Chapter 29 : Mysteries
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Mandy, always the supportive friend, told me to just ignore all that, and gushed about how happy she was to see us together. For someone who had been infatuated with Sirius for nearly six years, she was remarkably delighted about Sirius’s and my relationship.
But like all things, the gossip eventually faded away when we were still together after two weeks and people had found other things to talk about, such as the new comic strip, The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle, which had become rather popular and apparently tended to circulate in History of Magic classes as an antidote to Professor Binns’s wheezy droning. Girls would still glare at me, but I figured this was a small price to pay and it was worth it to be with Sirius.
I was sitting at the breakfast table one day with my fellow Slytherins and opened up the Daily Prophet, as always, to see if there were any casualties whose names I recognised or if Nathan had been caught up in anything recently. He hadn’t, not that I could tell, although there were two more missing people today. There was one from Muggle Relations and another from the Department of Mysteries. Death Eaters were always targeting people who worked closely with Muggles, but I had no idea what they’d want with someone in the Department of Mysteries.
“What do they do in the Department of Mysteries?” I asked Mandy.
“I don’t know,” she said. “That’s why they call it ‘mysteries’, isn’t it, because no one knows.”
“It’s a bunch of blokes who people expected great things from, and then they disappeared to the basement of the Ministry,” said Charlotte. “They have nothing to do with the rest of the Ministry, they just do their own secret things. Studying how magic works, making Time-Turners, they probably keep ghosts in there too—”
I didn’t really know if any of that was true of if Charlotte was just inventing it all. But despite the recent casualty in the department, it caught my attention mostly because of the interesting nature of the work – I’d been wondering for months now. “What do you mean, people expected great things?” I asked. “Do you mean they’re not doing anything great? I think that does sound pretty brilliant, studying how magic works. And why is it just blokes – aren’t there women there too?”
“Doesn’t sound that great if you’ll just end up dead,” said Mandy, looking over at my newspaper.
“That may not have had anything to do with his job at all,” said Charlotte. “Maybe that guy was Muggle-born. Anyone could end up dead in this war.”
On that bleak note, we finished our breakfast. I rolled up my newspaper to remind myself about researching the Department of Mysteries later, and I went off to meet Sirius.
It was his birthday, which luckily happened to fall on a weekend so we could spend more time together and not have to go to classes. I met him in the Gryffindor common room and we just lazed around for a while. I had told him I had something really exciting planned, which was not actually true; I was nowhere near as good at coming up with spontaneous fun stuff as Sirius was, and needed time to come up with a sufficient plan. So I was trying to think about it as we sat there, hoping inspiration would strike before the end of the day.
For the meantime, we were just sitting in the Gryffindor common room, along with James, Lily, Remus, and Peter. I sat curled up on the sofa, and Sirius was lying on his back, stretched out along the sofa, his head resting on my lap as we worked through a crossword puzzle together.
I heard James mention my name, and turned to look over at him and Lily where they were cuddling on an adjacent sofa near the fire. James laughed. “Would you two quit being so… touchy-feely all the time?” he asked, wrinkling up his nose.
As if he could talk. He and Lily had been dating for about two weeks longer than Sirius and I had, and they were just as bad, if not worse. “We’re not—” I began, but stopped speaking when I realised I had been absentmindedly stroking Sirius’s hair. “Oh. Sorry.”
“Hey, why did you stop?” Sirius whined, looking up at me.
I laughed. “What are you, a dog? I can’t stop petting your hair for one minute?” I said. All four of the boys found this very funny, although I didn’t think I had been that funny.
Sirius folded the completed crossword in half, tossed it onto the floor and stretched, almost hitting me in the face with his hand as he did so. “Sorry,” he said, sitting up.
I heard Peter clap and looked up. Sirius’s folded papers had landed in the middle of the rug when he’d discarded them there, slightly open with the fold facing up like a tent. Remus was flicking cards at it, balancing them on top of the paper tent using levitation charms while Peter watched with appreciation. I reached in between the sofa cushions for my wand, found it, and levitated another card onto Remus’s balancing card house. Sirius added one at a jaunty angle and after a few minutes of this it looked more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa than a house. It was rather amusing, anyway. And it only helped confirm my belief that the Tower of Pisa was in fact held up by magic, whatever Muggles said about it.
“Look, it’s snowing!” said Lily, pointing at the window. And indeed, large white flakes were swirling past the window, framed by the long crimson drapes of the Gryffindor Tower window. After the nonstop rain we’d had for the last couple of weeks, it was exciting to see snow.
“I think I’m going to go to lunch now,” said Peter, looking at his watch. “Who else is coming?”
Remus stood up to go with Peter. Sirius looked at me as if to ask if I wanted to join them, but I’d finally gotten a better idea. A spontaneous idea, which were the kind Sirius liked best.
“Actually, we’ve got plans already,” I told Sirius.
“Yes, because it’s your birthday. I’ll meet you downstairs by the Great Hall in about ten minutes.”
Once out of Gryffindor Tower, I began walking down to the kitchens. This wouldn’t be much of a surprise, because he’d know where I’d got this food, but I wanted to make it as much of a surprise as I could. I opened up the door to the kitchens, which was a large painting of fruit, and walked in. The house-elves were very busy preparing lunch for the Great Hall tables, but a few of them slipped over to talk to me.
“Would miss like some tea?” squeaked an elf near my knee.
“Cheers, that would be lovely,” I said. “And some food too, some of whatever you’re making for lunch.”
One elf brought me some tea, which I sipped while about four more of them set to packing a picnic basket for me. I chatted with Zinty, the elf who had brought me tea, until the other four came back with the basket. I thanked them and went off to meet Sirius, hoping he wouldn’t find this whole idea boring.
He was just coming by the Great Hall when I found him. “What’s that you’ve got?”
“Lunch!” I said, taking his hand with my free one that wasn’t holding the picnic basket, and led him towards the doors of the castle. “We’re having a picnic instead. I know it’s snowing, but it’ll only be cold for a minute, until I figure out the Bubble Charm.”
We picked a nice spot on the field and I spread out a picnic blanket, then we sat on it and I cast a large bubble over our picnic to keep the snow and the cold out. It was like being in a little glass room outside. Sirius reached out through the bubble and caught some snowflakes, then brought his hand back through and the snowflakes melted. “This is cool,” he said as I pulled a few steaming bread rolls out of the picnic basket.
“Sorry I didn’t actually have anything exciting planned,” I admitted as we finished our lunch. “I wanted to have something impressive and exciting, but that’s really your area of expertise, not mine.”
“You didn’t need to plan anything impressive,” he said, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. “It’s been a great birthday. I get to spend the day with all my favourite people.”
I grinned and happily leaned into his shoulder. We sat there and watched the snow fall, talked and laughed about unimportant things, shared some delicious Honeydukes sweets, and in general had a wonderful afternoon. What with the seasons moving towards winter, it began to get dark midway through the afternoon, and we eventually collected our things and started heading back inside. We paused just outside the castle doors and I kissed him in a way that I hoped made up for the lack of impressive birthday planning.
As we walked back into the castle much later, Sirius reminded me, “Hey, you don’t have Quidditch practise today, right?”
“No, I don’t,” I said. I loved Quidditch, but I also loved having days off practise because it meant I could spend more time with Sirius, and any time was valuable time with it being the busy year we took our NEWTs. Besides that, Quidditch was a bit weird recently, particularly Regulus. Now that I was dating his brother, Regulus paid more attention to me; sometimes, but only when Jasper wasn’t around, Regulus would interrogate me, almost as if he were trying to gauge if I were good enough for Sirius. I got the feeling Regulus cared for his brother a lot more than he’d ever say. Much like Sirius, in fact.
“I’ve got a great idea,” Sirius told me, a spark in his eye that indicated it was an idea that would involve us narrowly avoiding getting in trouble, because those were the sorts of things he found to be good ideas. “Bring your broomstick with you up to the Astronomy Tower just before curfew. Just because you don’t have practise doesn’t mean we can’t fly around a bit.”
“Why not earlier?” I asked. “Why at curfew? Do you want to get caught by Filch?”
“There are fewer people wandering around then, so people won’t ask us what we’re up to.”
“All right then,” I said. Only Sirius could get me to agree to something so stupid, but I was rather looking forward to it. We parted for a few hours in which I tried to complete the entire weekend’s homework which I had put off, then I went to dinner with my Slytherin friends. Just before curfew, I set off again to meet Sirius by the stairs to the Astronomy Tower.
Sirius had borrowed James’s Invisibility Cloak, and materialised out of thin air at the entrance to the stairwell. Together we walked up the stairs excitedly, and once at the top of the tower I remembered how cold it was. “We didn’t really think about the snow, did we,” I said.
“What about this?” asked Sirius, and did a Bubble Charm over his broom.
“That’s great, but I think the bubble will be stationary, so when you start flying, the bubble will get left behind…”
We decided to try it anyway, and stepped up on the parapet. I looked down. The Astronomy Tower was the tallest in the castle, and the ground was a long way down from here. We got on our brooms and jumped – it was a great feeling, especially starting from this high up. There was a half a second of freefall before we started actually flying, and it was quite thrilling.
The only disagreeable thing about this arrangement was that the bubble charm did not stick to the broom very well, so we were left flying out in the cold and the snow. It was still fun, and we raced side by side through the dark sky as the snow flew past us, but after a while we got rather cold.
I looked to my left at one point and Sirius was no longer there. Then I felt a drag on my broom and turned around to see him grabbing the tail twigs of my broom. I laughed and tried to go faster, but he held on and then somehow managed to get onto my broom behind me.
“Sirius!” I cried as he leapt off his broom and onto mine. “Watch out!”
“I’m fine,” he laughed. “See, it’s warmer this way.” He was still holding on to his own broom in one hand, and holding on to me with the other. It was in fact warmer since we were so close together, but the broom was not built for two and we started going a lot slower. However, this afforded us the ability to have a conversation again, now that we no longer had the wind quickly rushing past our ears.
“What were you thinking? That was so dangerous!”
“But it worked, didn’t it?” said Sirius. He seemed quite pleased with himself.
“Yeah, but now we’re going so slowly we’d lose a race with a fly. And my hair is probably getting in your face.”
“You want me to get back on my own broom?” He pouted.
“No,” I admitted, laughing. We sailed around for a bit longer, while Sirius, now that he no longer had to worry about piloting his broomstick, tried various warming charms on our hands. And it was rather nice slowly flying around after racing before. But eventually we decided it was time to head back in, and headed back to the Astronomy Tower.
Once back on the tower, I looked over the edge again, out at the cloudy night and the small white flakes still swirling through the air. Sirius came up behind me and I turned around to wrap my arms around his neck. “Happy birthday,” I said, hoping he had had as wonderful a day as I had.
“Thank you,” he said softly, “it was.” We said a very thorough and nonverbal goodbye before sneaking back down the spiral staircase and then going our separate ways. I jealously watched him disappear under the Invisibility Cloak as I crept through the halls on tiptoes, hardly daring to breathe.
Mandy was still awake when I got back into my dormitory, even though all the lights were off. I found this out when I walked past her bed and felt a hand grasp my arm in the dark, which made me gasp loudly before I realised that it was of course only Mandy. She giggled quietly, and then said, “So tell me about it! Where were you?” So I snuck inside the hangings of her bed and told her about our adventure at the Astronomy Tower.
“Well, you lead an exciting life now,” she said. “He’s a bad influence on you.”
“Yeah, probably,” I laughed. “It’s funny, you know. We fight a lot, but I think he brings out the best in me – this spontaneous, confident side of me that I wasn’t aware of before.”
“You were confident before that,” said Mandy. “In a different way though. You’ve always been strong, and held yourself together. That’s become even more evident this year, with everything that’s going on outside Hogwarts. I’m proud of you.”
“Well, that’s because I’ve always had you to talk to,” I said, smiling. We stayed up late into the night talking, and then remembered that we had classes tomorrow and I reluctantly got in my own bed and fell asleep.
By Tuesday I had caught up on sleep again, as a result of going to sleep rather early in the evening on Monday. Mandy had done the same. (Charlotte had watched us leave the common room Monday night mentioning that we were already old women.)
We had Potions first on Tuesday. I took my new seat beside Sirius, who was actually better than Mandy was at Potions, although I had no idea how, because he never studied. Mandy was back to her old desk across from Charlotte as she’d broken up with Davey Gudgeon by this point; it was inevitable ever since she’d noticed his resemblance to Peter.
Slughorn gave us the task of making a Grogginess Potion in class, and I thought that maybe I could just dump my brain into the cauldron because it was groggy enough. But thanks to Sirius’s help, my potion was just substandard rather than awful. I looked into his cauldron, and it was bubbling just perfectly the way it was described in Advanced Potions for Sophisticated Potioneers.
“It’s easy to see why your potion is so good. You work so hard,” I said sarcastically. I looked pointedly at his textbook, inside which he had affixed one of the Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle comic books.
“But this is my secret to success,” he said with a grin. “You just have to understand the code. See, when Martin says ‘I think I’m going to travel to India’, it actually means ‘stir the cauldron four and a half times, not just four.”
I rolled my eyes and closed the book on his hand. As I moved my arm back, my elbow hit my ink bottle and upended it all over the table. Sirius only laughed and muttered something about karma. I picked up the bottle and managed to siphon most of the ink back up with my wand, but some had dripped off the edge of the desk and into my bag. I reached into my bag to find a soggy newspaper dripping black ink onto the other textbooks in my bag. It was Sunday’s Daily Prophet, which I’d kept to remind me about the Department of Mysteries.
For a few moments I stood there holding the dripping Daily Prophet, and then I looked up at Slughorn who was erasing some instructions from the blackboard. Slughorn, as Head of Slytherin House, was our career advisor, and had not been a lot of help during the advice sessions in fifth year, but then I hadn’t been particularly motivated to talk with him anyway. Perhaps I could ask him now.
“Don’t wait for me,” I told Sirius, “I’m going to ask Slughorn something. I think I’ve finally got a career idea.”
“Okay,” said Sirius, and gave me a quick kiss before leaving. I walked up to Slughorn’s desk, stopping along the way to discard the now useless newspaper in a rubbish bin.
“Very nice job on this today, Miss Hastings,” said Slughorn distractedly as he collected the vials of potion from the front table. He was holding up one which he must have thought was mine, but it actually said A. Macintosh on the side. Of course, it was Mandy’s that was good, not mine.
“Thank you, sir,” I said. “Professor, I was wondering if I might ask you about the Department of Mysteries. Do you know much about it? Because I’m halfway through seventh year now and I ought to have an idea of what I want to do when I leave Hogwarts.”
Slughorn looked up from the potions and turned his glance to me. “Oho, you want to work in the Department of Mysteries?” he asked, clearly surprised. “Well yes, I know a little about it, but of course, there’s a lot more that I don’t know. They keep it mysterious, after all.” He laughed at his own joke. “They study what makes magic work, test the boundaries of magic, how magic works into our lives… it’s a complicated profession, and a lot of work, from what I’ve heard… There aren’t very many women in the department, though.”
“That doesn’t mean there can’t be,” I said indignantly, and rather surprised at my own persistence at something I hadn’t even known about several days ago. But I was irked by his implication that girls couldn’t handle the amount of work for that job. That only made me more determined. “And I can handle hard work.”
“That’s that Slytherin ambition,” said Slughorn, beaming as if I were a six-year-old showing him some art I’d just completed and asked him to hang it on his wall. “I probably have a pamphlet you can look at if you want, and that’ll have names to contact. Shame you didn’t think of this earlier!” He rifled through his desk and eventually found a creased brochure that had a picture of a small crystal ball on the front. That was probably why I’d ignored the brochure entirely when all the career leaflets had appeared everywhere during fifth year: I had associated it with Divination, which I had hated.
I met up with Sirius again in the queue for Transfiguration. “So why did you prefer old Sluggy’s company to mine?” he joked as I walked up with my leaflet.
“I didn’t, I missed you,” I said, leaning in to kiss him. Charlotte made a face at me, but I ignored her. “I got this from Slughorn,” I told Sirius, showing him the Department of Mysteries flyer. “I’m glad I took so many classes, because they ask for a lot! NEWTS in Ancient Runes, Charms, Astronomy, Transfiguration, and at least an OWL in Potions… looks like I didn’t need to continue with Herbology, but at least that one was fun.”
“What, are you trying to be an Auror?”
“No. There’s a branch at the Department of Mysteries that deals with Ancient Magic and Space. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it sounds interesting.”
“Cool. I bet you’ll be great.”
It was good to have the vote of confidence from Sirius, because the next week was full of writing important and professional-sounding letters to people in the Ministry, which was a rather daunting task, but essential if I wanted to be employed when I left Hogwarts at the end of the year. With that, and Quidditch, and all the homework I was doing to ensure that I’d actually be able to pass all those NEWTs I was taking, it was indeed a very busy week.
But still, I made time for fun as well. One day, James, Lily, Sirius and I all went down to Hagrid’s cabin to visit him. I thought this was a strange idea, but apparently the boys did that all the time; they insisted he was great. I had talked to Hagrid maybe twice in my life before this.
Hagrid answered the door when James knocked, and I had to admit I was still a little scared of him. He took up the entire huge doorway just standing there. But he smiled and invited us all in, and he had even baked something for us. I should have realised when neither James, Lily, nor Sirius touched the little cakes on the table that I should avoid them too, but I found out too late when I bit into one and briefly thought I’d broken a tooth.
Regardless, we had a pleasant visit, and Hagrid was very friendly. We told him about our classes and activities and things he might not have found that interesting, and he mentioned his desire to get a pet Fire Crab, which was like a jewelled tortoise that shot out flames. I couldn’t really see the appeal in such an animal; the kaleidoscopic shell might be pretty, but the fire would put me off. James and Sirius, however, agreed with Hagrid that it would be an excellent pet, and talked about how great it would be while Lily and I rolled our eyes at each other. Hagrid even remembered me from last time I’d ventured into the outskirts of the forest, and updated me on how the thestrals were doing.
At the end of our visit, before we left, Hagrid offered us more of the cakes if we wanted to take any with us. Lily took one, although I noticed she held onto it rather than eating it, so she probably just took it to be polite. Hagrid told us to come see him again, and as we left, I wondered why I’d never bothered to talk to him much before.
Being Sirius’s girlfriend didn’t entitle me to know all his secrets, though – and I discovered that he and the other Marauders, as I had taken to calling that group of four Gryffindor boys after their map, had quite a few secrets. The following Friday evening, Mandy and I went to visit the Gryffindors in their common room and only spent a few minutes there before James caught Sirius and Peter’s attention, pointed to his watch, and then the three of them stood up to leave.
“But we came to visit!” said Mandy, trying to persuade them to stay. “Where’s Remus, anyway?”
“He had to deal with a furry problem,” said James. “He should be around later.” James seemed to think this was enough of an explanation, and started to walk away.
“What?” I asked, bewildered. “What does that mean?”
“His rabbit escaped,” said Peter.
“It’s a really ferocious rabbit,” said Sirius, in response to Mandy’s and my visible confusion. “Don’t want that kind of rabbit getting loose in the castle, it’d be a nightmare. So he’s taking care of it.”
“Why would he have such a vicious rabbit?” asked Mandy. “Why couldn’t he have got an owl or something?”
“Everyone has an owl,” said James, as if this were obvious. “Well, we’re off. Things to do.” He and Sirius and Peter continued walking towards the portrait hole.
“Where are you going?” I asked. I looked toward Sirius, hoping he at least would tell me, but this seemed to be something for them alone. They were off to have some adventure, leaving Remus behind to find his rabbit, and leaving Mandy and I to wonder. Realising I would get no logical explanation, I simply told them, “Well, don’t get in trouble.”
“That’s the idea,” said Sirius with a grin. They left, and I couldn’t help but be a little miffed that Sirius was keeping a secret from me. But it was probably nothing important. Lily was in a corner reading a book, and didn’t look surprised in the least to see the three boys leave. Maybe she knew something I didn’t, or maybe it wasn’t as mysterious as it seemed. It really wasn’t my place anyway.
Nevertheless, Mandy and I decided to stick around, and talked with Lily. Mandy griped about the upcoming Slug Club Christmas party, which was a month away and Slughorn had told the whole group about it already so they could ensure they had no other commitments. I had gone last year and it wasn’t as bad as they made it sound, although they’d had to go to a lot more of those functions than I had – the novelty could wear off after so many years.
I noticed the following day when I met up with Sirius for lunch that he, as well as the rest of the boys, was covered in scratches and looked very tired. They must have gone into the forest again last night.
“Why don’t you come sit with us this time?” I asked Sirius as we walked into the Great Hall together. Sometimes I wondered what house I really belonged in, since I’d been spending so much time with the Gryffindors as of late.
He looked once at the Slytherin table and then started leading me towards the Gryffindor table instead. “I’m not sitting with a bunch of Slytherins.”
I rolled my eyes. A while ago this might have upset me, but I knew how to handle Sirius’s frequent unintentional tactlessness by now. “Ah, you won’t sit with Slytherins, but you’ll go out with one…”
“You’re not just any Slytherin,” he said with a smile.
The news everyone was talking about at lunch was that last week’s Hogsmeade trip, which had been cancelled due to the overabundance of rain and a bit of flooding, had been rescheduled for mid-December. Sirius and I would be able to have a proper date this time that wouldn’t involve evading rules and sneaking out.
Remus was sitting on the other side of me and had been rather quiet during all the Hogsmeade discussion. I asked him if he was planning to go to Hogsmeade with anyone, and he said no.
“Well, I know someone who’d love to go with you,” I hinted. “Mandy said you two had a wonderful time when you went in October.”
Remus gave me a sort of sad smile and said said, “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
This should have been a cue for me to stop meddling, but an idea had just crossed my mind and I had to bring it up. “This isn’t still to do with Emily, is it?” I asked, hoping I wasn’t testing the strength of our friendship just by suggesting it. “Because you know, not everyone will treat you like that. She had no right to do that.”
As far as I knew, Remus hadn’t had a girlfriend since the end of fifth year, which might have had something to do with the fact that the girl had caused quite a stir one day right before OWL week by storming into the Great Hall and screaming at him over breakfast that he was a liar and a monster, and then leaving. I hadn’t known Remus well at the time, but I had felt awful for him – no one wants a public breakup like that. But it had been a while since then, and I knew Mandy was too considerate to ever do anything like that.
Remus sighed. “She was right.”
“Why, what dark secret could you possibly have that would have made her break up with you in that way?” I shook my head. Remus was one of the sweetest people I knew, despite his tendency to play practical jokes.
He just looked at me for a second, and I couldn’t identify the look in his eyes. But he recovered quickly, and said, “I don’t eat my vegetables.”
“Remus,” I laughed, rolling my eyes. “That’s not true.”
“It is true, I don’t like many vegetables. How many vegetables do you see on this plate?” He pointed to his lunch.
“I can certainly see why she was right, then. How dare you not eat your peas.” I was glad Remus hadn’t completely shut down and refused to speak to me, but I wasn’t going to press the issue any further. “I’m sorry I brought it up, anyway,” I said, patting his arm. “I just want you to be happy.”
“I am happy,” said Remus. “I have good friends like you. That’s all I need.”
My subtle hints for Remus ended up being for naught anyway, because by the time I got back to my friends in the Slytherin common room, it was only to hear Mandy rattling on about someone else she’d taken a shine to. “It was love at first sight,” she claimed.
Charlotte looked up as I walked in. “As opposed to Melanie and Sirius,” she said with a smirk. “Love at first fight, maybe.”
I laughed. “You’ve been planning that pun all day, haven’t you? So who’s the new guy then, Mandy?”
“Roderick Cadwallader,” said Mandy with a dreamy look. “I noticed him at lunch one day and I can’t get him out of my mind.”
“The Gryffindor Seeker?” I asked, sitting down next to Mandy on the sofa by the fire. “Well, lunch this week was not the first time you saw him. I believe that was first year when Peeves dropped strawberries on him before we were Sorted.”
“Okay, fine, it was a little bit of an exaggeration,” said Mandy, pouting because I was ruining her moment.
“I think the love part was an exaggeration too,” said Charlotte. “Maybe you should have said, ‘momentary-crush-that’ll-be-over-in-a few-days-when-you-find-someone-hotter, at five-hundred-sixty-first sight’.”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” I said. “And I think that’s enough of crushing Mandy’s dreams for today.”
“Thank you,” said Mandy with an air of dignity. She held up her Transfiguration book purposefully and began to flick through the pages. But over the top of the book, I could see her eyes following Neal Rosenbaum as he walked across the room. I managed to keep from giggling by getting out my Potions homework, something that could be depended upon to suck the humour out of any situation.
So… a nice helping of 95% fluff there. Anyway, I love your reviews, if you have the time to leave one! Thanks for reading!
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