‘I’ll count you in, Tracey...ready? No, we’re starting on e, not e flat-that’s it. And one, two, three, four...good, watch your pedalling...keep it steady, it should be expressive but controlled...’
Theodore will never play the piano again.
This is the hard truth she faces. Outside the hospital ward, she watches him staring out the window, recumbent limbs bandaged, eyes dark, dangerous. The healer beside her is gazing on with a faux sympathetic grimace with a clinical detailing of Theodore’s injuries. The spell, apparently, has irreversibly damaged the nerves and tendons of both hands. He might be able to use them still, once they heal, but one thing is certain. He will never regain the flexibility and energy he had as a budding concert pianist.
‘He’ll need to stay here for a few more weeks, and then we can begin therapy. It’s all part of the process, Miss Davis,’
‘Understandable. I’ll tell him that,’
The healer bustles away and out of sight. Tracey curses and kneads her tired eyes with her clenched fists. It’s been a long day, and the newly healed gash on her leg is throbbing painfully in time with her headache. How much worse will she feel when she tells Theodore that his life is, in theory, ruined?
Dreading the moment, she pushes open the door and enters. From the half-shuttered window, beams of sunlight spill over the floor. Dawn, again...a mere twenty-four hours ago, the battle was ending. She racks up the time in her mind. Does that mean she really hasn’t slept in thirty hours?
The weather seems inappropriate given the message she is about to convey. Theodore is alone. No family to console him, no friends save for Tracey, who did nothing more than share piano lessons with him for seven years. Where’s Blaise Zabini when you need him? Tracey is cursing internally, because she hardly knows Theodore, and she doesn’t want him to remember her forever as the bringer of such bad news...
Theodore fixes his dark eyes upon her, already scowling. She already knows that he’s in a lot of pain.
‘What did she say?’
Tracey bites her lip, unsure of how to word it.
‘You’ll have to stay here for a couple of weeks, and then they’ll start therapy...’
He isn’t satisfied with this, cursing under his breath. ‘Anything else?’
‘I don’t want to be the one to tell you this...’ she hesitates, but his cold glower presses her on. ‘I’m really sorry, Theodore. They don’t think you’ll be able to play the piano again,’
She expects thunderstorms. Explosions. A temper tantrum to rival Beethoven. A cacophony. A demand to see the healer again, or a violent curse.
None of this happens. Theodore’s brow crinkles. Disbelief? Confusion?
‘You’re joking, aren’t you?’ he says.
Fifth year. She’s been thinking, all week leading up to this lesson, how she knows nothing about Theodore Nott.
They’re in the horseless carriage, travelling back from the lesson in Hogsmeade. Theodore stares out the window, brow furrowed, his dull brown hair falling into his eyes. Tracey pretends to pencil in the notes of the new Beethoven piece she is learning, staring over the top of the page at Theodore’s thinking face. She feels heat rising in her face, remembering what Daphne was trying to get at the night before. Trying to hint that there was something more to the way Theodore and Tracey disappeared every night to practise piano, trying to suggest that it was something far more suggestive than a simple practise. Tracey worries now that rumours will fly, because Daphne’s such a notorious gossip, and in fourth year Tracey accidentally told her that she thought Theodore was quite handsome, and a very good pianist...
The air feels suddenly thick and heavy, with the weight of Tracey’s thoughts. She clears her throat.
‘What’re you looking at?’
‘Thestrals,’ Theodore replies, quietly. Tracey blushes again. They’d had the Thestral lesson three weeks ago, she’d forgotten that he was one of the ones who could see them.
‘Oh,’ she turns to look as well, although she may as well be blind. She cannot see them.
‘Pretty creepy things...’ he shivers and settles back into his seat. ‘I didn’t know what they were until this year, thought I was going mad...’
Tracey wants to ask who died, but she can’t...it sounds so indelicate in her mind, so clumsy and probing. She swallows back the question and stares at the empty space where the Thestrals should be.
‘My mother died,’ Theodore says, softly, eyes fixed somewhere on the carriage ceiling. ‘When I was nine,’
‘I’m sorry...you saw it, didn’t you?’
Theodore shrugs slightly. ‘It was bad, but I’m alright now,’
He pauses, and then finally, fixes Tracey with a cold, dark stare.
‘My father murdered her, because she deserted the Death Eaters...it was the Dark Lord or nothing, and he chose...well. He got away with it, the scum...’
The carriage comes to a sudden stop, and Theodore leans over to unlatch the door.
‘Well, I guess I’ll see you at seven for practise tomorrow?’
‘Sure,’ Tracey replies, weakly.
This is the closest she’s ever been to Theodore Nott.
A perfect cadence, fading away.
Tracey sits, curled on the floor, still listening to the hazy crackle of the record turning, and then the smart click as the needle lifts. Then only silence.
Sitting up, she lifts the finished Liszt record from the gramophone and slides it carefully back into the sheath, before turning to the next on the stack. This one is Debussy, and she decides to keep listening, placing it on the turntable and lowering the needle. More hazy crackle. Then the opening note.
She sinks back into her curled-up position on the floor. The opening bars of Clair de Lune sound out, softly, through the dark room. She remembers when Theodore learned this in their sixth year, and when she tried to copy him, only getting as far as the second page before she gave up, her fingers not fast or flexible enough.
The curtains of her room are drawn against the hot summer weather. Light still shines through the blue cloth, but only reaching a foot or two into the space before it is swallowed up by the darkness waiting to meet it. It is stuffy, still unbearably warm, but Tracey doesn’t want to open the window and let summer play over her precious classical records.
The carpet itches against her face. Lying down like this, curled up between her bed and the gramophone, she feels at peace. As the piece grows into a crescendo, she presses the heels of her palms into her eyes and immerses herself totally in the darkness. Theodore played this part so well, controlling the pedal perfectly, putting so much into such a difficult section...
And now he will never play again.
It’s foolish to be this sad. It is only the loss of a piano player, and nobody is dead. Somehow, though, Tracey can’t help but feel grief. She tried to explain to her mother how it was like the death of a friend, how Theodore’s life is surely over now, because he’d weighed so much on becoming a concert pianist, put so much into practicing. But as her mother pointed out, she barely knew the boy anyway. There were more important things than pianos and music. At least the spell only hit his hands and not his heart.
But he played so well...
Clair de Lune comes to an end. That was his speciality. Their teacher, Mr Holstone, always used to commend Theodore on his control of such an expressive piece. Tracey was always jealous, still stuck endlessly going over the bars of Fur Elise she could never quite master. Theodore was the star pupil. Tracey could never be more than an accompanist, or as Mr Holstone had rather snidely put it- Theodore’s page turner. Humiliated, Tracey put her soul into practising. How dare he suggest that her skills amounted to nothing more than turning pages of sheet music for the prodigy? And it was worth it, because a few weeks later he’d given them that odd Walton duet, and they’d both done so well.
What next? She replaces Debussy with another record, this one without a name or a composer to it. Drops the needle on. Curls back, waiting for the music to start.
Oh, she knows this one so well. That beginning b flat, the major key, tinged with melancholy...
He never finished learning this one. It’s a Chopin piece, a Nocturne, and she’s loved it ever since Mr Holstone played it to them in their third year, telling them that one day they might be that good.
She presses her hands into her eyes again. He was right, wasn’t he? Theodore was that good, but Tracey never got there, stumbling and tripping through bars of fifth grade work while Theodore shot to grade six, then seven, then eight. And now he’ll never play again...
Screams. Shouts. Dust and rubble everywhere. Tracey is running for her life, wand slipping from her shaking hands. A jet of red light – she ducks – running onward, mouth open wide in a scream that will never come, a scream that would never be heard above the cacophony of the battle anyway...
An explosion. Thrown aside, she slams into the wall. The dull thud of her head smacking into the stone reverberates through her whole body, and stars swim past her eyes...
Another flash of light. Something hot sears through her leg – she screams – the blue denim of her jeans soaks a slow crimson, and she’s doubled over, she can’t run anymore, everything is turning dark, she thinks she’s going to die...
Someone screams nearby. Another explosion, her balance goes and she falls, meeting not rough stone and rubble but something soft, something that shouts in agony when she lands...a person, she scrabbles away, her eyes can’t focus properly...but it’s only Theodore, oh merlin, only Theodore...
He’s lying against the wall, ashen-faced, soaked in cold sweat, his body buckled over, arms wrapped in layers of ripped black robes...another flash of light, and Tracey throws herself forward, pushing his head down, and the spell misses them by inches...she’s crawling already, coursing with adrenaline, struggling to pull Theodore behind her, and he can make no more noise than a piteous, inhuman moan of pain...
Tracey finally pulls him behind a wall, blasted into two by some spell she can only guess the power of. The battle has by no means gone, she can still hear everything, but the stone offers some form of protection, and her hands fumble and shake as she rips at the fabric of the jeans, and sees the deep, crimson mouth of a gash in the skin...Theodore’s eyes are fluttering closed, and too late...always too late...Tracey sees how his robes are soaked in blood...
Hands still shaking, she pulls his arms clear of the robes and instantly wishes she hasn’t. The wrists are ruined, bright scarlet, and just as Theodore slips out of consciousness, Tracey finally screams...
Two weeks into his arrival at St Mungo’s, she finally finds the courage to visit again.
Opening the door tentatively, she sees him – thankfully – without visitors. Tucked under her arm is the bulky gramophone, and in her backpack is a stack of records. He lifts his head, nods once to acknowledge her presence. His eyes have become darker, circled by smudges of dark shadows. He hasn’t been sleeping well.
‘Hello,’ Tracey says, softly, setting the gramophone down on his bedside table. His brow furrows, he looks ready to complain, but his arms are still swaddled in bandages, and Tracey guesses he’s still in deep pain. Lining the edge of the table is a battalion of pill-bottles and potions.
‘I thought you might want some company,’ she says, pulling open the backpack and withdrawing a record. ‘I brought Chopin...you like Chopin, don’t you?’
‘I like playing Chopin,’ he says, darkly. Tracey ignores him and sets up the record. As the opening bars of the Nocturne in e flat major drift into the hospital ward, she settles herself down in the chair.
‘I’ve started learning this,’ she says, after a heavy silence. ‘It’s tricky,’
Theodore doesn’t say anything. His head is resolutely turned to the window at the bright, summery weather, a whole world of difference from the clinical, sparse white of the ward.
She can’t think of anything else to say.
The record finally comes to an end. Theodore turns from the window and nods his head at her bag.
‘Did you bring any Rachmaninoff?’ he asks. Tracey nods, knowing she bought the record just last week when she made the decision (If Theodore couldn’t go to the music, the music would go to Theodore).
This time, when Rachmaninoff’s piano Concerto no.3 kicks in, Theodore gives a heavy sigh, staring at the revolving record.
‘You know,’ he says, in an almost choked voice, ‘I was about to learn this one...I had a contract with the London Symphony...and now I don’t...’
Tracey stares at the empty record sleeve in her hands, knowing that this piece is one of the most difficult in the entire piano repertoire.
‘I don’t like this...having hands that don’t work. I feel weak...’
Tracey thinks, for the first time, that she knows how he feels.
‘The problem with this piece is just mastering the episodes, really. The first one is the trickiest, especially with how fast you’ve got to do it. The only way to get round that is just to practise, practise, practise...the second episode is easier. You should try and watch your dynamics there, try not to let the pedal cloud the chords...if played well, it can be a really expressive section,’
Theodore sets the sheet music back on the stand. Tracey sits at the piano, hands running absently along the keys.
‘Go ahead and play, if you want,’
She takes up her position. The piece is Fur Elise, a new one for her, and she can’t quite get the hang of the episodes. At the start, the music runs smoothly, her fingers even reaching the run of octave e notes, and she gets into full flow, for once she’s doing it right...but then the first hurdle appears, that first episode, and she stumbles at the very first chord.
‘I’m sorry,’ she says, slumped at the keyboard. ‘I can’t do this bit yet,’
‘Never mind,’ Theodore glances at his watch. ‘It’s nearly eight anyway; we may as well just finish up,’
Tracey grabs the music from the piano and follows him from the room.
Unbeknownst to Theodore, she slips back into the music room at half eight that night and sits there, playing the first episode over and over, determined to get it right, just so she isn’t a complete failure to him...
Tracey visits the hospital every two days from then on. From Chopin and Rachmaninoff she moves to Tchaikovsky, and then Beethoven, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. They talk even more now, and he tells her that his family only come once a week, and Blaise Zabini hasn’t even sent a card. Tracey feels like she knows him now, this elusive piano prodigy she thought she was close to for so long.
The weeks pass so quickly. In the sixth, Theodore tells her he’ll be out in five days. Tracey puts on a smile, but will he still want her visits when there’s no hospital bed for him to lie in?
She arranges a party for his release. Something small, with Daphne, Sophie, Pansy, Blaise...the old friends. Draco promises to come, although Tracey knows he won’t make it, locked in a series of trials and hearings. Harry Potter officially pardoned the Malfoys, but Draco is required, week in, week out, to give evidence against his old comrades. Her parents give her reign of the house for the night (she may be of age, but has nothing yet of the funds needed for moving out).
She’s been learning the Chopin piece for six weeks now. The Nocturne, in e flat major, Theodore’s departing piece. She can’t quite get it, always having to compromise; when she plays it without mistakes, it is a clinical, unemotional song. When she makes it expressive, her fingers slip on the keys and play crashing discordant notes.
The night before the party, she spends an hour sitting alone at the keys, playing the piece endlessly. At nine o’clock she gives up, eyes clouding with tears, because her hands can’t stretch enough to reach the right notes, and crash down on whichever key they hover over, ruining the piece with discord and the wrong notes
Theodore would have played it much better, she thinks bitterly.
‘I hate this piece,’ Tracey moans, after the fifth aborted attempt to play the Walton duet.
‘It’s not that bad. The only problem is that all our notes are in the same octave, so we’ve just got to move away in time for each other,’ Theodore turns the music back to the first page. ‘Shall we try again?’
Tracey nods and lets her fingers fall upon the opening notes. The piece is experimental, a duet, and Mr Holstone insists that it will improve Tracey’s sense of rhythm if she learns to adapt to playing in a duet. She hates playing it. Not for the notes (they are fairly easy and in a manageable range), but for the way her hand won’t stop brushing against Theodore’s, and she can’t move it out of the way in time. Every touch sends a blush spiralling to her cheeks, and only a few bars into the piece their hands collide and she snatches them away, striking a cluster of notes on her exit.
‘I’m sorry!’ she wails. ‘I must be so annoying, always holding you up like this...’
‘It’s fine,’ Theodore sighs. ‘From the top?’
In the end, it takes them three weeks to master.
Amongst his old friends, Theodore looks the happiest he’s been in weeks. They’re all there. Even Draco managed to find time out of the trials to come, and it’s the Slytherins united again.
And yet...Tracey thinks she feels the slightest pangs of jealousy. None of them visited Theodore in those six weeks, not one of them even bothered to send a card...she was the one who turned up, with her records and her sympathy...
When it reaches ten o’clock, she’s tight-lipped and bad-tempered, having drunk nothing but a drop of the free-flowing Butterbeer. With another gale of laughter she gets up and leaves with an armful of empty bottles, heading for the kitchen.
It is dark outside, a warm July evening. In the kitchen, she pushes the window open and lets the summer breeze drift in. The sun has only just set, and the sky is still a dusky blue, the moon a simple shadow in the sky, not yet risen.
It is not the time, but her fingers ache to play the piano again.
Sighing, she turns from the open window and leaves, meaning to return to the party, but she can’t find the right mood or the right fake smile to pull. On her way through, she passes the study door, slightly ajar...she can just see the monochrome keyboard, the Chopin music still open where she left it...and a dark figure, with bandaged hands trailing over the keys...
‘Theodore, you should get back to the party,’ she sighs, pushing the door open.
Theodore drops his hands from the piano.
‘Apologies. I came to help you with the bottles, but I guess I couldn’t resist...you’re playing Chopin?’
‘Yes...not very well,’ Tracey grimaces. ‘Come on, we should get back,’
‘Would you play it?’
Tracey’s momentarily disarmed by the request. She shakes her head. ‘That’s ludicrous. I can hardly play,’
‘You can play it better than I can,’ he lifts up his swaddled arms, a smile playing at his lips. ‘You’ve been practising in front of me for years; it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake,’
How does he know? Tracey has been planning to play this for him all along. To convince him, she needs the piece, to fully show him how she feels, and why she visited the hospital so often.
It will go wrong, though, she thinks. It will fail, and he’ll not know. There are other chances, aren’t there? Other times to tell him?
With a tight-lipped smile, she shakes her head. ‘I’m not playing. Come on, let’s go...’
Without waiting for a response, she leaves the room.
‘Pity,’ Theodore’s voice makes her stop, ready to turn and throw herself into the seat and crash away at the Nocturne, but no, she can’t do it.
Tracey keeps walking.
Does she regret it? Of course. She regretted it the moment they’d all gone, and her house was silent and empty, the warm air infused with the smell of Butterbeer, empty bottles lined up in formation by the sink. Stood just behind the closed front door, her heart thudding out a steady compound time, she was thinking of Theodore again, how she should have played it to him...
Today is no different. Sitting at a different piano – this one a smart mahogany upright with a bright tone – she waits for her cue, hands poised over the keys. The assembled guests chatter away, and when they fall silent she steadies herself before striking the opening chord of the wedding march.
It is ironic that she should play at his wedding. Him, the groom, who stands at the altar with his hands held in that distinctive way.
Tracey doesn’t know what to feel anymore. After all, it’s been years. He’s getting married now.
She keeps her mind focused on the piece, trying to stop her eyes from drifting over to Theodore Nott, beaming at the sight of his wife-to-be, Daphne Greengrass.
It’s a miracle she hasn’t made a mistake yet. Her hands are starting to tremble; she forces herself to stare down at the manual of the piano. She’s playing too fast; she’s scared she’s going to miss a note-
The piece ends without a tremor. She sighs, and leans back, resting her head against the wall. The ceremony drifts past without her noticing or caring. It is only when the clapping and cheering starts, and she knows they are married, that she sits forward again.
Tracey places her hands upon the keyboard once more, waiting to begin the tune that will sound Theodore and Daphne Nott out of the hall. The applause dies down, and she can see faces turning her way, but the notes will not come.
Her lip starts to tremble. Her hands shake. Her heart beats a frenzied allegro, then presto, then prestissimo.
Someone whispers. Someone else laughs.
But still, the notes will not come.
Another experiment, this time with jumpy time scales. Tracey Davis is in fact a canon character from JKR's original classlist, and Theodore Nott is a little obsession of mine. Cough cough. Also, I wanted to write about classical music and pianos, seeing as I spend at least an hour a day hunched over my trusty old upright.
edited 24/07/2010 for some formatting mistakes.