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Chapter 39 : The Consequences
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Lovely image by Lostmyheart at TDA.
Nobody talks about why Michael Corner is in the hospital wing for three days after his detention with Amycus Carrow. Nobody thinks to ask me about it, though Pyxis notices that I’m quieter than usual, staying subdued even when Carrow makes snide comments towards me in class.
“Ms. Greengrass truly is her father’s daughter,” she says one day, staring down her crooked nose at me as she hands back my essay on eugenics. It’s a farce of an assignment, full of nasty, presumptive things about the purity of one’s blood measuring their intelligence and right to reproduce – if only the oldest families could marry one another the inter-breeding would lead to deformities or infertility, though we’ve been instructed to ignore this research in the textbooks. The top of my essay is marked with a large red P, but both Carrow and I silently acknowledge that she means this statement as an insult against my father and I, and that it’s not solely about the assignment.
“Have you heard from your father lately?” Carrow asks me again.
I shrug. “Only that he wrote and complained how his office – his very important office as a Senior Minister – keeps raining.”
The other students in the class glance at me on occasion when Carrow says something particularly extreme or exercises her authority. Once, she forces the Gryffindor prefect whom Pyxis was partnered with on the train to stand in the corner of the room, facing the wall, for the duration of the class for asking whether somebody counted as a half-blood if their parent were a Muggleborn witch or wizard, though not a Muggle. By the time class ends, tears of humiliation are streaming down Robins’ face and her red hair is sticking with sweat to the back of her neck. A boy called Peakes puts his arm around her as they leave the class.
Another time, even Phin is a little disgruntled when the Carrows choose to interrogate him on his own family tree and he forgets to mention his own namesake, Phineas Nigellus Black, who was a former headmaster at Hogwarts. Phin uncharacteristically stumbles over his own words, and I know that even the most confident of Slytherins are shaken by the Carrows’ sudden authority. Indeed, Professor Snape, our former ally on the faculty, takes a step back and allows them to deliver discipline. We hear rumors of Filch gleefully bringing out his old chains from the dungeons and hanging unruly students by their ankles – though nobody can actually confirm the stories. Then the whispers start that the Carrows are performing and commanding the Unforgivable Curses to be performed in the school – something which I could confirm, where anybody to ask me. If I could confess to those words myself.
After three days, Michael Corner returns to the Great Hall for meals, keeping his eyes low and his actions unnoticeable. I find myself staring past the heads of Pyxis and Phin to watch him and Anthony at the Ravenclaw table, missing the third, dark head of hair which so often accompanied them last year. Once in the next week, Michael’s eyes meet mine, but he looks away so quickly and determinedly that I wonder if he hates me now, thinks I am a true Slytherin, ignores the fact that I trembled with fear and that tears blurred the sight of him writhing on the ground. I feel dirty, stained, as if the mere execution of an act of cruelty against someone whom I bore no malice has cast invisible marks of evil across my skin.
However, halfway through September something miraculous happens: I find myself in a corner alone with Anthony Goldstein when I go to the toilet during Charms class with the Gryffindors. He’s waiting for me by the girl’s toilet, tucking something that glints gold back into his pocket, and smiles at me shyly.
“Hey, Tor,” Anthony says, holding out his hands as if in a subconscious gesture of goodwill, to show that his wand is tucked away in his pocket. “I wanted to speak with you.”
Glancing around me, I nod slowly. “We’ll go to Moaning Myrtle’s toilet – nobody goes there,” I tell him, remembering a story Terry told me about some unnamed Gryffindors once brewing Polyjuice Potion in there. “It’s just down here.”
Only the portraits watch us as we pass down the staircase hidden behind a tapestry of Wendelin the Weird, Anthony’s footsteps echoing behind me. When we reach the toilet, I go in first to ensure no girls have had the same idea I did, then perch myself on the sink. Words bubble inside my mouth but long years of staying silent and controlling my outbursts win out, and I force myself to wait and let Anthony speak first, though he is first interrupted by a hooting call as a pale, pearly figure flows in from one of the toilet stalls.
“Ooooh, a secret rendez-vous,” Moaning Myrtle crows, transparent glasses hovering on her nose. Anthony recoils in alarm.
“Erm, hello,” he says, bemused. “Hope you don’t mind we’re having a bit of a chat.”
“Boys, in my toilet – well, it has been a few months since that happened,” Myrtle giggles. I roll my eyes.
“Look, bugger off,” I tell the ghost, who huffs and snorts loudly as if holding in tears.
“Nasty like most Slytherins, except for him, of course – he hasn’t come this year, though that fat fool from Hufflepuff said he’s back – not to visit poor, miserable Myrtle of course. Though…” She sidles up to Anthony, batting her eyelashes at him. “Perhaps the replacement isn’t so poor, ooh! One of my own house!”
“No offense, but you’re not really my type – not too interested in girls, alive or dead,” Anthony says politely. He glances at me, turning a little pink, as Myrtle gives a loud huff and descends with a splash back into her toilet.
I remember, last year, Terry telling me that Anthony had some secrets, which he wasn’t ready to share with others yet. I crisscross my ankles, swinging them in the air below the sink, smiling at him slightly.
“So you’re…you’re gay, then?”
He smiles slightly, still a bit pink. “I mean, I’ve always been gay – it’s just this year I’ve started telling people. I figure that if there’s a war going on and people are dying and disappearing, I might as well pluck up some courage and be open about who I am.”
I smile back at him, wishing I had a way to be that confident in myself. “Great, well…I’m glad you told me.” It comes across as a little weak, but there’s a certain warmth between us that wasn’t there before that comes with the unraveling of secrets.
“It was actually your friend – the one on the Quidditch team – with all those rumors about him that inspired me to start telling more people,” Anthony explains. “I figured that by keeping who I fancy a secret, it was doing more stigma-building than good, you know? Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. Here.” He hands me an opened envelope – the material is white and thick, not like the parchment we wizards use for letters. I slide out the bit of paper inside, heart quickening when I realize it’s addressed to me in an unfamiliar handwriting.
Before I can read it, I turn back to Anthony. “About Michael…”
He shakes his head, a pained expression crossing his face. “No, Tor – look, it wasn’t your fault. If you hadn’t done that, then Carrow would have performed the curse on both of you, and probably much worse. Mikey’s shaken, but he’s alright, and this has just made all of us more determined than ever to find new ways to fight against the Carrows.”
“But it was because of me that he got the detention in the first place,” I say. “Because of Daphne.”
Anthony shrugs. “That’s your sister’s fault: not yours. We both know you’re a good person, Tor: it’s not your fault you’re trapped in Slytherin with these…people. I trust you, Terry did too.” He corrects himself. “Terry does too. And the answer isn’t to just not get detention and avoid punishment: Hogwarts is far darker than that, and ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it go away.”
I clutch the letter to my chest. “Anthony, how did you know that I was going to the toilet right at that moment?”
His hand moves over his pocket, and he smiles crookedly. “I can’t quite tell you that. It’s not really my secret to tell. But maybe you should pay more attention to a bloke called Peakes in your classes with the Gryffindors.” He nods. “Read the letter.”
We haven’t heard from Terry in months. Was actually trying to figure out how to contact you in case you knew something. He’s on the run, and he said he was trying to contact you last we heard. Ministry wizards have been here asking about him- we told them nothing. He’s on the run – reckon many others are, and we’re worried. Please send word to me if you hear from him, if he’s safe. I miss my boy.
Take care of yourself, love.
My mouth goes dry. “This is Terry’s mum.” Anthony nods at me.
“This letter was inside one she sent to Mikey and I to try and find out if Terry had been in contact.”
“How did you get the letter through?” Frustratingly, Anthony refuses to specify how this happened, only saying that there is a precarious way of sneaking unread letters in. I tell him that I’ve heard nothing from Terry since the middle of the summer, and even saying it out loud, speaking of Terry to another person who knows and loves him, is enough to make my eyes sting with unreleased tears.
We part ways as quietly as we met, and I bury Mrs. Boot’s letter deep in my pile of books and think about it all afternoon.
September is rocked by the news that Undesirable Number One, as the Daily Prophet advertises him as – Harry Potter – has been spotted at the Ministry. The Prophet article does not say much more other than that Potter is a dangerous fugitive who will cause more damage and treason if he is enabled to remain on the run, but I receive a letter from my mother telling Daphne and I that our father is furious and nearly caught Potter and his companions.
I notice that this news leads to many more people keeping an eye on Ginny Weasley. The whole school knew about her relationship last year with Potter and that they broke up around Dumbledore’s funeral, but her connections to him cannot be ignored. She becomes a figure of fascination for many of the students, including the Slytherins, who mutter about the things she says and the detentions she receives in their classes, some paired with unflattering words and others with a sort of intrigued judgment.
Despite our sort-of-friendship of the past year, Ginny and I do not really cross paths for the first little while, nor do we make any attempt to speak with one another. I’m sure that she shares the fear that I suffer through every day as I long for news of Terry: at least, if Potter were discovered and captured, the Prophet would be sure to broadcast the news with more slanderous articles. If the Dark Lord’s great nemesis were dead, then He would require every wizard in Britain to know. But if something were to happen to Terry, it is very unlikely that anybody would know or care about the life of some anonymous Muggleborn.
There are tales that the Muggleborns are being rounded up, their wands snapped in half and penned like animals to stay in Azkaban, or forced to live as beggars in Diagon and Knockturn Alley as they are permitted no contact with their Muggle relations. It is whispered that if a Muggleborn manages to escape the Ministry’s confines, that their families are in danger of being punished in their stead.
“It’s barbaric,” I say to Pyxis as we are sitting alone in the common room one evening after dinner. I fold up the Prophet, then drop it on the carpet with a disdainful thud. “If all those things are true. Doesn’t it disgust you?”
“Maybe a little bit,” my friend replies. He glances around, then leans closer to me. “Have you heard from…you know?”
I shake my head, curling my knees up towards my chest. “Still, nothing. It’s really sad.”
“Maybe it’s best you keep your distance from him for a little while,” Pyxis says hesitantly. “I mean… you wouldn’t want to get caught up in all the dark things going on, if people knew you were a blood…” He can’t even finish the insulting phrase, but irritation flares up inside me.
“Thanks for your advice, Pyxis. I really didn’t have a choice in the matter, but you just helped me so very much.” I gather up my bag.
“Look, there’s that git,” Pyxis says, glancing towards the entrance to the common room, where Draco Malfoy is stepping inside, his pale face thin and drawn. “Thought he went home for another little weekend holiday – wish we could just leave school at a moment’s notice like that.”
A few people glance towards Draco and nudge their neighbors, probably also wondering where he’s been for the past few days.
“Probably finding another professor to murder,” Phin says loudly from behind me, and everyone glances around to see. Since Dumbledore’s death, even the children of Death Eaters tend to forget that Dumbledore was our Master’s enemy and we should be celebrating his death.
Pyxis smirks at his friend from over the couch. “Or just sliming around, doing nothing with his father – does he still have nightmares about Azkaban, Draco? Since he’s the one who got that lot in there in the first place?”
I frown at my friend, surprised at his bold, cruel words. This is very overt bullying for Slytherins, who tend to be more subtle and dignified, and frankly I expect better from Pyxis.
Draco freezes near the entrance, staring around the room. In the corner, Crabbe and Goyle seem unsure of whether to jump to their old ringleader’s aid, and I notice Daphne staring at the ground – the Head Girl clearly wants no involvement. Draco’s eyes travel over me, and then he turns on his heel and leaves the common room again. Someone titters.
“That was rude, Pyxis,” I say, and stand up, impulsively following Draco out of the common room. It’s nearing the time for curfew, but rumors of the Carrows releasing dangerous beasts into the corridors at night to keep roaming students in bed have kept even the prefects inside their locked common rooms. I don’t believe it, personally: the Carrows enjoy punishment too much to leave the job to some ferocious animal. They pair emotional with physical abuse – yes, abuse is what it is. I wonder if writing to my parents would accomplish anything: indeed, Professor Snape has really stepped away from the daily running of the school, including protecting or punishing its students.
I catch up with Draco by a statue of a gargoyle, where he is leaning against its nose, his eyes closed. I step a little more loudly to alert him to my presence, reaching out a hand to put on his shoulder but re-thinking it at the last moment. Draco and I haven’t really spoken since that night, where he protected me from Greyback and ran up to the Astronomy Tower, and so I say the first thing that comes to mind.
“Please don’t be angry with Pyxis,” I say quietly. “He’s just having a rough time of it. He isn’t hurting anybody.”
“He hasn’t picked the best time to slip apart,” Draco mutters. “I’m not going to cause a big fuss, Tor. I don’t care about Nott, or Flix and their degenerate friends.”
As I frown, two things happen at once: I open my mouth to ask what he does care about, and a student in a Gryffindor tie – I recognize him as a student in my year – materializes from the shadows.
“Erm, we’re having a private conversation here,” I say as politely as I can manage.
The boy, whose name, I’m quite sure, is Peakes, sneers at me and advances forward. He points his wand at Draco.
“Sure wasn’t private when you killed Dumbledore,” he says dangerously. A flash of irritation moves across Draco’s face. Peakes shoots a spell at him, which Draco sweeps away with his wand. The spell hits a nearby suit of armor, burning a large hole in its breastplate. I pull out my wand as well.
“Listen, Peakes –isn’t it? Relax. Nobody do anything they shouldn’t.”
“He’s a murderer, filthy Death Eater scum, and you’re no better, bitch, no matter what Anthony says,” Peakes mutters. He sends another spell flying at Draco, who swallows it up into his wand and sends it flying back at the Gryffindor, who yelps and dives out of the way to avoid it.
“Disgusting blood traitor,” Draco mutters, like an anthem. He jabs his wand at Peakes, and the boy’s legs crumple beneath him. “Yeah, that’s right. Bite your tongue before you talk like that to Slytherins – maybe I’ll have you bite it right off as you’re convulsing in pain…” He raises his wand, hatred and wild anger coupled on his face, but I impulsively point my wand at his back. Draco’s raised wand arm freezes as if it were made of stone. It’s a useful spell my father taught me.
“Draco, stop,” I say quietly, plucking the wand from his fingers. Peakes is still crumpled on the floor at our feet. “He’s just upset, loads of students are. You can’t go off on everyone. You’ll get in trouble.”
But as it turns out, once the Carrows show up Peakes is the only one to get in trouble. Amycus hauls him off, a greedy grin on the squat, wicked man’s face, and from what I hear through the terrified whispers, poor Peakes is punished very viciously for “daring to turn his wand on a Slytherin.”
But first, Draco walks me back to the common room after the incident, many words and thoughts hanging between us. I do not ask how it feels to have students turn on him like that, and he does not ask why I followed him into the corridors. Instead, we pause in front of the stone wall guarding the other Slytherins, and I gently, hesitantly put a hand on his arm, feeling his thin arm tense through his robes. Hopefully this isn’t the arm that has been branded, I realize too late.
“Draco, where have you been going when you leave the school so often?” I ask quietly. The Bloody Baron floats by, clanking and grumbling, the silver blood stains shining on his doublet. “You can tell me.”
“Just home,” Draco mutters, tugging away slowly. He looks at me: we’re nearly the same height – he has the slim, slight build of a Seeker, different from Terry’s tall frame.
“And what do you do there?” I ask. Draco shudders a little bit, and the air around us feels a little cooler against my face.
“Pray to all the Gods there are that you never find out,” he says bitterly.
Similar confrontations as happened between Peakes and Draco continue throughout the next few weeks leading into October, and as the Quidditch players going out to practice wear scarves around their necks and frost gathers around the window panes in the early mornings Hogwarts seems to fall even further from what it once was.
Classes with the Carrows accelerate from working on pureblood lineage and tracing our ancestries to being coerced to perform dark magic in the classroom. The seventh years whisper about students who had detention for acting against the Carrows being brought into their Defense Against the Dark Arts classes as subjects for practicing painful and cruel hexes, ranging from tickling jinxes that are so strong they make the humiliated victim wet their pants to ones which leave the subject unconscious at the other end of their oppressor’s wand.
“It was awful,” Theo admits to me one morning at breakfast, keeping his voice low. “There was this little kid – second year, I reckon. But we all had to do it – I had to do it, to set an example.” He shakes his head, staring into his oatmeal. I know he is thinking of his father’s precarious status with the Dark Lord, particularly after the failures to capture Potter or locate his family at the end of the summer.
Under Pyxis’ approval, I write to my parents to inform them of the harsh conditions at Hogwarts. They write back, grimly, ordering me to not stand out as a troublemaker.
I would not wish to make a soldier of you, Astoria, if I had the choice, my father adds to the letter. But Hogwarts is not under my jurisdiction, and I would bid you to remember that and your place within the new order. You have a duty to this family and to yourself.
I throw out the letter into the nearest bin, though I keep the letter from Terry’s mum close. There is still no word, and I even go to the extent of staring at our secret notebook, waiting for words to appear. There is still nothing. I write him an unsigned, ambiguous letter, begging the school owl to deliver it to him. There is no reply, and I do not know whether the owl was successful in its mission.
The other professors – McGonagall, Flitwitck, Slughorn and the others – do their best to keep classes to some degree of normality. But the new power dynamics are revealed when Crabbe, puffed up and princely under the Carrows’ vicious command, uses a rough Cruciatus Curse on a Gryffindor student who refused to get out of the way. McGonagall’s spell sends a dazed Crabbe flying back twenty feet, but Carrow, crunching her teeth with glee at this show of rebellion, has the elderly Transfiguration teacher on the stone floor, perched upon her thin knees, head bowed in pain. It’s a terrible sight, and even my peers at the Slytherin table bow their heads in shame. McGonagall refuses to leave the castle, however, and Snape does not interfere in one way or another.
“Bloody disgusting,” a girl’s voice says behind me as I’m leaving the Great Hall, unable to finish my meal. I turn around to see Ginny walking with two other friends: one dreamy-eyed blond girl with dirt on her face and radishes for earrings, and one gangly, round-faced Gryffindor boy. Ginny glances at me, pursing her lips.
“I agree with you, of course I do,” I say in a low voice, falling into step beside her. We are among the first to leave the Great Hall after the show of power against McGonagall, and I check over my shoulder to ensure no Slytherins are following me.
Ginny thinks for a moment, then touches my arm gently. “Tor, this is Neville Longbottom, and Luna Lovegood,” she says quietly. “Guys, this is Tor – she’s cool.” I blush a bit at this. “Tor, have you heard from…”
“No,” I say, and fight the heavy weight from descending across my chest as I worry about Terry. I tell myself that I would know, one way or another, if something unspeakable had happened to the boy I have cared about for nearly a year – surely there would be a sign, or a letter covered in faded tears, or an emotionless announcement in the paper. But no sign comes, and I am both relived and desperate.
“I think I recognize you – are you not the girl who was complaining about being stalked by a Heliopathe? I thought I noticed some signs of sunburn on your cheeks – they are quite hot if they get close, you know.” I stare at the blond girl – Luna – for a moment, then shake my head.
“Erm, nope, that’s not me,” I say quietly. Longbottom looks down at me with suspicion, and I pity him for having such an easily mocked last name.
“Listen, Tor, could you help us with something?” Ginny whispers, tugging me up towards a tapestry behind which there is a shortcut to the upper floors of the school. We dodge a small first year who is crying into the sleeves of her robes: no doubt spooked by McGonagall’s public punishment. Luna glances after the girl as we move into the stairwell, Ginny guiding me up the stairs. “It’s a bit dangerous, but very important,” she tells me. “We were thinking…well, if all of us students and teachers banded together against the Carrows and Snape and the Sly-and the rest of the scum, we could have a real shot at fighting, right?”
“I personally think it’s all hogwash,” Longbottom grumbles. “Look at what happened to Peakes, or Michael. They have the might of You-Know-Who on their side. Without Harry, there’s no real hope.”
“You’re being a wimp, Neville,” Ginny snarls. She looks back at him. “Are you in, or are you out?”
“In, I reckon,” he snaps back. Luna gazes at the walls, tracing her fingers along a very long crack in the stones that make up the castle. Ginny sighs.
“I promise I’m not always this bossy-”
“She is,” Neville mutters.
“But this is important. So, are you going to help us?” Ginny raises one sandy eyebrow at me. I bite my lip.
“Erm, looks like I am…what exactly are you doing?”
Panting slightly from the efforts of climbing the stairs, Ginny explains it to me. She and the other two students are going to break into Snape’s office: they need to steal something, she explains, and she can’t tell me what it is, only that it’s something very important to the cause.
“The fight against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, of course,” Luna says. She holds up a piece of paper. “We found this – well, it was sort of delivered to us…”
“Peakes – mate of ours - had a detention with Snape after his little run-in with Malfoy the other night and stole it from his desk,” Ginny explains. Longbottom is still looking at me with suspicion, muttering something about how they have no reason to be trusting this strange girl from Slytherin. “Apparently the slimy git needs to have his passwords written down in order to remember them.” She glances at Longbottom. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Longbottom shrugs.
“But how do you know the passwords are correct? It seems a bit careless of Snape to just leave them lying around.”
Ginny bites her lip for a moment, clearly unable to answer this question.
“So it could be a trap,” I press. “Is it really so important to try and risk your necks – heck, people have had the Cruciatus curse used on them for just insulting a prefect, never mind trying to break in to the Headmaster’s office.”
“I think he has the passwords written down because the griffin statue guarding the office is an autonomous thinker who chooses them,” Luna says out of nowhere, looking down at her list. “I can’t imagine Professor Snape would purposefully choose the password Ton-Tongue Toffee…”
“The Slytherin is right, Gin,” Longbottom says grudgingly. The red-haired girl pauses to think for a moment: we have reached the corridor where the large stone griffin guards the office which used to be Dumbledore’s, and I can’t help but think back to my meetings with the wise old professor, when he promised he could protect me and my family. How different it all would be if he were still alive!
“Well, we should act now, while Snape’s down there dealing with Seamus’ distraction,” Ginny decides. She’s clearly the leader of their little group. “Our friend is causing a bit of a raucous with exploding banana pie,” she explains. “Tor, you can keep watch? With luck, we should be able to get the sword out before anybody realizes.”
“Wait.” I put out my hand, addressing the round-faced boy, Longbottom. “I think… it’s not much, coming from me, but if I were you, I would fight as hard as I could. I want to do that myself. You shouldn’t be frightened to fight.” Our eyes meet for a moment, and the freckled boy nods, turning away, nibbling at his lip. I’m unsure of the advice I’ve just given, but he seems to step a little more confidently.
Her friends nod, following Ginny down the corridor and leaving me to guard the staircase. I can hardly bare to look behind me as Luna’s voice rings out confidently with the password and there is a grinding of stone as the griffin statue lets them into the Headmaster’s office. It’s so simple, too simple: and while some instincts inside of me are telling me to run away, to wash my hands of this risky business and leave the others to their fate – what do I truly owe them, indeed? – something keeps my feet planted on the floor. Perhaps it is my own advice to Longbottom ringing in my head.
My heart skips a beat when there is a pounding of feet on the stairs which we have just vacated, coming up from the Great Hall. I freeze, recognizing the angry wheezes of Amycus Carrow, muttering angrily to someone.
“You swear you saw her come up here, Avery? You saw her?”
“Yes. I’ve lived with Astoria for four years – I’d know her anywhere. She’s spending time with blood traitors again.” Demetria’s voice is clear. “Don’t you want to find out what they’re up to, Professor? After all, it’s no secret that you don’t prefer her.”
“Greengrass is an insidious little…” I don’t get to hear Carrow’s insult. I am frozen, torn between running away and showing Carrow that I’m alone, not spending time with any blood traitors, not proving to be one myself. Demetria truly is a snake in the grass, trying to put a target on my back like this.
I look back towards the griffin, realizing that I have a choice to make. If I stay here, there is a possibility that Ginny and the others will come down from Snape’s office before Carrow leaves. If I run, they might continue to investigate the area, and the same result might occur. Either way, things are not looking promising for Ginny’s impulsive, fool-hardy mission.
So I make my own choice. As Carrow and Demetria step into the corridor, I turn the corner at the end farthest from the Head’s office, causing them to hurry after me. I move down a corridor, luring them away.
The next day, whispers spread around the school that Professor Snape caught Ginny, Luna and Longbottom trying to steal something from his office after the feast, and that they were punished by being sent into the Forbidden Forest to do some work with Hagrid.
“A pretty easy punishment, if you ask me,” Pyxis mutters to me, and I can’t help but feel a little proud that I was the one who kept them from being discovered by somebody who would curse first and ask questions later. Everybody is a little shocked by the lax treatment of the culprits – especially in the wake of what has gone on behind the stone walls under the control of the Carrows.
And things are about to get worse.
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