THE HEADMASTER summoned me as I was finishing my evening rounds of the hospital wing. His reasons for urgent calls are never frivolous, so I made my way to his office without delay. Dumbledore had our newest faculty member with him: the quiet, unassuming man who had been called to Hogwarts that September from someplace on the Continent, to teach music.
The new professor was not his usual placid self. He had been offered an armchair, but he sat on the very edge of the seat, trying very hard not to fidget. He watched me come in; then he looked at Dumbledore and got up from his seat.
“Madam Pomfrey,” the headmaster said, “I believe you’ve met Professor van Dijk.”
“Yes.” I tried to de-fuse whatever situation it was that I had walked into. “Thank you very much for your music history seminars, Professor. They’re fascinating.”
“Oh… Thank you.” His mind was evidently on other things. “Please, Madame Pomfrey, where is Se… Professor Snape? How is he? Is he ill?”
He blurted out his question as if afraid of losing his nerve.
“It’s all right, Poppy,” Dumbledore said. “Tell us how Professor Snape is doing.”
“He’s as well as can be expected,” I began carefully. The headmaster asking me to skirt this close to classified Order information was unusual, to say the least. “His physical condition is stable and slowly improving; I’m still unsure when it will be safe to try and bring him back to consciousness.”
Or how the hell I’m supposed to go about it, I added to myself.
“May I see him?” the music professor turned to me eagerly.
“Albus,” I lowered my voice. “Just what is going on here?”
“If Professor Snape’s condition is stable, I think you could let Professor van Dijk see him.”
I had never noticed signs of dementia in Albus, I thought. But now? For Merlin’s sake, we were talking about a secret agent of the Order, unconscious and hospitalised on a high-security ward. Albus did not appear confused, incoherent… there was only this strange expression in his eyes. Something like… nostalgia? Regret?
“You have a secret of some kind,” said the music professor, “a dangerous one. I’ll take any oath you require. Headmaster Dumbledore has told me… there is a spell…”
“The professor is willing to have all the classified information put under the Ultimate Seal.”
Damn and blast, I thought. A musician. Does he even know what he’s talking about?
I stood square in front of the man and had to tilt my head down to look into his eyes.
“The Ultimate Seal. Do you know what it entails, Professor?”
“I may be crippled, or possibly die, before I betray Se… Professor Snape.”
Well, that certainly covered it. Why the musician would want to take that kind of risk in order to visit our abrasive potions master’s sickbed was another question altogether. He did not strike me as a suicide agent of Voldemort’s, but… – On the other hand, Albus trusted him. I recalled the look in the headmaster’s eyes… and began putting two and two together. I nodded to Albus.
“All right, Professor,” he said. “If you agree to have the Ultimate Seal placed on you, sit down, lean back and take out your wand.”
Van Dijk took a deep, shuddering breath, settled back in the armchair and raised his wand, a slender piece of pale golden wood. Dumbledore’s wand crossed it with an audible click. The professor tensed a little when I pressed my fingers against the trigger points at the base of his skull, but did not flinch when the wands flared up with bright orange light. The glow spread along his arm, enveloped his entire body for a moment and only slowly faded away.
My hat off to you, musician, I thought and rubbed my fingertips, still tingling with the energy. That must have felt nasty to someone unused to mind magic.
Van Dijk looked somewhat dazed, but he stood up as soon as the spell had dissipated.
“Is Professor Snape in the hospital wing?” he said. “Is it too late, or can we go see him now?”
“You’ll be rather disappointed. Professor Snape is unconscious, likely to remain so for quite some time. And when he regains consciousness, he won’t be any more inclined to enjoy visitors than he’s ever been.”
“Please. I need to see him.”
I tilted an eyebrow at Dumbledore and gave him an incredulous grin. He nodded, his usually piercingly bright blue eyes dim and hooded.
“Thank you, Headmaster,” the music professor said quietly.
--- --- ---
“What’s wrong with Se… Professor Snape?”
The music master was talking to me, but looking intently at the still form of the man lying on his side under the covers. If the tubes, wires and crystals of the magical and physical life support systems frightened or disgusted him, he did not show it. Open devotion lit up his face for a brief moment; then there was only a tentative relief at seeing Snape alive and not suffering.
“He’s been tortured,” I said. Van Dijk’s courage deserved some honest answers.
“But… he’s supposed to be a very powerful wizard?”
“He was forced to let it happen.”
“To prove his loyalty.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry. There are… higher interests. More important than you or I…”
“Or Se… the professor.”
“Severus. But don’t make the mistake of using the name to his face.”
He flashed me a quick almost-smile and returned to his scrutiny of the unconscious man.
“Need-to-know,” he said, “or not, as the case may be. It’s all right.”
Good – the penny dropped quickly. I was spared any further security shenanigans.
“Severus managed to get himself back to Hogwarts,” I went on, “but his condition was very bad. As soon as he sensed that he was safe, he retreated into unconsciousness.”
“And will he… When is…”
“His injuries are almost healed now,” I said. “It should be safe to begin bringing him back to consciousness in the next couple of days.”
“What can I… Madame Pomfrey, I know this sound silly, but is there anything I can do? Anything at all?”
Something was gnawing at the back of my mind. I recalled a fairly recent article in the Journal of the Wizarding Mind, about consciousness, emotion and… music.
“Yes, in fact, there is. I’m going to need your expertise.”
His face lit up. “Really? What do you want me to do?”
I had his full attention now, his eyes riveted on my face.
“Your music studies were all Muggle, weren’t they?”
“Yes, but I’ve done some additional reading, mainly since I arrived here at Hogwarts.”
“Let’s go to my office, then. I’ll tell you how we’re going to bring Severus back to consciousness. And, by the way, I’m Poppy.”
It took him a moment to catch on. Then came another one of his almost-smiles.
“My name is Anton.”
--- --- ---
The next day there was a piano in the high-security sickroom.
My main problem had been that I could not simply shake the patient awake. His emotional systems had to be engaged before his conscious self resumed activity – otherwise his customary iron self-control might hamper an emotional re-awakening, and inhibit the return of his full magical powers.
I was thinking about using music as a slow emotional fuse and had intended to ask the music master’s advice on suitable recordings to play for the patient. Instead, he asked quietly and cautiously: “Would live music be appropriate at all?”
“Good quality live music would be even better,” I said. “It would also be a hell of a chore for the performer. We’re talking about a couple of hours a day for anything between ten days and a month. Why, are you volunteering?”
I meant the question mainly as a joke. What I did not expect was Anton’s answer.
He followed up with a wry grin: “The practice will do me good.”
We conjured up a copy of the upright piano from the music teacher’s private study – it felt good to play, he said, and its sound was quite enough to fill the ordinary-sized room. It stood at an angle to the unconscious man’s bed and Anton stole a glance at the potions master’s face as he settled on the stool.
Then van Dijk focused completely on his music. He ran through a series of scales, two octaves up in parallel, two octaves with the hands moving apart and back together in a mirror image, in parallel up and down, then mirroring each other again, and finally running down the initial two octaves in the opposite direction. He took a deep breath, settled even deeper into focus… and played.
I had asked for something simple, heartfelt but not highly emotional. We should leave the romantics and the impressionists for later. Some learner’s material would be good, I thought.
Anton had found just the thing: a number of basic keyboard pieces composed and compiled by Bach for his wife. When I heard him play, I remembered my own clumsy attempts long ago, and blushed.
At the end of the first minuet, he looked up at me.
“Is this what you had in mind?”
“It’s perfect,” I said.
From memory, he launched into a polonaise, pure, reflective, in a minor key. When it ended, all I could say was: “Excellent. I’ll leave you to it.”
“What if something happens?!”
“No worries. I’m not leaving the patient unsupervised.”
I showed him the Farview mirror, how it gave me a view of the sickroom as needed and how he could use it to summon me if the patient’s condition changed. I had not even left the room when he resumed his place on the piano stool, his hands on the keys, his eyes on Severus’ face.
--- --- ---
Van Dijk was not one to neglect his students and the absence of two professors would have been conspicuous. But, in the daytime, the music master left the hospital wing only to attend to his classes and to take the occasional meal at the Great Hall.
The music had advanced to Bach’s two-part inventions and some Viennese Classics. One day Anton had just finished Severus’ after-dinner music hour when I came in to prepare the patient for the night.
“That’s it for today, then,” I said and waited for the music professor to leave.
He was reluctant. “Could I stay a while longer?”
“I’m going to prepare Severus for the night. I need to see to his hygiene. It’s finicky work and rather messy. I mustn’t allow what Severus would perceive as making a spectacle of his helplessness, however deeply you care about him.”
Possibly I spoke a little too sharply. Anton retreated to neutral ground.
“Don’t you have… I don’t know… aides, house elves, for that kind of work?”
“Even if it was permitted, I wouldn’t endanger anyone by letting them into the high-security ward and disclosing Severus’ presence to them.”
“In that case… May I help?”
“You?” I rather intended to sound incredulous.
“I’m not a complete klutz. I worked extra as a night nurse’s aide when I was a student.”
“Hm… Tell me, why is the patient lying on his side?”
The music master rallied immediately and reeled off a complete account of the form and applications of the lateral recumbent position.
“All right, let’s give it a try,” I said.
Anton’s emotional involvement in the patient worried me, but not for long. He quickly impressed me with his readiness to follow instructions, his empathy, deftness and good sense. Obviously his musician’s dexterity and ability to focus did not stop at the keyboard. A nursing task usually takes longer to complete while instructing an apprentice, but Anton’s participation saved me time and energy from the first moment.
“Thank you,” I said, “you’ve been very helpful.”
“My pleasure.” He allowed himself another one of his wry little grins.
It occurred to me that no-one really gave a damn about the music professor’s private comings and goings. No-one would miss him if he was absent from his living quarters…
“How would you feel about a stint of night duty?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Farview mirror is a helpful gadget, but at this stage it would be a good idea for someone to stay in the patient’s room at night.”
Anton looked at me like a third-year who had been offered a month without homework.
I transformed one of the visitors’ chairs into a night nurse’s cot, spelling it to react to any significant change in the patient’s condition.
“Don’t let the bedbugs bite,” I smiled at the music master and shut the door behind me.
--- --- ---
One day Anton surprised me by playing a series of rather modern miniatures, of a clarity and purity that made their emotional charge quite timeless.
“What on earth is that?”
“Mikrokosmos,” he said. “A Hungarian named Bela Bartok composed them when he was teaching his son to play the piano.”
“They’re remarkable. You make them sound so simple, and say so much.”
“You flatter me. I’m obviously not saying enough.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well… Severus is still unconscious. Not a flicker of movement, of awareness… of anything.”
I had been monitoring the potions master’s breathing and pulse while we talked, and was just going to turn to Anton and give him a lecture on the virtue of patience in nursing and healing. A minute twitch of the patient’s fingers stopped me. It happened again, the movement a little bigger, clearer, more distinct. His fingers moved over the sheet as if he was searching for something.
He heard the urgency in my voice and joined me quickly at the bedside.
I touched the potions master’s hand. His fingers took hold of mine, fumbled a little, then released my hand and made as if to push it away. His hand went on searching the linen surface.
“He’s discriminating,” I breathed out in relief and could feel my face light up in a smile.
“He is… what?”
“He can tell the difference between individual people’s magic. And it isn’t me he wants. I think he wants you.”
“What do you mean, he wants me?”
“I’m only guessing, but if our method is working, he wants to sense the presence of whoever’s made the music.”
Anton’s face became solemn. He took a step towards Severus’ hand and his fingers hovered over it for a few seconds before daring to make contact. The potions master’s hand turned and felt for the musician’s fingers. Slowly, their hands met, and this time Severus appeared to make an effort to maintain the touch.
I turned away to make a record of the patient’s vital signs. When I next looked at Anton, he was sitting sideways on Severus’ bed, cradling the potions master’s hand between his palms with the meticulous care of a surgeon handling a human heart. Only, unlike a surgeon, the music master was looking intently at the patient’s face and there were tears trickling down his cheeks.
I pottered about the room, checking implements and potions stores, busying myself at some distance from the bed. After a while Anton whispered urgently:
“Poppy… I think he wants more music.”
The potions master’s hand was straining to point at the piano.
“Give it a try,” I said.
“What should I play?”
“Whatever you feel is right. Use your intuition.”
The music professor rubbed his hands, raised them to the keyboard and began, hesitatingly at first. Then the music grew, steadied and unfolded: one of the lesser known Beethoven sonatas. I could not put a number to it, and it did not matter. The music spoke and had all sorts of important things to say.
--- --- ---
The music master had taken over a great deal of the patient’s daily care. Every moment not spent teaching his classes, sleeping or eating, Anton was playing music for Severus, seeing to his needs or attempting to make him more comfortable. Severus moved his limbs more frequently, appeared to enjoy massage; occasionally his eyelids would flutter, as if about to open. At times we took turns to speak and read to him.
Even without Anton’s explicit request I would have looked in on them frequently in the Farview mirror. As it was, I kept an eye – and ear – on them a lot of the time I was not busy with other patients.
Sometimes I watched Anton care for Severus, talking to him as he worked, in a language that I did not understand and that might have sounded like a throat affliction. In Anton’s words to Severus it sounded like a song, a continuing, never-ending melody.
Anton was true to his word, not only putting on a uniquely long performance, but seriously practising his music. I repeatedly listened to him examine and re-examine a phrase of Beethoven, explore differences in timing and dynamics, finally decide on an interpretation based on some subtle shift that only he could discern in Severus’ face.
One day the music professor was nowhere to be seen. I heard no music and noticed no movement in the room. Then I took a proper look at the bed. The potions master lay on his side still, but not in the strict rigor of unconsciousness. His face was relaxed, looking at least fifteen years younger than his usual severe mask. He was holding Anton in his arms, like a four-year-old hugging an oversized teddy-bear. I had to curse myself for a sentimental old cow to banish the burning sensation in my eyes.
A little later there was music again. Another movement of a Beethoven sonata, heartfelt, eloquent. And after that, the shimmering, shifting colours of Debussy’s audible paintings.
A brave man, the music master.
--- --- ---
“When Severus wakes up…”
Anton looked at me intently.
“You do realize that he won’t let you in,” I went on.
We both knew what I meant.
“I know,” the music master nodded, his face carefully impassive.
After a moment, he said: “Do you think… he may come… to the music seminars?”
I was relieved to be able to answer honestly.
“He’ll come,” I said. “As often as he can.”
There was the half-smile again. And this time we both knew what Anton meant when he said:
“Good. I’ll be there.”
Lund, Sweden, March 2011