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Chapter 7 : VII: I Don't Believe in Coincidences
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“Rasum-frasum Snape,” I growled under my breath, throwing my scrub brush into a bucket of freezing cold, soapy water. The water sloshed out a bit, spilling out and onto the front of my already-drenched skirt. I knew that if my knees hadn’t gone numb from kneeling on the frigid stone floor for over an hour, I would have thrown a tantrum right then and there.
But my knees were still numb. My clothes were drenched. My hands were all wrinkly from constant water contact. My fingers ached from scrubbing the floor. And my back was hurting.
“What did I do to deserve this cruel and unusual punishment!” I screamed, my voice echoing off the stone walls.
Nothing but the steady patter of rain outside answered me. The weather outside was just as miserable as I felt.
But the hall didn’t clean itself. I was only half finished with my detention, courtesy of every students’ favorite and most loathed, I mean loved, Potions professor.
“Just breathe, Sally-Anne,” I said to myself, closing my eyes and taking deep breaths. “I’m not forced to endure an unusually harsh punishment for turning in a picture of a potion bottle as my homework. I am at home, surrounded by as many pastries as anyone could imagine, with my mum whistling in the back and my dad snoring after getting home from work. Mum’s just asking me to do a tiny favor of cleaning up her shop for her. This isn’t detention; I’m earning my way towards a plate of muffins.”
“Good look for you, Perks,” a snide voice chuckled. “But don’t you worry that if all you do is think about food, you’ll become as round as you are tall?”
“Then there will be more of me to love, Parkinson.” I opened my eyes, my happy place fading into a distant memory as I looked up at the Slytherin girl. “What are you doing out here anyway?”
“Heading back to my common room,” Pansy said. She stood alone at the base of the stairs leading up to the main floor.
“You mean snakes like you actually slither away from your hole in the ground, alone, for things besides classes and meals?” I grabbed my brush from the bucket and continued scrubbing the floor. I was almost finished, now that I looked around. The dungeon had never looked to clean, though I knew my efforts would never be appreciated or even acknowledged.
“At least we’re not forced to work like a house elf. And we’re smart enough to actually write papers, not draw pictures.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that Pansy knew about that. Gossip always spread like wildfire around this school, after all. But I couldn’t arrive to my latest Potions class without something to pass in as homework. I remembered that that one day a few weeks ago when I was late to class, Snape gave me essay a big fat ‘zero,’ followed by the word ‘late.’ Sadly, I forgot that I was in Snape’s class. He never struck me as someone who could take a joke. I should have just turned in nothing and accepted the standard fifteen point deduction from Gryffindor as my punishment.
“What, got nothing to say?” Pansy’s voice seemed to be on the brink of hysterical laughter. I’ve heard her laugh at me before. The last time that happened, I went to Madam Pomfrey to have her check for any hearing loss.
“Huh? Oh, I’m sorry. I only really have conversations with people who are saying something worthy of a response.”
The dungeon flashed white for a moment. Three seconds later, thunder rumbled through the castle. The water in my bucket even rippled from the sound.
“Impressive,” I said, getting an idea. “I wonder if it’s possible to control lightning. I mean, natural lightning.” I sat up straight, raised my arms, and called out, “Oh great and powerful forces of nature, bring us more crashing thunder and flashing lightning!” I paused. “Maybe we’ll be lucky and strike down a few Slytherins who wander above ground.”
Pansy huffed. “You are such a child, Perks.” She left the stairs and headed towards me, but turned down the first hall she came to. She was probably going back to her common room.
“Let my power inspire fear in all snakes!” I bellowed, shouting as loud as I could so Pansy could hear me. “I shall be the most powerful witch in the history of the cosmos! Muah-ha-ha-ha!”
“It’s no wonder why you’re not in Ravenclaw, Sally-Anne.”
I heard the voice before I saw the source. Benjamin stood nearly in the same place where Pansy had been, the only difference being that he was currently leaning against the wall with his hands stuffed in his pockets. He looked down at his shoes, his fringe nearly hiding his eyes from me.
Benjamin continued, “It’s not wise to provoke Slytherins while in their territory.”
“No, that’s why I’m a Gryffindor; I’m very brave.” I tossed the brush into the bucket again. My right arm was already soaked from when I had raised my arms earlier. I bit my tongue for a moment to keep from screaming out about this new annoyance.
“Brave? More like fool-”
“Where have you been anyway?”
Oops. I didn’t mean to cut off Benjamin. And I didn’t mean to sound so sharp.
Benjamin lifted his gaze without moving his head. I only saw his left eye giving me a curious look. “What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said casually, “I might be asking where you were for the last few hours while I’ve been scrubbing the floors all by myself. Or I might ask where you were when I needed a little reminder about that Potions essay that I forgot about until the very last minute. Or, I don’t know, I might even be asking where your mind is when you actually show up but hardly listen to what I say or provide interesting dialogue anymore. Take your pick.”
Benjamin’s gaze returned to focusing on his shoes. “It doesn’t matter,” he said softly.
“It doesn’t matter? Funny. I always thought that you were around because my subconscious told me I needed company. But maybe I actually enjoyed being alone down here after Professor Snape led me to this hall, pointed to the bucket, and walked away without a word. Wow, I actually wanted to be alone for two hours?! Amazing! But the least you could have done was told me that I secretly wanted to be alone before leaving me wonder about it all alone in Slytherin territory. That little notice would have been nice.”
Benjamin seemed to shrink down upon himself as I spoke. He had finally broken out of his depressed funk sometime last week, but something else always seemed to be on his mind. Now, his head was tilted forward so much so that his fringe fully blocked his eyes. His lips were pressed thin by the time my voice finished echoing off the walls.
“What is wrong with you, Benjamin?” I asked. “You’re different this year. Why?” I paused. “Why won’t you share with me? We’re friends, remember?”
I stayed absolutely still, worried that any sudden movement would scare Benjamin off. I hardly allowed myself to breathe, not wanting to miss anything if Benjamin spoke softly.
So we stood like that for several minutes. Lightning only struck once more. I would have completely missed it if I had blinked at the wrong time and the thunder that followed sounded miles and miles away. The pattering rain seemed to be easing up. Only the wind seemed unchanged, whistling through the castle every now and then.
“Sally-Anne,” Benjamin said slowly, finally looking up at me with a somber expression on his face, “you’re getting yourself worked up over nothing. I thought you had wanted to be alone. I’m sorry if I made a mistake. I’m only an imaginary friend. I’m not perfect.” He looked away. “I’m not perfect,” he repeated softer to himself.
“Benjamin. . .”
“I’m keeping you from completing your punishment,” Benjamin said. He pushed himself off the wall and turned himself to face me. His face remained neutral as he said, “I’m sorry, Sally-Anne.”
“Sorry about what?” It didn’t sound like he was sorry for me being stuck in detention.
Benjamin started to fade. He completely disappeared within a second.
“Wait!” I called.
But it was too late. The only thing I saw was a dim flash of light. My only answer was a distant rumble of thunder.
I looked down at the bucket of ice-cold water at my feet. My still-blue fingers clenched into fists at the thought of submerging them again. But Snape would know if I didn’t finish my detention properly and find some way to punish me further while still ignoring my existence.
I didn’t end up finishing until close to midnight. Luckily, I saw no more Slytherins after Pansy. The stone floor was so clean, I wished that Snape had sentenced me to scrub the seventh floor corridor instead so my housemates could see me good work. It was a shame my efforts had to be wasted somewhere like this.
“Okay, so I’ll get a few hours of sleep,” I mumbled to myself, hugging my arms close as I walked up and out of the dungeon. My head was starting to ache, but that might have been sleep deprivation. The teachers needed to establish more powerful warming spells on the castle, because I was freezing. “In the morning, I have to finish Snape’s next homework assignment, ironically enough, study for Arithmancy, and-”
“You there! Stop! Student out of bed!”
My jaw dropped before I turned around and looked down the stairs. Mr. Filch stalked up to me, a nastily gleeful look on his face.
“I just finished my detention!” I complained. “I was heading to my common room! A’choo!”
Let’s just say that Filch didn’t believe my ‘story’ about getting a detention from Snape and being unsupervised for the last four hours. He had obviously just come from my spotless dungeon but still seemed determined to find some error with my story.
My head was pounding as Filch was going on about how he missed the old ways of ‘punishing delinquent students’ such as myself. I obviously wasn’t thinking, because I heard myself say, “It’s nearly midnight and you’re still wandering the castle. Don’t you ever sleep?”
I think it was that question that earned me the prize of two nights of detention, Friday and Saturday to be exact, of cleaning all the toilets in the girls’ washrooms.
By morning, I had only gotten about four hours of sleep before waking up to do my Potions homework. Near the end of writing it, though, my eyes started to lose focus. When I tried to reread the conclusion of my paper, it looked like all the letters were dancing to a song by the Weird Sisters. I could even hear Myron Wagtail singing in my ears.
“Sally-Anne? Sally-Anne, wake up. It’s time for breakfast.”
“Five more minutes.” I closed my eyes tighter.
I heard Lavender sigh from somewhere in front of me. “Well could you at least get your head off the table? I don’t want hair in my porridge.”
Huh? Table? Opening my eyes, I realized that I was slumped across the Gryffindor Table in the Great Hall. The ceiling was dark with thick clouds. “How did I get here?” I sat up and yawned.
“You walked here,” Parvati said from my right. “Though you looked to be sleepwalking.”
“Are you okay?” Dean asked.
I turned and was surprised to see him and Seamus there too.
“Just a really long night,” I complained. I was too tired to even pretend to be excited about last night’s detention. I pulled the cuffs of my robes over my fists, trying to keep them warm. I then wondered how I could eat without my hands. Would my friends completely object to me eating everything face first? It was a shame that I couldn’t do wandless magic.
“So did you finish your Potions homework?” Seamus asked, grinning. “And I mean something besides drawing a picture.”
“Does everyone need to remind me of my lack of judgment?” I snapped. Realizing how it sounded after the fact, “Sorry.” I took a deep breath, but I got a bit dizzy from it. “I’ve been really busy over the last few weeks. And next weekend just became date night between me and a few dozen toilets.”
“We haven’t had that much homework,” Lavender said. She pulled something from her bowl, frowned, and dropped whatever it was on the ground behind her.
“I’ve been doing personal research,” I said. Though that ‘personal research’ had to go on hold last week when I started getting behind in my schoolwork. First McGonagall gave me detention, then Snape and now Filch. I wondered which teacher would go after me next.
“What about?” Dean asked.
“She hasn’t even told us,” Parvati said for me when I remained silent. Her voice softened as she said to me, “Sally-Anne, if you tell us what you’re looking for, we would help you.”
I shook my head. “I’m fine,” I insisted. But shaking my head seemed to aggravate my headache.
“You don’t look so good,” Dean said. He placed the back of his hand against my forehead. “You feel really warm. And you look pale.”
I felt Parvati’s eyes look me over on my other side. “You’re right, she does look a bit peaky. Maybe you should see Madam Pomfrey.”
“No, I’m-” But I knew I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine when I was scrubbing the dungeon floor. I was too cold then. I must have caught something. And if Benjamin was here and doing his job, he would have agreed with my friends.
“I’m going to see Pomfrey now,” I groaned. I got up from the table. I hadn’t even eaten anything, but I didn’t have much of an appetite to begin with. That’s it, I really was ill. “I’ll see you in class.”
“Do you want anyone to go with you?” Dean asked.
I almost shook my head but thought better of it in time. “No, have breakfast. I’ll be back to my normal self in a few minutes anyway.”
My solitary walk to the Hospital Wing was uneventful. And despite my hopes, Benjamin didn’t appear.
Potions went well enough, I suppose. With steam coming out of my ears thanks to the Pepperup Potion, it was challenging for me to concentrate or even hear anything while trying to not blow up my cauldron. At least I was able to focus with a clear head without being too distracted by Pansy laughing at me behind my back.
My ears stopped steaming by the time Potions ended. I was about to walk to the Great Hall with Dean and Seamus when Parvati caught my attention.
“I didn’t want to give this to you in class,” she said, “but this arrived for you at breakfast. You missed the post by about fifteen minutes.”
“Lucky me,” I said, taking the thin envelope. It only had my name written across the front.
“Yeah, well, that actually came within an envelope addressed to me,” she said. “Whoever sent you mail must know that the owl post doesn’t like you.”
“Good for them,” I said. But I didn’t recognize the handwriting. “Thanks, Parvati. See you later.”
“Bye!” She rejoined Lavender and they headed up to the North Tower together.
“What do you have there?” Dean asked, though he watched the puffs of smoke come out of my ears instead.
“It’s an envelope,” Seamus said.
“How clever you are,” I said, tearing open the envelope as we walked. “Do you know what’s inside the envelope? I’m guessing it’s a letter!”
But it wasn’t a letter. I was surprised to find an old bit of parchment, yellowed with age. It was folded over twice to create four segments, the creases so stiff, it was like it had been folded this way for years. When I sat down at the table in the Great Hall, I didn’t even bother looking for food.
“What does it say?” Dean asked, leaning in to look over my right shoulder. “It looks long.”
“It’s a list,” I said, my eyes scanning down the straight lines of writing on the sheet. The handwriting was easy enough to read. But there was no title telling me what it was about. It just started with a column of names on the left and a set of beginning and end dates on the right. The first name, written tinier and sloppier at the top, was unfamiliar. But the second, third, and fourth names struck me. At least, the surnames did.
Diana Greengrass, 1926-1960. Rhea Brown, 1908-1926. Elise Filch, 1887-1908.
There was a Slytherin, Daphne Greengrass, in my year. Lavender’s last name was Brown. And I just had a run-in with Argus Filch last night, regrettably.
And the list didn’t stop there. There must have been over forty names, each going back in time for nearly a thousand years, ending with the name ‘Marta Pontem’ at the very bottom.
I turned the parchment over, looking for a continuation of the list, or something like that. Nothing. It was blank.
I finally looked away from the list and picked up the envelope. It was empty. “Okay,” I said slowly, looking from Dean to Seamus. “I’m officially at a loss. What is this?” I looked between both boys. “Do you know whose owl brought this to Parvati?”
“Sorry, Sally-Anne,” Dean apologized. “Maybe you could ask her in class later.”
I was soon forgotten by the boys. Dean had gotten a Muggle newspaper sent to him by his mother back home with an article about his favorite football team. He soon started trying to explain (again) how ‘fantastic’ the Muggle sport was to Seamus. Seamus, on the other hand, just gawked at the picture of non-moving players.
But that was okay. I wasn’t too worried about the boys. I forced myself to nibble on a cucumber sandwich as I tried to figure out what the list meant. The names were all for witches. Maybe it was for a profession. But what job was out there that only recruited witches?
Seeing that Dean and Seamus would be no help to me (Dean was quoting the Muggle reporter who saw the winning goal in the last game of whatever Muggle sport he was into), I figured I might as well go to class early and see if I could ask Parvati about who might have sent the letter.
I was the first to arrive for Defense Against the Dark Arts. Once again, Professor Lupin was busy cleaning the blackboard as I walked in. Lately, he’d been waiting until the last minute to clean the board, so he might have something else to do during lunch. It didn’t bother me, but Lavender sometimes made small comments about how the chalk dusk on his robes was a tiny bit distracting.
I pulled out the list and looked at the three names I’d noticed earlier. I wondered if Lavender had ever heard of Rhea. I planned to ask her after I finished questioning Parvati about the owl that delivered this. I could always try to ask Daphne about Diana. And, if I was really bold, I might ask Filch about Elise. Then again, that would be a longshot. Whatever Elise did to get on that list, she did that almost a hundred years ago. But maybe because Filch was so old, the question might still be valid.
Lavender and Parvati showed up close to the bell, along with the rest of our classmates. I passed the list to Parvati first.
“So this is what you got,” she said. But she looked confused when she saw that it was a list written on old parchment and not a proper letter.
“Yeah, and I’m totally confused,” I said simply. “I don’t know what this list means or why it was sent to me. Pass it to Lavender.” I leaned forward to see my other friend. “Lavender, do you know of a Rhea Brown?”
“Huh?” Lavender took the list and looked it over. Her eyes found Rhea Brown easily, then scanned over to the dates. “No, but whatever she did here was over eighty years ago. What’s this about?”
“I don’t know.” I left this list in front of Parvati so we could all see. “Someone sent this to me. Parvati, did you recognize the owl that delivered the outside envelope to you?”
“No, sorry,” she apologized. “I think it might have been one of the school owls, but I’m not sure.”
“That’s okay,” I said. I took back the list and leaned back in my chair, studying it in comfort. “I wonder what this means.”
I knew I should have put it away when Lupin started teaching class. There was hardly any information on it. But there was still a lot of recognizable surnames. ‘Weasley’ popped up twice on the list, separated by about three hundred years. There was a ‘Black’ in the middle, but she seemed to have lived over five hundred years ago. There was also a ‘Venus Lupin’ even further back in history. Wait, what was Professor Lupin’s first name? Remus? Funny on how they kind of almost rhyme.
Before I knew it, class was over and I had wasted an entire class period thinking about the list instead of learning about our new dark creature. Parvati promised to lend me her notes, but I didn’t think today’s dark creature held the answers to what this list meant. At least Professor Lupin had practically ignored me, so he wouldn’t be giving me detention for my lack of focus.
After failing my History of Magic quiz (because I had completely forgotten about it and no one reminded me to study my pictures), I got really impatient with the list. I knew the third year Slytherins were in Charms and which stairwell they used to go back to the dungeons. As soon as class was dismissed, I left a puzzled Lavender and Parvati behind and ran to the closest stairwell that would bring me to the Charms corridor.
I arrived just as the snakes were heading down a different set of stairs.
My shout to the skinny, bored-looking Slytherin did not go unnoticed. The entire Slytherin class stopped and looked back at me. It seemed to take Daphne twice as long to respond, even though I had used her name.
“What are you doing here, Perks?” Pansy asked as I joined them on the stairs.
“Being annoying,” I said automatically. “It’s a special gift of mine.” I turned my attention to the girl I had called to. She had never really done anything against me, or for me, or whatever. All she ever did was look really, really, really bored.
“What do you want with me, Perks?” Daphne finally asked, speaking slowly with zero emotion in her voice.
I half wanted to tell her that I thought we must be complete opposites, but I didn’t know how much time I could spend with nearly a dozen Slytherins looking at this lone Gryffindor. So I just smiled and asked, “Ever heard of a witch named Diana Greengrass?”
My shoulder slumped. First Lavender, now Daphne. And those were the two with the closest dates to now. “Okay,” I said slowly, "don’t worry about it. Never mind.”
“I wouldn’t have worried about anything you said to me.” Daphne turned away from me and went to move further down the stairs, signaling her fellow Slytherins to head for their dungeon lair.
The last I heard, Pansy was laughing her head off about something. When she said ‘steam,’ I knew it wasn’t a paranoid mind that made me think she was laughing at me.
“Oh joy.” I trudged up the stairs, thinking back to the names on the list. I should have just given up. No one would really know distant relatives hundreds of years in the past, would they? I didn’t have that kind of experience to draw on.
But when I reached the fifth floor, I caught sight of red hair attached to glasses and a Head Boy badge further down the hall near the prefect’s bathroom. I just couldn’t resist shouting, “Hey Percy! You know everything, right? Ever hear of a couple of witches by the names of Helen Weasley or Sarah Weasley?”
Okay, so I did let myself ask that question to almost everyone who shared a surname with someone on my list. Percy, as ‘helpful’ as ever, suggested I go to the library if I wanted to learn more about those witches and not ask him about his family tree. But honestly, he might as well have just told me that he didn’t know them. I wouldn’t have thought any less of him. I couldn’t think any less of him.
By the end of the night, I was running out of people to bother in the common room. Lavender told me to toss that list since it didn’t make any sense. Parvati suggested that I wait and see if the sender would send me anything else. Seamus suggested that I go to the Owlery and try to find the owl that sent the letter in the first place, to which I responded that I wanted answers, not a vacation with Madam Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing.
“If you really want to know something,” Lavender said, “ask Hermione. You haven’t brought up the list in front of her yet.”
I looked to the other side of the common room. She was busy doing Ancient Runes homework (which I still had to complete by tomorrow). If I bothered her with the list, she would just tell me to go away and do homework instead of detective work. Detective work? Did that mean I was a detective now? Yeah, that was it! My first mystery: determine what my first mystery was all about!
“Excellent idea, Lavender!” I shot up out of my chair, took the old parchment off the table, and walked briskly over to Hermione’s table.
I didn’t realize it until I walked up, but Harry and Ron were at Hermione’s table too. They had been blocked by all of her textbooks and dictionaries. I took a quick glance at her scroll and winced. Those translations looked difficult, and they were due tomorrow right after lunch.
Ron looked up from his game of wizard’s chess. “Hi Sally-Anne,” Ron said. “Here to see me beat Harry again?”
“I’m not beat yet,” Harry said. His emerald eyes scanned the chess board, looking for a weakness in Ron’s strategy. He pushed his glasses further up his nose before looking at each of his pieces. Sadly, Ron currently outnumbered Harry two-to-one.
“I’m actually here to ask Hermione a question,” I said. I side stepped to Hermione’s half of the table. “Do you think you could spare two minutes to look over this list for me?”
“Is it your Ancient Runes translations?” Hermione asked, scribbling something down that her left finger was pointing to.
“Uh, no.” I did make a mental note to check page 153 in that dictionary for my homework. It seemed to have an important table on it.
“Is it your Arithmancy homework? The essay about the number three?”
“Uh, no.” Shoot, I knew there was something else I had forgotten to do. That essay was given out last week. If I didn’t study for that class, I’ll fall behind Hermione and never be able to catch up.
“Is it your Transfiguration homework, which has us list the steps we need to take to turn inanimate objects into small animals?”
“No.” I closed my eyes for a moment. “I get it, I’m behind in my homework compared to you, but this will just take two minutes.” I put the old parchment over Hermione’s homework and right hand. The paper folded back upon itself a little when I let it go. “What do you notice about this list?”
Hermione glared up at me in annoyance before dropping her quill and picking up the list. Her eyes quickly read over the lines. “Names and dates.” She went to hand the list back to me.
“Yeah, I figured that out too. What does it mean? I mean, if you can’t figure it out, the smartest witch in our year, then no one can.”
That did it. Hermione just needed a little ego boost to make her consider giving the list more than just a glance. Her eyes went straight down the list. “They’re all female names,” she said. “Some are common names while others are obviously given by Pureblood families.” She read down the list again. “Actually, there are a lot of Pureblood surnames on here.”
“Is there any job that only witches have held for nearly a thousand years?” I asked. “Ministry jobs?”
“Sally-Anne, the Ministry hadn’t been around for a thousand years yet. We learned that earlier this year in History of Magic.” Hermione held the parchment out to me again. “I’m sorry, but the only job that might fit that might be a Hogwarts teacher, but it doesn’t end with one of the four founders.”
I took the parchment back. Somehow, somehow I felt that there was more to this list than just randomness. I mean, who could come up with forty-six names with dates that go back practically a thousand years?
Ron and Harry seemed to have put a pause on their game. Both looked up at me.
“Either of you want a look?” I asked. Harry was closer, so I gave him the parchment first. “Anything stick out to you?”
Harry took a few seconds to look it over. I wasn’t too disappointed when he shook his head. My hopes had already been dashed by Hermione.
Ron took the list next. But his eyes didn’t read straight down. Squinting, he brought the parchment closer to his face. A moment later, his eyes widened. “Hey, I’ve heard of her! The one at the top!”
“Who? Diana Greengrass?” Odd for Ron to have heard of her but not Daphne.
“No, the one above it.” Ron angled the parchment so I could see it and pointed above Diana Greengrass’s name. “It looks like it was written after the list was made, but it still follows the pattern.”
I reread the name. Again, I got nothing out of it. The only thing interesting about it was that she shared the same first name with the name at the very bottom.
“Let me see that!” Hermione snatched the parchment out of my hands and examined it again. She looked at Ron in confusion. “I’ve never heard of her either. How would you know?”
“Because she was a Quidditch player for the Montrose Magpies. Probably the greatest Keeper they had ever recruited for their team.”
Quidditch? I hadn’t considered that angle. I had to ask. “Ron, was she the Captain of their team? And all the other witches were Captain of the team before her?”
Ron shook his head. “She only played one complete season. And the only all-witch team on the League is the Holyhead Harpies. Besides, the first teams weren’t founded until the thirteenth century. That’s about two hundred years after the first date on this list.”
“So what do the dates mean?” I asked. “If it doesn’t relate to how long she was a Quidditch player-”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Ron asked. “There are two columns for the dates. The date on the left refers to the year in which these people were born. And the right one is when they died. I mean, it’s common knowledge that the twenty-eighth of March, 1980 is when Marta Kulinski died.”
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