Chapter 5 : The Stolen Truth
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She blinked up at him, long eyelashes and straight-set lips. The serene smile from earlier had been cast aside like a former season’s fashion, and though her posture remained at ease, there was a certain tautness in the room, a dryness in his throat.
Draco felt as if there were some invisible wishbone hovering between them, clutched by each in an iron grasp. Now all that awaited was to see in whose favour the lot would fall.
An absurd notion, of course. The system was rigged, and Draco had every reason to believe the situation would fall to his advantage.
It was about time something did.
“Yes, Mr. Malfoy?”
“Forgive me. It merely seemed as though you had drifted off for a moment.”
She folded her hands primly, tilting her head in a manner that, were it not for the thinness of her mouth and the keenness of her gaze, might have seemed coquettish.
“Oh, I assure you, Mr. Malfoy, I am entirely present. I’d hate to miss a moment of our riveting conversation.”
She paused to tuck an escaped lock of hair back behind her ear, then returned to the topic, tone breezy, as though it truly was just a polite chat over tea. “You were mentioning something about the absurd rumour that I would willingly associate with a harebrained little freedom fighter like Weasley.”
Draco inclined his head, shuffling his papers and setting them carefully on the table between them, the envelope closed. “So, then you can see why a connection would be grounds for suspicion.”
“If such a connection existed, then I certainly could. However, things being as they are...”
She shrugged, palms facing upward as if in entreaty to the room at large to take up her cause. And indeed, in some ways it did. The soaring ceilings, painted with figures who had gazed down on countless society events, from business dealings to betrothal agreements; the expensive ornaments, no doubt dutifully dusted by inherited Elves; the cold that leaked in from the large windows, a chill barely kept at bay by the roaring fire in the grate, bedecked with the recognisable features of twisting dragons, as well as other magical creatures he knew not the names of, all in a luxurious, if unfamiliar, oriental style. All of it spoke to decades, perhaps centuries, of Pureblood prosperity, of the elitist ideals that had been instilled in this girl, just as they had in Draco himself.
Astoria paused, as if allowing the room to speak its piece, before furthering her argument.
“You’re saying that, because the Weasleys are a wanted family, and because at some point in our shared education, I may have been in the same room with one of them, those our grounds for my family being deemed traitors?”
“Not quite,” Draco corrected. “I am saying that a friendship between Ginny Weasley, the youngest child of a family notoriously disloyal to the Dark Lord’s cause, and yourself might cause certain questions to be raised.”
“Mr. Malfoy, would you consider us friends?” Astoria queried, cocking her head and shooting him another of her dazzling, razor-edged smiles.
For a moment, Draco faltered.
Of course, the answer was no. Draco didn’t really have all that many friends, and it had been a long time since he’d seen those he did have. They were safe and sound, ensconced within the protective walls of Hogwarts Castle. Draco, on the other hand, was far, far from safe. The Mark on his arm gave another painful pulse.
Perhaps even further from sound.
Still, settled in a gilded parlour on an uncomfortable sofa, over a cup of tea, did not seem like a setting in which you told someone you considered yourselves utter strangers, even enemies.
...To their face.
Astoria’s eyes narrowed, delicate blades honed to fine points. She leaned forward and lifted the teapot, bone china painted with delicate pink cherry blossoms, and held it aloft.
“I’m going to take that as a no,” she informed him. “More tea?”
She didn’t wait for his response, but poured a hot stream of amber liquid into the cup he had left on the side table. She then refreshed her own cup. Leaning back, she appraised her opponent, raising the cup to her lips.
A bit of colour rose in her cheeks as her throat moved through the motions of a swallow. Draco assumed it must be the heat of the drink, or the shame of the accusation--having bloodtraitor associates. Probably not because she had just admitted their fundamental opposition from over the rim of her afternoon tea. Unlike himself, she didn’t seem the sort to flinch at breaking out of the bounds of social niceties.
Something about her expression made him think that taking a Beater’s Bat to the rules of society might be one of Astoria Greengrass’ deepest longings.
Her eyes, such a strange, dark blue, like the shallows of the Black Lake on a warm day, seemed to be laughing at him as her brows rose in lively challenge.
“Now you see, Mr. Malfoy, you do not consider me a friend, or even, really, an acquaintance. This, despite the fact that we’re spending this delightful afternoon in each other’s company.”
The laughter in her eyes was cut off sharply, quick as a slit throat, replaced with a stare so cold that a man who had been exposed to fewer terrors would have felt the blood ice over in his veins.
“And, if I may be frank,” she continued, “I feel precisely the same. So how much less would I consider a girl, my inferior in almost every possible way, to be my ‘friend’ merely because she spoke to me one time while I was nearly unconscious?”
Astoria paused to punctuate her point with another sip of tea.
“Such suspicions can be based on only the thinnest line of connection, with hardly any logic to stand on at all. The fact that it’s being raised as a question of my family’s loyalty, if I may again be frank, smacks of paranoia, and is unworthy of the Dark Lord’s cause.”
She set her china cup back in the saucer with all the gentleness required when dealing with such a fragile article, but something about the gesture reminded Draco of a chess player moving her queen to checkmate, all the same.
Draco frowned. He had to admit, she played the game neatly. What evidence there was, she managed to eliminate and undermine.
But, he reflected, that only worked if the game was being played by the rules.
Still, he might have wished for another opponent. This one was the most challenging he’d come across yet, and while it was novel, it was also far from what he had expected.
By all rights, it should have been her father under pressure in this interview. Felix Greengrass. Draco remembered him, vaguely, as a Ministry worker, the chief liaison between upper level Ministry members and the Unspeakables. A plump, jolly gentleman of no great height, he had always sported a rather impressive, well-trimmed beard and sparkling brown eyes.
The Greengrasses were an old pureblooded family from the Far East, who had relocated to England sometime within the last two centuries in efforts to bolster a highly successful intercontinental magical shipping industry. At least, that was what Draco had garnered from his investigation.
Of Felix himself, he could recall only a scrap of memory--a hollow-eyed man being led out of the Ministry by a team of Aurors. Rumour had it that, after his late wife’s death, the man had gone mad and burst through the Department of Mysteries, babbling about hearing his wife’s voice echoing through the depths of the labyrinthine headquarters of the Unspeakables. All the official report had said was that Felix had got ‘dangerously close to Death’s door.’
While Draco would normally take that as some sort of euphemism, the term in conjunction with the Department of Mysteries conjured up far more sinister possibilities. He himself didn’t like to think on it too much.
Since then, the patriarch of the Greengrass clan had been rarely seen in public, and spoken of only in the hushed tones reserved for discussing illness and particularly sensational gossip.
Therefore, when his owl had returned from delivering the letter that informed the Greengrasses of the imminent interview, he’d had no compunctions about allowing another family member to step in for the notedly dotty head of the family. He was, in fact, relieved to hear that it would be the younger daughter facing his scrutiny. It was one thing to have to condemn a former schoolmate, but to order the death of one’s ex-girlfriend’s best friend, to her face was...
Well, awkward, to say the least.
Now, however, he was regretting that allowance. Daphne had been nearly as much a fright as Pansy, and Draco could have dispatched her with much less hesitation than he was finding in himself now that the task had fallen to her quieter, cleverer sister.
Still, hesitation was a luxury not permitted in the forces of the Dark Lord. Like everyone else, Draco had to carry on.
Meeting her eyes and leaning forward, he spoke quietly, hands clasped before them on the table.
“You make a fair point, Miss Greengrass. I’ll give you that. And if all I had against you was a suspicious name in the Hospital Wing visitors log, perhaps we would find ourselves at an impasse.”
The girl across from him froze, her face a perfect mask of polite inquiry.
“But...?” she suggested.
“But,” Draco paused, reaching into the pocket of his suit coat, now laying beside him on the settee, and withdrawing a handful of flesh-coloured rubber. He tossed it onto the polished mahogany table between them, where it bounced a few times before unravelling and rolling to a halt.
He half expected the girl to rear back. After all, out of context, the thing was rather unsightly. Instead she leaned forward and, with the tips of her fingers, held it aloft as if it were a dirty sock. Dangling from her grasp, however, the object became more recognisable--a length of long, stretchy cord leading to an oversized rubber ear.
“What in Salazar’s name is this meant to be?” she demanded.
Something in her manner prompted a change in his face, just the slightest of smirks, before he leaned back to explain. There was something about the challenge she represented. For once, it wasn’t all pleas and cries and pathetic declarations of innocence. For once, it was a game, and Draco was good at games.
“Extendable Ears,” he responded, his voice lazy, laced with a conflicting mixture of admiration and contempt. “Yet another Weasley twin invention.”
“And you have one?”
He shrugged. “Of course. It’s a useful piece of technology, no matter who came up with it. And it’s important to have a thorough knowledge of your enemy’s resources.
“How does it work?” She lifted the Ear higher, eyeing it quizzically where it twisted and spun in front of her face, like a cat considering how best to attack a dangling piece of yarn. He honestly couldn’t tell if she truly did not know, or was merely pretending. If it was an act, it was an admirable one.
“It seeks out sounds and amplifies them for the listener. These have been adjusted slightly from their original form, enchanted to break through advanced security wardings.”
“Mmmhmm...” Astoria didn’t look at him, instead completely absorbed in the mystery of the object before her. She held the string up next to her own ear and glanced up in surprise when Draco’s voice boomed with an unexpected surge in volume.
“Wardings, for example, surrounding the homes of persons under suspicion by the Ministry.”
He paused, thinking he caught a flash of understanding in her eyes, but it disappeared before he could be certain it was anything more than a trick of the light. He shook his head and continued. “To be more specific, homes such as that ridiculous structure that houses the Weasley family.”
Astoria remained silent as Draco hefted himself off the settee and made his way over to stare out the window at the dismal grey landscape beyond.
“The Weasleys, bloodtraitors though they are, are still an old family. Their wards are well-constructed, giving us only odd bits and pieces.” Fat drops of rain splattered against the wavy glass panes, sounding out an interminable drum roll, forever awaiting a grand reveal.
Draco spoke quietly, feeling something like an increase in gravity as he tipped his hand and let the proverbial cards spill out.
“Our Ears picked up the name of Greengrass, multiple times, in the days before the raid was set to take place. But, of course, that very raid didn’t happen.”
He waited a moment, but the girl said nothing.
“Even you must admit, Miss Greengrass, that is more than a bit suspicious.”
He glanced back to where she sat, stock still, in the seat across from his abandoned one.
Draco took advantage of the moment to consider her again. She hadn’t seemed so very sharp when their conversation had begun. Now she was a creature made all of angles--her face drawn, the room’s light and shadows playing over well-cut cheekbones. Her skin was pale, but of a shade more exotic than the roses and cream of an English pallor. Her eyes were set at the Greengrass slant, but their piercing blue would be recognised by anyone who had ever had the misfortune of attending a Blishwick dinner party and walking through the portrait hall where long-dead, blue-eyed matriarchs sniffed in disdain at the pedigrees of passersby.
The Greengrass pedigree wouldn’t be worth a whit if a single one of them was proven guilty. The Dark Lord did not believe in sparing ‘innocent’ family members. He espoused the philosophy that a weed in the garden was best dug up, roots and all, leaving nothing behind but churned graveyard soil.
For that long moment, Astoria Greengrass remained completely silent. When she finally spoke, her voice was calm, somehow both soft and cutting, a sharp blade in a velvet-lined box.
“And this is your evidence against us? Our name mentioned by traitors? There could have been any number of reasons for that.”
She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “I don’t know, Mr. Malfoy. I hardly know what their sort might discuss over Sunday luncheon!”
The girl’s calm countenance, for perhaps the first time, cracked, and her voice rose in volume as she began to gesticulate.
“Perhaps they were gossiping about all that fuss with my father like half the country, instead of letting an old man recover his health in peace. Maybe they needed to ship something and wondered whether they should use my family’s company or parcel post! Perhaps they were discussing the remarkable freshness of their lawn! I can hardly be expected to know exactly why the name Greengrass might have come up.”
Draco eyed her with interest. Now he was getting somewhere. He plucked the Extendable Ear up from where she had thrown it onto the table and wrapped the cord back around the device, placing it once again on the table, the evidence staring her down. Or, it would have been, were it an eye and not an ear.
“As it happens,” Draco responded cooly, “I find all those propositions unlikely. The business with your father took place months ago, so I believe the gossips have moved on to fresher topics. Arthur Weasley is a confirmed Mugglophile and would take any opportunity to send a package by their methods--he’d never consider using a Pureblood-run service. And if you’d ever seen the state of their lawn, you’d know there’s nothing remarkable about it aside from a hideously overblown gnome infestation.”
She glared at him.
“You don’t really expect me to furnish you with every possible reason why my name might have been overheard,” she demanded, irritated, but Draco went on as if she hadn’t said a word.
“It could have been your mother, of course. She had access to that information.”
Astoria’s expression reverted to its careful blankness. “I was unaware.”
“Perhaps you were,” Draco allowed. “Perhaps your mother informed your elder sister of the Dark Lord’s plans. Daphne is a notorious gossip, always eager to flaunt a new rumour. It’s possible she allowed your mother’s secrets to fall upon the wrong ears.”
“My sister knew nothing.”
Draco nodded along. “One would hope the chief spy to the Dark Lord wouldn’t put such delicate information into the hands of such a nattering fool, but you never know...”
“You and I both know my mother was cleverer than that,” Astoria insisted. “If my sister is such a fool--”
“Oh, she is.”
Astoria gritted her teeth.
“Then what are you implying about the Dark Lord, Mr. Malfoy, that he would choose to entrust his secrets to someone so undiscerning? If you say that my mother was not trustworthy, and yet the Dark Lord trusted her, you seem to be saying that...he made a mistake.”
Astoria paused for effect, tapping a thoughtful finger against her chin. “Why, Mr. Malfoy, have a care. That sounds an awful lot like treason.”
“The Dark Lord trusts no one,” Draco snapped. “Your mother included.”
Astoria didn’t back down for a second, her voice ringing out with the same assurance and authority as his.
“The Dark Lord and my mother were much of a mind, then. I guarantee you that, of all people, she would not have put her faith in Daphne.”
“Mmm,” Draco hummed placatingly, allowing the accusation to be placed to the side for the moment.
He kept his expression light as he scrutinised her expression, his mind flipping through their entire conversation, searching out any cracks in the façade. He had to admit, she cut the legs of his accusations right out from under them, leaving his evidence wobbly as a two-legged stool.
An acute prickling sensation in his arm reminded him that it didn’t matter--he had no need to furnish proof, and usually Draco didn’t care much about whether a job was left half-done so long as it was all settled out in the end.
Still, there was something about her. Draco had good instincts, and he had a feeling. He had seen innocents. They panicked as much as the true offenders under the examination of an emissary of the Dark Lord. She was too composed, had been entirely too calm throughout this whole process. The truth was, everyone had something to hide, including Astoria Greengrass.
And he was going to find out what it was.
The questioning into her family appeared to be the key. A few inquiries about her mother and sister had her bristling more that the entire etiquette-riddled exchange up till that point.
“Of course, there is always your father.” She turned to him, her chin at a haughty tilt as it swivelled on a graceful neck, but the flare of her nostrils belied the calm grace. The air between them positively buzzed with tension, her words slicing through it as she snapped,
“That’s not possible.”
For once, she was doing just as he expected. He turned away from her, watching her reflection in the thick, wavy glass of the window.
“You’ll find that, in my line of work, very little is impossible.” The threat in his tone was unmistakable, but the girl made no response. Draco tilted his head upwards, as if admiring the half-faded frescoes, gods or demons trailing long ribbons, dancing between sharp-toothed creatures on the ceiling. His voice, when he spoke, was calm, casual.
“Perhaps it was your father, then, whom she entrusted with that information. He may have felt angry upon his enforced retirement. He and Arthur Weasley both worked at the Ministry. It’s not outside the realms of belief that they could have been in touch."
He noted a quickening of breath, a rising flush in the girl’s cheeks.
“My father has hardly left the house these last months. He hasn’t been in contact with his oldest friends! He would never have spoken to Arthur Weasley. He wouldn’t have had the opportunity.”
“Ah. But as you have been so quick to remind me, you’ve been away at Hogwarts,” Draco countered. “So how could you really know?”
“My father barely speaks to me!”
Draco spun to face her and took an instinctive step backwards, feeling his spine hit up against the cold glass of the window as Astoria rose to her feet, the flash of fury in her eyes something terrible to behold. If the Killing Curse could be cast with a look, Draco suspected she’d be glowering down at his lifeless body.
“He’s kept himself locked up with nothing but his books. He accepts no company. Speak to him, and half the time he just stares at you blankly. My father didn’t reveal state secrets to anybody!” She stopped abruptly, her voice lowering so that he only barely caught her final words. “He scarcely knows who anybody is.”
She sank back into her seat, not meeting his gaze.
“I suppose that leaves only you.”
“I suppose it does,” she answered tiredly. “But I’ve already told you about myself.”
“Indeed, you have.”
He took a breath, tapping his fingers restlessly against the windowpane. Something in her voice, the faint timbre of hopelessness, left him suddenly drained. He could hardly imagine why. Malfoys had never been known for their sympathy.
It must have been that he was simply growing tired of this--the charade of polite society, the illusion that there might be mercy left to spare when the prickling sensation in his arm assured him of how this meeting would end. He still wanted answers, if only for his own sake, but he needed to end this soon.
Besides, he suspected he’d already drunk a half-gallon of tea, and if he tasted one more china cupful, he believed he might choke on it. These games, entertaining though this one had been, were wearing him thin.
“So,” she spoke quietly, after a long and heavy silence. “What now?”
She lifted her head to glance up at him, that lock of hair drifting out once again from behind her ear. This time she left it there, as if it might shield her from an answer that could ruin all she might hold dear.
For the first time, she truly looked...young.
It was ridiculous, of course. He could sense that Astoria Greengrass was more dangerous than she appeared. But still, there was something...
Till now, he’d been caught in the challenge, one like he’d never had before. There weren’t many of these ‘meetings’ where he was able to forget his purpose for a moment, but Astoria presented a mystery that had distracted him, the first puzzle he’d wanted to crack in a long while.
For a moment, he’d forgotten why he was here, forgotten what the outcome of this judgement would be.
It was so easy to forget that she was just a girl.
She’s only one year younger, he reminded himself, reaching into his pocket to pull out his pocket watch and running a restless thumb over the burnished metal. But a year ago...Well, Draco had certainly been a different person a year ago. A year could make a great deal of difference.
But only if one lived to see it pass.
Draco sighed. He so wanted to lean his head against the relaxing coolness of the window. It would help him think. But he forced himself to remain standing straight--if there was one thing he had learned in the last year, it was that showing weakness was always an error. He stilled his tapping fingers where they hovered over the windowpane.
“I will admit that, at this point, the evidence is rather inconclusive.”
Astoria glanced at him, her gaze caustic and wary. “And what do you generally do when the answers are... inconclusive?”
“Could you not,” Astoria suggested, “simply use Veritaserum on me? It would save you some time.”
A calculated question: risky, but potentially rewarding. If Draco Malfoy had the truth-telling potion on hand, he was hardly going to forget that he possessed it, whether or not she brought it up. As it was, Astoria’s asking gave the impression that she had nothing to hide. If he did have the means to force her to spill her secrets, he might opt not to waste such a precious potion on someone who was so certain of her innocence.
And if he had no such decoction to force her honesty, well, that was one less thing to worry about, wasn’t it?
It wasn’t the most flawless of plans, but it was all she had at the moment.
He gave a faint, humourless smirk. “I speak to a great many people in my line of work, Miss Greengrass. I doubt the entire Department of Magical Substances could brew the amount of Veritaserum I would require. I’m afraid we’ll have to resort to doing this the old-fashioned way.”
Astoria breathed in through her nose, feeling the muscles in her neck and shoulders seize up. She forced her knees to remain steady beneath her.
She would not allow herself to tremble.
“So. Torture, then?”
Something flickered in Draco’s face. His eyes turned flat, flinty and remote and, though his expression was forced into the same mould of careful blankness Astoria had so often practised in the mirror, she sensed some unspoken emotion darting and shifting behind the mask.
Astoria was suddenly, forcibly reminded that the hollow-cheeked young man standing before her was a Death Eater, a devotee of cruelty. Surely he had cut his teeth on Curses, was raised partaking in sacraments of bloodied bodies and broken bones like some dark acolyte.
So why, then, did some strange emotion flutter behind the shuttered windows of his eyes when she asked of him what must have always been coming, what was only to be expected from someone like him?
He moved toward her. Astoria felt her stomach clench, forced herself not to flinch away. She’d always known this is a possibility, but being faced with the reality made the room waver at the edges and left a coppery taste clinging to her tongue.
“No, Miss Greengrass,” Draco answered quietly. “Not torture--nothing so messy as that.”
He continued to stalk forward, his wand suddenly in his hand--where had that come from?--and, in spite of herself, Astoria felt herself take two very small steps backwards, edging away. She felt her calves hit the coffee table, heard the sound of the tea things jostling about, the tea spoons clanging against the china, such a normal, comfortable sound for such an abnormal, hideous moment.
Draco Malfoy hardly seemed to notice that she had moved away from him. In an instant, he was before her, his hand outstretched towards her arm.
“Not torture,” he reiterated. “Though I daresay that, for someone like you, this may be much more unpleasant.”
His hand brushed against the skin of her upper arm, tingling with magic. Her body jerked, but he didn’t lose his grip. She spun, but he caught her.
All too late, she realised what was happening. She should have known, should have planned for this kind of magic rather than spending her sleepless nights wondering if she could hold up against a Cruciatus Curse. But here was one threat Astoria had no strategy for, one thing she hadn’t prepared to fight against.
She felt it. It resonated down from the base of her skull and shuddered through each of her bones, like claws scraping against a slate.
Astoria’s hands clutched the back of the settee, her eyes snapping shut with the force of her concentration. She had never been taught to block her mind from attack. Of all the things her mother ought to have taught her, it occurred to her now that this should have been the most basic.
But that was just it. Lavinia had been too confident in her abilities to consider being discovered by the other side; too trusting of her own people to suspect that they might dig through her daughter’s mind.
And too sure of Astoria to imagine that she might, one day, have a secret of her own to hide.
Unable to help herself, she jerked an elbow back into his gut, eliciting a quiet grunt. She thrashed about, struggling as she felt her arms restrained, pinioned against her back by magic rather than his touch. Indeed, the only contact they had was his two fingers pressed against the back of her neck, as if he had seen into her mind already, had sensed that, beneath the perfectly coiffed and calm façade, something feral growled and snapped, itching to be set upon him, and to be further away was to be safer.
In the end, there was no way that, untrained as she was, she could hold out against a trained Legilimens, and she felt the wards around her mind as they creaked like rubber bands pulled taut.
And snapped, a riotous torrent of visions crashing over her, bearing her away.
She saw it all, played out against the velvet darkness of her clenched eyelids.
Her mother, sitting by her side, whispering her exploits into her ear like a fairy story at bedtime.
The owl arriving on a dark summer’s night.
The trip to St. Mungo’s. Identifying the broken body when her father collapsed into his private, unreachable grief. Wanting to turn to her elder sister, only to have Daphne run off to Pansy Parkinson and the rest as soon as she got to school as if none of it mattered at all.
Caring for her father, who had aged two decades in that one night and now seemed tired and absent. Her pain at being recalled to school and having to leave him behind.
Her horror upon finding that Felix had been released from his job at the Ministry, no longer fit to work, and at the new laws that made Hogwarts compulsory, keeping her from returning to him.
Her fury, burning deep and low and red, against the new regime, which had cost Astoria her family.
Her decision. Contacting Ginny Weasley. Secrets spoken in the shadows of the Gryffindor Common Room. A searing scar that snaked around her waist. A self-destructing note magicked into a chocolate wrapper that turned to ashes in her hand.
Astoria’s knowledge that, if anyone ever found out about the rebel lives she had helped to save, her family would lose their own.
Sated with all this, having gathered any number of damning pieces of mental evidence, the foreign presence slipped out of her mind, and Astoria swayed on her feet.
Spots swam before her eyes, and she crumpled toward the ground.
Unfamiliar arms caught her.
Hello everyone! Sorry it’s been a while since the last update. Also, I know I told you that we were leaving the parlor in this chapter, and we didn’t. I’ve spent forever trying to fit that all into one chapter, and it jut wasn’t working, so I decided to split them up. But after the next chapter, we really should be done with this setting, and will be moving to someplace else. Where that is, I can’t tell you yet. But I can give you a preview!
“Somewhere, Draco Malfoy,” she said, tapping him lightly on the chest, those eyes, captivating and insistent as the tide, still pouring into his. “Somewhere, you still have a soul.”
So, that should be interesting ; )
Thanks for reading, and please (with sprinkles and chocolate frogs on top!) take a moment to leave a review!
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