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Neville sat quietly and looked more serious than Harry had ever seen him. Not once during Hermione's explanation did he seem to have second thoughts about helping them, nor did he raise an opposition to their plans. Instead, he stared into the fireplace as it all sunk in.
[b "Neville?"] Harry murmured.
[i "Classrooms are out of the question, as you've said,"] he went on speaking as though Harry hadn't. [i "If what you've said is true then we need to be as careful about this as we can, down to who we mention it to. This is your idea so I won't say a word to anyone until you do. We all know well enough how quickly people even in our own house can turn their backs,"] he reminded them of the previous year when Harry had all but been ostracised from Gryffindor House.
[b "You said you had an idea that could help,"] Harry prodded carefully. [b "What did you mean by that?"]
[i "I mean I know a place a few floors down that could be used for exactly what you need it to be. Actually, that's fairly explanatory for what it does,"] Neville continued to be vague.
[b "Here in the castle?"] Harry frowned, looking to Ron and Hermione. [b "What makes it so secure?"]
A grin flashed across Neville's face. [i "Because it only shows itself to those that need it. And seeing as most people don't know it exists, no one is going to go looking for it."]
He wasn't sure if it was the wine from earlier or if Neville just wasn't making sense. How could a room hide itself? Harry pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. [b "And you can show us this room?"]
Neville sat up straighter, as though daring Harry to challenge him. [i "Yes, I can. Be here before dawn and I can take you there. We can use your cloak."]
[i "I don't think all four of us can fit under that thing. Two of us barely do,"] Ron chimed in.
Neville looked between the three of them. [i "You understand that two of you are prefects, right? You and Hermione don't need a cloak to wander the corridors."]
Harry looked to her, frowning. [b "Why does he have all of these good points? Who thinks this thoroughly at this hour of the night?"]
[i "I'll take your response as a 'yes' you will meet me here in a few hours. Get some sleep,"] Neville rose to return to bed. [i "Its only six hours to sunrise."]
Groaning, Harry slumped down and dropped his head onto Hermione's lap, looking up at her. [b "How did we go from date night to rebellion planning?"]
Hermione herself had not been thrilled about the idea of going to Snape either. But things were getting out of hand and they needed all the help they could get at this rate. And it was clear that Sirius was worried to even suggest the idea himself, which had her more on edge than she was letting on. Brown eyes were on Harry as she heard his words. [b "I agree that we need Professor McGongall's help as soon as we can get it...but we really should think of a way to broach Snape aooner rather than later. This is a time where we need all the help we can get and can't exactly be choosey about who..."]
The girl had something else on the tip of her tongue to be saying, but then Neville spoke up. It caused her to squeak and jump as well as seemed to have taken the boys off their guard as well. And for the moment, the usually timid boy of their house did not seem nearly as "mousy" and seemed more the "lion" of their house. A faibt smiled graced her lips as she listened to what he had to say.
For a few moments she was thoughtful before she gave both Harry and Ron a look which said she was going to tell him. [b "Umbridge is an utter nightmare. We're not kearning anything and she is trying to cover the last year uo...and all of Voldemort's return while punishing those of us who do not comply with her rules... So...Harry, Eon and I were thinking to put together a club of sorts.. One that we as srudents can learn from one another and help each other with defensive spells...We need to know how to fight and to defend ourselves against what is coming.."] Her voice was just over a whisper as she explained it.
Ron nodded and motioned to Harry and Hermione. [i "They know first hand Umbridge's punishmet. And from what I overheard from Fred and George there are more decress and rules coming...she's even putting togerher a student organization of her own to spy on the rest of us... So we really need the help"]
The idea of going to Severus Snape for [i anything] made Harry's stomach turn but if Sirius was the one suggesting it, he guessed they really were running out of options. [b "We'll talk to McGonagall first. Never hurts to have the head of our house on our side if things go sideways. As for Snap,"] Harry grit his teeth. [b "We can figure out how to broach the subject with him another day."]
First, they would need a place to meet up. Classrooms were entirely out of the question, given that they'd have to get a professor's permission to even use one. Getting a group of students through the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack was also not an easy or subtle task. [b "We have to find a practice space, and then we can get started."]
[i "I can help with that."]
Harry nearly knocked his head on the mantle as he shot up and around at the sound of Neville's voice. [b "What are you doing out of bed? It's late,"] he stammered.
[i "Seamus didn't shut the door all the way, and you lot aren't particularly quiet,"] the normally shy boy raised an eyebrow as if daring them to deny what he'd heard. [i "If you tell me more about what it is you need a practice space for, I might have just the place you need."]
As much as they'd come to trust Neville throughout the years, Harry wasn't sure the timid boy would be as eager to join in if he knew they'd be breaking at least a dozen Ministry and school rules. [b "How much exactly did you hear?"]
[i "Enough to know you were talking to someone in the fireplace about informing Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape about something important,"] Neville sunk onto the couch. [i "Whatever it is that makes the three of you worried, you have friends that would be willing to help. I know I'm not the strongest or bravest, but I'd like to think you can trust me with whatever it is you need help with."]
The sooner that they got some advice, the better. And she wasn't even surprised or shocked when Harry made his move towards the hearth of the fire. Unlike Ron, Hermione did not at all expect for Padfoot to be asleep past midnight. Especially since he had been the one to catch her and Harry at Grimmauld Place and not in bed lile they had been meant to be. It was that thought that had brown eyes quickly go to Harry and cheeks turn a rosy pink before he looked away.
Ron's chime in to Harry's chiding of the man and reminding him that they were teens was what caught her attention and had the girl looking back towards the fire again. Even she couldn't help a small smile gracing her lips and giving a shake of her head at that exchange. But all too quickly the lightness was gone and the sombre was back upon them as Harry explained the prison that Hogwarts had become to Sirius. And all she could do was listen just as Ron and Sirius could do.
[i "It doesn't sound like a bad idea. There is a war coming like it or not and you all need go know how to protect yourselves. The best advice I can give you is to be careful and to not get caught..though going to McGongall and dare I say it, Severus might have to be in the cards sooner rather than later."] The man said as he was trying to think about it. [i "You three really are becoming the new Marauders and should be honourary members."] But those were his last words as steps could be heard somewhere behind him and a loud knocking. Just like that, Sirius was gone.
[b "At least we know he's not against it...but he did have a point...Having Snape and McGongall know sooner or later may be something we'll have to think about... And we will have to start getting this going quite soon if what Ron overheard was right.."] Hermione said, looking over at both the boys to ask them their thoughts.
[b "Never a better time to try,"] Harry's own gaze trailed to the fire.
Sliding off the couch and onto his knees, he crawled until he could feel the heat on his face. [i "What are you doing?"] Ron barely got the sentence out before Harry was reaching out to contact his godfather. [i "Harry, I don't think he's going to -"]
Past midnight or not, Sirius was clearly not asleep. The outline of his face appeared in the flames, brows furrowed in concern. [i "What's got you three up so late? Has something happened?"]
Harry rubbed at his face, trying to force his thoughts to clear up. [b "We're teenagers, Sirius, we don't exactly have bedtimes."]
[i "Harry and Hermione were out late and I was waiting up for them,"] Ron chimed in.
There was a momentary pause before the man in the fire barked a laugh. [i "Well I'll certainly need details later, but I have a feeling that's not why you called."]
[b "Umbridge is getting out of control,"] Harry blurted out. [b "She's essentially forming her own little militia within the castle, recruiting students as spies and whatnot. The Ministry has given her essentially unlimited power over Hogwarts, professors included. Sirius, she's starting to run this school like Azkaban. I wouldn't put it past her to bring the Dementors back."]
His godfather's face fell, growing sombre and quiet. [i "Have you brought this to Dumbledore?"]
What good what it do? As far as they could tell, even Dumbledore held no power against her. [i "We can't go to any of the teachers,"] Ron answered. [i "Word around here is that her next step is to start dismissing any professors who go against her decrees. They can't help us."]
[b "But Hermione thinks we may have a way to get around that problem,"] Harry's voice grew confident.
He began to spill the details of her plan to form an underground allegiance of students, where they could learn among each other how to proper defend themselves. The entire time Sirius sat quietly and took everything in, and Harry was relieved to see that he didn't seem against the idea.
Their groans were enough to have her sober up. She had not meant to put a damper on any of their moods, but the logical part of her mind would not let her forget that fact. So she had spoken quite without thinking. [b "I'm sorry..."] Hermione said in a sigh as she looked between the two boys.
Hermione was one her feet and pacing as Ron was mentioning that they had to be more careful. To be honest, she and Harry had not been all that careful so far. She could handle herself for the most part, but she was silently cursing herself for not thinking about what would happen to Harry if he were caught. It had been stupid of her to keep him out like this. And when Ron began to speak, the bushy haired girl stopped and looked to him, listening carefully to the spoken words.
Her hand went over her own scarring hand and she looked over to Harry. And after a moment she looked to Ron, the fire in her eyes as she took it all in. [b "Then we have to move quicker and get things into motion. We can't let the crone take over. At least not without fighting back. Dumbledore needs to know he's not alone in this fight...And neither are you Harry."] She said quietly. Though she knew it was madness, the NEEDED to do something. This woman was a walking nightmare and she was ruining everything. [b "I think maybe talking to Sirius and some of the others would be a good idea...See if they can offer any advice. Though I know they may have their plates full as it is.."] And like that, Hermione was back to her pacing in front of the fireplace. There was no way she would be getting to sleep that night.
The boys groaned in unison. [b "Don't remind us,"] Harry slouched in his seat.
Ron's energy immediately drained and he dropped into his own chair, scrubbing a hand over his eyes. [i "I never thought I'd have to be the one to say this, but as happy as I am that you got to unwind tonight, you need to be careful next time. Umbridge was given authority to put out new mandates."]
Harry scowled, letting his head fall to the side to look at the other boy. [b "What do you mean 'new mandates'? What could she have changed in such short notice?"]
The redhaired boy threw his hands up in surrender. [i "I only caught the tail-end of whatever the twins were telling Katie and Angelina but apparently the Minister has given her power to exercise punishments as she sees fit - even things that wouldn't normally get us detentions."]
Harry glanced at Hermione. [b "She's already got students writing lines in their own skin with a cursed quill, how much worse could it get?"] he rubbed at the faded scarring on the back of his left hand.
Ron looked apologetically between them. [i "No one deserves a break more than the three of us, but it doesn't look like we're going to get one this year. According to the twins, punishments are being left to her discretion. As it stands, she has it out for Gryffindors and anyone who has backed you with support after You Know Who returned last year. We'll all be under a magnifying glass and as much as I'm happy that you both got to unwind tonight, I'm afraid to see what other punishments Umbridge will come up with if she finds you together past curfew."]
The woman had been nothing but difficult since she'd arrived. The Ministry was skipping over Dumbledore's authority to grant Umbridge every power she could use, short of being named Minister herself. With the wall of decrees already hanging outside of the Great Hall, Harry was sure she'd go to whatever lengths she declared necessary to catch Hermione, Ron, and himself in direct disobedience. [b "As if the power hasn't already gone to the crazy old bat's head,"] Harry closed his eyes in frustration.
Hermione had to stifle a giggle as Harry mentioned McGonagall and how she would surely know in forty seconds what they had done. [b "I think forty is being mean. She's rather sharp and would probably know the moment we walked into class."] She said, not being able to help the giggle after she had spoken.
The clock spun around twice and the little elf had to get them both to leave the kitchens. It was more than obvious that he did not want to do it, but also quite clear he would feel terrible if they got into trouble. The truth was that it would have been his fault, yes...But she and Harry could have made up some excuse to leave earlier. She had honestly not wanted to because this was the most relaxed she and Harry had been since classes and the school year had resumed and she had wanted to keep that peace for as long as they were able to. [b "They're always trying to watch us and but in."] She whispered as the pair of them made their way through the now completely empty corridors and up the moving staircase.
They nearly made it into the common room without being caught. NEARLY but unfortunately due to their horrid luck were met with Ron who had his arms crossed. It looked like he was TRYING to be authoritive and failing. But she didn't say anything about it and was having to fight her giggles. Who would have thought that the Weasely would have to be the responsible one of the three? Usually that was her.
Hermione took a seat next to Harry and rested her head on his shoulder. It was only Ron with them after all and he knew how the two felt about the other. Knew how close they were. [b "It really was needed. Because...well look how the year has been so far and we've not even made it to Christmas."] She said and gave one of her best pouts, though she wasn't being scolded.
[b "I'm sure it'll take McGonagall exactly forty seconds to figure it out when we get to Transfiguration,"] he snorted a laugh.
The clock spun twice before Dobby had to - quite unwillingly - send them off to bed. [i Dobby wouldn't forgive himself if Harry Potter and Miss Granger were in trouble on his account.] So, Harry tried to be as gallant as he could while not falling his own two feet to escort her back to the common room. [b "Shhhh, they'll hear us. All of them. Nosy buggers,"] he narrowed his eyes at the portraits lining the corridors.
Unfortunately, they weren't given the chance to make a clean break once they made it to the Gryffindor common room. [i "Well, I can't say I ever imagined this happening."]
Ron stood with his arms crossed in an attempt to be authoritative, yet the smirk on his face gave away the game. [i "What would Sirius say, Harry?"]
The Potter boy held a finger up. [b "He'd say 'good job, you two!' We might even be made into honorary Marauders for this."]
Ron laughed, helping them both along to the couch. [i "Is this going to become a habit? Because I might actually have to use prefect powers if I have to get you two wild kids under control. Please don't make me have to use prefect powers."]
Harry slumped onto the couch, stretching his feet towards the fire. [b "Those are fighting words,"] he scolded the three Rons in front of him.
[i "When you can walk in a straight line, I'll be afraid of that. You're lucky its just me still awake, otherwise the rest of them would have a field day about this. Lets not give anyone a reason to write an opinion column for Rita Skeeter, shall we?"]
The redhead turned to Hermione, admiration in his eyes. [i "Though I can honestly say it's nice to see you unwind for once. I was afraid you'd go through all of school without relaxing."]
Dooby was a sweet little creature, definitely was loyal to a fault. And the moment that he had observed what was going on between them, was both sweet and embarrassing. For a moment, Hermione did want to try and play it off. Not at all because she was embarrassed but because it was so new and like Harry, the brunette girl wanted the chance to have this ONE thing for them. She wanted a chance for them to explore where things could go. But that clearly wasn't going to be the accepted by the little elf who Harry was trying to pacify. Because not even a second after Harry's telling Dobby that it was all quite new and they wanted things quite, the little elf let out one of his squeals and was quickly going about the kitchen and getting his hands on anything that he could.
[b "Looks like we're in trouble here, doesn't it?"] She whispered to Harry just as Dobby came back with a platter with a mountain of goodies that was taller than he was. And Harry was helping him so that both food and elf did not end up on the floor.
[b "Dobby...really. This isn't..."] She had not been quick enough to say her words because Harry had spoken first. And before she knew it, Dobby was on the table in front of them, bright emotion filled eyes locking with their own. And he was saying that there WAS a need for celebrating. [i Love...because there was so much pain...and fear around them. Darkness.] And a smile did come to her lips and she nodded. [b "He's made a very good argument. And we did say we wanted a night for us. So why not?"] Hermione said with a smile, taking the glass that was floating by her hand and gently clinking it to Harry's.
Soon, he had pulled out her chair and she was sitting with him. This one of many happy memories for her. But maybe her favourite because it was with him. And he knew her better than anyone, even better than her parents did. [b "Oh I think he will. But I don't think I would mind it. I like being with you like this..."] She admitted, her cheeks flushed and eyes sparkling as the drinks never seemed to empty fully and she was as giddy as she had been back in Hogsmeade.
[b "I think he did."] She said with a giggle and smiled to him. The clocks were striking early but she didn't want to go back. Not yet at least. [b "We are going to be paying for this in the morning."] Hermione said, taking another pastry and held it to his lips with a small smile.
Harry should have figured that Dobby was nothing if not overly observant. Flushing red, he tried to come up with anything they could possibly say that would quiet him down and end his speculation, but he knew there was no point. Dobby was too clever for his own good.
[b "It's very new, Dobby,"] Harry tried to pacify the poor house-elf, who was practically vibrating with excitement. [b "We'd like to keep it somewhat qui-"]
Unrestrained joy would be the best way to describe the small elf's outburst. Harry froze and watched as Dobby bolted around the room, gathering whatever he could get his hands on to pile on to a serving platter until they couldn't see him behind the mountain of baked goods. [i "Happy days indeed!"] he sighed happily, hefting the tray onto the table in front of them. [i "A celebration must be had!"]
There was hardly any stopping him once he got started. Other house-elves joined in, bustling around them to add to the treats along the table with glasses of just about any beverage they could have imagined the castle had.
[b "Dobby, no, really, we don't need a big celebration,"] Harry grabbed the platter to help him before it toppled him backwards.
[i "But we must!"] the house-elf looked horrified to consider anything else.
Clambering on the table, Dobby stood at eye-level with them, his large eyes sincere and overwhelmed with emotion. [i "Dark days about the castle, more dark days than not! Sadness all around. Suspicion and sadness. But here is love! Love and joy must be celebrated when presented to us, Mister Harry Potter!"]
Dobby threw his little arms around their necks in a lopsided hug. It was hard to argue with that logic. Smiling, Harry turned to Hermione. [b "A toast to us?"] he laughed as two floating glasses of wine appeared by their hands.
Harry couldn't remember ever being as happy as he felt in that moment. He'd never had anything to celebrate for himself before; certainly not anything that was as important to him as she was. Dobby was right. Why shouldn't they enjoy their moment when everything was going to hell around them?
[b "Alright, I do think that's plenty of food though. Let's start in on this before they bring any more,"] he pulled a chair out for her before taking his own seat. [b "I'm also fairly sure this means Dobby will remember this date and make our anniversary a mandatory holiday every year."]
Their glasses weren't even empty before they were being refilled until Harry felt as giddy as he'd been in Hogsmead. [b "I think the elf got us drunk."]
There did never seem to be a dull moment at Hogwarts. The fact that she and Harry had become spectacles for the portraits that hung all along the corridor was proof of that. But what was even funnier, in one of those sad comedic ways was the fact that their little show had been viewed in the middle of the night. Truly there was no privacy in the castle that they called a school.
Brown eyes looked at the pictures as they all seemed to have expectant looks upon their faces and then she looked back to Harry. [b "I think that would be a brilliant idea. I don't particularly care to have them watching us."] Came her soft words as her cheeks had become a dark pink as she thought back to how embarrassed both she and Harry had felt when Sirius had caught them kissing.
When they discovered that the two teens had no intents to give them the show they so desired and Harry had tugged her around the corner and out of their view, a chorus of "boos" was heard. With the boing, Hermione could not help her soft giggle as she looked up at Harry. [b "I think we were going to kiss."] The girl said, finding herself leaning gently against the hand that rested upon her cheek. And with the softness of his lips against hers, Hermione's cheeks coloured even more so. They could have kissed just once or even a hundred times and she was sure it would always make her feel this way. That heat and the butterflies. And yet, she would have been more than content if they never pulled away. If they would have just stayed together in that dark corner all night.
[b "When are you ever on your best behaviour? Remember, we are known for breaking all sorts of rules. I think the words are 'we best be going before we're caught breaking more rules'.."] She corrected gently and affectionately.
And again, the nosy portraits were heard and she rolled her eyes at the comments made. [b "Right...they love to roam the halls and get any students out of bed into trouble. That is the last thing we need.."] She said, her hand taking his as they made their way to the kitchen.
Upon getting to the kitchen, the little house elf was more than excited for the visit. Dobby squeaked out his words and was immediately getting snacks and rushing another elf to get tea. She couldn't help her amusement as Harry was asked by the little creature as to why they were visiting and so late.
[b "Harry's right, Dobby. We were just looking to get a snack and to come and see you. It's been so long and we wanted to catch up a bit before we headed off to bed."] She said as she gave both Harry and Dobby a smile, as she took up Harry's story.
She moved to Harry's side and again her hand was in his. [b "It looks like that worked."] She whispered as Dobby dove into his story of what he had been doing. Though trying to pay attention, Hermione kept finding that she just wanted the chance for them to be alone again and looked up at Harry, wondering if he was having those same kind of thoughts. But she couldn't help squeaking as Dobby caught the look she had been giving.
[i "So it's true! Mister Potter and Miss Granger are a couple!"] The little elf squeaked in his excitement
[i "Kiss her, you idiot! She said yes!"] a girl called from one of the portraits while the others applauded and whistled.
Go figure in the middle of the night they still couldn't find privacy for themselves. Harry glanced sideways at the pictures on the wall before turning his attention back to her. [b "A definite yes to that mini-date, but perhaps we can move somewhere [i without] an audience before I kiss you,"] Harry smiled down at Hermione - bloody hell, she was actually his girlfriend now.
A chorus of boos followed them as he tugged her around a corner away from prying eyes. [b "Now, where were we?"] he stepped a bit closer.
His hand came up to brush a lock of her hair behind her ear. Testing the waters a bit, he left his hand to rest on her cheek as he leaned in to softly press his lips against hers. It didn't matter that they'd kissed before, heat flooded through him just as strongly as it had the first time. If they didn't already have plans to sneak to the kitchens, Harry would have been happy to stand with her in that dark corner for the rest of the night.
Pulling away, his eyes softened with pure adoration. [b "We'd best get down to the kitchen while I'm still on my best behaviour. You're making me want to break more rules, Miss Granger."]
[i "Shut up, if you're quiet we can still hear them!"]
[b "Stupid nosy portraits,"] Harry grumbled, pulling away. [b "We'd best go before they draw any attention this way. Filch and that damn cat will come looking."]
Just as they'd predicted, Dobby was over the moon excited to see them. [i "My own recipe, sir!"] he'd wasted no time shoving freshly baked scones into Harry's hand and ushering another house elf away to get tea. [i "Is there troubles? Mister Potter and Miss Granger are unexpected!"]
Harry certainly wasn't about to explain that they'd been having a romantic evening, lest Dobby alert the entire kitchen staff of it. [b "We wanted to come and visit you. We enjoy your company, Dobby, don't we Hermione?"] he looked to her for help.
That smile as dumb as others might have found it to be, Hermione found it endewring and something she loved seeing on his face. It beat out the frowns and lines of worry that she so often saw on his face. And she admittedly wished she could help keep him happy always because she KNEW what things were like for him. Not in the entirety but from he told her, which she knew was more than he told anyone else.
His next words made the girl let out an almost childlike giggle. She had not expected for him to ask her the way that he had. Her answer would have been yes, but Harry had groaned and been quick to cut her off. And quicker still to try and tell her to "run" as she would hear more bad lines and more bad jokes in the futute. That actually didn't bother her. This would be a first for the both of them and they could grow and learn together. So she was all in.
Again, Harry tried to ask and was even sweeter the second time and that smile, that soft smile was enough to make her heart melt. Her cheeks burned an even brighter pink and soft voices came from somewhere above them. Portaits of witches and wizards past who had come to enjoy the show of two awkward teens trying to figure out how to start a comitted relationship. Wow she had forgotten the potraits were JUST as nosy as their classmates.
[b "Harry I would be honoured to be your girlfriend and to go out with you. But only if you can deal with my constant nagging."] Her last words were meant to put a smile on his face as her hand moved into his and interlaced their fingers. [b "So..still want out mini date before we head back?"]
Heart racing and the dumbest smile stretching across his face, Harry tried incredibly hard to play it cool. He was well aware that he had precisely zero game when it came to girls, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out why she was interested in him romantically, but he wasn't about to lose this chance.
[b "Well then,"] he met her eyes. [b "Would you do me the honor of being the Chosen One's chosen girl?"]
Unable to keep a straight face, he scrunched his nose and groaned. [b "No, don't answer that. That was enitrely unacceptable and a horrible line. Run while you can because if you say yes, I promise that you will be in the unfortunate position of hearing awful lines and jokes from me for the foreseeable future."]
Stepping a bit closer, his grin turned soft. [b "Let me try again. Hermione Granger, prefect of Gryffindor and all around best person I've ever met, will you go out with me and all of my horrible lines?"]
Dear god, facing off against a dragon was less terrifying than this. Sure, they'd both just admitted that they'd like it to be an official relationship but asking someone [i officially] to be in a committed relationship was still a nervewracking when someone's never done it before. It was clumsy and clunky, but he was an awkward guy to begin with and she hadn't walked away yet.
[i "Well answer him!"] a voice joined the private conversation.
Harry looked to their right and nearly laughed out loud at the sight of several portraits huddled together in one frame, watching them closely and eagerly. [i "Don't make the poor dear wait!"] the aristocrat woman leaned forward and waved her hand at them.
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