The Disappearance of Sally-Anne Perks
Harry recalls that a pale little girl called Sally-Anne was sorted into Hufflepuff during his first year, but no one else seems to remember her. Not only is Sally-Anne no longer at Hogwarts; there is no trace of her in the school records, and the professors claim she never existed. Was there really a Sally-Anne? Harry and Hermione set out to solve the chilling mystery of the lost Hogwarts student.
There weren't many people left now. "Moon" "Nott" "Parkinson" then a pair of twin girls, "Patil" and "Patil" then "Perks, Sally-Anne" and then, at last - "Potter, Harry!" (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 7)
Ten minutes later, Professor Flitwick called, "Parkinson, Pansy - Patil, Padma - Patil, Parvati - Potter, Harry." (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 31)
~At some point between September 1991 and the spring of 1996, Sally-Anne Perks left Hogwarts. Perhaps she dropped out of school. Perhaps she fell ill. Perhaps she died. Or maybe she just vanished...
There was a hint of chill in the October evenings. The days were still warm and golden, but at night they could feel frost in the air, an icy breath of the winter that was to come.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione were curled up in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room. The warmth and the quiet murmuring sounds of the flames were making them comfortably drowsy. Even Hermione had let her book sink down into her lap for a moment and gazed dreamily into the fire.
Harry inhaled the spicy, woodsy scent of the burning hickory and tried to make out shapes in the fire. How many colors there were in the crackling flames! He had always thought of fire as orange; but now he noticed that the dancing flames had all kinds of hues; ocher, amber, shades of deep gold and flaming red, and now and then a flicker of an incandescent blue.
"I can see a pyramid," he mumbled sleepily. "See it? Right there, where the flames lick up a little higher?"
Ron leaned his head to one side, considering. "Nah," he declared finally. "It's not a pyramid at all - it's the Sorting Hat!"
Harry and Hermione laughed a little, but agreed willingly that there was something hat-shaped about the flickering flame.
"I'll never forget how nervous I was the day when we were sorted," said Hermione softly. "More than two years ago..."
"Me too," put in Ron. "I was sure it was going to put me in Slytherin!" He made a face. "My parents would have disowned me."
Harry smiled, but said nothing about his own fears on that day. Perhaps some other time... "I think we were all scared," he said quietly. Even Malfoy looked uncomfortable, and that pale little girl, Sally-Anne Perks, looked like she was going to faint..."
Hermione frowned. "Sally-Anne? Who's that?"
Harry looked at her curiously. "Sally-Anne Perks, the girl who was sorted right before me. She was sorted into Hufflepuff, remember?"
But the look of recollection and recognition he was waiting for never came. Hermione merely shook her head, baffled. "What are you talking about, Harry? There was no Sally-Anne."
"Of course there was. How can you not remember her? You usually remember everything." Suddenly a thought struck him. "Wait, how odd - I don't recall seeing her much after that... How strange, I never thought much about her. I noticed her when she was getting sorted, because her last name was right before mine, and I knew that my turn would be coming soon. But I don't actually remember seeing her since that day. She was a Hufflepuff, but she was never in any of our classes. She must have left school shortly after the sorting... I wonder why."
Then he noticed a very odd look on Ron's face.
"What? What is it, Ron? Oh... Did you hear what happened to her? Was it something - something bad?"
Harry felt a stab of pity for the long-forgotten Sally-Anne. He remembered a thin, little face, so pale it seemed almost translucent, light blue eyes widened in fear, a sprinkling of freckles over her nose, hands clutching the edges of the stool as she sat down, waiting for the sorting hat to descend upon her head. He hoped that nothing bad had happened to her, no sickness or terrible accident. Perhaps she had simply been so homesick that her parents had taken her home?
"Harry, what are you talking about? There was no Sally-Anne." Ron was looking at him with an expression of concern, but suddenly Harry realized that it was for him, and not for Sally-Anne.
Harry began to wonder if he was dreaming. "Oh, don't tell me that you don't remember her either! She was sorted right before me. Perks, Sally-Anne. And then me: Potter, Harry."
"Harry-?" Hermione's hand was on his arm now. Her voice was gentle. "Harry, what is this? What are you talking about? I remember the sorting as well as you do, every moment of it. It was the hour when our destinies were decided; how could I forget any of it?"
She took a deep breath. "Harry, what is happening to you? Are you hallucinating? There never was a Sally-Anne. You were sorted right after the Patil twins."
In spite of the heat from the fire, Harry felt an icy shiver. Something was terribly wrong.
He shook his head, stubbornly. What was wrong with Ron and Hermione? How could they have forgotten her, simply because she had left school after... after how long, exactly? He tried to remember if he had ever seen her again. No, they hadn't had any classes with the Hufflepuffs until the second year, and by then she was gone.
He got up abruptly.
"Where are you going?" Why was there such an anxious look on Hermione's face?
"To the Hufflepuff common room." Harry tried to keep his voice steady. "Someone there will remember her, even if she wasn't here for very long."
But the Hufflepuffs did not remember Sally-Anne.
Much to his surprise, Harry was able to enter their common room in the cellar without a password; he walked up to the door, and it opened before him. He looked bewildered around the cozy circular room with the deep, comfortable armchairs and the gold tapestries on the wall. Wasn't something supposed to stop him from entering?
Then he heard a soft silvery laugh. Susan Bones was looking at him with amusement.
"It's all right, Harry. There is no password."
"No password? But what keeps unwelcome visitors away, then?"
Susan smiled, dimples showing in her round, pink cheeks. "What keeps them away are their own assumptions. Like the assumption that there is a password."
"Oh." Harry began to feel a growing respect for the Hufflepuffs.
Susan closed her book. "Some things," she said softly, "are too difficult to comprehend. But more often, people don't understand because things are too simple. Like our password."
Her smile grew mischievous. "What can I do for you, Harry, now that you have broken our secret code by wandering in through the door?"
A few of the other Hufflepuffs had gathered round them by now. Ernie MacMillan, Hannah Abbot, Justin Finch-Fletchley...
Harry looked around at the friendly faces. He drew his breath deeply. "I was wondering if you remember a girl called Sally-Anne?"
A look of gentle confusion spread over their pleasant faces. They shook their heads, asked a few curious questions and answered his in return. No, no one had ever heard of Sally-Anne Perks. Yes, they remembered the sorting, of course they did; who could forget?
Harry grew exasperated. He wasn't mad, she had existed... But the Hufflepuffs were looking at him with expressions of innocent bewilderment; they knew nothing of Sally-Anne.
"Tell me," he said finally, "how many girls were sorted into Hufflepuff in our first year."
It was Hannah Abbot who answered, the sweet girl with pigtails. "Four. There were four of us, Harry. Susan Bones, Leanne Robinson, Megan Jones, and me."
Harry studied her face. No, there was no deception in it. "But weren't there five girls and five boys sorted into each house?" he asked, desperately. "Gryffindor had five girls, Ravenclaw had five, and Slytherin had five as well. Why would Hufflepuff have four girls and five boys?"
Hannah looked baffled. "I don't know," she said slowly. "Coming to thing of it, that really wasn't fair, was it? Perhaps it was yet another example of people shortchanging the Hufflepuffs."
There was a murmur of agreement, and Harry gave up. He thanked the Hufflepuff students and went back to Gryffindor Tower.
Ron and Hermione were still sitting on the floor in front of the fire, but a few feet apart now. Had they had an argument? Hermione looked up at him as he entered.
"What did you find out, Harry?"
He shook his head. "Nothing much. They don't remember her either. But they do think it odd that there were only four Hufflepuff girls in our year, and five in the other houses."
Hermione looked thoughtful, but Ron simply stretched and yawned: "Well, if the Hufflepuffs don't remember her, then she didn't get sorted into Hufflepuff, did she? You just imagined her, Harry. Don't worry, mate, it's easy to get confused - that first day at Hogwarts was overwhelming for all of us. Hard to keep things straight."
"I did not imagine her!"
But Ron merely shrugged at Harry's outburst of anger, shook his head and wandered off. Soon, he had engaged Neville in a game of exploding snap in the far corner of the common room, and by the looks of Neville's singed robes, Ron was winning by a good margin.
Harry turned his glance away from Ron and stared into the fire. Why couldn't Ron try to believe him, just for a minute? His memory of Sally-Anne, so vivid a little while ago, began to blur in the face of Ron's blatant disbelief. Had he just imagined her? Was she a figment of his imagination, like the outline of the pyramid he had glimpsed in the fire?
"Harry, let's go and see McGonagall." Hermione's voice, intruding on his thoughts, had a determined ring to it.
Harry looked up at her, uncomprehending. "McGonagall? Why do we need to see McGonagall?"
There was a look of both exasperation and tenderness on Hermione's face as she answered: "Why? To ask her about Sally-Anne, of course."
"You believe me then-?" Harry's voice came out as a whisper.
"I don't know what I believe, Harry," said Hermione softly. "I don't know if there was a Sally-Anne or not. But I do believe that you have a vivid recollection of someone that the rest of us don't remember, and that is in itself very odd. And the number of girls sorted into Hufflepuff that year... I never thought about it before, but you are right: There should have been one more. Have you ever noticed that the new students are always sorted evenly into each of the four houses? There is something about the very magic of Hogwarts itself, and perhaps of the Sorting Hat as well, that strives for balance, for symmetry: The four houses need to be equal in strength, equal in number... There can't have been only four Hufflepuff girls." She swallowed. "And therefore, it makes sense that one must be missing... Let's see McGonagall, Harry; she was in charge of the sorting."
She reached out her hand, and Harry grasped it gratefully. They walked through the by now deserted ancient corridors in silence.
"Enter!" Professor McGonagall's brisk voice answered their hesitant knock.
"Ah, Mr. Potter and Miss Granger!" McGonagall's kind homely face lit up at the sight of them. "What can I do for you? Isn't it a little late for you two to be up?"
Then, as she saw their faces, she added quickly. "Sit down, children. Is something wrong?"
Harry and Hermione sank down in the chairs she offered them. Harry took a deep breath.
"Professor, do you remember the day we were sorted, Hermione and I?"
McGonagall put the quill she had been holding down on her desk and beamed at them. "Of course I do, Mr. Potter. How could I forget the day when Harry Potter was sorted into my house?" Harry felt himself smile at the pride in her voice. McGonagall added quickly: "And you too, of course, Miss Granger. Harry had been preceded by his reputation, of course, but you I did not know yet. But I pride myself on being able to read a child's character and ability in their face, and you have lived up to the promise your determined little face held that evening."
"Professor," Harry asked quietly. "Do you remember the Hufflepuff students? Do you remember a girl named Sally-Anne Perks?"
Was it his imagination, or did McGonagall's hand tremble for a second? No, it must have been an illusion; her hand was steady and her voice clear and firm as she answered, with a note of surprise in her voice: "Sally-Anne Perks? In Hufflepuff? No, there was no such student, Harry."
"But I remember her!"
McGonagall looked surprised at his violent outburst. "Remember her? No, you must be mistaken, Harry." She smiled at him, a tender, almost motherly smile. "Sometimes our minds play tricks on us, Harry. But I think I can put your mind to rest."
She got up and retrieved a heavy leather-covered book from a locked cabinet on the wall. "Look, Harry, these are the Hogwarts records; I am assigned as keeper of this book. The name of all students who ever enter Hogwarts are magically recorded here, along with their houses and their sorting dates, exam results, and so forth."
She opened the ancient volume and began to leaf through it. "Let us see now; you were sorted in 1991, on the first day of September. Ah, here we are. Patil, Padma. Patil, Parvati. Potter, Harry. Take a look, Harry. You can see for yourself that there was no Miss... Perkins, did you say?"
"Ah, yes. Perks. And as you can see from the Hufflepuff lists from 1991, there were only four girls sorted into Hufflepuff that year. And here are the class lists; as you can see, there was no Miss Perks in any of the classes offered that fall."
"Oh." Harry sank back in his chair, wondering whether to feel relieved or miserable. So it had all been an illusion, then. Why was there something so strangely melancholy about that thought? The pale Sally-Anne had never been real. But how could her face be so vivid in his mind?
"Thank you, Professor." Hermione exchanged a few polite phrases with McGonagall, then took Harry's arm and led him gently outside. As the office door closed behind them, Harry whispered: "Well, I guess that settles it, then."
"It certainly does." What was the strange light in Hermione's eyes? She dragged him around the corner, into a deserted corridor.
"She's lying! McGongall is lying! Now I know for certain that she existed, your apocryphal Hufflepuff."
"What? But we just saw the records..."
Hermione shook her head, impatiently. "Didn't you see it? Did you see how her hands were shaking when you mentioned Sally-Anne? And then she showed us the school records! Professor McGongall, the keeper of the secret Hogwarts records, showed the confidential Hogwarts books to two students, simply because one of them claims to remember a student who was never there. Why would she do such a thing? She could have shrugged the whole thing off. Or she could have worried about your false memory and sent you off to the hospital wing for some rest. But she did neither. Instead, she went out of her way to prove to you that Sally-Anne only existed in your dreams... Why?"
"I don't know." Harry felt his head spinning. "Hermione, you can't be suggesting that McGonagall is trying to conceal some kind of crime? If Sally-Anne does not exist in the school records, and not in anyone's memory, except for mine, then perhaps she was never real..."
Hermione shook her head. "School records can be falsified, even magical ones. Minds can be wiped, memories modified..."
"But why wasn't my mind modified, if everyone else's was?"
Hermione looked at him. "Perhaps..." she said slowly, "perhaps your mind is different somehow, Harry." She caught sight of his face. "Oh, I don't mean that you are crazy. But we know that your mind is different in certain significant ways. You can speak to snakes, for example. Perhaps whatever makes you a Parselmouth also protects you from memory modification."
She stood silently for a moment, a faraway look on her face. "I wonder..." she said dreamily, "I wonder if someone would actually remember to modify every single record of a person's existence. It would be hard to do, you know. You would remember the big things, like school records, and classmates' memories, but it would be easy to overlook something, something minor and insignificant."
She was lost in thought as they walked back to the Gryffindor common room. Ron looked up when they entered, but soon pretended to ignore them. Apparently, he was tired of the non-existent Hufflepuff. He headed upstairs with Seamus and Dean, and Harry and Hermione were left alone in the common room.
Hermione looked quickly around, then whispered to Harry: "I need some help with my homework."
Whatever Harry had expected her to say, that wasn't it. He simply stared at her.
"My homework, Harry." There was a little smile hovering around her mouth now. "I was wondering if you could call Dobby; he may be able to help with a particularly tricky part." She pulled out a piece of parchment and got a quill ready.
Baffled, Harry said into the empty air: "Hey, Dobby?"
And Dobby appeared with a crack, his huge gooseberry eyes watery with excitement. "Harry Potter called?"
"Hi, Dobby," Harry said gently. "Thank you for coming." He cut off Dobby's protestations of gratitude over Harry's great kindness in actually thanking him. "My friend Hermione needs some help with her...er... homework."
"Dobby," said Hermione kindly. "I am working on a particularly tricky independent study project for arithmancy, and I was wondering if you would be able to help."
Dobby squealed excitedly. "Dobby would be happy to help, Miss. Dobby is knowing a great deal about arithmancy, both gematria and runic numerology. All house-elves do."
"Really?" Hermione sounded surprised, but she hastened to add: "Dobby, I am studying a particularly obscure and little known branch of Muggle arithmancy known as statistics."
"Statistics?" Dobbby tasted the unfamiliar word thoughtfully. "Dobby is not knowing that word, Miss."
Hermione shook her wild hair out of her face and smiled at him. "Very few in the wizarding world have ever heard of this field, Dobby. But the principles are easy enough to understand: We gather numbers about all sorts of things, odd and arbitrary things, like the number of steps in a staircase, the height of children, the number of people falling ill from a particular disease. And then we study the patterns that emerge from these random numbers. And those patterns, Dobby, sometimes tell a story that individual numbers can't."
"Oh!" Dobby's eyes shone as he pondered the wondrous mysteries of statistics.
"So I was wondering, Dobby," Hermione said softly, "if you could help me gather some numbers?"
Dobby nodded eagerly, and she went on: "I would be particularly anxious, for example, to learn about the number of Hogwarts students who are served dinner in the Great Hall every night. I have noticed that there is precisely the right number of plates at each meal, never too many or too few. How can that be?"
"Enchantments, Miss," Dobby was delighted to share what he knew with Hermione. "The number of plates required always appears in the magic fire in the kitchen, along with vital information about special dietary requirements and so forth."
Hermione smiled gently at him. "Dobby? It would be so tremendously helpful to me if you could give me some numbers about the Hogwarts dinner service for an arbitrary time period. Say for example..." She glanced down at her parchment. "For example the month of September 1991. Could you tell me how many students ate dinner at Hogwarts each night in September that year?"
"Yes, of course, Miss!" Dobby nodded happily and disappeared with a little bang.
They waited in silence. It took Dobby less than half an hour to get back.
"Harry Potter and Miss Granger, Dobby's got statistics!" He held out his notes proudly and began to recite in a solemn voice: "Student dinners served at Hogwarts. September 1, 1991: 412. September 2: 412. September 3: 412. September 4: 412. September 5: 412. September 6: 412. September 7: 412. September 8: 411. September 9: 411..." He read out the numbers until the end of the month. After September 7, there had only been 411 students in the Great Hall for dinner every night.
"Thank you, Dobby," Hermione whispered. "That is exactly what I need..."
Dobby vanished with a smile and a puff, but Harry and Hermione stood frozen, looking silently at one another. Sally-Anne Perks had been at Hogwarts for seven days, before vanishing into thin air. What had happened to her during those seven days?