Harry Potter got it wrong.

19 Nov

In honor of the release of the second-to-last cash cow film in the Harry Potter franchise, I figured now would be a good time to get soapbox-y about J.K. Rowling’s inability to write believable romance.  Please be aware that spoilers for the series follow.  If you really don’t want to know, now is the time to turn back.

For those who need a refresher/primer, the Harry Potter books revolve around the titular character who discovers at age 11 that he is not just a normal, everyday human (or Muggle, as the books call them) but a wizard.  And not just any wizard – he is the sole miraculous survivor of an attack from the greatest dark wizard ever, Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry’s parents (themselves a witch and wizard).  The books then chronicle Harry’s adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy, a British boarding school for those with magical abilities.  During his time at Hogwarts, Harry becomes best friends with Ron Weasley, a good-natured boy of modest magical ability from a very large, very poor wizarding family, and Hermione Granger, the class brain whose parents are Muggles.  Each book increases in scope and complexity, as details about Harry’s past are revealed and Voldemort’s return becomes an ever-increasing threat.  The seventh and last book of the series climaxes with Harry’s final confrontation with Voldemort.  (Harry wins in the most anti-climactic ending ever for a supposed epic villain, and I still think that Rowling was using some pretty shaky logic to get to that ending.)

Anyhow, as the characters age – the series starts when they are 11 and ends when they are 17 – romance naturally enters the picture.  Harry ends up with Ron’s younger sister, Ginny, and Ron himself ends up with Hermione.  (The epilogue of the final book has both couples at the train station, sending off their children to Hogwarts.)  It’s all very tidy and sickly-sweet.  Orphan Harry gets to be a part of a big, jolly, loving family, and the Weasley family gets to be progressive and open-minded by embracing Muggle-born Hermione as one of their own.  (Muggle-born vs. “pure-breds” is one of the ongoing themes in the books and is one of Voldemort’s motivating factors.)

Which characters would pair off was a subject of hot debate among fans.  Some fans felt that Harry would end up with Hermione, who was always Harry’s biggest supporter and Girl Friday.  Others noticed Ron and Hermione’s constant bickering and guessed that it would be Ron and Hermione in the end.   Since the books were written from Harry’s limited third person point of view, there was no way of accessing the other characters’ thoughts, nor actions apart from Harry.  It wasn’t until the sixth book was released that the debate was settled once and for all:  Harry suddenly notices that Ginny is popular, gorgeous, athletic, magically gifted (unlike her brother Ron), sassy, and bold, and he spends the majority of the book lusting after her.  Meanwhile, Hermione sulks because Ron hooks up with the class bimbo.  If that didn’t make it clear enough, in the final book Rowling actually had Harry say that he had only ever thought of Hermione as a sister.  Your objections are denied!

As someone who favored Harry and Hermione, I resented Rowling’s psychosocial gymnastics to put the two couples together.  I never understood what Hermione, a highly accomplished and perfectionist witch, saw in Ron, who was completely average in every way and tended to be subordinate to Harry in their friendship.  In fact, I’m not sure Rowling ever knew, either, considering that she gave Ron a very hasty injection of athletic ability in book 6 and heroism and magical ability in the book 7 so that Hermione could finally admire him for something.  Okay, so Ron was a late bloomer.  It happens in real life, why not in books?  Well, not only was Ron up against his own mediocrity, but I still have no idea how he could have believably overcome Harry’s pure status game.  Because Harry was the only person who had ever survived an attack by Voldemort, he was already famous in the wizarding world and entered Hogwarts a celebrity.  Additionally, Harry had exceptional athletic ability – he was invited during his first year to be the seeker for his house’s Quidditch team, an almost unheard-of honor.  He was also rich – his parents had left him mountains of wizard money at the bank.  And he was humble about it, too, never flaunting his status, athleticism, or wealth.  Oh, and he was adventurous – always taking risks, always embroiling his friends in a new adventure…and always relying on Hermione for help.  How could any of this not be intoxicating to a young girl?

I suppose that’s part of why Rowling worked overtime in the sixth book to present Ginny as an alpha female uber alles.  She had to make it inconceivable that Harry could possibly end up with anyone else, not when such a choice babe was in the building.  The glamming up of Ginny – who up until then had been a tertiary character with a girlish crush on Harry that left her speechless whenever he was around – essentially forced Hermione into the role of Harry’s beta orbiter – and we all know that loyalty and devotion are never rewarded with romance.

To be fair, Rowling never wrote Harry as acknowledging any possible attraction to Hermione, other than being surprised at how pretty she looked at a school dance, and in hindsight you can see her dropping hints for Ron and Hermione in the earlier books.  Still, Hermione was extremely loyal to Harry, even more loyal than Ron, and deeply admired Harry, and the two shared some intense emotional experiences over the years.  Sometimes just proximity is enough to trigger an attraction, and who was more proximate than Hermione?

The more I think about it, though, maybe Rowling followed reality after all.  Harry and Ginny were the Hot Ones, and Ron and Hermione were the Not Ones.  Occam’s Razor, ho!

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32 Responses to “Harry Potter got it wrong.”

  1. David Collard November 19, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    If I were Harry, I would have married Hermione. I like being admired.

  2. Anonymous November 19, 2010 at 2:21 am #

    My daughter at twelve agrees with you. She even made comments like “Why would Hermione want Ron?”

    Although I would point out that Ron does heroic, self-sacrificing things even in the first book, he is more the comic relief sidekick.

    The reality though is that Ron would not be the one Hermione is drawn to, as you point out, but the one that she would settle for. (if she settled at all).

    It is all nice and tidy and makes all the friends one big family in the end, but it isn’t realistic.

  3. Joseph Dantes November 19, 2010 at 4:28 am #

    The last 1.5 paragraphs crossed the line into brilliance. Bravo.

  4. Joseph Dantes November 19, 2010 at 4:30 am #

    “If I were Harry, I would have married Hermione. I like being admired.”

    What’s a marriage without a chase?

  5. jack November 19, 2010 at 5:57 am #

    This demonstrates that the male and female selection process are different.

    A slightly younger, cuter girl who admires you is more attractive to a man than a girl who is your equal in terms of success.

    “Alpha” for a girl means young and cute.
    Alpha for guy means status, looks, and social dominance/power (some combination of those).

    Note also the surprise that Hermione could want Ron. Since modern women are fixated on evaluating men like they would any other consumer product, this surprise is expected.

    Not too many years ago, women evaluated men as actual complete, living human beings, not a bullet-point list of desirable attributes. The women have become ruined by being indoctrinated with the “choice addiction” (as described by (Dalrock) and by feminism that has trained women to think of most men as defective, rather than to admire them as humans.

    No wonder so many cannot find a “good man” they have mostly been trained to find fault in men.

  6. nothingbutthetruth November 19, 2010 at 6:13 am #

    Well, in the real world, Harry Potter would be Hogwart’s uber alpha and he would pump and dump most females in the school: starting with Hermione, following with Ginny and the rest. He has an incredible social status in this school.

    But I admit it. J.K. Rowling cannot write romance. Harry Potter needs some adjustments to be a romantic fantasy. Let me fix Harry Potter for her:

    Firstly, make Hermione the real protagonist. Romance novels are for women and they need someone to identify with. Drop Ginny: we don’t want female competition. She could appear as a secondary character that is not worthy to tie Hermione’s shoelaces.

    Secondly, make Ron more of a bad boy. Put some muscles in them. Lots of muscles and make him wild and unruly, like a werewolf. He must be also very handsome.

    Thirdly, make Harry Potter a tortured soul, fighting between his love towards Hermione and his impossibility of having her. Make him a pale creature of the night, like a vampire.

    Fourthly, make Ron and Harry fight for Hermione’s love. There is no best tingle enabler for a woman than seeing two men fighting for her.

    Finally, in order for the the average female reader to identify with Hermione, drop her IQ by 80% until she becomes borderline. Make her boring, stupid, attention whore, insufferable, dumb as a rock. Make that she does stupid and dangerous things. (This stretches the logic: how two uber-alphas are fighting for a gamma girl? But romance is not about logic)

    Now you have the perfect romantic fantasy. Now you have Twilight. You’re welcome, J.K.Rowling. Now give me a share of royalties, please.

  7. Josh November 19, 2010 at 7:44 am #

    It’s particularly hard to imagine the Ron-Hermione paring given the relative attractiveness of the characters in the movies.

    I watched the movies and read the books concurrently, so my impression of them is inevitably distorted by the novel.

  8. Josh November 19, 2010 at 7:45 am #

    Correction: Distorted by the movies, not the novel.

  9. y81 November 19, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    The lack of a Harry/Hermione romance is plausible: people who were good friends in pre-adolescence often do not find each other romantically interesting. (Nature’s way of fostering exogamy, maybe.) And Harry/Ginny is plausible: your friend’s younger sisters (or your younger sister’s friends) are often romantic targets. But I agree, the Ron/Hermione thing lacks plausibility: he isn’t even a tortured bad boy, much less the captain of the football team, or even a fellow nerd, which really bright girls do sometimes end up with.

  10. Lover of Wisdom November 19, 2010 at 11:21 am #

    This summed up my frustration with the whole series. There is great creativity and imagination with the Harry Potter universe constrained by pure mediocre writing ability.

  11. Old Guy November 19, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    The casting in the movies made this romantic clanger worse. If Hermione had instead looked decidedly average or a little below, her interest in Ron wouldn’t be so jarring. (And, you can’t just put glasses on a witch.)

    In Goblet of Fire Harry’s competitor from Durmstrang, a star (yet age-appropriate) international Quidditch player, was smitten with Hermione. Rowling went out of her way to put Hermione out of Ron’s league.

  12. J November 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    I’m very disappointed. Frankly, I always thought that when Harry grew up, he would marry…..

    …….me.

  13. Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life November 19, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    Totally wrong analysis. It’s the wizarding world and the only thing that matters is raw magical power. Ron and Hermione are good but not stellar magically. For sure Hermione knows all about magic, but she doesn’t really have much oomph with a wand compared to Ginny. Ron and Hermione are a match.

    Ginny on the other hand is the hot stick. She’s already showing her true power by Book 5 and unleashes some enormously strong magic towards the end of the book. You almost get the feeling she could give Harry a run for his money.

    I picked / wanted Ginny from the get go for Harry. There was just something about the younger sister crush thing that works. Plus if there’s a character that the average female reader can identify with, it’s Ginny.

  14. Aunt Haley November 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    Anonymous–
    Your 12-year-old daughter has good taste!…
    More seriously, though, I agree that Ron does brave and heroic things, but he’s so subordinate to Harry throughout the series that it’s hard for him to be a realistic romantic rival.

    Josh–
    It’s particularly hard to imagine the Ron-Hermione paring given the relative attractiveness of the characters in the movies.

    None of the boys has aged particularly well. Meanwhile, Emma Watson spent her teens as a celebrity model for Burberry and general burgeoning fashion icon. The fact that she cut off all of her hair after finishing the Potter movies was actually considered news.

    I’m not sure Watson was a very accurate choice for Hermione, though, given that the character is described in the books as having bushy hair and large teeth and is far more interested in her studies than fashion. Luckily for Harry, Ginny turned into an uberbabe just in the nick of time! I think that if the movies’ producers knew ahead of time that Harry would ultimately end up with Ginny, they might have cast the Ginny role differently. Bonnie Wright…does not resemble the character described in the final books.

    Lover of Wisdom–
    This post was the short version. Then again, these criticisms are nothing compared to my feelings about the Left Behind series. Ha.

    Old Guy–
    (And, you can’t just put glasses on a witch.)

    But apparently you CAN put them on a wizard!

    J–
    Hope springs eternal.

    Athol–
    Plus if there’s a character that the average female reader can identify with, it’s Ginny.

    How so? Most girls are not the most gorgeous, most athletic, most sassy, most talented girls in their entire schools, who land the celebrity boy. There’s a reason girls and women overwhelmingly identify with Twilight‘s Bella Swan rather than superstar Ginny Weasley. I was rolling my eyes like crazy at the way Rowling was trying to make Ginny out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Also, it was just bad writing. A character who hasn’t factored in much to the story suddenly is greater than everyone but the hero?

  15. Lover of Wisdom November 19, 2010 at 11:07 pm #

    Do tell us your thoughts about the Left Behind series, Haley.

  16. grerp November 20, 2010 at 7:12 am #

    In the audiobooks, the older Ginny sounds like she has been smoking marlboros for about 25 years. Her voice is a serious ambiance killer. I don’t know what Jim Dale was thinking.

    Athol is right that Hermione knows plenty about magic, which saves the day and helps Harry solve the mystery untold times, but isn’t particularly powerful with a wand. She also would have been an insufferable know-it-all without the influence of Harry and Ron. I love Hermione, but her attracting the interest of Viktor Krum was not realistic. He was already an internationally known sports star, and she was an average status nerd girl in her own school and had no ties within the larger wizarding world because she was muggle born. She has excellent character and unshakeable loyalty, but we all know what attention-getters those are with the opposite sex.

    I thought her “romantic” relationship with Ron was realistically portrayed – if they had already been married for about 20 years. They mirrored the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley quite closely.

    Ron is problematic as a romantic suitor because he’s presented as being so average. His strongest characteristics are his loyalty to Harry, his general amiability, and his solid and happy family background. He does bloom a bit in the last books, but he never has the charisma and social ease of FrednGeorge or the smarts and ambition of Percy. But he does show up time and time again for his friends, even when it’s hard, even when it’s scary, even when he has a broken wand. That should be more than enough for any girl in a less crazy world.

    And, yes, Harry does have a certain amount of fame, but his social status fluctuates wildly every year as students and staff begin to suspect him of being behind whatever horrible thing is going down at the time. Being with him at any of those times is social suicide as Ron and Hermione learn. I never felt that Rowling gave Harry and Hermione any chemistry together, and, if anyone deserves to be with Harry – who is truly heroic throughout, as well as being humble and kind and brave – it’s Ginny, a member of the family who always loved and believed in him. The Weasley DNA should be passed on!

    Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione are solid pairings, even if they are not the stuff of romance novels.

    On a side note, Hogwarts must have had absolutely killer liability insurance. I would never have sent my child there. The teachers are sub par, and there’s always some kid getting petrified, killed, or just soundly bullied while Snape looks on. The first years should have to attend a magical first aid class every day, morning and afternoon.

  17. grerp November 20, 2010 at 7:19 am #

    I agree that Emma Watson was too pretty to play Hermione. There were so many good casting choices, though. All the rest of the regulars were good and many of the shorter roles were all well cast. I loved Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart. I didn’t care for David Thewlis as Lupin.

  18. Aunt Haley November 20, 2010 at 7:40 am #

    grerp–
    Krum’s interest in Hermione was, for me, a little like Cristiano Ronaldo showing up at a co-ed version of Eton and taking a liking to an average-looking 14-year-old girl. It made no sense and was a cheap way to make Ron jealous.

    The Weasley DNA should be passed on!

    …Because Ginny was the only Weasley capable of reproducing??

    Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione are solid pairings, even if they are not the stuff of romance novels.

    Which is fine, although it never solves the question of why Hermione would be attracted to Ron (or Ron to Hermione, for that matter), but I mainly wish Rowling would have ignored the romance angle completely since she did such a mediocre job of writing it.

    I loved Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart. I didn’t care for David Thewlis as Lupin.

    Branagh as Lockhart was meh to me and a little too obviously acting the part. I wanted Hugh Grant to play the character. I have no particular feelings about Thewlis as Lupin, except for maybe looking a little too robust.

  19. Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life November 20, 2010 at 9:19 am #

    If you really want to pick apart the books I just justed laughing when at the Quiddich World Cup there’s about what appears to be 80,000 magic using fans in attendance.

    When 12 Death Eaters show up they all run in terror. I was LOL WUT? Oh come on people, wands at the ready…

    Voldermort actually isn’t all that scary to me anyway. He just postures and threatens Harry. I’m not sure what he actually wants to do as an end goal that’s all that nasty anyway.

    At least Dr Evil in the Austin Powers movies has a plan to take over the world and hold it to ransom for ONE MELLION DOLLARS.

  20. Aunt Haley November 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    When 12 Death Eaters show up they all run in terror. I was LOL WUT? Oh come on people, wands at the ready…

    Well, maybe those twelve Death Eaters were Ginny Weasleys, and the rest were Hermione Grangers. You would run, too! ;)

    Voldemort is a terrible villain. He might as well have worn a mustache and twirled the ends for all the actual danger he ever posed.

    P.S. Lover of Wisdom, the Left Behind books are an insult to the craft of writing and to anyone boasting an intellect higher than that of a slug. Oh, wait, I shouldn’t have said that…Christians are never to criticize the heartfelt work product of other Christians, after all….

  21. Lando November 20, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    It’s been a while since I read the books, but I always though Krum was kind of socially awkward despite his fame. He seemed like he was uncomfortable in his own skin and thus why he took a liking to Hermione because she didn’t seemed phased by his status and was kind to him.

    Ron although portrayed as “average” in comparison to Harry Potter, still has a lot of pluses in his favor. He is best friend to Harry Potter, which propels his status way above what it would have been otherwise. Also he saves Hermoine and Harry’s lives on multiple occasions, risking his own.

    In the films Ron is larger and physically stronger than Harry too. If Hermoine did not see herself as compatible with Harry in terms of personality or lifestyle, then it wouldn’t be far fetched to see her ending up with Ron (who’s still a great catch when taking in all the options at school as a whole).

  22. Chris November 20, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    @grerp.

    I think you (and Haley) are missing one of the factors. UK and commonwealth High Schools or Colleges (both words are used) are smaller — ranging from around 400 to 2800 children from grades 6 — 12 in US speak. (NZ has middle school and high school from grade 8/ year 9).

    If wizardry is fairly rare — like being a good programmer in C — let’s say 1:10 000 people. In the UK (60 mill) thus you would have no more than 6000 wizards: there may be 600 children in total. You can then expect classes around 20 — 30 at most per form.

    So think of a very small christian school. Ginny would stand out.

  23. Thursday November 20, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    Kenneth Branagh is almost always brilliant . . . except when he’s trying to do Shakespeare. I’ve only read the first Potter book and watched several of the films, but I just can’t justify reading 800 pages of so so writing, no matter how well plotted.

  24. sdaedalus November 21, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    Just a couple of points.

    I’m not so sure that Viktor Krum and Hermione was that unrealistic. Hermione was after all one of the friends of the great Harry Potter, that must have given her some increased status to compensate for her muggle blood and lack of practical witchcraft skills. Probably not enough, if she wasn’t pretty, but just enough to get her noticed and within the radar. Also, maybe he liked her as a person, and appreciated her honesty. Not so shocking, surely. It wasn’t like he was planning to marry her, or anything (hough given JK Rowling’s tendency to marry off her characters as soon as they are of legal age, she probably had a narrow escape),

    Also, re the evolution of Super-Ginny, you have to remember you are seeing her through Harry’s eyes, when you are in love with someone their accomplishments and virtues tend to be exaggerated in your eyes, looked at in this light her transformation is more explicable.

    I thought the pairing off in Hogwarts was much too simplistic – life is more complicated than that. I look forward to Hogwards – 20 years later when the magic spouse-swapping scandal & paternity suits ensue.

  25. ashleeekaren November 29, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    I HATED that Harry ended up with Ginny. All she did was hook up with a million dudes. And the way she seduced him in the Room of Requirement?? HO.

    I always wanted Harry and Hermione together. Or if not Hermione and Harry, then Hermione and Viktor Krum. I liked that pairing. She was the smarts, he was the muscle. Great combo.

    Although Harry did enjoy some type of Alpha status, the fame, wealth, magical abilities, I would have to say that he was probably somewhat of a Beta as well.

    He spent his entire adolescence trying to please other people (Dumbledore), and save the world from Voldemort – he was selfless. Are Alphas ever truly selfless?

  26. Aunt Haley November 30, 2010 at 8:10 pm #

    ashleee–
    Seducing Harry in the Room of Requirement was a movie adaptation. In the book Harry and Ginny kiss for the first time – spontaneously, in front of everyone – after Gryffindor wins their Quidditch match.

  27. Jennifer August 19, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    Oh Haley, your pessimism does occasionally clang with me. Plus, you sometimes don’t make allowances for different Christian character or even preferences. But you do make some interesting points.

    “Sometimes just proximity is enough”

    And sometimes it ain’t. Those two had NO chemistry.

    “She has excellent character and unshakeable loyalty”

    That’s often very attractive to the opposite sex, grerp. Great further points.

  28. Stuff August 20, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    @Aunt Haley: ” A character who hasn’t factored in much to the story suddenly is greater than everyone but the hero?”

    Yes, but only sexually. For all the great attributes which make Harry attracted to her, she isn’t actually useful.

    @ Jack: “Since modern women are fixated on evaluating men like they would any other consumer product”

    Yes, they are, nowadays. Just like men have been evaluating women for millenia.

    @ashleekaren: “I HATED that Harry ended up with Ginny. All she did was hook up with a million dudes. And the way she seduced him in the Room of Requirement?? HO.”

    Ginny was pretty, athletic, and magically powerful. As for her being a “ho,” Rowling wrote the books so that sexuality wasn’t as much of a problem except for “blood”-WoG has it they had foolproof contraception.

    @nothingbuttruth: “Well, in the real world, Harry Potter would be Hogwart’s uber alpha and he would pump and dump most females in the school.”

    While Harry is a leader (in DA w/Umbridge) and a hero and rich, he is also made by the media to look insane; is made by various people and groups to look like a liar about his hero status; is short; is ugly; has no book smarts; has no street-smarts either, since Hermione usually comes up with his strategy, in GoF Neville comes up with his strategy, and Ron is shown to have better strategy than him through chess games. He is like a quarterback on the school football team, but only because of his pig-headedness in the first book and because Dumbledore wanted to raise his confidence. While he is rich, he did not grow up valuing wealth, and is too charitable and not power-seeking enough to use the wealth for his own ends.

    In fact, the quality of Harry’s which does not come into question is that he is a leader. But if he screwed everyone from his DA classes which he taught, he’d be putting more people in danger by tying the girls closer to him. He vehemently does not want endanger others, throughout the books. Besides which in OotP, when everyone shows up to the DA class just because he’s famous, he is insulted that they only showed up for his fame. He does want others to treat him as an object of fame. Naturally he would not screw the girls who treat him this way.

    Moreover, in GoF, he is shown to be very socially awkward. He can’t dance with his date, nor can he pay her any attention, positive or negative. Of course he has become awkward. He has had to deal with abuse from an early age, and from paranoia and fear from Voldy’s being inside his mind as soon as he entered Hogwarts.

    Let’s not forget that between fighting teh evulz, Harry doesn’t really have time to even think about screwing girls.

    If between all of these problems he managed to convince a girl to screw him and did screw her, she wouldn’t be Hermione. Hermione is ugly, and loves him like a brother to boot. He is attracted to Cho because they have athletics in common and because she’s hot, but she’s an emotional mess. He’s too nice to screw her.

    Finally, he does not want to screw her because Dumbledore has essentially arranged for him to be from a broken home so Harry is attracted the cozy and bumbling family that being with Ginny would provide.

    If Dumbledore had done differently, and let Harry’s arrogance grow in childhood, Harry Potter would lead a PUA lifestyle unsuitable for children to read about, and unfitting for a morally unambiguous Big Damn Hero.

    Rant over.

  29. Stuff August 20, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    “He spent his entire adolescence trying to please other people (Dumbledore), and save the world from Voldemort – he was selfless. Are Alphas ever truly selfless?”

    No, and part of Rowling’s message was against selfish behavior. She preaches against seeking power. Says so from the very first book.

    Anyone in the books who was looking for power for any other reason except to help others was not portrayed as a good person.

    Dumbledore’s the biggest Alpha in the books, but he is a good guy because he does not use that power for selfish ends.

    Voldy’s the second biggest alpha…and…well…

  30. drush76 October 8, 2013 at 12:12 am #

    This isn’t about the romances being unrealistic. This is about you being disappointed that your favorite ships didn’t become canon. Who are you kidding?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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