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Order of the Phoenix – a review - moonspinner
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moonspinner
Order of the Phoenix – a review
a.k.a. Why What Makes Book 5 Good Ultimately Condemns It

I started replying vanimy here and LJ told me that my reply was too rantish long for one comment. Apparently, I do have time to write one Harry Potter meta after all.


So this was vanimy’s statement:
Admittedly I loved Book 5 so can't agree with you on that one, if only because it made me sob at the end and because I loved Harry in this one, and of course Hermione.
which was in response to my earlier comment that Book 4 was the last good Harry Potter book. In the process of typing out a response, I started thinking about why exactly Book 5 at the time of its publication was a good book, and now in retrospect became the first of the bad trilogy that ended the series. Hence this meta.

It is long. Bathroom breaks are not optional.



The bad but not the deal-breakers

These are the flaws in Book 5 that one could have lived with. It’s not the Cho Chang-ification of Ginny Weasley. It’s not the host of new characters that contribute zilch to the story – Hello token non-white character Shacklebolt. Nice to meet you. Hi, Tonks. Between you and me, it would have been better for Remus Lupin to die somewhere anonymous in the middle of Book 7 and for Fleur/Bill/unknown Veela-Weasley hybrid baby to be the next generation of Potters for all the relevance you and your mythical mother added to the story. Michael Corner, you know Cedric Diggory already did the same job, only with a great deal more relevance and while looking much better, don’t you? Hestia who?

And these are the names I even remember.

The most relevant new character was Regulus Black and he was dead.

It’s not the lack of variation of certain elements of the story – wow, Gryffindor wins the House Cup and Quidditch Cup again and still remain the underdogs! – or - isn’t it considerate of Voldemort to always attack Harry at the end of the school year? He must have learnt some kind of lesson from Book 2.

It’s something else. Something I can’t really explain without a lot of rambling but it began with the universal pearl of wisdom – “don’t make promises you can’t deliver on” and the press releases that heralded the advent of Book 5.



It was the darker tale that really wasn’t

Words like ‘darker’, ‘more mature’, ‘grimmer’ were used a lot in those press releases. I didn’t have the skepticism that I do now towards Harry Potter but I remember thinking that if the whole world and its brother already knew that somebody was going to die at the end of the Book, it would really take a lot of the bite from the darkness of the story.

Then Book 5 finally came out and funny enough, it wasn’t even dark. It was grey.

It wasn’t the pyrrhic victory at the end of the book that marked it grey. That was better done with Book 3 when Harry saves Sirius’s life but not his freedom and a dangerous enemy escapes free. Or perhaps even nearer in Book 4 when Harry escapes from his own death but only after the death of a fellow student and the resurrection of Voldemort.

It was marked grey because of a statement that Sirius Black made, a statement that (at the time) I thought was going to be the over-arching theme of the rest of the series:



The world isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters.

Unlike the previous books, where (with the exception of Snape), the good guys were unfailingly good and nice, and the bad guys were unfailingly evil, mean and unattractive, Book 5 introduced the concept of good guys not always doing the right thing, doing out-and-out evil things now and then; and bad guys being even more humane and sympathetic than the good guys. Book 5 introduced the concept of good guys and bad guys being a great deal more alike than they (or at leas the good guys) think they are.





Harry Voldemort, Hermione Umbridge & the two faces of Godric’s heirs

This was the book that really told us why Voldemort chose the half-blood baby as his nemesis but more importantly, this was the book that showed us why he chose Harry Potter.

Harry Potter starts the book by trying to pick a fight with Dudley and threatening him with magic, and it goes down hill from there. He exhibits megalomania to rival Voldemort: begrudging and belittling Ron for his prefect’s badge (his best friend who Harry knows has an inferiority complex), turning against friends who refuse to give him 100% unconditional loyalty (Seamus, Cho), a serious temper problem that gets him so frequently into trouble with Umbridge that after a while, he stops being a martyr and becomes an attention seeker; his blind refusal to learn Occlumency, and finally the arrogance of his decision to rescue Sirius (instead of say, using the Floo to alert the Order or even speaking to a member of the Order still in the school) which led to Sirius Black’s death.

Then there was the arc of Hermione Granger and all the parallels (I thought) Rowling was drawing between her actions and loyalty to Harry and Dolores Umbridge’s actions and loyalty to Fudge. Neither of them was above using violence (unleashing dementors, disfiguring traitors) or blackmail (Fletcher, Rita Skeeter) to further and protect their respective hero’s causes. And to remove all ambiguity from this, we have the scene in the Forbidden Forest where both women arrogantly attempt to manipulate the centaurs – Hermione with a great deal more success – and the centaurs turn against both of them for this. (And though this happens in Book 7, it’s interesting to compare Umbridge who is clinging so desperately to a false pureblood ancestry to Hermione Granger whose Muggle parents have no first names, and who after her first year, spends all her Christmases and Summer holidays with magical people, and has had her heart set on marrying into a pureblood family since she was eleven).

Then the rest of the Gryffindors – the Weasley twins and their dangerous ‘tricks’ who defend themselves against the loss of House points by attacking another student two to one and nearly cause his death by shock and near-starvation. The older Gryffindors are no better. The rest of the Order barely ‘tolerating’ Severus Snape who as a spy is probably the most valuable asset that they have. They are quick to forget that the only known traitor of the Order was a Gryffindor. Then you have Sirius Black acting like an irresponsible teenager, and the worst kind of bully to his family’s house-elf. And to show us (or so I thought at the time) that there is a lesson in all this, Sirius Black is the scapegoat who gets punished for his wrongdoings. Dumbledore himself has never had a greyer moment (yes, even his posthumous love affair with Grindelwald included) than the scene in his office where in a heartbeat he ‘defends’ his student from being physically assaulted and then personally assists an Auror in mentally crippling her. “Only I may harm my children”, is what I believe he indeed thought. And as usual, there’s Hagrid – the only Professor who never completed his own magic training but got his job for being loyal to Dumbledore – who brings in a wild giant to a school for children. Even the usually sane McGonogall & Flitwick encourage open rebellion in the school, and cheer on Peeves as he lays potentially fatal traps.



Slytherins, Marauders and what really makes the bad guys the bad guys anyway?

The Sorting Hat sang a new song, a song about House Unity. Harry thinks mockingly to himself that there would never be a day when there’s unity between Gryffindor and Slytherin and the reader believes that those are words to rue by as they say.

The first Quidditch match ends with a cliché of a fight: Good vs. Evil, two physically imposing opponents – one is older – against one scrawny kid. The tag team throwing the first punch, one boy sitting on the kid while the other one punches him with a ball. But the kid is not an underdog Gryffindor, and the thugs are not cheating Slytherins. It’s the other way around.

Before then, we find out that Sirius Black was almost a Slytherin, that he turned his back on his family when he was sorted into Gryffindor to the extent that his younger brother was left without guidance and ended up as a Death Eater. We find out that there’s a blood connection between the Gryffindor Weasleys and the Slytherin Malfoys and that sometimes it’s not a question of choosing to be good or evil but of being born into a particular family. And though the majority of the Inquisitor Squad are Slytherins, it’s the not the Gryffindors and the rest of the school who are admitted into the hospital wing with cases horns, boils and death from shock and near-starvation.

Then there is the Pensieve scene where Harry and the readers’s four years perception of James and his generaton is shattered. We find out that the Marauders were not heroes but rather the villains that their name really means. James Potter is not an icon, but a vain, bullying braggart who picks one-sided fights to show his best side. (Harry is so horrified at his father that he wonders if he was conceived in the same way he will later discover that Voldemort was.) Sirius Black is not an amiable trickster but a manipulative sociopath and James’s leash-holder. Remus Lupin is a coward who unlike the much-mocked Neville Longbottom, doesn’t have the courage to stand up to his friends. Pettigrew is a sycophant the likes of whom Harry himself would never have tolerated. And Severus Snape is not the jealous, cowardly troublemaker that Harry had cast him as, but a friendless half-blood with a background uncannily like Harry, who was their punching bag and turned to Dark Arts to defend himself in a school where a bully like James Potter becomes a Head Boy.







Don’t make promises you can’t deliver on

So after all that build-up, what happens in Books 6 & 7? Does the Boy Who Live ever realize that it takes more than Parseltongue to become the next Tom Riddle and that he has what it takes? Does he make a conscious effort to, to put it crudely, get over himself? Does Hermione Granger curb her ruthlessness, reconcile with her Muggle heritage or at the very least shows some remorse for what she did to Marietta? Do we find out why James Potter is a good man? Do the Slytherins and Gryffindors bury their long-standing hatchet and form a united front against Voldemort?

You would think that that would have happened, right?

Wrong.

Harry is universally acclaimed the Chosen One and every single not-good action he’s ever done, down to the Sorting Hat considering him fit for Slytherin, boils down to a piece of Voldemort residing in his soul. (Except when he uses an Unforgivable Torture Curse to retaliate against spitting because then it’s gallantry.) He and Hermione have a good laugh over Marietta’s scars, Hermione violently attacks a boy for not liking her, and she Obliviates her Muggle parents and goes on to marry into wizarding royalty. James Potter was really the first generation Draco Malfoy right down to being Sorted into the House of his Fathers. And the only good Slytherin is a dead Slytherin who was in love with a perfect Gryffindor and should really have been sorted Gryffindor in the first place.






So in a nutshell, this is why Order of the Phoenix succeeded as the 5th book at the time of its release, and ultimately began the first of the failed trilogy that ended the series. It showed us a many-colored Potterverse, forced us to scratch beneath the surface of our characters and really ‘see’ them and judge them for their actions and not just the perceptions of good/evil we had had before. It introduced themes of loyalty, and questioning authority and being careful not to become the dragons we slay.

And it dashed them.

The books following Book 5 did not deliver on the promise of Book 5 and thus, the Order of the Phoenix became a cheat. The Potterverse is divided into good people and Death Eaters: you are either Dumbledore’s man – the Supreme Authority’s man – or you are evil. The good guys are never, ever wrong. Eighteen years into the future, grown men will point at the children of Slytherins and instruct their children on the Fine Art of Social Ostracizing.

And all these will be Good Things.

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Current Mood: accomplished accomplished

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Comments
foodsthatcan From: foodsthatcan Date: June 5th, 2008 12:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I love this rant. I totally agree that the final three books of the series were just one big mess. You were much more eloquent about it than I, though. ;)

Edited at 2008-06-05 12:39 am (UTC)
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: June 6th, 2008 12:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I know it's an unpopular opinion - to a lot of fandom Rowling is infallible - so it's cool to know I'm not the only one. :p

emavalexis From: emavalexis Date: June 5th, 2008 01:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I have this bookmarked to read and respond to tomorrow. :)
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: June 6th, 2008 12:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
*g* Looking forward to it.
fialleril From: fialleril Date: June 7th, 2008 06:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I've never read Harry Potter (and don't really plan to), but I still love this rant/meta.

I can has ambiguity in my good/evil characters, plz?
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: June 11th, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can has ambiguity in my good/evil characters, plz?

Word, word and thank you. See this icon (points upwards). That's my ode to what could have been a great moral story about reconciliation being the ultimate victory. That's why Star Wars has & will always trump every wannabe fantasy epic of this day and age.
sunlit_music From: sunlit_music Date: June 11th, 2008 12:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Word. This is so true. I hated how Snape is the only decent Slytherin and how Dumbledore said he thought Snape should have been in Gryffindor. What a horrible thing to say.

The way Hermione never felt any guilt over scarring Marietta was simply disgusting. Scarring someone is a traumatising thing to do. I remember someone saying at deathtocapslock that JKR worked at amnesty international, so it's very likely she worked with women who were scarred. That makes JKR's treatment of Marietta seem worse.

At the lj community deathtocapslock, you previously asked for a link to a HP fic I mentioned where James cheats on Lily. I'm sorry I'm replying to your post so late. (If you saw my post at deathtocapslock which replied to your post, then you can ignore the following part of this post).

The link is here:
http://www.fanfiction.net/s/3680950/1/Wrong_Kind_of_Hero

Hope you enjoy the fic! (The author artemismuse has also written other good HP fanfics too).

I've also friended you, as your journal seemed interesting and we share a few interests (like Austen, Agatha Christie and Star Wars). I hope you don't mind.
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: June 11th, 2008 02:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Word. This is so true. I hated how Snape is the only decent Slytherin and how Dumbledore said he thought Snape should have been in Gryffindor. What a horrible thing to say.

Exactly. It's such a backhanded compliment. It's like saying that Peter Pettigrew should have been Sorted into Slytherin from the first. What a way to dismiss and condemn a quarter of the wizarding population.

The funny thing is that Dumbledore's statement in and of itself is not totally wrong. It shows his prejudice and should be an indication that the old man is far from infallible. But everything points to Authorial authority vindicating that opinion. Which is where it all goes pear-shaped, as they say.

The way Hermione never felt any guilt over scarring Marietta was simply disgusting. Scarring someone is a traumatising thing to do. I remember someone saying at deathtocapslock that JKR worked at amnesty international, so it's very likely she worked with women who were scarred. That makes JKR's treatment of Marietta seem worse.

I remember that discussion & I remembering being even more horrified with that information. :(

Thanks for the link. I'll go over there soon.

I've also friended you, as your journal seemed interesting and we share a few interests (like Austen, Agatha Christie and Star Wars). I hope you don't mind.
As long as you don't mind me friending you right back. :P
sunlit_music From: sunlit_music Date: June 12th, 2008 10:58 am (UTC) (Link)
The funny thing is that Dumbledore's statement in and of itself is not totally wrong. It shows his prejudice and should be an indication that the old man is far from infallible. But everything points to Authorial authority vindicating that opinion. Which is where it all goes pear-shaped, as they say.

I know. If JKR had knowingly written Dumbledore as being very flawed and portrayed his prejudice against Slytherin as being wrong, I would have enjoyed the books more.

As long as you don't mind me friending you right back. :P
I don't mind you friending me at all! Friend away.:)
vanimy From: vanimy Date: June 11th, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm so glad you wrote this meta! :)

I agreed with almost everything you've said and I like how you made me realize what went wrong after ootp... Sometimes things bother you and you just can't pinpoint why exactly...

Anyway, will come back for a more detailed (and hopefully more interesting ;)) response...
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: June 13th, 2008 08:27 am (UTC) (Link)
I'll be looking forward to it. I got your chapter, btw. Great stuff! I'll be sending the beta back ASAP.
vanimy From: vanimy Date: June 24th, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh thank you! :) I'm looking forward to it...

Now onto the review, lol:

It’s not the Cho Chang-ification of Ginny Weasley.

Oh yes, but at the time I thought it didn't mean anything because the Cho fiasco was supposed to teach Harry a lesson, right?

It’s not the host of new characters that contribute zilch to the story – Hello token non-white character Shacklebolt. Nice to meet you. Hi, Tonks.

LOL! Now I think about it, they were completely irrelevant to the story... Even Luna was not that important. JKR kept hinting at something big about Luna and Neville and the ending was really disappointing in that respect.

It’s not the lack of variation of certain elements of the story – wow, Gryffindor wins the House Cup and Quidditch Cup again and still remain the underdogs! – or - isn’t it considerate of Voldemort to always attack Harry at the end of the school year? He must have learnt some kind of lesson from Book 2.

LOL! You do make a point here. But I was always willing to look past that if only for a good plot...

“don’t make promises you can’t deliver on” and the press releases that heralded the advent of Book 5.

Exactly! The prime example of that is the whole Voldemort history. A lot of stress was put on choices from the very first book. We thought we would get to see Voldemort make that choice, fall to the dark side, so-to-speak, because of the Dumbledore hints, because of JKR saying no one was born evil, because we should've confronted to the fact Harry was different from Voldy because he made the choice to be. Just like his dad was originally a jerk but then redeemed himself.

But no... all that talk went right out of the window when the big revelation of Voldie's past was only him being a psycho from early childhood, his parents being awful one-dimensional characters and him being just the BIG eviiiil guy. There was no subtlety here and really, apart from the Horcrux story, Voldemort's past being unveiled brought NOTHING to the whole story. Harry is a good guy. Voldie is a bad guy. That's all, nothing to see here... Given the fact all this was unveiled barely a month after ROTS opened... it only brought the big flaws of this story to the forefront. JKR chose the way too easy path.

That's one of my main complaints about HBP and its sequel.

It was marked grey because of a statement that Sirius Black made, a statement that (at the time) I thought was going to be the over-arching theme of the rest of the series:



The world isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters.


So you agree that Book 5 was darker at the beginning, right? It was supposed to be so, anyway. Only the sequels ruined its darkness. I agree that now, it doesn't seem dark anymore, but at the time, all lines were blurred between good and evil. Harry's own choices had led to Sirius' demise, there was a whole mystery surrounding Harry and Voldie's alikeness...

And then, it just fell flat. But that's not Ootp's flaw, that's the sequels'.

Unlike the previous books, where (with the exception of Snape), the good guys were unfailingly good and nice, and the bad guys were unfailingly evil, mean and unattractive, Book 5 introduced the concept of good guys not always doing the right thing, doing out-and-out evil things now and then; and bad guys being even more humane and sympathetic than the good guys. Book 5 introduced the concept of good guys and bad guys being a great deal more alike than they (or at leas the good guys) think they are.

Word!

hollywood_r_bin From: hollywood_r_bin Date: July 8th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow... that was a lot more entertaining than the book! Great job, you really hit the nail... ummm there, umm, what was that expression again? with the hammer and the nailing?... nevermind.

Anyway you are so right and you really wrote down some of the major reasons why i was so dissapointed with Harry Potter and how it ended. I have no idea what JKR was thinking, i really really resented the whole thing with Slytherin, the Marauders were obviously bastards and then what? Slytherins are still all evil? I hated that comment about how Snape should have been Gryffindor. And you are so right about Hermione and her muggle-ness, though i never did make the connection between her and Umbridge... i haven't read the book in a long time, who was Marietta again? I've only reread the first 4 books, the last 3 i read once and that was it for me. And urgh! I just hate that they killed off Snape (Snape is my favourite character), and i'm not a fan of the Snape/Lilly thing either... i mean, ok, i don't mind Snape/Lilly, it's just i didn't like that Snape's whole redemption seemed to be all about her, i mean, ok, killing the women he loves will make him switch sides but i was hoping for something deeper than that going on as well which i didn't feel like i got... am i making sense?
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: July 10th, 2008 08:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow... that was a lot more entertaining than the book! Great job, you really hit the nail... ummm there, umm, what was that expression again? with the hammer and the nailing?... nevermind.

The nail on the head. :D


Anyway you are so right and you really wrote down some of the major reasons why i was so dissapointed with Harry Potter and how it ended. I have no idea what JKR was thinking, i really really resented the whole thing with Slytherin, the Marauders were obviously bastards and then what? Slytherins are still all evil?

Word. Word. Word. One of the things I love about Avatar - it's my new show and I have it on the brain - is that apart from the Airbenders (who are all dead and mostly canonized), no single nation is either good or evil. Sure the Fire Nation is the 'Slytherin House' as they are the ones who started the war: but we see sexism in the Water Nation and vindictiveness in some characters, even in the heroine of the show; we see corruption in the Earth Kingdom, from the bullying soldiers who are supposed to protect the town but just terrorize the women & children, to the Gestapo-like Culture Police who keep the city of Bai Sing Sei in a forced utopia and eventually betray it to the Fire Nation just to keep their power. In fact, even the Airbenders aren't that great because their paranoia caused the Avatar to run away in the first place.



But in Potterverse, everything is so simple it's heartbreaking: Gryffindor = good even if you are a bullying, vain sociopath; Slytherin = evil even though you spent your whole life making up for the death of a woman who was never really a good friend to you.


you are so right about Hermione and her muggle-ness, though i never did make the connection between her and Umbridge... i haven't read the book in a long time, who was Marietta again?

It seemed so obvious to me in Book 5, and it's emphasized in Book 7 when you see that Umbridge's wizardry ancestry is not as pure as she makes it seem. I'm still in shock that Rowling wasn't trying to make a point there.

Marietta was Cho Chang's friend who ratted out the Dumbledore Army to Umbridge. Hermione had cast a spell on the members that caused a traitor to have "SNEAK" written on their foreheads with very bad acne. The scar could not be removed. Marietta was reduced to wearing a balaclva. It was something that gave our hero, Harry, a lot of laughs. ::shudders::


Re: Snape/Lily.

I get what you mean. I actually wasn't too surprised that Snape died. In fact, his death was the only death that meant anything in that book. But I disliked the way/manner of his death. It was really lucky for him, wasn't it, that Harry was eavesdropping on Voldemorte at that moment otherwise he'd never have passed on Dumbledore's great scheme to Harry. I also disliked the whole Snape/Lily relationship for alot of technical/moral issues. No. 1: there was zero build-up to it. There was no indication whatsoever that Snape and Lily had ever been friends, that Snape and Petunia had shared a childhood together. Then there's the fact that the friendship was so one-sided. The chapter is written so that we see Snape's interest in Lily as creepy: he keeps giving her "hungry" looks. But I don't see what's so creepy about a boy!wizard being interested in the first wizard/witch of his own age he's ever seen. I certainly don't see how that's more creepy than James Potter's "I'll stop beating up on your friend if you go out with me, Lily".


The narration of the whole Snape/Lily/James dynamic just makes Lily look like a greedy little social climber who trades in the poor, half-blood for the rich, pureblooded big man on campus. It doesn't show any merit on Lily and it makes Snape look like a fool for ever caring about her. And we know that's not the message JKR is trying to pass across. She wants Lily made out as a saint and Snape as "blessed" for loving her. Instead, she just makes everyone out to be a jerk, only Snape a great deal less.
hollywood_r_bin From: hollywood_r_bin Date: July 10th, 2008 01:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
What is this Avatar show? And why haven't I heard of it before? Could you tell me more? Sounds awesome.

And thanks, sometimes expressions in English just escapes me.

Yeah, I think with Potterverse you really should just stick to fanfic. Canon is just depressingly bad past book 4. And the way JKR reacts to fanfic... i think she just knows that there are so many fanfic writers who write Harry Potter better than she does :p Actually, especially in book 7 the book itself felt like a fanfic, stylistically i mean, and not a particularly good one.

You know i always try to read pro Slytherin fics, and I love Gryffindor/Slytherin pairings. When i read harry potter i always hoped that we'd finally get some pro slytherin stuff. In book 7, Draco couldn't get himself to kill Dumbledore and i thought maybe that would have been a turning point for him as a person but well...

When harry started into the wizarding world, all he got was told that Slytherin was bad, and he met one that was bratty but still it's like everyone was guiding him towards being anti-slytherin. He was a vulnerable kid who had never been loved and the people around him who started to become his friends, first thing they did was ostracize slytherins and he just sort of followed their lead without ever getting to know any slytherin, only briefly met one. Harry wasn't slytherin because he was scared and desperate for love, that's why he asked to not be slytherin to the hat, and that whole thing... it was just kinda disturbing, especially the blind trust in Dumbledore thing, i always felt like Dumbledore was manipulating and using an eleven year old kid who had just come out of an abusive home, which HE put him in... it was almost like he planned the whole thing, harry's whole life...

Anyway Snape rocks no matter what anyone says. I love love love love Snape, to me he's the only real hero in the whole series and JKR sucks for how she wrote him... though yeah, i saw his death coming too.

Wow, i didn't even remember that.. well i vaguely did but i didn't remember it wasn't removable... that's like, back in ancient times in China where criminals were tattooed on the forehead or something like that anyway...so yeah, some hero!

I agree on Snape/Lilly, there was no hint that they even knew each other before. And i hate that it was one-sided too, Snape is a much better person than James and really, that's not saying much.

"I'll stop beating up on your friend if you go out with me, Lily"

*laughs* Oh yeah, that was SO creepy!! If it was me i would never even go near that guy, I would have just decked him! And then grab my friend, and then run! And then maybe see about getting a magical restraining order and literally means he can't come within a hundred feet of me or something.

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