Fandom: Harry Potter - J. K. Rowling
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Katie Bell/Marcus Flint
Characters: Katie Bell, Marcus Flint, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, Terence Higgs, Adrian Pucey, Millicent Bulstrode
Additional Tags: One Night Stands, Loss of Virginity, Alternate Universe, Romance, Attempt at Humor
Series: Part 2 of Unconventional, Almost Unlikely
Angie and Ally knew that Katie would never say 'no' to a dare. It was always a matter of misplaced sense of pride for their friend and the girls always knew how to exploit that.
Katie knew that she was as crazy as her friends when she uttered the words that would change the course of her whole life.
“Fine. I’m in.”
Chapter 10: The Date part 1: Primping
You probably must be thinking how strange it is to receive a letter from me. I am not accustomed to writing more than a few words, but I wanted to give it a try. I'm writing this to explain to you how I feel.
First, let me tell you how astoundingly beautiful you were that night at the Leaky. When I walked into the place, I almost immediately saw you and hoped that, maybe, you would accept a drink from me. Never in my wildest dreams had I expected you to walk up to me for a chat and drink. When you gave me the privilege of having you in my arms that night, I felt like the luckiest man in the world even though you left the next morning before I woke up.
Again, I let me tell you how sorry I am for that night when you had to encounter my friend’s less than sane wife. And I'm sorry for embarrassing you in front of your friends in Hogsmeade. To add to that, giving you that diary without explaining what it does isn’t my proudest moment either. I just wanted to get to know you better in the hopes to court you properly one day.
I know we don’t know each other for very long, and you are still in school, but you've bewitched me. I like you, Bell. Your eyes, your smile that can brighten up my day by just thinking about it, your hair, the way your body felt in my arms, and your voice. When I hear your voice, my heart skips a beat. I want to get to know more about you and hope that you feel the same way.
Will you honour me with accepting my invitation to go for lunch next Saturday?
Please let me know your answer as soon as possible.
I remain yours,
Katie had read the letter the numerous times a day since receiving it and today was no different. To say that it was a surprise to get such a sentimental letter from Marcus, would be an understatement. She must have compared the handwriting a dozen times to the other notes to make sure that he truly was the one who had sent it. After concluding that it was him who'd written it, she might have done a little happy dance in the common room, earning her concerned looks from her Housemates. They had assumed that she’d fallen off her broom one too many times, and had turned to Harry Potter with accusatory glares for overworking his team.
Not that Katie had noticed. After her dance, she'd dashed to her dormitory to write a letter. Not to Marcus, of course. No, this had required female advice. Preferably from someone with loads of experience since there were so many things she needed to learn.
Should she turn him down and play hard to get (not a chance in hell on that one). Or what about how to respond (‘Gods, I thought you'd never ask. Why wait a week?’ was probably out the question). Then there was the thing about what to expect during a lunch date (to snog or not to snog).
As befitting a good friend, Alicia had written her back within the hour with solicited and unsolicited advice like wait a day before sending a reply so you don’t come off too eager, keep your note short and concise, and see how the date goes before deciding on the snogging. All of which had been useful advice.
The only thing that Katie still hadn't figured out was why wearing her ugliest undies and not shaving certain body parts could be helpful. Was it some sort of good luck charm? Not daring to ask details in fear of what the answer might be, she'd decided that it'd be for the best to ignore those two bits of help. Ugly underwear was no problem since it was all she had, but forgoing personal hygiene was not up for debate.
Waiting a whole day before writing Marcus back must have been the longest twenty-four hours in her life. From all the eloquent replies Katie had composed in her head that night, she'd ultimately chosen the simplest one the next day. ‘Yes’ because what more was there to say?
Against all expectation, the had week flown by and before Katie knew it was Hogsmeade Weekend again.
She stood in next to her bed dressed in her ugly undies and a towel wrapped around her wet hair. In less than an hour, the gates were to open, and if everything went accordingly, Marcus would be waiting on the other side. If only she could decide what to wear, not that she had much choice since she usually wore her uniform and only brought a few jeans and jumpers for the weekends. Asking Ally or Angie to send her something was out the question. Katie still wasn't sure what the piece of cloth they had sent the last time was.
“A skirt, my bare arse,” she snorted when she thought about the thin strip of fabric.
Her eye fell on the letter again, and she couldn’t help but wonder who had whispered the words to write in Marcus’ ear. The letter, although she appreciated it, didn’t sound like something he would have come up with. Not that it bothered her, it was the sentiment that counted after all. She just wished that he had been clearer on where they were going so that she'd know what to wear.
“Start getting dressed, you bint,” she urged herself and turned her attention to the clothes laid out on her bed.
“Light blue jeans with the green jumper or the dark blue ones with the purple blouse?” Katie mused, tapping her chin. Her roommates had already left for breakfast without bothering to wait for her or offer advice. Her constant muttering under breath over the past few days had left them a bit wary, afraid that Katie was losing her marbles.
“Bloody barmy,” she parroted what she'd heard her dorm mates whisper behind her back.
And maybe, she was a little. How other girls went through the torture of getting ready for a date without setting everything on fire was beyond her. She was about to pull her hair out in frustration. Why oh why hadn’t she brought nicer clothes with her?
“It’s just Flint. He already saw me at my drunkest and still took me home,” she encouraged herself. A quick glance at the clock informed her that she had ten minutes left.
Taking a deep breath, she picked up the newest of her jumpers and jeans. “Here goes.”
Right outside the Hogwarts' gates, a hulky figure holding on to a bouquet of roses impatiently waited for his date to come out. Dressed in his best robes and doused in the most expensive cologne for sale in Diagon Alley, Marcus counted down the minutes until the gates would open. The shiny new shoes on his feet hurt. The charm to enlarge for a bit more comfort was already fading, and he was too nervous to cast another one.
His usually unkempt mop of black hair was slicked and parted in the middle, and he was so closely-shaven that he had nicked himself a few times in the process. The skin on his throat and chin still burnt like a raging fire since he'd put on the cologne. But it didn't matter; Bell was worth the struggles.
A four-course lunch at Le Gavroche in London awaited them. Marcus didn’t particularly care for fancy French meals because he always left the restaurant hungry. Nor did he care for the ridiculous clothing and extensive primping. But, according to Higgs, women wanted well-dressed men and meals in high-end restaurants, so he had no choice left than to oblige if he wanted to impress Bell.
Marcus righted his spine when the gates finally opened. Hordes of students poured out, and none of them was Katie. He did see that McLaggen bloke, who challenged him to another duel before his wise friends dragged him off. Shortly after that, he had to shoo Millie and Pansy off, who'd wanted to say hello and chat for a while. His cousin hissed in response, and both girls gave him the two-finger salute, just the way he had taught them when they were eight. Especially Millie had always been a good student, and it made him very proud to see that she hadn’t forgotten her lessons.
The worst were the Quidditch fans, though. Every few seconds someone pushed a piece of paper under his nose and demanded him to sign it. Not to mention the two boys who temporarily blinded him with the flashing bulbs on their cameras. It took all of his self-control not to hex the two idiots. Couldn’t they see that he was waiting for his girl here?
“It’s just lunch, you idiot. No need in getting your hopes up,” he grumbled as hopped on his throbbing feet, scaring away a young girl.
Now that the crowd was thinning out without a sign of Bell, his heart plummeted. Had she changed her mind? He had been waiting for her since sunrise and now, after hours of waiting, she didn’t even bother showing up.
“Where are you?” he murmured, and loosened his suffocating collar.
Another ten minutes later he was ready to walk away when someone called out his name.
“Oi, Flint, wait for me!”
“Stupid, stupid twat.”
Katie ran towards the gates faster than she had ever before. After getting dressed, taking care of her hair, and debating on putting on makeup or not, she was nearly a half hour late. And of course, just when she was ready to step out the portrait hole, Potter had chosen that moment to inform her about some new tactics for the upcoming match against Ravenclaw. Then he had to go and demand that the team should forgo Hogsmeade and gather for an extra training session that afternoon. Walking away without seriously injuring the boy had been quite an accomplishment for her.
‘Upcoming, he says. Two months, we have two months, you idiot!’
She stopped dead in her tracks when Marcus caught her eye. At least, she guessed that it was him seeing that he looked almost unrecognisable. From all the things she had expected, Marcus Flint with far too much gel in his hair and dressed as if he was about to go to a ball hadn't been one of them. The smell of strong cologne wafted through the air, and she couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed that it wasn’t the same delicious scent he had worn the last two times she had seen him.
‘What happened to his hair? Why is he dressed like that?’ she thought as she slowly came closer.
Apart from the hair, the cuts on his chin and the strong cologne, he looked almost handsome in his fancy clothes. Compared to Marcus, she looked like a tramp on a scavenger hunt with her jeans and trainers. Judging by his clothes, wherever it was he'd planned to take her, it was most probably an expensive place. Her face fell at that thought; she only brought enough money with her for a sandwich and beer. Maybe, she should call it off and try again in a few years. Preferably around the time that Galleons started growing on trees.
“Hi,” she started shyly, suddenly at a loss for words. “Sorry, I’m late.”
She wanted to explain that it took her a bit longer because she couldn't decide what to wear, but compared to him that seemed hardly believable.
“S’alright,” he mumbled, frowning at her clothes. “Do you need more time? I can wait.”
“More time for what?” Katie felt the heat rise her cheeks. Of course, she knew what he meant. “Uhm, no, I’m ready.”
Marcus' frown deepened. “Are you sure?”
Could this get more awkward?
‘Dear Mother Earth, please open up and swallow me whole.’
That didn’t happen, and the uncomfortable situation carried on as they stood in silence, both unsure of what to say next. A group of giggling girls strolled by, not so discretely pointing and whispering. As soon as they passed, Katie put her big girl knickers on and quietly said,
“I, ah, I thought we were going for a simple bite. I-I don’t have enough money for something fancy.”
“Why would you need money?” Marcus frowned in confusion. He didn't have much experience with the whole dating thing, but he was fairly sure that he was supposed to pay. Right? “I thought that the asker paid. And since I asked you...”
“Yeah, absolute, I think.” Katie nibbled on her bottom lip. The first and last time she'd gone on something that resembled a date had been with Cormac, and he'd been adamant about splitting the bill. And when she'd complained about it, Angie had made her believe that it was standard practice these days. Was Flint old-fashioned or had her friend fooled her?
“So, where are we going?”
Marcus studied her clothes again and then looked down at his own. “Do you like posh restaurants?”
Katie shrugged, trying to recall the tedious event she had gone out to dinner with her parents. Her father had saved up for months to take them out to a new fancy restaurant in Diagon Alley to celebrate her mum's birthday. The long wait between the courses and the barely recognisable bits of food had left them less than satisfied.
“No, not really. Dad took my Mum and me to one once. We ended up getting fish and chips at the Leaky right after desserts because we were too hungry.” As soon as she blurted out the words, she regretted them. What if she'd ruined his plans now?
‘The day just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?’
To her surprise, though, Marcus grinned widely at her confession and took a step closer. Whatever she'd said, it must have been the right answer.
He pulled her into his arms and whispered in her ear before Apparating, “Good, we can go and have real fun then.”
But first, he needed to change into something more comfortable.
Chapter 11: The Date Part 2: The actual date
Feeling rather uncomfortable, Katie sat on Marcus’ bed as she waited for him to get out the shower. He’d wanted to wash off that stench that was supposed to be cologne and the ridiculous amount of gel in his hair. She couldn’t blame him since he smelt and looked awful. Hearing him whistle the Weird Sisters’ newest song off tune would have been funny if she hadn't been so nervous that she couldn't stop her hands from shaking. Each time she had ended up in his bedroom something memorable had happened. Such as giving up her virginity and nearly getting hexed by a madwoman.
Immediately after Apparating to his house, Marcus had offered her to wait in his study while he changed for their day together. He had sensed her nervousness correctly; if he had dragged her to his bedroom without asking, Katie reckoned that she'd have bolted without a glance back.
She would have accepted his offer if it hadn’t been for that damn scary creature that had popped out of nowhere. Why the wealthy Purebloods insisted on owning house-elves was beyond her. With their overly large eyes, big ears, and pointy noses, the creatures just scared her. At Hogwarts, she had a silent understanding with the elves; they stayed out her sight, and she didn’t curse them. It was a win-win for all.
But Flint's beast, ‘Crumpet’ he'd called the thing with fondness, hadn’t got the memo apparently and had appeared out thin air minutes after landing in the study. The elf had bowed so deep in his eagerness to please his master that his nose had dragged over the Persian rug, leaving a small trace of goo behind.
In all fairness, the creature from hell didn’t seem to be all too fond of her either. He had given her the evil eye, hissed and spat at her while Marcus hadn’t been looking, and it had even asked at what time the harlot ought to be removed from the manor. Although that last bit was a bit bothersome, Katie didn’t dwell on it too much for now and locked it away for a more appropriate time to discuss it.
No, staying alone in the study hadn't been an option if she were to make it through the day alive. Undoubtedly, Crumpet was already plotting to poison her. And even while she sat here, in Marcus' room, she was pretty sure the elf was prowling behind the closed door, waiting for her to come out and ambush her.
‘Don’t be stupid. It’ll need orders to do that.’
In an attempt to take her mind off deranged elves, Katie walked to one of the large windows overlooking the magnificent gardens. If she wasn't mistaken, the Flint Manor gardens were charmed to stay in a perpetual state of spring time. Carefully tended flowerbeds, numerous rosebushes, and neatly trimmed hedges surrounded freshly mown grass for as far as the eye could see. In the distance, a pool of some sorts glistened in the sunlight. Maybe after whatever Marcus had planned for them, they could go for a swim.
“Enjoying the view?”
Katie jumped a little at the sudden interruption and turned around to answer him. As soon as she laid eyes on him, she quickly turned to watch the garden again. Marcus stood dripping wet in the middle of the room, a minuscule towel wrapped around his hips. It barely covered him, there.
“Y-yes. It’s, ah, beautiful.”
‘Get yourself together! You’ve seen him naked before!’
That train of thought didn’t help at all. Images of seeing him starkers and in full glory for the first time and all the things they had done right after that flashed before her eyes. Suddenly, the need for turning back and study him was overwhelming. Just to see if he looked the same as in her memory now that she was sober. It wouldn’t be the first time she thought things looked good when drunk.
“Thank you,” he said chuckling, “You can turn around now.”
‘Dammit, too late.’
Marcus stood in only his underpants in front of the large wardrobe, pulling out several items. Katie couldn’t help but admire the muscles in his back stretching and relax with each movement. Quidditch could do so much with building muscles, so he must be doing some other sport on the side. She appreciated a taut bum on a man, and his tight pants accentuated the curve beautifully. It would have been perfect if he hadn't worn them, though.
‘They feel good too, remember? Hard as steel.’
It suddenly became very, very warm in the room, and Katie wondered if she'd be able to pull off casting a cooling charm on herself without him noticing.
“So, uhm, what are we gonna do today?” She didn’t care for what he had planned; watching him parade around in his undies was all right with her. Or, if she was lucky, completely naked.
‘Get your mind out the gutter, you perv. No sex on the first date.’
“Well, the plan was a fancy lunch and sightseeing in London. We can still go to London and grab a bite somewhere,” Marcus answered as he compared two shirts.
Katie scrunched up her nose; she had seen the city many times already. Besides, the risk of walking into her parents or one of the girls was too high for her liking. As she glanced out the window, an idea popped up. “We could stay here. It’s lovely weather outside.”
‘And you have a psychotic house-elf who can prepare food for us.’
“It’s always lovely weather outside,” Marcus answered absentmindedly. It didn’t take long for the suggestion to sink in, and he turned around in surprise. “You want to stay here?”
When she nodded in answer, he licked his lips as he looked her up and down. Trying to find the easiest way to get her out of her clothes, no doubt.
“I know what you’re thinking, Flint. That’s not going to happen.” Katie waggled her finger at him in indignation. She needed to make it seem as if she hadn't thought the same. “I mean that we should have lunch here, in the garden.”
‘And maybe, you can put those muscles in action in the pool while I watch.’
“Of course, I knew that.” The grin ran away from his face, and he called out for his elf. “Crumpet!”
The vile creature appeared out nowhere, again bowing knee deep with one glassy eye glaring at Katie.
“Master called? Crumpet needs to throws out the hag?”
‘Or throw yourself into a burning fire, you devil spawn.’
“The lady is not a hag, Crumpet. After you have punished yourself for that, you can prepare lunch for us in the garden. Understood?” Marcus ordered.
The elf bowed even deeper at the given task, still glaring at Katie with one eye, and then disappeared with a loud crack.
“He doesn’t seem to like me much.” She tried to sound airy but failed at it.
“He rarely likes anyone, don’t take it personally. My mum used to joke that Crumpet once tried to smother her in her sleep.” Marcus laughed as if it was nothing. “But don’t worry, he’s just a bit strange, wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was my nursery elf, after all. And before that, he was my father's.”
“And what a fantastic job he's done.”
Marcus’ attempt at reassurance didn’t help at all. Something told Katie that Mrs Flint had been right about the deranged elf. She needed to stay away from it as far as possible.
It took Marcus a few minutes to get ready -neat black trousers and grey shirt- and lead her into the garden. As expected, it was warmer here than outside the gates. As they strolled in the sun, he explained that everything was enchanted to stay in the exact same way as it had been on the day his parents got married, a wedding gift from his father to his mother.
“It’s stunning out here. I can understand why your parents wanted to keep it like this forever,” Katie gushed. His hand on the small of her back felt comfortable, and she quietly wished for it to stay there forever.
On a table underneath one of the pergolas overgrown with Bougainville, a large assortment of sandwiches, salads, and tea awaited them. The sight alone made Katie’s stomach rumble in hunger. The only thing keeping her from running to it and stuffing her face was Marcus.
"Hungry?" he asked.
"You have no idea."
Chuckling, he took her hand and pulled her along. She had to admit that his manners were impeccable when he helped her in her chair before seating himself.
‘Huh, would have thought.’
She waited for him to take the first bite before she tried one of the sandwiches. When he didn’t fall over foaming at the mouth, she was sure enough that Crumpet hadn’t tampered with the food. Granted, she didn’t dare to drink from the buttermilk; he could have spit in it, and she wouldn’t have been any wiser to it.
Their talk over lunch was light, mainly focussed on Marcus’ Quidditch career and Katie’s chances at the upcoming try-outs. There was a flash of something across his face each time she mentioned it, but she let it slip for now. As long as he didn’t do anything to ruin it for her, she wasn’t bothered with what he was hiding. Maybe, he was excited on her behalf. That would be kind of him.
When the last of the food and tea had disappeared in her belly, Katie cleared her throat. She had taken Ally’s advice and waited until she was fed in case the day turned sour. But she couldn't hold it off much longer. There were a few things they needed to discuss.
“Thank you for inviting me today. I never expected to receive such a lovely letter from you. It was really sweet.”
Marcus stopped licking the crumbs off his plate and looked up. “I’m glad you liked it. I meant, uhm, still mean, every word written in it.”
“Hmm, yes. But you didn’t write it yourself, did you?” She didn’t really care if he had written it himself or not, it was the thought that counted. She just wanted him to squirm a bit after that comment he'd made about them shagging in front of her schoolmates. Even thinking about that day was humiliating.
Her question had the desired effect. Marcus frowned at his plate and fidgeted with his napkin. “No,” he started slowly, “A, ah, a friend helped me out. I’m not that good with words.”
“I guessed so much. Who is this friend?” Katie had to admit that hadn't expected Marcus to have articulate friends. She imagined his friends to be like those Crobb and Gargoyle boys in Slytherin: dumb knobheads.
Katie shrugged. “No reason. I’m just curious who this charmer is. His words were dreamy.” It took all of her self-control not to laugh at his annoyed expression.
“He’s married,” he said slowly. “So, Higgs isn’t that dreamy anymore, is he?”
“Higgs as in Terence Higgs? I remember him. He was gorgeous back in school. Is he still?”
Katie swooned at the thought of the blond Slytherin Seeker. Back then, he'd been the most handsome boy at school. She recalled one incident in her first year where she ran into him on her way to Potions Class. His sweet smile at her apology had left her dazzled for days, easily the best memory ever.
“Married!” Marcus announced loudly and pointed at his ring finger. “The woman who nearly cursed you into pieces the last time you were here. That's right, his wife.”
“Pity,” she sighed. Seeing the dark look on Marcus' face, Katie hastily continued, “Why was she here, anyway? In your bedroom?”
“She’s mental; that’s why.”
“That doesn’t explain why she was in your bedroom,” Katie insisted. “Is there something going on between the two of you? She's a pretty woman.”
"And married to my best mate, Bell." Marcus shuddered at the idea. “Besides, pretty doesn't equal sane or desirable. Sophia has the tendency to go crazy at her husband at the drop of a hat and usually I’m caught in the middle. She stays here on those days to cool off. My room is the only room she has deemed worthy to stay in. Higgs knows. It’s not a secret or anything.”
Marcus studied her, looking for signs of disbelief. Sophia ruining his chances with Bell would be the topping on his cake. To his relief, there weren’t any.
Katie studied him back. It was quite adoring and flattering to see the big Quidditch Captain jealous. She had to admit that she wouldn’t have liked it if Marcus had gushed about another woman to her. But if this, whatever it was between them, was to work out something like what had happened with Cormac in Hogsmeade couldn’t happen again. Marcus beat her to addressing the subject.
“Look, Bell. I’m sorry for what happened that day, with your friend. It slipped out before I could help myself. And I really shouldn’t have sent you that diary without telling you what it was. I’m not going to promise that isn’t going to happen again, though. That’s me, I blurt out whatever comes up in my head and do stupid things without thinking them through. And to be honest, I don’t care if I offend someone. But, I can promise to minimise the damage when it concerns you. Will that be enough for you?”
“Enough for what?”
‘C’mon, big oaf. Ask me properly.’
“Ah, well, to be my girl,” Marcus stammered the words. Never in a million years, he had expected to say these words as a grown man. Hell, he hadn’t uttered them when he'd been a pimply teenager, either. That had been Higgs’ and Pucey’s area of expertise.
‘Finally, was it really that difficult?’
Katie beamed, not answering just yet. “Why? Look, if you’re asking because I ended up in your bed that night, don’t bother. You don’t-”
“Of course, it’s about that night,” Marcus cut her off, his impatience bubbling to the surface. “And not only because of the sex, which was great, by the way. I liked talking to you, Bell. You have a wicked sense of humour, you’re beautiful, and you didn't stay long enough to check how much I have in my vaults. I like what I've seen so far, and I want more of it.”
“What if I don’t?”
Marcus' face fell, and he turned his eyes to his hands, studying the fine hairs on his fingers. “You don’t? Oh, I thought… I’ll take you back to Hogwarts then.”
There was a tense silence between them. He didn’t look at her, no matter how hard Katie willed him to do. She just wanted to make sure that he wasn’t only after a casual shag now and then. Even though her actions that night spoke against it, she'd decided that wasn't for her.
Last week, in anticipation of this date, she had already come to the realisation that she liked him for he was; unapologetically himself and like him, she wanted to get to know him better. Hearing him say that he wanted the same made her stomach do flip-flops. Why beat around the bush and delay the inevitable? It would be much easier to agree to have him as her boyfriend now and see how it went from there.
‘Do you call men his age a boyfriend? Isn’t there a more masculine expression? Lover, yes that sounds nice.’
“I like you too, Marcus.” He scoffed at her, probably expecting a rejecting. “I’ll say yes on one condition.”
"What?" His head snapped up in hope. “Anything.”
“Call me Katie.”
‘Now seal the deal with a kiss.’
And that was what he did as soon as he got over his surprise. In his eagerness to get to Katie, Marcus nearly knocked over the table, sending a few plates and cups flying. When he finally reached her, he pulled her up from her chair, and he held her tightly pressed against his body.
Katie felt her heart hammer in her chest, and the tingling feeling in her belly intensified when she looked him the eyes. He smiled at her before he dipped his head and chastely kissed her just above her right eyebrow. That wouldn't do.
She put her hands on his cheeks and stood on her tiptoes, beckoning him until he dipped again kissed her softly on her lips, slowly, reverently, still surprised that this was happening. Her excitement slowly took over, and she pressed her mouth harder against his, feeling his big front teeth against hers. They stood there for a while, going back and forth. It felt brilliant and was what she wanted, in the right order of things.
When they broke apart, Katie felt dizzy and rested her head against his chest, sighing in satisfaction. It was the perfect date in her book, and nothing else could ruin it for her. Not even demented house-elves or shrieking banshees. Until Marcus had to open his big yap, that is.
“Hey, Bell, sorry… Katie?"
"Yes, Marcus?" She snuggled closer, playing with the buttons on his shirt.
"When, no, why did you see Wood naked and who the hell is Roger Davies?”