Our Obligations

Wise Teachers And Pretty Girls

Chapter Five: Wise Teachers and Pretty Girls

Albus, Scorpius, and Rose climbed the steps to the third floor classrooms, chatting away about what they'd seen that morning and the night before. All three had been lived their entire lives in magical households, but Hogwarts was simply something else entirely. Everywhere the three looked, there were portraits to talk to, suits of armor that moved in their alcoves, and other interesting things that seemed engineered to steal the attention of an eleven year old child.

"Are you sure this is the right floor, Rose?" Albus yawned impressively, showing all of his teeth. "I'd hate to be late for our first class…"

"Victoire said it was this way, didn't she? She's been here for seven years, Albus… I think she knows her way around the castle by now."

Albus recognized his Aunt Hermione in Rose whenever his cousin acted this way. Aunt Hermione couldn't stand it when she was questioned on what she did or didn't know either, so Rose came by it honestly at least. He stopped suddenly and yawned again, and this time threw in a stretch that started at his toes.

"You okay, mate? You look peaked." Scorpius led them around a corner, then nodded and pointed at the line of first years waiting beside the classroom door. They were the last three students to join.

"I stayed up after you went to bed. I got started talking to Sir Nicholas and lost track of time." Albus covered his yawn with his hand this time. "I couldn't help it. He's got some great stories."

"Yeah?" Scorpius never really interacted with a ghost before, and Nearly-Headless Nick seemed a friendly sort. "What kind of stories?"

"Well, he told me one about my dad and a basilisk. Did you know there used to be a basilisk in a secret dungeon under the castle? Yeah… my dad apparently fought it his second year. Killed it too! With that sword that hangs over the fireplace in the common room. And then there was the time my Uncle George and My Uncle Fred…" Albus began to continue, but was interrupted.

"All right now, students… in you go!" Rose, Scorpius, and Albus all turned to see a kindly-looking woman standing by the door. "We'd hate to see you get so close to your proper room so early, and yet still be late to class would we? Especially seeing as it is your first day." The teacher, who was smiling all the while, held the door for them as they trooped inside.

They found three seats together near the middle of the classroom and sat as the matronly teacher strode to the front of the room. "Good morning class, good morning class. Yes, good morning. It is simply wonderful to see such bright young faces on such a fine day as this one!" She waved her wand at the blackboard and the name "Professor Anydots" appeared in a curvy handwritten script.

The professor's smile was genuine and infectious; without thinking about it, nearly every child in the classroom found themselves smiling back at her. She was a plump woman, but not fat; her copper-colored hair was pulled up and back out of her face, and then rolled into a bun, but several strands had managed to escape and hung, framing her face. To Albus, Professor Anydots resembled his grandmother Molly. The professor dressed comfortably in homey, tan and black robes that, to his eleven year old mind, were the sort of things Grandmas were supposed to wear. The white apron cemented the image.

Professor Anydots puttered around on her desk for a moment; the desk seemed cluttered with books, papers, and various racks of corked vials and jars. "Ah. Here we are then." She turned around with a sheet of parchment in her hands and proceeded to call the roll for the class. When everyone was accounted for, she rolled the class roster into a tube and casually tossed it over her shoulder and onto her desk without looking.

She smiled up at the class, making sure to meet each student's eyes. "Welcome, students, to your first day of introductory potion-making! Now… what we'll be doing in this class is give you a basic grounding for your later potions classes. We'll study things like the proper methods of preparing your ingredients, the correct range of temperatures for your potions, proper wrist motions while stirring, and so on. Once all of you future potions masters and mistresses are ready, we'll even brew a few potions!"

Albus exchanged a look with Scorpius. All around them, the other first years were doing the same. Professor Anydots just laughed. She recognized the looks that were creeping onto the students' faces. "Oh, I know, it all sounds frightfully boring, but I assure you, with what you learn in this class, there's no reason why all of you can't get an Outstanding on your Potions OWL in our fifth year together!"

The professor waved her wand again, this time toward the class, and before each of them appeared a pile of large, dark green leaves and a silver knife. "We'll start with basic knife techniques. One of the things you always have to remember when using your knife to slice or chop ingredients is that there is no such thing as a dull blade! Always assume that it is sharp, and you'll always be careful with it! So... say after me: Safety first. Safety last. Safety always!" She looked each student in the eye as they repeated her words. "Is that the best you can do? Honestly… I've heard more enthusiasm from the suits of armor in the hallway! Come on, then… Louder! Safety first…"


As they walked down the stairs two hours later, Albus pointedly discussed lunch. He hadn't eaten much that morning for breakfast, and was now, he assured his companions, well-and-truly famished.

Scorpius looked dubious. "I don't know how much I can eat right now." He tentatively sniffed at his hands. The odor of the many cyclamens leaves they had just sliced, "using a curvy, forward, rocking motion" in the words of Professor Anydots, clung to his fingers and it was ruining his appetite. "I'm not ever going to get this stink off my hands."

"I thought it was brilliant," Rose added enthusiastically. She practically skipped down the stairs, much to the amusement of her friends. "Albus, did she feel like Grandma to you? She wasn't mean, even when you messed up and cut the leaves… what did she call it? Chiffanade? Anyway, you were supposed to cut them julienne."

Albus flushed with embarrassment as they stepped into the Great Hall. "Don't remind me."

Rose continued to gush. "And that 'spider' thing she taught us to do with our fingers while cutting the leaves… I bet that saves a lot of us from getting cuts. She laughed. "To think dad said that I'd hate potions class…"

They sat at the Gryffindor table, Albus once again proclaiming his status as a famine victim. Despite his earlier words, Scorpius helped himself to a heaping portion of steak-and-kidney pie. He was on his third bite when Albus nudged him and pointed upward.

The mail had arrived.

Dozens of owls swooped around the Hall, dropping letters and packages hither and yon. One large and impressive bird Scorpius recognized as belonging to his father. The boy swallowed his bite of pie and blanched. "Uh-oh. I guess Mother and Father got my letter…"

Albus followed the flight of the large bird, all the while spooning fried egg and beans into his mouth. "Ooo tol' 'im oo urn Grfgrr?"

Rose looked disgusted. "Albus, please. I know you suffer from having James as an older brother, but a few manners, please." She watched as the owl dropped an envelope on their table. It landed with one of its points down, neatly spearing through the puff-pastry that topped Scorpius' pie.

Albus swallowed. "Hey, at least it's not a howler. That means it can't be that bad, right?"

Scorpius shook his head. "Dad wouldn't send a howler. It would make him look bad. No, he'll make this nice and private." The boy pulled the envelope out of his lunch and wiped at the corner with the tablecloth. "Albus, if he tells me I can't come home, do you think your folks would let me move in with you?"

"What's this about moving in with us?" James sat down on the other side of Malfoy. The older boy stared at the envelope for a second, reading the address. "Oh, I see… you told them you got into Gryffindor instead of Slytherin, right? Now you're worried your dad is going to kill you?"

Scorpius only nodded. He was holding the envelope in front of him with a delicacy that made one think he believed it would detonate in his hands.

"Well… if they do, you should go talk to Sirius Black. He went through that when he went to Hogwarts. I'm sure he can tell you… you know… stuff… that would help you out if your dad's enough of a slimy git to toss you out." James picked up a roasted chicken leg from his suddenly full plate and took a bite. "Ooo no err oo nd sss prat, ri?"

Rose rolled her eyes. She loved the Potter boys, but they were disgusting sometimes.

Scorpius shook his head. He wasn't sure how to react to James calling his dad a slimy git. On the one hand… "No, I don't know where his portrait is… I don't even know who he is."

James swallowed. "He's hanging in the Sixth Year boys dormitory in Gryffindor Tower. Ask my cousin Fred to walk you up there. I'm sure he'll have no problem helping you."

"Helping with what?" Fred sat down on the other side of the table, next to Rose. Within moments he was working his way through roast beef and mashed potatoes. "Someone up to something they need my help with?"

"Malfoy sent a letter to his dad telling him that he wasn't up to Slytherin standards, and lacking any better place to put him, that evil, evil hat dropped him in amongst us unwashed Gryffindors." James grinned.

"And I come into the story….?"

"Since Malfoy's about to be disowned and thrown out by his parents, I advised that he consult with Sirius Black. Dad told me that he was a member of a traditionally Slytherin family that ended up in Gryffindor, too."

"Scorpius, you haven't even opened the letter! Maybe your dad is okay with…" Rose broke off what she was going to say as Albus, James, Fred, and Scorpius stared at her like a second head had just sprouted from her left shoulder. "Oh fine…" she huffed.

"Well, she has a point." Albus finished his beans and picked up a chip. "You haven't opened the letter yet. Maybe… who knows… maybe he's proud of you no matter what. Dads sometimes fool you, you know?" Now it was Albus's turn to be stared at. The younger Potter merely held his hands up, forestalling any commentary.

Scorpius pulled the envelope out of his pie and held it in both hands. He began to open it, then stopped. Then began again… and stopped again. He looked up and down the Gryffindor table. More people than he thought were watching him.

With a deep sigh, Scorpius opened the envelope. When it didn't explode, he withdrew the letter and began to read. As he did, he grew more and more confused. He reached the end of the letter and his father's over-exaggerated signature, and then began again, not sure he read it correctly.

"So? What's it say?" Rose asked. James, Fred, and Albus all nodded, prompting him to respond.

Rather than say anything, Scorpius began scanning the room, looking at faces until he reached the one he was looking for. As usual, Dahlia sat at the Ravenclaw table, closest to the teacher's table at the head of the room.

"Now I wonder why dad would say that." Scorpius asked himself.

Frustrated, James Potter shifted over and began to read over Scorpius' shoulder. Still caught in the confusion, Scorpius never noticed. When James reached the end of the letter, he looked over at the Ravenclaw table as well.

"Scorpius…" James began.

"What does he say, Scorpius?" Rose interrupted. She was almost holding her breath, worried for her friend.

"Well… um… he says." Scorpius cleared his throat. "He says that while he's disappointed I won't be matrik-oo-lating in his old House, he's sure I'll do well wherever I am and bring pride to the House of Malfoy. What's matrik-oo-lating mean?"

James was still looking at the letter. "Never mind that, Malfoy. I'm wanting to know what your father has against Dahlia Parkinson! I mean, to call her a…"

"I know what he called her… and I don't know what he has against her." Scorpius crumbled up the letter, utterly confused by his father's reaction.

"Well, worry about it later. Right now, eat!" Rose plopped a spoonful of something green and leafy… wilted spinach maybe… onto his plate. "You won't have enough energy to throw yourself off the top of the tower in anguish if you don't eat!"


During lunch, the three checked their schedules and found their next class was Transfiguration. While Scorpius was still pondering the letter from his father and its strange directives, James Potter was regaling them with tales of the supposedly "evil" Professor Rajapaksa.

"He's head of Slytherin House, you know. He likes to punish wayward students by turning them into mice and feeding them to his snakes. Got a ton of them, you know, snakes… but that's only fitting, what with him being the head of Slytherin House and all. He keeps them in glass tanks all over the classroom so they're in easy reach if he has to punish someone. And he smells of onions. And he's from Sri Lanka, so you know he knows all kinds of weird dark magic…"

James delivered the entire speech with such a straight face that, during their walk to the Transfigurations classroom, all Scorpius could think about was snake-wielding, onion smelling Dark Lords coming at him from the shadows.

On the one hand, it just sounded too ridiculous to be true. On the other hand, the best lies always involved speaking the exact truth, but making that truth sound so ridiculous that no one believed it. Scorpius stared at his feet as they left the Great Hall for their next class, mulling over the problem, not sure how to react.

Rose and Albus, on the other hand, were still discussing Scorpius' letter. "Obviously, you're going to have to go and ask her what this is all about," Rose suggested helpfully.

Scorpius just nodded, adding the letter to the list. "Yeah, but Father said not to go near her. And did you see what he called her in the letter? If I said that word at home, my mother would have me on a kitchen stool firing Scourgify charms into my mouth as fast as she could!" Scorpius' forehead bunched up in worry. "And that's almost as weird as why he didn't simply explode about my not being in Slytherin."

"That bad?" Albus asked, taking an interest.

"Yeah… he's got this entire Slytherin thing going." Scorpius rolled his eyes. "He was in Slytherin, and his father was in Slytherin, and all his grandparents were in Slytherin, too. I sometimes think that had my mother not been in Slytherin, he'd never have married her."

They turned a corner and came to a stairway. "Wait… is this the right way?" None of them had ever seen this hall before. "The classroom is on the ground floor, I thought?"

"Let's try this way… maybe we can find someone to ask." Scorpius waved them back the way they came. There were other students in the hall, but none they recognized. Most of them were clearly older than they were, so it might be they were in the wrong place entirely.

"Anyway, I think the entire Slytherin thing is part of that stupid pure blood wizard idea of his." Scorpius shook his head, clearly disgusted by it all. "It's really stupid…"

"My dad says that there really aren't any pureblood families anymore, and that's the way it should be." Rose spoke up, eyeing one of the side passages. "My mom's a Muggleborn, and she's got her own Chocolate Frog card! You don't get one of those if you're not special, so there can't be anything wrong with being a Muggleborn. And look at my Uncle Harry! He's the greatest wizard alive today, and he's only a Half-Blood, right Albus?"

"I'm not even sure what a Half-Blood is, Rose. I mean, it never made much sense to me." Albus tried to catch the attention of one of the older students. "Excuse me, but…" he said, but the student in question kept on walking.

Scorpius dropped his voice to a whisper, so only Rose and Albus could hear. "Father likes to use the M-word a lot. He doesn't do it when he's out in public where people can see him, but I've heard how he talks about people in private. Where no one can find out."

"That's wrong. Nasty, in fact. " Rose crinkled her face, making it look like she smelled something sour.

"I said the M-word once, when I was 8. I couldn't sit down for a week and wasn't allowed to play with my toy broom for a month." Albus added. "I didn't even know what it meant then, but boy… I've never said it again. And when Dad asked me where I heard it and I said from James, James couldn't sit down for a week either." He took a deep breath, and then yelled, "EXCUSE ME!" at an oncoming Ravenclaw girl.

The girl in question nearly dropped the book she was reading. Startled, she jumped backward from Albus, who stood directly in her path. She took a deep breath, and then addressed the animated obstacle that blocked her path. "What? No need to yell. What? Are you hurt or something?" When she spoke, it was with a thick, deep Welsh accent.

Albus smiled up at her. She was very tall. "No, we're not hurt… we're just lost. We can't find Professor Rajapaksa's classroom. Can you help us?"

The girl stared at the three first years for a moment, and then nodded. "Sure, yeah. " She pointed down the side corridor to the left. "Second door, just down there."

"Thanks," Albus called, as they took off down the corridor at a dead run. They scrambled into the room and immediately began searching for empty chairs. As the last three students to arrive, they unfortunately had to sit apart. Scorpius settled next to a large Slytherin girl with black, brushy hair. She eyed him speculatively for a moment. He smiled at her, hesitantly, and just as hesitantly, she returned the smile. For some reason, he couldn't help but notice that she had dimples when she smiled. She dipped her head shyly, and then turned her attention back to their instructor.

At the head of the class was a short, bald man in elegantly fitted, almost formal robes of light orange and pink. The light pastel color of his clothes offset the deep tan of his skin. He had his back to the class, using his wand to fill the blackboard with notes. At the top was the professor's name. "Professor Basil Rajapaksa", along with the words "Beginner's Transfiguration".

Scorpius took the opportunity to look around the classroom. It was an oddly angled room, wider toward the rear than the front. He remembered learning the name for such a shape once, but couldn't recall it at all. The student's desks were tiered, so that the ones in the front were sitting lower than the ones in back; the rows in front also had fewer desks. There were two wide aisles running down either side of the classroom, as well in the middle between rows of desks.

There were four high windows, each with beautifully crafted stained glass in them. The pictures were of magical creatures: a mermaid, a centaur, a unicorn, and a dragon. Each of the creatures scampered and flew or swam within its frame, every now and again turning to watch the students.

There were no deep shadows. No tanks full of serpents. Rather, the classroom was brightly lit, and the only extraneous decoration seemed to be a quartet of flower-boxes under the windows. These boxes were filled with some flower Scorpius had never seen before. It had large flowers and a bright orange color, and seemed to be absolutely beautiful.

There wasn't even a hint of onion smell in the air, as far as the boy could tell.

Without turning around, Professor Rajapaksa spoke. "Mister Malfoy, Mister Potter, and Miss Weasley, do try and be on time for my next class. And by 'on time' I mean sitting in your seats waiting for me to begin your lessons, not rushing into my classroom pell-mell, causing a fuss. Is that understood?" The man's voice was even and calm, and was accented with a sing-song quality that Albus had never heard before. It was less like he was dressing them down and more like he was discussing the weather for all the emotion he showed.

He turned toward the students, and Scorpius could see he was wearing dark black glasses with gold frames. For a moment, he wondered why the teacher would need shaded lenses, since the light wasn't that bright.

The professor cocked his head to the right slightly, never looking directly at any of the students, and said, "The proper response when I ask a question is 'Yes, professor' or 'Yes, sir'. If you choose the former, you may elect to add my last name, Rajapaksa, to your response. Or you may elect not. Either is appropriate. So let us try it again, please. Is that understood?" Again, the voice was utterly calm.

Scorpius looked at Rose, who looked at Albus, who looked at Scorpius. "Yes, professor," they responded.

"Good! Now that this minor matter has taken care of, let us call the class roll and get started, shall we?" The man's voice was suddenly cheerful. Not welcoming, like Professor Anydots was, but it definitely contained a friendlier note. "Now…." The professor turned toward his desk and waved his wand. Abruptly, a roll of parchment jumped up from his desk and into his grip. Rajapaksa held the roll in front of him, and without ever once opening it, called out the children's names, starting with "Anderson, Bianca" and ending with "Weasley, Rose". Once that was done, the professor released the roll of parchment and it floated back to its place.

"Welcome, students, to Beginning Transfigurations. Before we begin, I must caution you… Transfiguration involves some of the most dangerous magic you will ever encounter. If you do not attend the greatest possible care in your spell work, if you are not practicing the utmost care and diligence, it is possible for you to cause your fellow students or even yourselves irreparable harm." The professor paced back and forth in front of his class while he spoke. His wand was tucked into the orange silk sash he wore around his waist, and his arms were tucked and held behind him.

"As such," the teacher continued, "there is no place in my classroom for pranks or japes. I will give a week's detention to the student who points his wand at another student; even if you feel you have the greatest of causes." He stopped pacing and without looking at the students said, "Mister Muny, please hold questions until I have finished speaking. Unless you need to go to the restroom, in which case it is across the hall to your left, five doors down."

Scorpius looked at Albus and smiled. Rajapaksa wasn't missing a trick, as far as the boy could tell.

"Now, where was I?" Professor Rajapaksa's head dipped toward the floor, as if in concentration. "Oh yes…" he returned to his pacing. "Casting spells at your classmates. If it's a duel you want, I suggest you see Professor Longbottom… the man is an imminent duelist who has faced down opponents whose power and ferocity would turn your hair white."

The professor stopped pacing for a minute, cocked his head to the right again, and said, "My apologies, to you, Miss Teasdale. I meant no offense, of course." All eyes turned toward the pale girl who sat in the middle of the classroom. Jane Teasdale was an albino, with white hair and pale, pale pink eyes. As the only albino attending Hogwarts, she was naturally known, or at least known of, by the entire student body.

"Now…" Rajapaksa stopped and turned to the class. "Mister Muny, I see you're still here so I assume you had a question and weren't in need of a personal break. Yes?"

"Yeah… so does dat mean we ain't gonne be castin' no spells?" Muny, a ruddy-faced boy, spoke with a thick, working-class accent straight from East End, London.

Professor Rajapaksa took a deep breath. "Sir, Mister Muny. Or professor. Or if you must, Professor Rajapaksa. So your question would be 'does that mean we aren't going to cast spells, sir?', if I decrypted your lack of grammar correctly. Or perhaps even "Sir, does that mean we aren't going to cast spells?" He turned toward the classroom, and then turned back. "And the answer is no. That doesn't mean you aren't going to cast spells. It means you aren't going to be casting them willy-nilly."

He took out his wand and pointed to the blackboard. "Now… copy this down and study it tonight, along with the first chapter in your books. These diagrams and illustrations indicate the proper wand-movement needed to transform a matchstick into a needle." Without actually looking at his students, Professor Rajapaksa seemed to study them for a moment. "Now, without bothering with the incantation, which you will learn in a moment, who would like to be the first to give the wand motion a try? Hmmm? Anyone?"


Three hours later, they were on their way to the Gryffindor common room. "I am never going to believe anything James says, ever again. Tanks of snakes. He is such a git," Albus complained continually.

Rose snorted. "I thought that was a lesson you learned when you were still in nappies."

Scorpius was in just as much of a sour mood as Albus. Part of it was caused by the fact that he hadn't been able to do more with his matchstick than turn it into a silvery metallic matchstick. Rebecca Noone, the Slytherin girl with the dimples and shy smile he shared a table with, had actually put a sharp point on hers… but it remained a pointy match rather than a needle. Neither Rose nor Albus had made it much farther than he did.

Surprisingly, Professor Rajapaksa was generally happy with the progress. The only people he seemed impatient with were those whose matchsticks remained precisely what they were when the class started.

"So, Scorpius," asked Rose out of nowhere. "Have you given any more thought to the letter? Have you decided whether or not you're going to go talk to the Head Girl?"

"Oh, thanks for reminding me… I haven't thought about that in the ten or twenty seconds since class ended." The sarcasm was dripping from Scorpius' voice. "I haven't decided yet, no. I'd feel kind of odd, you know… just walking up to her at dinner, say, and asking her if she knew why my Father was calling her a --"

Rose interrupted, stopping in front of him and covering his mouth with her hand. "We know what he called her. You don't have to repeat it. Okay?" Scorpius nodded and she removed her hand.

"Please don't do that again," Scorpius said just loud enough for her to hear. "It's condescending."

Rose bit her bottom lip and stared at her friend for a moment. "I'm sorry… I didn't mean to…"

Scorpius held up a hand. "It's okay… but don't do it again, please."

"We've got about an hour before dinner, and I really don't feel like just jumping into our homework… so what do you two want to do in the meantime?" Albus craned his neck around, trying to get some sense of the castle's landmarks. He'd missed the entire exchange. "You know, you'd think they'd put up signs or something."

Two girls suddenly swooped out of nowhere to gather up the three children. "From what Victoire told us, they tried that during her first year at Hogwarts." Molly and Lucy Weasley, twin cousins to Albus and Rose, had caught up with the three friends. Molly took the left side and Lucy the right, trapping the younger kids through the expedience of putting arms around shoulders. "Peeves kept changing them at random. First years were wandering around lost for weeks. Eventually, they just gave it up, apparently. Hi, Rose. Hi, Albus." They studied Scorpius for a bit, and then shrugged simultaneously. "Hi, Malfoy. How was the first day of class for you?" Lucy said finally.

"I had a great deal of fun," Rose reported. "Professor Anydots reminds me of Grandma Molly! And she knows so much about potions! And Professor Rakasajapaja is pretty cool too. I almost turned a needle into a matchstick. One thing I was wondering, though… is Professor Rasajasaka blind or something? He kept those dark glasses on the entire time and never seemed to look at anyone."

"But Professor Binns was so boring," Albus interjected. "I mean I usually like learning about history when your dad talks about it, Luce. But does he have to drone on and on like that all the time? I had a problem keeping awake!"

Lucy laughed. "Of course Professor Binns is boring… he's a ghost… and an old ghost too. I think he was over a hundred when he died." She gave Scorpius the eye. He hadn't said a word and seemed to be sneaking glances at her out of the corner of his eye while avoiding her direct gaze.

"And how'd you like class today, Mister Malfoy?" She asked him finally.

"Oh… fine… yeah… fine…" Scorpius said in a low, almost whispery voice. A blush crept up his neck and into his face. He still hadn't met Lucy's eyes.

"Alright then…" Lucy responded, puzzled. "Well… You kids take care. We'll see you in the Common Room later." And with that, they disappeared into the crowd.

Rose studied Scorpius as they kept walking. "Scorpius? Are you okay? You've gone awful quiet. It's okay… Molly and Lucy… they're not mean… even If they're a bit stiff sometimes like my Uncle Percy. He's their dad. Uncle Percy, I mean. They aren't the type to hold the entire Malfoy Slytherin thing against you."

Scorpius was still staring toward where the twins had vanished into the student body. "She was awfully pretty. What did you say her name was? Lucy?"

Rose and Albus could barely hear Scorpius' voice. Rose looked at Albus. Albus looked at Rose. Then both couldn't help it anymore and they burst out laughing.

"Oh my… someone just discovered girls." Rose snickered, and Scorpius shot her a sour look. He opened his mouth to deny it when, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, his thoughts about one Rebecca Noone shot through his mind.

He closed his mouth abruptly before saying a word.

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