Continuing Tales


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 5 of 45

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Walking back down from the seventh floor felt very much to Ron like waking up from a bad dream, only to have it return when he fell asleep again. The warmth of the common room had been a sanctuary, a pleasant reminder of more lighthearted days. Ron had been able to stretch out on a feather bed, enjoy a game of chess with his best friend, and eat so much food he felt like he was going to pop. Now they were walking back through the rubble and the reality of what met them in the Great Hall crept back into their heads. The carnage of the battle and the long row of bodies haunted Ron and he willed his brain to focus on something else as they climbed down yet another long staircase.

He glanced down to where Hermione's hand was clasped in his, joined together the way Ron wondered they might always be. He wondered if holding hands was all they would ever do. Would he ever work up the courage to kiss her again? Or would they simply carry on like they were, cuddling, holding hands and doing everything but duplicating that wonderfully unexpected kiss?

It's now or never, right? That's what he had said to Harry. And now their lives no longer hung in the balance and they weren't waging an epic battle against Death Eaters and he wondered just how one went about kissing Hermione Granger. Did she even want to be kissed again? He worried that maybe he had been a bit over enthusiastic last night when he lifted her off the ground. Maybe he'd been awful. Maybe she didn't want to be kissed by him ever again after that. Maybe if he took her out by the lake under their favourite beech tree he could pluck up the courage to try again and see.

"Don't you think so, Ron?" Hermione pulled him out of an elaborate plan to take her on a moonlit walk of the Hogwarts grounds.

"Think what?" He jerked his attention back to the apparent conversation taking place between Harry and Hermione.

"Don't you think we should stay and help Professor McGonagall rebuild the castle?" The tone of her voice told Ron he likely had no choice but to say yes. Harry seemed ambivalent and Ron wondered whether that had to do with the number of people they were now encountering as they walked through the corridors. Teachers, parents and students were out and about now, many already embarking on the long process of repairing the castle. Some were repairing shattered glass, others had the unpleasant task of scrubbing bloodstains out of the tapestries. As Harry no longer had the cloak of Ignotus Peverell on, most people who he passed were adamant about stopping their work, shaking his hand and saying at the very least a word or two of thanks.

Ron was flabbergasted to find people wanted to shake his and Hermione's hands as well. Apparently word traveled quickly about what the three of them had been up to this year. The last time he'd felt this kind of celebrity had been following his performance on the Quidditch pitch and it felt quite odd to be congratulated in the same manner, a clap on the back and a congratulatory word, for something so much more important.

"This place was our home for a long time." Hermione looked to a wide crack in the wall where a curse had obviously hit. "It fought back. It defended us. We can't just leave it like this." She spoke about the school like it was a living thing.

"Yeah, I reckon we ought to stay and help." Ron wondered how one could even begin to tidy up such destruction. "Though you know McGonagall, she'll probably order us all to go home and leave it to her."

Harry slowed down, as if a realisation had just dawned on him at Ron's words.

"I don't have a home to go home to."

"Don't be silly," Ron replied immediately. "You'll come back to the Burrow, of course." The mere mention of the Burrow was enough to cause a noticeable lift in his step. "You too, Hermione," he invited, but she was slow to return his smile.

"I have to go find my parents," she murmured, "in Australia."

"Well…right." Ron was suddenly crestfallen. His joviality at the thought of returning to the Burrow vanished immediately at the thought that Hermione would not be there with him. "But you'll have to go to the Burrow first."

"Well, yes." She seemed in agreement with that much. "And I'll have to buy plane tickets and get things in order."

"Plane tickets?" Ron exclaimed, "You mean one of those Muggle flying machine? "

"Honestly, they're quite safe."

"I don't trust anything that flies without using magic! Dad told me about one of those aeroplanes crashing into the ocean once when I was a kid," Ron shuddered. "Sounds like a bloody nightmare. Climbing in a metal tube and relying on eleck-trick-city to fly all the way across the world!"

"Planes don't fly on electricity," Hermione corrected with a loud sigh.

"Well, just having to sit in a tube way up in the air for hours!" Ron continued to rail against the Muggle technology.

"Oh, because brooms are, of course, the most comfortable means of transportation!" Hermione laughed haughtily. Harry lengthened his stride a bit to put some more distance between himself and the now bickering couple. Any hopes he might have had that their getting together would somehow bring an end to the incessant quarreling immediately dashed. They were still the same old Ron and Hermione. The only difference was when Hermione's hand flew up in protest, Ron's hand was now attached to it.

"Maybe you're just riding the wrong broom," Ron accused, knowing full well Hermione didn't even have a broom of her own.

"Well, what am I supposed to do…Apparate all the way to Australia?" Hermione laughed at the ridiculous statement as they climbed down the last set of stairs together. They were back in the Entrance Hall where they'd been so many hours ago. The spilled remnants of the House hourglass were no longer there and the rubble was now sorted tidily into a few large piles. In the hours the three had been resting, the castle already looked decidedly different.

"Well, maybe…" Ron's voice was softer now. His feet slowed as they neared the doors to the Great Hall. He was intent on saying what he was about to before they rejoined the masses. "Maybe I could go with you."

"You'd come with me?" Hermione's voice, a combination of pleasure and surprise, sounded unnaturally high-pitched. Harry fidgeted nervously as he watched the two both get quiet and turn towards each other.

"Well, yeah," Ron shrugged as if it were obvious. Their faces slowly moved closer together. Harry looked as if he had a sudden urge to throw the Cloak over his head and disappear from the room. "I mean if you want." Ron's face was now mere inches from hers.

"If I want," Hermione repeated and even Ron could detect the admission in her voice that there was something else she wanted. Still, he couldn't make himself do it the way it had happened so easily last night. Not here with Harry looking on and half the wizarding world on the other side of the door.

"I'll have to talk to my parents, of course," he spoke suddenly and took a step toward the Great Hall. Harry sighed loudly at his hopeless friend, the exasperation evident.

"Right." Hermione didn't make much of an effort to hide her disappointment either.

Ron knew he was being ridiculous. They had spent all morning in each other's company, hugging and holding each other, clutching each other's hands, even lying on his bed together for hours. He had just suggested they travel to the other side of the world together and she'd seemed quite pleased at the notion, but somehow the thought of a second kiss still unnerved him. Hermione gave a loud sigh and, with her hand still joined in his, followed Ron through the open doors to the Great Hall.

He sucked in a deep breath as he stepped through the entryway. When last they'd left, the room had been a grim reminder of the price that had been paid last night. The Great Hall was now packed so full of people he felt like the three of them had missed some kind of memo. There were more people than he could ever recall seeing inside it. The House tables were back in neat rows and the pile of rubble he and Hermione had sat beside earlier was gone. The windows were repaired, but the most notable change to Ron was that the bodies of the fallen Hogwarts defenders were no longer there.

Ron looked around the room anxiously, disturbed at the thought that he didn't know where his brother was currently resting. As he glanced around the mass of people gathered for dinner, he suddenly realised he didn't know where any of his family was. When he'd seen them last, he'd done no more than give his dad a nod of the head from across the room, a pained acknowledgment that he had survived and was all right, but that had been all. His father had seemed to understand completely, but Ron still felt a tremendous wave of guilt wash over him that he hadn't been with his family this entire time.

"Where's mum and dad?" he asked nervously as he searched among the crowd for his family. Hermione and Harry both joined him in scanning the room for a shock of red hair somewhere. There were people there who Ron never expected to step foot inside of Hogwarts, like Tom the grey-haired owner of the Three Broomsticks, and the widow of Florean Fortescue.

Rather than try to search through the sea of faces, both familiar and unfamiliar, his eyes fixed on the person he knew would be able to help him locate his family. Professor McGonagall looked as stately as ever, prim and proper in her pointed black hat. She was seated, not on the raised platform where the professors usually sat at meals, but down on the floor enjoying a well-earned dinner surrounded by students and their families. He saw Harry and Hermione's eyes both rest on the woman Ron now assumed would become Headmistress and their feet immediately began to carry them toward her.

Eyes quickly fixed on the trio as they walked toward McGonagall. Conversations quickly came to an end, people turned around to look at them, and the sound of cutlery on the plates halted as they walked down the aisle together. It was soon so quiet that, for a moment, the only sound was their footsteps on the stone floor, which only made Ron shuffle along faster. Then, much like up in Dumbledore's office, the room suddenly erupted into roaring applause. There were triumphant shouts and whistles and those on the benches closest to them even reached out to touch them as if they were the starting Chasers for the national Quidditch team.

Ron wondered how everyone in the hall could possibly know anything about their activities the past year aside from what little had been revealed up in the Room of Requirement. Those small anecdotes - confirmation of their breakout from Gringott's, the news that they were on a quest left to them by Dumbledore - seemed to be enough because the ovation didn't stop when they reached the end of the hall where Professor McGonagall sat. Ron wondered uncomfortably, as he stood there and the thunderous applause continued, whether they wanted the three of them to give some sort of speech.

He truly just wanted to find his family. He felt ridiculous standing up in front of all these cheering people when he didn't have any idea where his own family was. As he searched the familiar faces in front of him, he became suddenly aware that everyone could now see him standing hand in hand with Hermione Granger. His chest puffed out proudly at the realisation and he gripped her hand a little tighter.

"Mr. Potter." Professor McGonagall's voice rang out above the applause. The noise quickly faded. "Ms. Granger." She rested her eyes on Hermione and then turned them to Ron. "Mr. Weasley." There was a reverence in her voice that Ron hardly expected to hear.

"GRYFFINDOR!" A jubilant voice that Ron recognized as Neville's cried out from somewhere in the Great Hall. Surprisingly, Professor McGonagall did not look at all displeased by the disruption. In fact, a fierce look of pride flashed across her eyes.

"This castle," she continued in an unusually shaky voice. "Everybody inside it and everybody who will ever set foot inside these walls owe you three a debt of gratitude that can never be realised." A few cheers of agreement sounded from the crowd. Ron watched uncomfortably as McGonagall paused to remove her glasses and wipe a tear from her eye. "I am proud to know you." She bowed her head to the three. "Proud to have taught you and proud of who you have become." Her eyes then turned to the packed hall before her. "As I am of everyone who played a part in the events of last night in ensuring the sacrifices of so many were not in vain."

Ron's searching eyes finally caught sight of his family at her mention of the word 'sacrifice'. They were seated together at the back end of the table where Slytherins would normally sit. He hadn't even bothered to look for them there, but as his eyes traveled around the hall he saw all the House tables were mixed up.

Professor Flitwick sat with Gryffindors at the Hufflepuff table. Ron thought he even saw Theodore Nott, a Slytherin whose father was a known Death Eater sent to Azkaban prison, seated next to Ernie MacMillan. Ernie, of all things, appeared to smile at him warmly, which struck Ron as particularly odd. He seemed to recall Nott laughing with Malfoy on more than one occasion about Hermione's blood status and cracking jokes about Muggleborns. His hand tightened around Hermione's protectively at the memory. There were a tiny handful of Slytherins scattered around the Great Hall, students who had rallied around Professor Slughorn and stood tall to protect their classmates and their school, but most of the Slytherins had run. He'd even seen Blaise Zabini join the side of the Death Eaters. Ron's whole body prickled with anger at the memory and he almost forgot Professor McGonagall was still speaking.

"The tables are a bit crowded as you see, but I would imagine we can make room for three more." She smiled and nodded knowingly in the direction of Ron's family. The anger that bubbled inside Ron at the thought of the traitorous Slytherins dissipated as his eyes rested on his family again. From the back corner of the hall they all looked to him proudly. He was so pleased to see smiles on their faces he almost forgot to be embarrassed as the hall broke into yet another loud round of applause for them as they walked back down the aisle.

He wondered when all this reverential treatment and honour would stop. He felt foolish. Everyone in the Great Hall had contributed, just like McGonagall had said. People had given their lives. They deserved ten times the amount of silly praise than what he was getting. He'd spent his whole life craving moments exactly like this, but now that it was here, he wanted nothing more than to be plain old Ron. Gone was the silly arrogance he had had back in the Room of Requirement, bowing gallantly when asked about their activities while on the run. Now he just wanted to forget the past year, blend in and disappear.

He shuffled down the aisle towards the Weasley clan with Harry and Hermione. The last time he'd seen them all together had been in the aftermath of the first half of the battle. Then he had sat with Percy, silently staring at Fred while Hermione comforted Ginny, and Bill huddled around George. Not a single word had been exchanged then. Nobody in his family had seemed quite able to speak. All Ron remembered hearing was his mother wailing into his father's arms. He'd heard his mum cry countless times before, but the sound that came from her last night was an eerie discomforting noise that resembled the desperate heaving cries of an animal in pain.

Her eyes were still red-rimmed, but she beamed at Ron as he drew nearer to the table, appearing as proud as she had when he had gotten his Prefect badge before fifth year. In fact, his whole family's mood seemed to lift considerably upon his arrival with Harry and Hermione. They all mustered smiles for the three and scooted down the bench to make room for them. Ron saw his sister, whose eyes looked as puffy as their mum's, look expectantly to Harry. Harry glanced to Ron momentarily, as if for approval, before sitting down beside her. She immediately wrapped her arms around him in a hug, the way Ron imagined she'd probably wanted to all day. Harry hugged her fiercely in return, tangling his hand up in her hair in an intimate manner that made it seem as if the past year apart had never happened.

If anyone in his family minded the display of affection they said nothing. Ron was uncomfortable only because he was holding Hermione's hand and was well aware his entire family could clearly see it. He took a seat beside Charlie and tried desperately to ignore the fact that he felt like everyone at the table was staring at the two of them expectantly, like they were waiting for some kind of official announcement about the change in their relationship or a retelling of what exactly had happened to cause them to be holding hands.

This would have been the moment when everyone was tongue tied and the twins would say something that would immediately lift the tension. But 'the twins' was a term Ron was suddenly acutely aware would no longer be a part of his lexicon.

"Way to hog the limelight, Ron," George finally offered with a pitiful attempt at a smile.

"Yeah, well, autographs will be tomorrow at noon," he replied. He was happy to see George give another weak smile, but there was no one to offer a snappy retort about signing his underpants or charging ten galleons apiece. There was only silence.

Ron turned his attention to the plates of food in front of him. The Hogwarts elves had prepared a feast unlike any he could remember and Ron would have been eager to dive in if he hadn't just eaten three bacon sandwiches upstairs. Still, the goblet of pumpkin juice looked inviting and he reached across the table to gather glasses for both him and Hermione. He poured her glass first and tried to disregard Charlie's amused expression at the chivalrous gesture. Ron's hand grazed hers as he passed the goblet to her and he saw his mum eye the way their hands both lingered a bit too long.

"You two certainly look as if you've gotten closer this year," she noted, making no attempt to disguise the smile that crept onto her face. Ron felt his face turn hot like when the Fat Lady had commented on their joined hands earlier that day. He knew Hermione's cheeks were likely equally flushed as his whole family now grinned and peered down the table at the two of them. Ginny looked especially pleased as she beamed at Hermione.

"I dare say, it's about time," his father chuckled. The sound of his father laughing and his family smiling almost made Ron forget his embarrassment. He couldn't help but think his entire family seemed cheered immensely by the distraction their new relationship offered, almost like it could help them forget the gaping hole next to George. So just like he'd taken Harry's ribbing up in the common room, Ron swallowed his protest. He looked to Hermione sheepishly and was pleased to see her meet his gaze instead of looking away in mortification. She looked equally uncomfortable, but there was also a pleasing glimmer of satisfaction on her face.

"You certainly didn't think we'd just ignore this, did you?" Bill laughed at the two. They continued to gaze fondly at each other, embarrassed smiles creeping on both their faces as the ribbing continued.

"Come on then, give us a story of how this finally happened!" Charlie implored, nudging Ron in the ribs.

"I want to know who made the first move!" Ginny teased.

"Honestly, Hermione I thought you had more sense than to date my brother," Percy piped in next and shook his head. Only George was silent.

"Will you be returning to the Burrow with us?" Mrs. Weasley offered in a welcome change of subject as she passed a tray of Cornish pasties down to Hermione. He knew she wasn't hungry after their feast up in the common room, but she took one nonetheless. He could see his mum's questions seemed to catch her off guard and taking the pastry allowed her a moment to collect herself. "Of course, I understand if you want to return to your family straightaway," his mum continued. At the mention of her family, Ron looked to her curiously. He wondered if she would mention the fact that they were living in Australia and had no knowledge of what Hermione had been up to for the last year or even that she existed. "But it would mean so much if you stayed and I dare say Ron would miss you if you didn't."

"Mum!" Ron's voice squeaked in horror, even though he knew his mum was quite right. He didn't know what he'd do if Hermione just left to fetch her parents tomorrow. Still, he found his mum's insinuation embarrassing. If he was going to miss Hermione, he wanted to tell her that much himself, not have his mum say it for him.

"If it's not an imposition, I'd like to return to the Burrow with you first," Hermione replied politely. She sounded as calm and collected as always, but he could see a faraway look in her eye.

"Of course, of course," she replied. "And you, Harry?" His mum looked down the other end of the table where Harry was seated.

"Yes, of course, Mrs. Weasley." Ron wondered if his mother realised Harry had no other place to go.

"The Burrow looks a wee bit different since you left last summer." His mum looked quite pleased with herself as she said the words. Ron's interest was piqued at an apparent change to the Burrow.

"Mum, it's really not that different," Ginny protested.

"We added a bedroom on for you after the wedding, Harry. Just off the third floor!" Her eyes twinkled happily. "It's not much, but that camp bed in Ron's room just won't do anymore and, well, with the family hopefully growing soon - " She eyed Bill and Fleur hopefully. "You've been like a son to us and, well, since we didn't know where you'd be staying after everything… we thought you'd feel more welcome if you had a room of your own."

Ron looked down the table to Ginny, wondering if his sister had had any input in the location of Harry's room. Bill muttered something about how his room had all but turned into a storage room and Charlie added with a laugh that his room had been taken over by Ginny. Ron cracked that he doubted his fifth floor room would be far behind in the remodeling process and that maybe they preferred having the ghoul there more than him.

For a moment things felt almost normal. He even helped himself to some pudding. Hermione's biting comment about his uncanny ability to eat after their feast up in the common room only put him more at ease. But then he asked the question he'd wanted to since entering the Great Hall and the comfortable mood immediately vanished.

"Where's Fred?"

He heard Hermione's sharp intake of breath beside him at the sudden question. For a long time nobody said anything. His father even stopped chewing the piece of roast in his mouth. Ron felt like he'd said an Unforgiveable Curse.

"He's with Lupin and Tonks," Bill finally answered. "In Filch's office."

"Filch's office?" Ron frowned. It seemed a random place to put Fred, but also quite fitting considering how much time he'd spent there during his time at Hogwarts. "Filch ran, didn't he? He got the younger kids out and left. He didn't stay to fight."

"He came back this morning," Charlie shrugged. "He asked McGonagall what he could do to help. She was about to offer her own office."

"The teachers and staff, they volunteered their classrooms see as…well as a…" His father finally spoke, but he seemed unable to finish the sentence. As a morgue, the word sounded in Ron's head.

"-as a place for the families," Bill phrased eloquently. He spoke in a slow and controlled manner, as if unable to comprehend the fact that they were one of those families. "Offer a bit of privacy."

"Families have been arriving all day, you see," his dad explained the sudden increase in numbers in the castle. Ron suddenly felt like an outsider as his family relayed the information to him about what they had been up to while he had been upstairs with Harry and Hermione. "Professor McGonagall has opened up the castle for the time being to all the families." There was a lengthy pause as everybody seemed to lose themselves at the thought of just how many families had lost loved ones in the last twenty-four hours and descended on Hogwarts castle. Ron wondered if Jack Sloper's family had come to get him yet.

"The funeral will be Friday." His mum announced suddenly. She spoke the word 'funeral' with a surprising composure. Ron wondered how long she had been rehearsing the word in her head. He thought it almost seemed like she wanted to say it to prove to herself that she could. "At the Burrow of course," she added with a sniffle. Bill wrapped his arm around her in a comforting hug.

"When are we leaving?" Ron inquired. "Because I told Hermione I'd stay here and help rebuild the castle." Hermione appeared suddenly uncomfortable at being included in the reason he would not be returning home and she squirmed on the bench beside him.

"Professor McGonagall has assured that the faculty will be in charge of that," his mum informed, just as Ron had predicted.

"We can't just leave it to the teachers," he sputtered in protest.

"They'll be okay, Ron," his father stepped in.

"But we can't just leave this place," Ron sounded incredulously. "It fought for us! Defended us!" He echoed Hermione's words on the staircase.

"Hogwarts will be fine."

"I won't just leave it like this!" Ron raised his voice in a manner his family rarely heard, but one which Harry and Hermione were by now all too familiar with.

"We need to go, Ron." His mum's voice was trembling. "We need to take him home."

"I want to stay!" His defiant words brought his mum to the verge of tears and Ginny just glared at him, as if to say 'haven't we been through enough?' He wasn't sure why he suddenly was so reluctant to go home when he had just been bubbling with excitement and skipping through the corridors at the thought.

"Ron," Hermione suddenly said his name quietly. She didn't say anything aside from his name, but she touched his arm gently when she did. Everybody at the table noted the tender action, but nobody said a thing.

"But you said – before – you're right –it needs us." He stammered in protest, but Hermione seemed to have an acute sense that his unwillingness to leave had very little to do with a sense of obligation to Hogwarts.

"Your family needs you," she whispered. Her words reminded him of the way all their eyes had lit up just moments ago upon his arrival, the way George had even attempted to crack a joke. George, who now sat in complete and utter silence down at the end, had hardly lifted his eyes since. Still, all Ron wanted was to go back to the common room and eat and laugh and lie in front of the fireplace with Hermione. He wanted to forget the painful silences and the glaring absence next to George.

"I don't want to leave." He spoke only to her, his words a low murmur. The rest of the table sat silently, trying to ignore the conversation between the two. He was practically pleading to her. His eyes begged her to agree with him, to put up a logical defense about why they needed to stay at Hogwarts. Because he knew why he no longer wanted to go back home. He couldn't face the Burrow without Fred. He couldn't face the thought of a funeral. "Hermione, I can't…"

"I know." She seemed to read his mind and she gave his arm a gentle squeeze. "I know, but you have to go home."

Home. The word sounded strange to Ron as he looked to her. For the past ten months the mere thought of home had crossed his mind frequently. In the first few months of their journey he'd thought of little else. But he was no longer sure where home was or what it meant. Was he a terrible son and brother for not wanting to return to be with his family? For wanting to stay here at Hogwarts with Harry and Hermione? They'd been his home for the past year, after all. He had longed for his family so often, but as the year dragged on he had begun to realise that the Burrow was not his home anymore. Despite the temporary respite of the common room, Hogwarts wasn't home either. It was an odd thing to think about. Even though he knew he had a warm bed waiting for him back in Devon, he felt a bit like he was homeless. He wondered if all young wizards came to this realisation when they finished at Hogwarts.

"Hermione, Crookshanks is doing well," Mrs. Weasley tried to sound cheerily and change the subject.

"Crookshanks," Hermione spoke the name of her once beloved cat slowly, almost like it was a foreign word. The look on her face was enough for Ron to know that she'd all but forgotten about the cat in the events of the past year. He felt strangely justified.

"He still loves to degnome the garden, been quite a help really with everybody gone. Of course he's at Muriel's now. I already got an owl today saying she'd bring him by tomorrow. I expect she's quite eager to be rid of him."

"Don't know why, he's better than the three other bloody cats she's got," Ron grumbled in an unusual defense of Crookshanks.

"And Pig too," Mrs. Weasley looked to Ron then. "I dare say he missed you, Ron."

Ron knew what his mother was trying to do, but mentioning the little owl didn't make him want to return home any more than he had a moment ago. He had the sudden urge to get up from the table then, to leave his poor family and the Great Hall and all its inhabitants behind. He wanted at that moment nothing more than to put on Harry's Cloak and leave with Hermione. He wanted to go anywhere – to the lake, to their old Charms classroom, anywhere but here – but Hermione's hand suddenly moved atop his thigh.

The muscles in his leg quivered beneath her warm palm. He was agitated for reasons he couldn't even begin to explain. All he knew was the comfortable feeling when he had first sat down and cracked jokes with his brothers had quickly vanished as soon as his mum mentioned the funeral. Beneath the table, Hermione rubbed his leg, her fingers asking him to stay as they pressed into his flesh gently. His whole body would be tingling from the intimate action if he didn't know it was meant to restrain him. It was like her hand was talking to him. She was the one begging now, begging him to be strong and remain with his grief-stricken family. His leg continued to bounce in agitation, but her hand remained atop it and he stayed at the table until the end of the meal. She was the only thing that kept him there.


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 5 of 45

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