he was; he was supportive of it and loved to learn about it. Tom Macintosh was really a lot like a big kid.
When we came back downstairs, Mrs Macintosh had started baking bread, and Mandy and I went to help in the kitchen. Mandy remembered that she could use magic at home now that she was seventeen, and was thrilled. It went a lot quicker that way, but she had to keep waiting for me to mix things by hand since I couldn’t do magic away from Hogwarts yet, as my birthday was not for another week and a half.
We remained in the kitchen talking with Mrs Macintosh while the bread baked, and a while later after we had taken it out, Mr Macintosh got home from work. He worked for the Muggle newspaper and Mrs Macintosh worked for the Daily Prophet, which I thought was cute. When he came in he hugged Mandy and me in greeting and then asked us about how our year was going at Hogwarts. He was delighted when Mandy informed him that she was allowed to do magic at home now.
Mandy pointed her wand at a large knife and then at the bread cooling on the counter, and the knife started slicing the bread – rather sloppily, cutting some thick slices and some so thin that they crumbled apart, until Mrs Macintosh took over the slicing and cut it into perfect, even slices. Mandy then said “Evanesco,” and Vanished a mess on the counter.
“That’s the greatest thing since self-slicing bread,” said Mr Macintosh, impressed. When Mandy continued to show off by turning the lights on and off and I could not join in the fun, I contented myself with examining the toaster, which was really a fascinating contraption.
Because Mandy’s mother was a witch and her father was a Muggle, the house had quite a few Muggle appliances powered by electricity. The house worked nicely for both wizards and Muggles, and I’d always found interesting things whenever I came to visit.
“Don’t lean over that when you’ve got the lever down, you’ll catch your hair on fire,” said Mandy. I leaned back and popped the toaster lever up again.
“Can you put out a fire with magic?” asked Mr Macintosh excitedly.
“Yes, but I’m not going to catch myself on fire just so Mandy can show you,” I said, grinning.
We passed the break very enjoyably, and since the weather was nice almost every day we spent a lot of time outside sitting under the big tree in the front garden. We also devoted a day to browsing Muggle shops in the city. Mr Macintosh even convinced us to spend one day on a long bike ride, which I found terrifying at first, being supported by just a narrow metal frame on wheels and no magic! But Mr Macintosh was patient with us, and we did fine, and ended the day without too many scrapes. I was certain Mandy had used a Balancing Charm on her bike though, because I fell quite a few more times than she did.
Halfway through the week, when Mandy and I were just sitting in her room, an owl flew in through her open window. I paid it little attention, thinking it was delivering a letter to Mandy, but it flapped over to me. I untied the letter from its leg and it took off again towards the window.
“Oooh, who is that from?” asked Mandy with interest, looking up.
I opened the letter. “It’s from Luke,” I said, recognising the handwriting. He wrote about how much he missed me, how he was waiting to get back to Hogwarts to see me again, and how with me not there to distract him, he’d been doing nothing but homework, and hoped I was having a good time. It was cute, but kind of boring.
I felt like I should write back, but I didn’t really want to. I’d had a great holiday, done no work, and actually hadn’t even thought about him very much. There was just nothing to say – we’d only been apart a few days and I hadn’t done anything worth writing about, except maybe the bike ride, which he would probably laugh at.
“Are you going to write back?” asked Mandy, noticing that I’d tossed Luke’s letter on the floor and was inspecting the record player instead.
“Erm… maybe later.”
“Don’t you miss him?” she asked. “After all that pining over him you did this past term, I’d think you would be a better girlfriend!”
“I wasn’t pining,” I laughed, but I didn’t answer her question – I had just realised that I didn’t really miss him. And then I started to overthink the situation, and our entire relationship. I had never argued with Luke. And he was funny, smart, a good listener, good at Quidditch, and not to mention handsome – in other words, the perfect guy. He was so perfect that I almost felt he was too perfect. As I thought about it, I was unsettled to realise my feelings for him were not what they had been; I was almost… bored… with our perfect relationship.
No, that couldn’t be possible; before we were together I had spent so long thinking about him and wondering if he liked me… now that we were together it should stay this way, right?
But I couldn’t help feeling that our relationship wasn’t everything I hoped it would be. Maybe since we’d only been dating for about two months, it was too early to tell… maybe it would get better.
“Mandy, when you were dating Ethan, did you get bored of him?” I blurted out. Mandy would be able to help me sort through my boy problems a lot easier than I could myself; she’d had many more boyfriends than I had. And I’d noticed through the years that she was much better at analyzing other people’s relationships than her own – maybe she had already figured out what was going on with Luke’s and my relationship.
“Er… I suppose… that’s why I dumped him.”
“But you liked him for months before he asked you out, how long did it take before you got bored of him?”
“Well, a few weeks, but you have to remember that this was when we were fourteen. No relationship lasts long when you’re that age.”
“You stayed with him longer than a few weeks though.”
“Right, but it wasn’t really a relationship, by that point we were just together out of habit. What can I say, he was my first boyfriend.” She paused. “Are you bored of Luke or something?”
“No… well, maybe… I don’t know! I’m so confused. I like him a lot, and it’s not like there’s someone else, but I just…” I shrugged, unable to put my feelings into words.
She smiled knowingly. “That’s something only you can figure out.”
The last week of the holiday I spent at home, mainly just doing all the work I had put off during the first week. Nothing seemed radically different about any of my family, but still I wondered if the war was any more of a consideration than it used to be. But it was a nice time off, and I was ready to go back to Hogwarts. Mum Apparated me to the train, where I said goodbye to her and met up with my friends once more.
Back at the castle, I found Luke pretty quickly. I saw him from a distance down the hall and he grinned and started walking over to me. I thought briefly about my conversation with Mandy over the Easter holidays as I approached him, but pushed my doubts out of my mind. After all, I wasn’t interested in anyone else, and I was happy with him, so I ran to greet him.
A/N: Thanks for reading! I'd love to know what you think, if you feel like leaving a review in that little box there! :)
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