Chapter 1: The Accident
A black, airport limousine snaked its way up the two lane highway, through walls of granite that had been blasted away to accommodate the smooth asphalt. In places, the jagged cliffs of marbled stone rose imposingly alongside the road; just beyond them, the early morning light played off the surface off the seemingly never-ending lakes. The waning, fall colours covered stands of oak, birch and maple trees, with only the deep hue of evergreens that nestled between their deciduous brethren providing any sort of contrast among the golds, oranges and reds.
Severus had to admit, it was a beautiful country.
It had been a long trip; eight hours across the Atlantic, two hours to navigate his way through Pearson Airport in Toronto, and now the three-hour ride north to the rustic area of Muskoka, a land dappled with cottages and lake-country charm. Long trips were not something Severus enjoyed, but the invitation to this particular conference had been so intriguing and unexpected, he had found himself booking a flight with barely a second thought. Perhaps he was just tired of the hustle and bustle of London, and the increasingly familiar sights of Berlin and Paris.
But the real allure, the reason he was here, was for the music – even though the thought of playing the solo at the closing performance was mildly terrifying. Severus had never been one to seek the spotlight on his own. But this solo – this particular piece – had been enough to convince a stubborn, set-in-his-ways, professional horn player to get off his arse and travel halfway around the world.
The limo turned off the highway and wound its way through a picturesque main street before pulling up to the conference centre.
Taking a deep breath, Severus gathered his instrument from where it had sat snugly beside him, and stepped out into the brisk, late-autumn air.
Being the soloist certainly has it perks, Severus thought as he made his way through the silent auditorium to take a seat on the stage. His performance was not for another three days, yet the stage manager had offered him an hour to practice in the hall, uninterrupted, to get a feel for the acoustics. It was mostly in vain, though, as the acoustical properties of the room would be dramatically altered once the rest of the orchestra and the audience were seated in it. It's what made playing in new venues thrilling; to learn each building's specific character, and how the sound changed when it was bounced and absorbed in unpredictable ways.
Still, it was glorious to be here alone, to hear the steady click of his shoes across the black stage floor, and the whomp of the lights as they came on in the dark room. The spotlight glinted off his horn as he settled himself on a chair and raised the mouthpiece to his lips.
He closed his eyes and allowed the rich tones to leave his horn and fill the large auditorium. Severus played some long notes, some scales and arpeggios before bursting into Wagner, Strauss and anything else that tickled his fancy at that moment. It was glorious, and he revelled in the sound that emanated from his lips as it passed through the brass tubes, finally bursting from the flared bell into the space around him. These were the moments that Severus lived for.
Lowering the horn, he placed a sheet of music on the stand in front of him. Not that he needed it; he'd had the solo memorized for weeks.
It was odd how this had all come about, really. One day Severus was playing second chair French Horn for the Berlin Symphony – amid a great many other notable musicians, he might add – and the next thing he knew, a new score arrived in his post with an exclusive invitation to play in Canada. The idea of transatlantic travel didn't particularly appeal, but Canada was one colony he'd never been to and the mysterious nature of the invitation had piqued his curiosity.
Of course, there was also the small matter of the piece itself.
It was written by James Evans, a hot, young composer that had exploded on the scene out of nowhere. Severus had gone from not knowing of the man's existence to frequently playing concerts that highlighted a minimum of one of his scores.
Nobody seemed to know anything about him, though. From what Severus had heard, Evans had made it big in America writing commissions for the large symphony orchestras in the Midwest. News of his talent had quickly leapt across the pond, and all of the sudden, James Evans' music was everywhere, including – and wasn't this a curious thing – Severus' postbox.
The piece he had been sent was beautiful. It was contemporary, but not so modern as to be unpleasant. It contained fresh, unexpected elements that he found to be simple, raw and unpretentious, yet deftly balanced with dark, brooding, magnificent sweeps of melody.
It was, quite possibly, the most exquisite piece of music that Severus had ever played.
He sounded the first few notes, rich dissonant intervals that sent a shiver up his long spine, until a creak off to his left startled him. He peered up at the stage door, but the lights from overhead obscured his vision and he couldn't make out more than the vague outline of a person standing there. The outline froze, aware that they had been caught, then quickly turned and left, allowing the stage door to close behind them.
Severus squinted a moment longer before returning the horn to his lips and continuing to play.
After the hour was up, he stood and made his way to the back of the stage where his coat and instrument case awaited him. He didn't notice the loose cable on the floor in his path, and it barely registered when his toe caught on it and sent him sprawling face-first onto the smooth, black surface of the stage.
Stars swam in his vision as his lungs refused to take in air. Something hard was pressed up into his ribs, adding an unfamiliar pain to the already winded feeling he was fighting so hard not to panic about. Rolling onto his side, he managed to draw in an agonizing breath before looking down to see what had attempted to lodge itself into his midsection.
Her bell was crumpled like crushed wings on a butterfly, and Severus could already see that her slides were dented and one of her rotors out of joint. Fighting the urge to vomit, he carefully scooped up his instrument, his most prized possession, and cradled it like a child.
If Severus Snape had been capable of shedding tears, he would have wept.
Time passed, though how much, he couldn't be sure. All Severus knew was that at some point he was being shaken to awareness by a young woman with hazel eyes and long, auburn hair.
"Oh my goodness, Mr. Snape, are you alright?" she asked him worriedly.
With a glazed expression on his face, all Severus could do was nod, then shake his head, then stare down at the crumpled brass in his arms.
The hazel-eyed girl – 'Kristin R., Light Board Operator', according to her lanyard – drew in a sharp breath.
"Your horn!" Kristin exclaimed, then looked around quickly, shielding her eyes from the lights. "Laura? Are you in yet?" she called into the darkness.
"Yeah?" An edgy, female voice came through the speakers as the lights in the sound booth came on, revealing another young woman. A magenta stripe accented her black haircut. "What'cha got for me?"
"Can you find Harry?" she asked as she helped Severus up. "We are in need of his services – pronto."
Laura nodded from the booth and began paging someone over the theatre's sound system, the name 'Harry Potter' ringing in Severus' consciousness as he placed his battered horn back in her case.
"That was fast!" Kristin remarked fewer than fifteen minutes later, when a breathless man in a quilted, plaid jacket popped into the green room where Severus was sitting in a state of shock.
Harry grinned, ruefully, and ran a hand through his unkempt black hair. "Yeah, I was in the area. Just dropping off some stuff to the front desk. You know, music stuff."
Harry's crisp British accent shocked Severus out of his trauma-induced stupor. How was it possible that the one man who could help him would just happen to be his countryman? Furrowing his brow, he tried to place the accent. It was not nearly as formal as Severus' own, which made it slightly harder to place.
"London?" he mused aloud, before inwardly reprimanding himself for his carelessness.
Harry grinned. "Surrey, actually, but close enough. Your accent is trickier, though. Somewhere north?"
"Manchester," Severus acknowledged, nodding, "You've a good ear."
"So I've been told," Harry said, as an odd sort of smile turned up the corner of his mouth.
Severus noted that Kristin seemed to be blushing slightly in Harry's presence, and he knew that the accent probably played no small part in that. He supposed there were other reasons as well. Although by no means tall, Harry had the sort of presence that filled the room. He was broad-shouldered, with a square jaw and a quick smile. Severus also supposed she appreciated Harry's eyes, which were an almost unnatural shade of green. Despite not being familiar at all with the inner-workings of a woman's mind, Severus knew females tended to notice things like that.
He had certainly noticed.
Shaking the thought out of his head, Severus rose from his seat and extended his hand to this man who was apparently the Saviour of the Instrumental World.
"Mr. Potter, I presume? Severus Snape."
The hand that shook his was calloused and firm and it was attached to a body that smelled comfortingly like wood smoke and pine.
Harry smiled. "Likewise, Mr. Snape. I believe you're playing the solo on Friday evening? I saw your name in the programme."
Severus cringed slightly, and relinquished the warm hand so that he could turn around and pick up the reason for Harry's visit.
"I'm supposed to be playing it," he agreed, almost sadly, "but I'm not sure I'll be doing it on – this."
Harry winced as he looked at the crumpled piece of brass in Severus' hands, but then nodded his head confidently. "It looks bad, I know, but I can fix her if you're willing to trust me."
Staring into those hypnotic, green eyes, Severus knew he would trust Harry Potter with just about anything.