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Chapter 22 : Paper Doll
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“Put down that book, Doll. You’ll go cross-eyed.”
Vivian snatched ‘Practical Defensive Magic and Its Use Against the Dark Arts: Volume III’ from Dollie’s hands and for added measure stuffed it down her own trousers. Dollie’s neck creaked as she raised her head, her vision blurred and taking time to adjust to the dimly lit corridors. She had been memorising the moving colour illustrations in the book of the various counter-jinxes and hexes that it illustrated.
Noticing the new bulge in Vivian’s crotch, Dollie rolled her eyes.
“I’m not afraid to stick my hand in. I’m well-acquainted with what’s down there.”
“You wouldn’t,” said Vivian.
“Fair warning,” replied Dollie with a twisted smile.
Lily sighed, pained by the disrespect paid to the written word, even if it was merely a textbook.
“Honestly, Vivian, is that really necessary? These robes do come with pockets, you know. Deep ones too. See?” Lily flapped her pockets to demonstrate, looking like the least threatening bat you’ll ever come across.
“I had to, Lily. Dollie here’s studying like she’s going to face back-to-back Unforgivable curses. Actually, Dollie studying at all is unnatural. She’s treading on Evans territory.”
“I’m not a study-nut,” Lily protested.
“What else could you be doing during all those late-nights in the library with Snot-nose Snape?”
Dollie whacked Vivian on the back with her copy of ‘The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection’. Vivian hunched over and with the wind temporarily knocked out of her, Dollie ducked under her to retrieve her stolen book.
“That’s assault and battery,” Vivian wheezed. “Any lower would have been sexual harassment.”
“I thought of going for the head but was afraid to knock anymore sense out of you,” said Dollie.
Vivian made an obscene gesture but Dollie was looking at Lily. The colour had returned to her cheeks and she gave Dollie a grateful smile. Sometimes Vivian’s brain filter went haywire and when that happens, she goes too far with her tactless comments. That’s when Dollie was forced to step in as her physical filter.
“This won’t be all about theory, you know,” said Lily, gesturing at the Defence books Dollie was lugging on their way to class.
“I had a few trial runs with Remus yesterday,” said Dollie.
“Is it true Black sent a Bludger your way while he and Potter were on the Training Pitch practising for Quidditch?” asked Lily.
“Potter claims it was an accident,” said Dollie.
If she wanted to be honest, Sirius’s exact words were, with no trace of regret “Sometimes I don’t know my own strength.” He didn’t even seemed too bothered by the fact that, when someone reported the rogue Bludger, he had to clean every changing room in the Quidditch pitch with a toothbrush as detention.
“Think he was aiming for you or Lupin?” asked Vivian, deigning to enter the conversation once gossip was involved.
Dollie shrugged while Lily gasped.
“Don’t think such a thing. He would never do that,” said Lily.
“Guess it depends what was said in the broom closet,” said Vivian.
The exact content of that particular conversation remained elusive to all besides the two involved. But what everyone else could glean from what took place afterwards was that the unlikely pairing that was Kent and Black had explicitly and, for most of the female population finally, imploded.
To avoid thinking of any past unpleasantness, Dollie squeezed her eyes shut and began reciting spells for counter-jinxes and defensive charms. In the final weeks before the O.W.Ls, Professor Tristram had paired up everyone in the class to practice casting and countering spells to prepare them for the practical DADA O.W.L exam.
Lily stroked Dollie’s arm to calm her nerves.
“I’m certain Lindsey will take it easy on you.”
Dollie had been paired with Lindsey Lovely, a Ravenclaw whose nature was true to her surname. Dollie coughed while casting an inquiring glance at Vivian. Vivian whistled innocently, confirming Dollie’s suspicion that Lindsey didn’t know about Vivian’s illicit affair with Rupert Stebbins, Lindsey’s long-term paramour. For once, Dollie was grateful for Vivian’s murky moral code.
Taking Professor McGonagall’s advice to heart, Dollie had been spending every waking moment hitting the books. She had the bruises under her eyes to prove it. When she found she couldn’t sleep, which were most nights, she crept to the girls’ dormitory lavatory balancing books, notes, inkpot and a candle with a quill between her teeth. The Gryffindor common room and reading room were usually occupied, either with fellow night-owls studying or couples snogging in the corners.
Perhaps because she came so often and established the place as her personal study area, the lavatory began to sense her presence. The hanging lamps would suddenly burst into fire, rendering her lone candle redundant. She would spread her materials across the floor as she sat on a towel, the marble floor too cold for her liking. Every night, she would mourn the loss of her precious notebook, the only memento she had from Remus. And every night, she would vow to get it back.
The practice sessions with Remus had gone reasonably well, pre-Bludger interruption. She had shaken off most of her wand-rust by casting spells on her own when Remus refused to continue their practical trainings. Even so, Remus held back during their duels on the grounds, allowing her to easily disarm him.
“If you won’t make this a challenge, then there’s no point in us being here,” she had pointed out. “I might as well duel with a first-year.”
She had purposely goaded him, hoping to infuriate him enough that it would take more than two spells to disarm him and more importantly, hit her with jinxes that didn’t limp and barely reached her casted shield.
It annoyed her so much that she cast a Ventus Jinx so powerful, it blew Remus into one of the trees. He got momentarily tangled in the branches but Dollie reached him in time before he could crash down to the ground. She waved her wand and gently sent him floating down like a stray feather.
“Are you hurt? I didn’t mean for it to be so strong…” she said, picking the leaves and twigs from his hair.
“You always hurt the one you love.”
Dollie froze. “I beg your pardon?”
“The Mills Brothers were always my mum’s favourite. She plays their records all the time at home. ‘You always hurt the one you love. The one you shouldn't hurt at all. You always take the sweetest rose and crush it till the petals fall’*…”
It wasn’t quite what Dollie always imagined, Remus half-deliriously serenading her with wilted yellow flower petals in his hair. She gently put his head on her lap and brushed his hair with her fingers while he continued singing.
Could she have told him then how she really felt? She would never know for it was that exact moment, someone cried aloud and instinctively Dollie ducked as the Bludger wedged itself into the tree trunk behind where her head had been just seconds before.
“What the hell, Potter!”
James and Sirius had touched down on their brooms. A golden snitch was in James’ mouth trapped by his teeth while Sirius had a Beater’s bat slung over his shoulder.
“Alright there, Kent?” James had asked nervously after spitting out the Snitch.
“Pretty dandy, considering I almost had my head imprinted on this tree.”
“It was an accident.”
Sirius didn’t say anything at first, avoiding eye contact but staring pointedly lower. She looked down and realised she was clutching Remus to her chest, having rolled them both out of the Bludger's way. She quickly released him, though the tingling where his face was pressed against lingered.
“What are you playing at?” she demanded.
“Quidditch,” James answered.
“Fancy that, it was homicide a few minutes ago.”
This time, James had the decency to look guilty.
“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that.”
When Sirius still kept quiet, James brushed him with his broom.
“Sometimes I don’t know my own strength,” said Sirius nonchalantly.
“Right. No harm, no foul,” said James as he quickly mounted his broom.
Sirius walked past her and dislodged the Bludger from the tree trunk. Keeping it firmly under his armpit as it tried desperately to wriggle free, he kicked off the ground and followed James back to the Quidditch Pitch without a glance back.
Dollie turned around to find Remus gazing at them longingly. Struggling to think of comforting words, Dollie gave up and accioed Remus’ wand from the tree’s branches.
He thanked her and without missing a beat said, “Ready for another round? I promise I won’t be gentle.”
“Anybody home in there?”
Vivian snapped a few fingers in Dollie’s face, bringing her back to the present. Dozens of students were filing into the DADA classroom. Inside, a giant rectangle was formed by side-turned tables as a makeshift mini-arena. The chairs lined the walls for students to sit and watch. Vivian unceremoniously pushed through the throng and scrambled for the seats that offered the best view.
“Chocolate Frog?” Dollie didn’t even have to move her head to know who it was. “It helps.”
“And we both know I need all the help I can get.”
“It’ll be fine,” said Remus.
“Vivian and Lily saved you a place,” said Dollie.
They both went to where Vivian and Lily were sitting. Remus joined them but Dollie was feeling too antsy to stay stationary. She didn’t know what to do with herself or any of her limbs. Her foot tapped spastically and she kept crossing and uncrossing her arms, trying to find that elusive stance of comfortable confidence.
“Merlin’s pants, Doll, if you’re this nervous for a practice session, I can’t imagine what a wreck you’ll be during O.W.Ls,” said Vivian.
“You always know just what to say to give someone solace, Viv,” said Lily.
Remus took Dollie’s hand and gently set her down on the chair. When he made to move his hand away, she clenched his fingers. He held on obligingly.
“I think I’ll have that Chocolate Frog now,” said Dollie.
With his free hand, he unwrapped the confection for her.
“Which did you get?” asked Lily, who loved collecting the Chocolate Frog cards.
“Alberta Toothill (1391–1483) Winner of the all England Wizarding Dueling competition of 1430. Famously overcame the favourite, Samson Wiblin, with a blasting curse,” Remus read.
With every pearly white showing, Alberta Toothill grinned and held up her trophy, still celebrating her victory over five-hundred years after the fact.
“Some would say that’s a good omen,” said Vivian.
Dollie merely chewed on the confectionary, the bittersweetness lost on her. As she swallowed, Professor Lyonesse Tristram strolled into the classroom. Previously a musical prodigy who played the lute and toured with the Grand Wizarding Philharmonic Orchestra, this was her first year of teaching DADA. Her husband Iseo was a Healer at St. Mungo's. It was strongly rumoured she was being courted by Marcus Cunomorus, the Study of Ancient Runes Professor and that she may be reciprocating his affections.
But in that exact point in time, Professor Tristram was the picture of professionalism save for her wild mane that looked as though she’d just had a potion explode in her face. She greeted them cheerfully and put on her aviator spectacles which hung on a beaded chain around her neck.
“My, it has been an exciting month. While I know there were some reservations in the beginning, I am happy to see so many of you be at one with your wands. Wipe that smirk off your face, Stebbins. Must your mind always be in the gutter?” she sighed. “Moving on. We have three pairs duelling this afternoon: Milton and Dearborn, Kent and Lovely, Byron and Ho.”
“I didn’t ask for questions, Stebbins.”
“Right. Any questions? Yes, Stebbins?”
“Lindsey’s come down with Stinkitus. She’s still recovering in the hospital wing.”
“Not a question, Stebbins.”
“So that’s what happened to my stink pellets,” said James.
“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that, mate. We were looking for a place to snog – er – study and we accidentally set off your supply in one of the broom closets,” said Rupert Stebbins.
“Classy as ever, Stebbins,” said Desmond Moorfield, the Ravenclaw prefect and so uptight you could crack a walnut with his arse cheeks. James and Sirius once tried it out in third year. It worked, allegedly.
“Why Lindsey still associates herself romantically with the likes of you is a puzzle we’ve never been able to crack,” said Friday Forrester, Lindsey’s best friend and a certified crossword puzzle addict. She was well on her way to reaching and eventually surpassing the record for consecutively answering the Ravenclaw entrance riddles correctly.
“Settle down! Don’t make me take out my lute,” said Professor Tristram.
Last time Professor Tristram played them her lute, its magic caused everyone to dance nonstop for half the class period. Some even started singing made-up lyrics off-key to the tune. No one was keen on repeating the episode.
“Yes, Miss Milton.”
“I’ll happily volunteer to spar with Dollie. You don’t mind, do you Nelly?”
Nell Dearborn cleared her throat. “It’s Nell and actually…”
“Lovely.” Sue grinned with no absence of malice.
“I suppose Ms Dearborn could always partner with Miss Lovely once she’s recovered,” Professor Tristram pondered. “Unless there are any objections.”
Dollie looked over hopefully at Nell Dearborn, mentally willing her to resume her protest. But Nell, who was usually a bottomless pit of energy and never one to miss out on a debate, shrugged and re-joined her gang of Ravenclaws. Before she did, Dollie caught a furtive glance exchanged between Nell and Sue. Could there be more people Sue was blackmailing?
Sue returned her attention back to Dollie.
“Come now, Dollie dearest. You aren’t intimidated by little old me are you?”
“Not really. I know how far you’re willing to go,” said Dollie, trying to sound braver than she felt.
The only person impervious to the tension, Professor Tristram clapped her hands to together, relieved that the dilemma was resolved. As Dollie stood up with wobbling legs, she felt a tug at her sleeve. Remus gave her the Alberta Toothhill card.
“For good luck,” he said.
Dollie and Sue made their way into the mini-arena, never once taking their eyes off each other. They adopted the duelling stance on opposite ends of the mini-arena.
“As a friendly reminder, this won’t be a proper duel. One person will take on the role of Offensive and be the one to casts jinxes and charms. It’s up to the Defensive to effectively counter these spells. Now who –?”
“I’ll be Offensive,” Sue piped up.
“Very well. Ready, begin!”
Professor Tristram had barely finished speaking when Sue casted the Knockback Jinx. Dollie was sent flying back, the momentum halted by the side-turned tables that surrounded them. In her rush to cast the spell, Sue miraculously hadn’t charged up the jinx. Otherwise, Dollie would almost certainly have a broken back rather than the searing sore that shot up and down her spine. She gingerly got up, signalling she was fine to continue.
“Oh Dollie, did I hurt you? Should I be gentle on the next one?” said Sue with faux-concern.
“Hit me with your best shot,” said Dollie through gritted teeth.
“Only because you asked for it. Stupefy!”
This time, Dollie was ready.
Her anger and embarrassment must have fuelled the charm for it was strong enough to not only deflect but send a milder form of Sue’s Stunning spell back to her.
Professor Tristram nodded approvingly. “Very nice shield charm.”
If looks could kill, Sue would be sent to Azkaban right then and there.
Dollie made to duck behind a table before the thick ropes could wrap around her. But Sue sent a trip jinx that allowed the ropes to tie themselves tightly around Dollie’s ankles as she fell to the ground. She was about to attempt to manually free herself but remembered what she was supposed to be doing.
A few flicks of the severing charm sliced the layers of ropes around her ankles. She continued to slash at the remaining ropes that were slithering up to her like possessed snakes until they were reduced to confetti.
“Aguamenti!” Sue cried.
“Incendio!” Dollie responded.
The jet of water and fire collided, filling the room with steam. Someone opened a window and the door to clear the room.
“A creative counter, I must say Miss Kent,” said Professor Tristram, fanning herself then dabbing the beads of sweat on her forehead with a handkerchief.
Dollie was on such a high from the praise, she didn’t anticipate Sue’s Stinging Hex. Dollie produced another Shield Charm but it wasn’t as powerful as before. The hex slipped through the thin film of magic and hit her hand. Worst-yet, it was her wand-holding hand. The Shield Charm had absorbed and thus toned down some of the intensity of the hex. But Dollie’s hand still burned as though she had held it against a whistling teapot sitting on the stove.
She switched her wand to her other hand but was already feeling unsteady.
If questioned, Dollie would be the first to admit she wasn’t much of a duellist. She possessed none of the grace and elegance the activity called for. Her father and sister Helen tried teaching her the ‘proper’ way but would eventually throw their hands up and said she was incapable of changing her bad habits. But when she started with Remus, he had an entirely different opinion.
“I like your style of duelling, Dollie. It’s strange, yes, but unique. If I could describe it, I’d say it’s like… like you’re fighting with a poltergeist. You use every limb and contort to every possible angle. It’s very chaotic and very all over the place.”
“Are you trying to say there’s a madness to my methods?”
“Precisely. You’ll bamboozle your opponents, they’ll never see anything you throw at them coming.”
This advice ran through her mind as she kept her eyes on Sue, trying to anticipate what her next move would be. She saw Sue’s eyes linger on one of the tables.
Either her aim was off or her intent unsavoury, Sue sent Professor Tristram’s large desk flying towards Dollie. Seeing the heavy dark oak hurtling towards her, Dollie momentarily panicked and braced herself for the impact but then remembered a spell that Remus made her practice over and over until she mastered it.
Since Impedimenta only lasted about ten seconds, Dollie had to think on her feet on what her next move would be. She could blast the desk but surely she’d get into trouble for causing property damage, especially if the property belonged to a Professor.
“Expelliarmus!” Dollie cried.
The curly hand movement that the spell called for was sloppily done. The desk was released from Sue’s spell but Professor Tristram saved it from crashing to the ground in a heap of splinters. She looked rather miffed that her own personal items were getting involved.
“Right, I think I’ve seen all I needed to see. One more spell should be sufficient, Miss Milton. Make it count,” said Professor Tristram.
“I have the perfect one in mind,” said Sue. “Levicorpus!”
Dollie felt a pull on her ankle and with one deft swoop, she was hanging in the air upside down. She tried to pull her robes down as to not expose too much of her bits. Fortunately, she was wearing black boy shorts undies under her skirt. But then she realised that Sue was not only dangling her, she felt herself ascending higher into the air.
Her fear of heights was well-document, tracing back to when they had their first flying lesson back in first year and she couldn’t stop shaking at the prospect of being forced to fly. Madam Hooch, the flying instructor had to physically hoist her up onto a broom. While she had hovered several feet off the ground, the broom descended and she stumbled off it and fell to the ground tearstained and gripping the lawn, refusing to get back on.
That same terror gripped at her heart, making it beat harder the higher she was. The counter was tucked somewhere in the folds of her memories but she couldn’t sift through the thick fog of fear forming in her mind to find it. Even if she remembered the incantation, her wand had slipped from her hand when she was lifted. The tears that leaked from her eyes trailed down into her hairline.
“Sue, please. Please, Sue, let me down.”
“Poor little paper doll. So flimsy, so easy to tear to shreds.”
There was a loud crack and somebody said, “Liberacorpus.”
The feeling of a noose on her ankle disappeared and sent her plummeting. But someone used the same spell she had used for Remus only days before and slowed down the momentum of her descent. She landed as though on a soft pillow though the rough stone floors were still there when her hands were splayed on them. As the blood rushed back to her head, she pushed herself off the ground and onto her knees. When she adjusted her robes, this was the scene before her.
Sue was slumped in the corner of the mini-arena. Dollie couldn’t tell if she was conscious but she wasn’t moving. Everyone was on their feet. But only Sirius had his arm out erect and pointing his wand.
It was too much for Dollie to digest. She pushed past the staring students and ran out the class, her hands covering her burning red face.
“Do my eyes deceive me or is the Ice Queen melting?”
It was the last person she ever expected to be looking for her.
“Go away, Potter.”
James closed the door behind him, muttering an Imperturbable Charm. He walked to the front of the unused classroom and bent down to find Dollie huddled under the teacher’s desk. When she refused to budge, he sighed and sat down opposite her against the wall under the blackboard.
“To be frank, I never understood your appeal. But I think I see it now. You do look lovely when you cry, snot and all.”
James was a close second to Sue when it came to backhanded compliments. Perhaps he was trying to lighten the mood. Perhaps he was sincere. Neither sounded likely.
“If all you’ve come for is to patronise me, I’d like you to leave.”
James shook his head.
“To what then do I owe your esteemed company?”
“Nice to see you haven’t lost any of that Kent snark.”
Dollie sighed, the banter suddenly exhausting her. She’d been under that desk crying for Merlin knows how long, until all she could taste was her own saline. The onset of a migraine was fast approached, aggravated further by James’ presence.
“I just want to be left alone, Potter. Let me lie here long enough and maybe a cocoon will form around me.”
“And then what? Hoping for a metamorphosis into a butterfly? Don’t hold your breath,” he laughed rather cruelly.
“How long has it been?” said Dollie while rubbing her temples. She was too emotionally exhausted to put up much of a fight.
“I had Peter cause a distraction. We always keep spare dungbombs in case of emergencies. I snuck out amidst the chaos and set out for you,” James explained.
Subtlety really flew out the window when it came to James and his band of brothers’ schemes. To make a joke of it after five years of enduring their shenanigans would be like beating a dead centaur with a stick. There was about as much comedic gold in it as making a pun out of Sirius’ name.
“Poor Peter. What must it feel like, you using him as a pawn all this while?”
“You’d know all about that.” James paused. “At least, that’s what I thought, in the beginning.”
Dollie wiped at her face but the tears had long since dried into crusts that clung to her skin.
“I don’t suppose you have a handkerchief on you. Or at least some tissues,” said Dollie casually.
James continued as though she hadn’t spoke, “He never talks about it but after what just happened, I’m pretty sure he still cares a great deal about you.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“It’s the truth. He wouldn’t have done what he did if he didn’t care and believe me, there are very few things he gives a damn about nowadays. He’s not the same Sirius I know anymore. I can tolerate the moodiness and his sudden fondness for waxing cynical philosophies but not him making me take sides. Peter’s no help at all, he knows where his bread is buttered so to speak.”
“None of this has anything to do with me,” she insisted.
“It has everything to do with you. I think you’re the only one who can get through to him. I’ve tried, believe me I’ve tried. But then he accuses me of being disloyal and won’t speak to me until I promise not to bring it up again. I can’t keep this up. Remus is my friend too and I miss him terribly. It’s like a part of me is gone.”
Dollie saw the raw pain in James’ face and it softened her heart. It would wound her too if she were forced to choose between Vivian and Lily. They’d had their disagreements in the past. How could they not, with three such conflicting personalities. In a way, it was their differences that made them compatible. ‘The Three Musketeers’ as Lily used to refer to them, until Vivian tired of the muggle literary reference and Dollie refused to borrow cues from the four boys that shared the same dormitory tower.
“I can’t speak for him but I know Remus would give anything to get things back to the way they were,” she said.
“Then help, if not me then do it for Remus. You two are close,” he said. “Save him.”
It was unclear which ‘him’ James was referring to.
“I still think you can do more good than I ever could,” she said.
“In times like this, a feminine touch does wonders. Even if your mind and sensibilities remain an utter mystery to me,” he joked.
“You must be really desperate if you’re coming to me for help,” she said, raising an eyebrow.
“Don’t I know it?” James grimaced.
Even if he was only ribbing her, his expression honestly made her want to throw something at him. Not another spell though. She’d filled her quota for the day.
“We haven’t exactly been bosom buddies all this while. I don’t think you’ve ever approved of the relationship. Or me for that matter.”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t like you. I didn’t trust you and didn’t understand why Sirius would choose to pursue you of all people. But I think I get it now. You say what you mean and mean what you say. What you see is what you get and all that jazz. He found you a refreshing challenge, you always kept him on his toes.”
“Sorry to disappoint but I don’t belong on that pedestal.”
It had gone on too long, had gone too far. Her only saving grace was that she was human and thus prone to lapses in judgement. She never promised him anything she couldn’t deliver and Sirius was smart enough to return the favour. But the halo Sirius thought she wore blinded him to her sins.
“You made him happy. That’s enough to get you in my good books,” he said.
But she hurt him too, Dollie thought to herself. Had James forgotten so quickly? Or was it, despite his insistence to the contrary, that he was relieved that the relationship was dead and buried. Was this gnawing emptiness that she couldn’t escape, was it mourning? How could she mourn something that wasn’t real?
“Wasn’t it though?” she whispered, forgetting for a moment she wasn’t alone.
“What?” James looked confused.
“So are you going to help or not?” he huffed, getting impatient.
“I’ll see what I can do. He might not want anything to do with me,” she warned.
“At this point, I’m willing to try anything. Remus is a Marauder, for better or worse. Sirius needs to realise that and accept the fact.”
“Once a Marauder, always a Marauder?” she teased.
“Not even death could part us.”
Dollie regarded him for a moment with unmasked curiosity.
“You should show this side of you more often.”
“What are you talking about, I always show my best side.” James flashed a pseudo-heartthrob grin and turned to his profile while smoothing down his unruly hair.
His arrogance almost made Dollie regret she said anything at all and second-guessed whether she should continue speaking.
“I think Lily appreciates a vulnerable man, a man not afraid to show his sensitive side,” said Dollie with measured care. “She finds humility extremely attractive.”
James absorbed this new information with keen interest but then groaned. “My arse has fallen asleep. It’s not used to prolonged inertia.”
He leapt to his feet with the spring of a gazelle. She felt him looking at her expectantly as she stayed curled up under the desk with cobwebs in her hair and a coat of dust on her clothes.
“I don’t think it would be wise to leave together. People will see and talk. All I’d need is Pettigrew to complete the set,” she said.
He was already walking away when she remarked, “This is probably the first proper conversation we’ve ever had together.”
“Let’s not make a habit of it, shall we?”
* - 'You Always Hurt the One You Love' performed by the Mills Brothers
A/N: Told you there'd be more frequent updates ;). I'm doing all I can to churn out as many chapters as soon as I'm done with them. Call it trying to make up for lost time.
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