Thanks to three wonderful betas: On-A-Dare, lazy_neutrino, and varadia.
This is all Joan's fault.
Well, Joan's and Eric Clapton's.
We made a vow, we'd always be friends.
How could we know that promises end?
The flat is dim, dingy, and downright depressing.
Tobias Snape's landlady had found him dead here a week ago. He'd moved in around the time his only son had left Hogwarts, five years ago, but this is Severus's first and last visit to his father's penultimate resting place.
Whatever dream Tobias had been chasing, it's hard to believe he'd found it here. Or maybe he hadn't been chasing anything. Maybe he'd just been running away.
There's almost nothing of value in the flat – a watch Severus remembers seeing his father wearing, a bracelet he doesn't recognize, about a hundred pounds hidden in the back of a drawer, and a guitar, propped up against the wall in one corner.
Everything else is rubbish, figuratively or literally, useless odds and ends piled up along the walls, cheap secondhand clothes in the wardrobe. Severus takes the cash and what little looks like it might be worth selling – the watch, the bracelet, the guitar. He could certainly use the money. He tells the landlady she can do as she pleases with the rest and leaves over her objections that he's meant to be the one cleaning up after his useless father.
His own flat isn't much of an improvement on his father's. He supposes he has no one to blame but himself for that. He could be living quite comfortably, but he had turned down Dumbledore's offer of a position at Hogwarts two years ago. When the boy arrives there, when there's actually some need for him to be protected, things will be different. But for now, Severus would prefer not to be beholden to Albus Dumbledore any more than he already is.
He's had enough bowing and scraping, really.
But pride doesn't pay bills, and work is hard to find, especially when you're known to have been a Death Eater and won't pretend otherwise.
He knows better than to try to sell Muggle stuff in a Wizard shop. With his reputation, it will lead to unpleasant questions. Besides, it's far easier to Confund a Muggle shopkeeper into paying twice what the watch is worth than it would be with a wizard who is expecting it.
The goblins at Gringotts don't care how or where he came by the Muggle money he exchanges for Galleons, as long as it's real.
A few weeks later, he sells the bracelet, too. It's worth more than the watch, even before he employs his own means of "negotiation." He doesn't know whom his father got it for – or from – nor does he care. It pays the rent.
1983 - 1986
He plans to sell the guitar as well. His father's possession of it is even more puzzling than that of the bracelet, but Severus is not interested in his father's mysteries, only the money he can make from them.
Instead, one evening, he finds himself picking idly at its strings. He doesn't have any particular goal in mind, no plan to learn to play properly. It's just something to do instead of staring at the walls of his little flat, watching the mold creep down next to the dirty window where the rain comes in because he can't be bothered to stop it.
He does it again the next evening.
And the next.
After a week, he visits Flourish and Blotts and loiters in the music section, skimming books he can't afford to buy until he finds a self-tuning Charm. He scowls at the shop girl who tries to help him, twice. As a result, he has to memorize the Charm quickly when the manager comes over and suggests that if he's not planning to make a purchase, perhaps he should be on his way.
That night, he manages to turn the guitar a deep, almost luminescent shade of mauve. And since it's not anything he meant to do, he can't figure out how to undo it, either.
His second trip to Flourish and Blotts is even shorter than the first, but he knows where to look now. He manages to spot the mistake he'd made – substituting a B for a D – before the manager runs him off again.
He goes to a Muggle shop for the book on teaching yourself to play the guitar, pays with a one-pound note he has charmed to look like a ten-pound note, and makes a few quid on the transaction.
The guitar becomes one of the few things he moves from one ever-more-dismal flat to the next. After a year goes by, he even stops telling himself he'll sell it soon.
Eventually he progresses from notes to chords to melodies. He picks out simple tunes, through trial and error, songs he remembers hearing when he was young.
Young. He's twenty-four. In terms of numbers, he supposes he's still young, but it doesn't feel that way. His youth ended long ago, and he knows it.
It takes him longer than it should to realize they're all songs he learned from her. There was never any music in his house when he was growing up. It was only either shouting or silence.
Lily, though. Lily was music. She had been ever since the first time he saw her, humming something, twirling around and around with her arms flung out and her head thrown back.
She was always humming or singing when they were young. Half the time, he didn't even think she was aware of it; he'd ask her what the song was and she'd have to think about it before she answered.
Later, she'd had a Muggle wireless – a . . . radial, she'd called it. No, not radial. Radio. She'd had a radio that she'd bring with her when they met by the river. It would play all summer long – songs about fire and rain, and a starry starry night, and a band on the run. The summer they were fourteen, she'd tried to teach him to dance, which had made him so nervous that his feet had only managed to find the movement equivalent of stammering, and she'd laughed and given up.
After fifth year, his life had gone back to silence and shouting. Death Eaters were not, after all, known for their dance parties.
No, Lily was music, and the songs he knows come from the seven years between the day he watched her twirl across the playground and the night she told him to save his breath.
Once he remembers that, he can't forget it. The songs he's been playing lose their appeal. The only other songs he knows are a jingle for Mrs. Scower's and the Hogwarts School Song, so he sets the guitar up against the wall and resolves, again, to sell it.
But he doesn't. Instead, he finds himself starting to play around with the strings and the notes until he finds his own tune. It's a short term solution, though. When he goes to put words to it, he finds that it's still all about her. It starts as an apology, but the longer he works with it, the more it changes, until it's all the things he had never found a way to make her hear when she was still alive.
He calls it "Lilah." Because it's easier to sing than "Lily."
Because he never says her name if he can help it.
29 August 1986
He's sitting in the floor one evening, because he doesn't have a chair in this latest flat in above a shop in Knockturn Alley. It's really only a room and hardly deserves the title of flat, but it's what he can afford these days. He's playing "Lilah," trying to get the tempo right, when there's a knock at the door.
He's expecting his landlord, as the rent is two days late. Instead, he finds a tiny witch, maybe a few years older than he is, with a round face framed by short brown hair shot through with streaks of green. He's seen her once or twice, coming and going. She stands out, as she seems about as much like she belongs in Knockturn Alley as a rose garden would, even before she speaks and he discovers that her accent is decidedly American.
"Was that you playing? I could hear it across the hall."
"Was it bothering you?" he asks, without really caring about the answer.
"No, not at all. I thought you were good," she says. "You play pretty well."
"Modesty," she says.
She laughs. "No, that's me. Modesty Moss."
"Wow, and I thought 'Modesty Moss' was bad," she says. "Nice to meet you, Severus Snape. Can I come in?"
Modesty doesn't wait for an answer, but walks past him and into his flat.
"You're an American," he says, still standing in his own doorway.
"Yes. Well, half-American, technically," she says. "English father, American mother. I was born here, but Mom took me back home after they split up, and I grew up there. She was a singer – you've heard of Elsie Elwell?"
Severus shakes his head, fingers on the wand in his pocket, watching Modesty look around his room.
"Well, you've heard of Celestina Warbeck, I'm sure. Celestina is Britain's version of Mom. Mom was a brilliant singer, but she had lousy taste in managers and worse taste in men. After she died last year, flat broke, I thought I'd look Dad up. Only he's Muggle, and he wasn't all that interested in reuniting with his witch of an ex-wife's witch of a daughter. So here I am."
"In Knockturn Alley?"
"It's cheap. And it's temporary. I'm going places."
"How ambitious of you," Severus says, instead of pointing out that she could start by going some place that was not his flat.
"I know, I'm very badly named, aren't I? So, let's hear it."
"Your song, of course. I want to hear what it sounds like when I'm not standing out in the hallway with my ear pressed to your door."
"You were listening outside my door?" Severus asks. "That's a good way to get yourself killed in Knockturn Alley."
"A person could try," Modesty says dismissively. "Come on, Severus Snape, let's hear it."
He's not sure why he doesn't say no. He's not sure why he hasn't ordered this woman out of his flat, for that matter. But Modesty has the air of a person who's not used to hearing the word no, and anyway, it's been years since anyone expressed any interest in anything he was doing. So he sits down on the bed, picks up his still mauve guitar, and plays "Lilah" for her, never taking his eyes off her shoes.
"You're good," she says, when he's done. "You might even be great, or at least you have the potential to be. Nice voice. Distinctive. Rich. The song's good, too. Did you write it?"
"I thought so," Modesty says, with a nod that almost looks like approval. "You sing it like you wrote it. You need to about double the tempo, but I like the melody. Who is she?"
"Who's who?" Severus asks, though he knows exactly what she means.
"The woman you wrote it for. Who is she?"
"Someone I used to know," Severus says shortly.
"Well, she made an impression, didn't she?" Modesty asks. She looks for a moment like she's going to continue this line of conversation, and then she says, "So when's your next gig?"
"Yeah, you know. When are you playing? Where? Maybe I'll come."
Severus shakes his head. "I don't play 'gigs.'"
He shrugs. "It's not anything I do for other people. I never intended for anyone to hear me."
"Liar," she says. "You wrote a song. You didn't scribble about this chick in your diary or even write poetry about her and lock it in a desk drawer. You wrote a song, then played and sang it."
"In the privacy of my own home."
"In a boarding house whose walls are so thin I can hear my neighbors breathe, never mind sing, and you didn't even bother to cast a muffling spell. Say what you like, but you meant for someone to hear it. So go play it somewhere."
Severus considers this for a second, and then shakes his head. "I don't think it's wise."
"Why not? Like I said, you've got serious potential. I know music. I grew up watching singers try to be the next big thing. I could tell who actually stood a chance by the time I was ten. You'd stand a chance, a good one. I'd say you're already better than at least half of what we sell in the shop."
"Kneedel and Tonearhm Records, 37 Diagon Alley. That's where I work. I know what people buy. And I could sell you. Easy."
"Even if I were interested, which I'm not, it would never work."
"Why not?" she says, repeating again what is apparently her favorite question.
For a moment, he just stares at her before he realizes. She's an American. She's only been here a year. She doesn't know. She didn't read about the trials in The Daily Prophet. She has no idea.
"I was a Death Eater."
Modesty cocks her head a little, looking him up and down with cool grey eyes. And then she smiles. "I can work with that."
"You 'can work with that'?" he repeats. "Do you know what that means?"
"Of course. It means you were a follower of a Dark wizard called Voldemort, who for some reason, you people seem to think it's less scary to call He Who Must Not Be Named, like he's the boogeyman in the closet or something." She sweeps that same appraising glance over him. "Actually, forget selling you, I can make you a star."
"I can't even get a job stocking the shelves at the apothecary."
"Well, of course you can't. Nobody wants to buy beetles' eyes and dragon's blood from someone who tried to kill them. But this isn't potions, it's rock and roll. And if there's one thing rock and rolls loves, it's a bad boy. Besides, like you said, the world is not exactly beating a path to your door, just the crazy American girl across the hall. So tell me, Severus Snape, what exactly have you got to lose?"
Severus opens his mouth to say something, though he's not even sure if he's going to agree or object, and then closes it again without speaking.
"Look," Modesty says, heading for the door, "if you decide you're interested, come by the shop next Friday, right around closing time. Bring the guitar. See you then."
5 September 1986
Over the coming week, Severus decides he isn't interested a least twice a day. Then again, he apparently decides that he is interested at least as often, or he wouldn't have to keep remaking the decision.
Still, it's not until he actually picks up his mauve guitar and heads out the door on Friday evening that he will admit he really is going to see what the mad American girl across the hall has come up with.
"You're early," Modesty says, as he lets himself into Kneedel and Toneahrm. "I like that. Look around, I'll be with you in a bit."
Severus hasn't been in Diagon Alley's record shop in years. Lily had dragged him in here one summer, when they'd come down to London to do their Hogwarts shopping. It was after second year, maybe, or third.
She'd wound up back in the corner furthest from the door, looking at the small display of records by Muggle artists, sold as "special interest" music. She'd laughed, and told him that the prices were three times higher than they were in any shop on a Muggle high street.
He's idly flipping through the records in that corner himself when Modesty lets the last customer out of the shop and comes over to him. "Didn't have you pegged as a Muggle music fan. Most wizards aren't, you know. Especially former Death Eaters. You are a mystery, Severus Snape, aren't you? I can work with that, too. Come meet your band."
"Of course. You can't take the music world by storm all on your own," Modesty says. "At least not yet."
Severus follows her down a narrow flight of steps into a basement, through a door, down another flight of stairs full of sharp right-angle turns to a door labeled Studio. He might actually have been less nervous the first time he met the Dark Lord, and had to tell him that, yes, Muggle father and all, he dared to think that he could be a Death Eater.
The door opens into a large white room, full of instruments (some of which Severus has no names for) and mismatched couches and chairs.
The four people gathered in the room all stop talking as he comes in. Severus recognizes exactly one of them – Gil Jordan, who'd been a year behind him at Hogwarts and a Gryffindor. From the way the other man's eyes narrow, Severus would guess that Gil remembers him, too.
"You're Severus Snape," says the young woman sitting on a ratty green couch. Woman might actually be too generous a term for her; she looks barely old enough to have left Hogwarts. Her long hair is a color midway between purple and blue, and she shoves it back behind her shoulders as she stands. "I'm Aspasia Lynde. I was six years behind you in Slytherin."
"And she's a hell of an organist," Modesty says, when Severus has no response to the girl he doesn't recognize. "And this is Dougal McLaren, bagpipes," she says, of a broad-shouldered man with his long fair hair pulled back from his face. "Harmonia Lovegood, tambourine," is a woman with a dreamy look and eyepoppingly colorful robes. "And that leaves Gil Jordan – "
"Drums," Gil says. "We knew each other at Hogwarts."
Severus would consider it more accurate to say that knew of each other at Hogwarts, but he merely nods.
"Great," Modesty says, in a bright tone that frankly doesn't suit her. "I'll leave you all to it, then."
"Leave us to what?" Severus asks.
"You know, talk. Jam. See if you think you're a good fit for each other. I'll be upstairs doing inventory, and I'll check on you in about an hour."
Modesty lets herself back out of the room, closing the door behind her. Severus almost expects to hear her lock it. He turns his attention back to the others and wonders where she found them all. Maybe she makes a habit of listening outsides people's doors and then strong-arming them into bands.
Finally, just at the point when the silence goes from awkward to stifling, Dougal clears his throat. He's clearly the oldest person here, and in the absence of knowing what else to do, they all seem to be happy to defer to him. "So, Modesty said you'd written a great song?"
Severus nods. "Well, a song, at any rate."
He's not sure he'd say it was great.
"So are you going to play it for us or not?" Gil asks.
There's a challenge in the tone, and Severus nearly refuses, but it's kind of point of his being here. He sits down in the nearest chair and takes his guitar from its case.
"Your guitar is pink?" Gil asks.
"No, it's more of a mauve, I'd say," Harmonia says.
"That's a shade of pink, isn't it?" Gil asks.
"Hush," Aspasia hisses. "Let him play." Four pairs of eyes come back to Severus.
He closes his own eyes, thinks of long red hair and a girl spinning around and music from a Muggle radio, and starts to play.
He's halfway through the second chorus when the drums start. Severus's eyes snap open and there's a discordant jangle as his hand jerks across the guitar strings.
"Don't stop," Gil says, and Severus, a bit uncertainly, picks back up where he left off. Harmonia's tambourine comes in next, and then Aspasia's steam organ, and finally Dougal's bagpipes.
They look around at each other when they're done. And then Dougal says, "Let's try it again, maybe a little bit faster."
"And muffle those pipes a bit, would you?" Aspasia says. "I couldn't hear Severus at all once you started playing."
They play through "Lilah" again, and then again. People make suggestions, propose changes, they agree or disagree, debate things, try them, reject them, and then try them again but not in the same ways.
At some point, it starts to sound like a real song, and for the first time, Severus can hear that, yes, it's great.
They're deep in a discussion about Harmonia's tambourine and the balance with the drums when Modesty comes back into the room. "Right, you guys, time to go home. But you can come back tomorrow, if you want."
"See you all then," Gil says, and just like that, it's decided, and they're a band.
"That didn't feel like an hour," Severus says to Modesty as she locks the door to the record shop.
Modesty laughs. "That's because it wasn't. It was three."
"Hours. Three hours. The first two times I came down, you all didn't even notice me. That's good," she says, before he can decide if he'd meant to apologize. "Means I put you together well. Now we just see where you take each other. And you, Severus Snape, had better get writing. You can't make it on one song, no matter how good it is. Or rather, if you can make it, you can't stay made."
August – December 1986
The days quickly fall into a pattern. When Modesty is working, he hangs out at Kneedel and Toneahrm. He listens to records, listens to conversations, watches to see what people buy and what they don't. Once, he tries going in when she's not working there, but the other sales staff don't seem to appreciate having an ex-Death Eater non-customer loitering in the store. He doesn't try it again.
In the evenings, he meets with his band, usually in the studio space under the record store, sometimes at Harmonia's house. Modesty looks in on them sometimes at the one, Harmonia's small daughter, Luna, is their audience at the other. Dougal slowly fades into the background, as Severus becomes more and more the leader of things, but that's not much of a surprise to anyone but Severus. Gil and Aspasia pack and unpack their drum kit and steam organ from cases that should be too small, but that's magic. Harmonia throws her tambourine into the air, turns a summersault, and catches it, all while it keeps perfect time, but that's Harmonia.
The rest of the time, Severus writes. It's easier than he thought it would be. The songs don't have to be perfect, because he can get help from the rest of the band when the tune isn't quite right or he can't finish a line. And there's no lack of inspiration; he finds that he has a lot to say to and about Lily, now that he's letting himself. Things she should have listened to years ago, about him and about her and all her choices, made and unmade.
The danger, of course, is in saying too much, in being too open about her. He knows he should do things like change the line in "Lilah" about her flame-colored hair, but he can't quite make himself do it. Lily had flame-colored hair, and to make it fair or dark would be untrue in a way that changing the name is not.
He ignores the risk, though, and takes a half-dozen songs about Lily to the bad, until Dougal shakes his head a bit and says, "Whoever she is, she must be amazing, this woman you keep writing about."
Severus shrugs and asks Gil something about drums, and doesn't say anything else.
But after that, he goes looking for other words, for other topics, for songs about anything but Lily. He experiments with setting some old poems to music, which Harmonia likes and Modesty deems deadly dull.
24 - 29 December 1986
Severus dutifully Apparates back to Cokeworth for Christmas, as he does every year. His mother, as far as he can tell, is no happier without her husband than she was with him. He says nothing to her about the band he's been playing with for almost four months. He doesn't say much to her at all.
He takes a long walk on Christmas afternoon, with his collar turned up against the wind. He goes down to the old playground, which is deserted and clearly the victim of recent vandalism. He checks to make sure there are no Muggles watching, and then repairs the snapped chains on the swings, the broken seesaw. He stands there for a long time, trying to decide what he thought he was going to find here, before deciding it hardly matters. Repaired or not, the swings are not going to summon the laughing girl who'd thrown herself from them all those years before.
Whatever he's looking for is gone.
Or it was never there to begin with.
And if there was no point in going to the playground, there's certainly no point in what he does next, walking down to what used to be the Evans family's house. They don't live there now, of course. Except for Lily's miserable Muggle of a sister, they don't live anywhere. But the house is still there, blazing with Christmas lights.
No, whatever he's looking for, it's not here.
Severus walks back to Spinner's End, where his mother is waiting to scold him for being gone so long. Dinner is cold, dry, and flavorless. They eat in silence.
He supposes it's better than shouting.
He leaves after breakfast the next morning, returning to his dismal flat in Knockturn Alley with a feeling that can only be called relief.
He spends the rest of the day writing a song he calls "Boxing Day." It's reckless, he supposes, but it's satisfying in a way writing tunes for other people's poetry never can be.
"Back to your flame-haired Lilah, then, are you?" Dougal asks when Severus plays it for them at their one rehearsal between Christmas and New Year's. Modesty, who has come down to listen, tells him it's some of his best work yet and that she hopes this means he's done with moldering verse.
Gil has a look on his face that Severus isn't entirely comfortable with, like he's trying to work out a puzzle or remember something he's forgotten. "Boxing Day" suddenly seems truly reckless. Gil was in Lily's house, after all, and only a year behind them. He certainly remembers the ginger-haired Head Girl who died when the Dark Lord was defeated. Severus resolves again to stop writing about Lily, or at least to stop being so incredibly obvious about it.
"Severus?" Aspasia says that evening, as he's packing up his guitar. The others have gone, and they're alone in the studio room. "I have something for you."
She holds out a flat box, rather like the ones he used to buy green and silver striped ties in. It's not wrapped, there's no bow, but it still makes him flush and stammer something about not having anything for her.
"It's not really a present," she says, almost too quickly. "Just something I thought you might be able to use."
Severus opens the box to find a long, deep blue quill. "It's a composer's quill," Aspasia says. "It'll write down any notes you play. I know you don't read music, but I thought it might help the rest of us learn your songs."
"Thank you. It should be very helpful."
"You're welcome," Aspasia says, smiling. "So, um, I guess I'll see you next year."
"Yes," Severus says. "Happy New Year."
Aspasia picks up her organ case, smiles at him again, and heads upstairs.
"Bad idea," Modesty says, appearing in the doorway just after Aspasia has left.
Severus looks up from packing the quill in his guitar case. "What's a bad idea?"
"Don't let Aspasia fall for you," Modesty says. "This band isn't ready for that kind of drama."
Severus almost laughs. "I don't think you need to worry about that."
"Yeah? Why's that?"
"Girls don't fall for me."
For nearly twenty-seven years, he's proven all but impossible to fall for.
"Give them time," Modesty says. And with that, she leaves him.
31 December 1986 – 1 January 1987
Severus spends the last day of 1986 quietly. He tries out the new quill, watching it dash across sheets of parchment, recording notes as he plays. He can't tell if they're right, but there's a certain amount of pride in looking at music that he wrote.
As far as the songs themselves, nothing really comes together, though that is perhaps because he's distracted by watching the quill. There are one or two phrases he thinks he might be able to turn into something later, but that's all.
Modesty knocks on his door at about half ten on New Year's Eve. She's brought a bottle of firewhisky and her wireless.
"Can't ring in 1987 alone," she says, and it doesn't occur to Severus until later that that might have been as much confession as admonition.
"To 1987," she says, handing him a glass.
"To 1987," Severus repeats, considering the contents of the glass.
He has never been one for much drinking. When you're lying to one of the world's most powerful wizards, after all, engaging in any activity that makes it more difficult for you to do so is not merely stupid but suicidal.
But, then, the Dark Lord is gone, and he's not lying to anyone any more, is he?
For a while, they just sit in the floor, listening to the music pouring out of Modesty's wireless, passing the bottle back and forth. The announcer on the WWN plays through the most popular songs of 1986.
"That'll be you someday," Modesty says. "Hell, who knows, maybe even next year."
Severus sets aside his fourth – or fifth – glass of firewhisky to focus on her. "Why are you doing this?"
"All of this. Why do you care what happens to me? Do you understand what I've done?"
"Of course," Modesty says. "I'm an American, not an idiot. You were a Death Eater. I know."
"I don't think you do," he says, his eyes still focused on her face.
Modesty sighs and sets her own glass aside. "I did my homework, Severus Snape. I know that the odds are very good that you've hurt and tortured people, and almost as good that you've killed them. At the very least, you stood by while other people did. How am I doing so far?"
Severus can't find his voice, so he merely nods, and drops his gaze to the floor.
"Now," Modesty continues, "you're not in that prison with the funny name because you were a spy. No, you became a spy, which means you started out committed to the cause. You're not stupid, so I doubt very much that you went into it thinking it was going to be all tea and cake only to get a very ugly shock. Which means something changed your mind. I'd lay dollars to donuts – no, wait, you probably don't say that over here, do you? Pounds to pasties? Gateaux to galleons? Anyway, if I had to guess, I'd say it's this girl you can't stop writing about."
Severus feels rather like he did the first time he saw Lily with Potter; like someone has filleted his heart, shown it to him, put it back in his chest, and now expects him to carry on somehow.
"Too close to home?" Modesty asks, after a moment. "Sorry. But you did ask."
Severus picks his glass back up, drains what's left in it, and refills it. "And you didn't answer. You know who I am, and you know what I've done." And while he's not about to confirm it, she even knows some of why. "But you never said why you care what I do now."
Modesty takes the bottle back from him to refill her own glass. "Maybe I believe in second chances."
"No, I don't think you do," Severus says, and she laughs.
"All right, then," she says. "Maybe I just don't care what you did. You're talented. You could go places, and I want to go along for the ride."
"So I'm nothing but a means to an end for you?" he asks, finally looking up at her again.
She meets his stare with surprisingly clear grey eyes. "More or less. Does that bother you?"
"No. Not at all. That's all you are for me."
"Good," Modesty says. "Then we know where we stand."
"Yes," Severus says. "Means to an end."
And then he leans forward and kisses her.
It starts well, or so he thinks. Her lips part readily enough and one of her hands comes to rest on his shoulder. After a few seconds, though, she breaks away, turning her head and pushing him back.
"No," she says. "No, if Aspasia is a bad idea, then I'm a very bad one. I should go," she continues, standing before he can object or, indeed, say anything at all. "I'll see you next week. Happy New Year, Severus Snape."
He sits in the floor for a long time after she goes, staring at the door. Then he gets up, pours what little is left in the firewhisky bottle down the drain, and falls into bed.
He spends New Year's Day waiting for the headache to recede and writing. The latter, he is sure, is not helping with the former, but the song won't leave him alone. He knows, even as he's watching the composer's quill dash across the parchment, that it's good, easily one of the best songs he has written.
It's also so obviously about Modesty that he can't see himself playing it anywhere she could hear it. He doesn't want her to know that he cared enough to write about her.
In the end, he puts "Bad Idea" away and resolves to go back to his usual policy of not drinking anything stronger than butterbeer.
He doesn't see Modesty again until the fourth, when he arrives almost late for practice at Kneedel and Toneahrm. She tries to say something, but he moves past her with some line about not wanting to keep his band waiting.
Because by the fourth, he is stone-cold sober and seriously angry. It's an old song, and he's heard it sung before: "Severus, we shouldn't; Severus, it's not a good idea; Severus, I like you but not like that; Severus, it will make everything too complicated."
Lily sang that tune better than Modesty ever could, and he has no intention of dancing to it again.
"You played really well today," Aspasia says, two hours later. She has, once again, hung back after the others have left.
"Thank you," Severus says. "You also played very well. As always."
It's the simple truth; Aspasia plays very well. But now she shrugs, coloring a little, and pushes her brilliantly blue hair back behind her ear. "Thank you."
For the first time, he wonders if Aspasia actually does fancy him. Modesty certainly seemed to think she did, after all.
And that's another thing. Who does Modesty think she is, rejecting him and telling him who not to spend time with? Why should he care what Modesty thinks, anyway? He's just a means to an end for her, isn't he?
"Thank you again for the quill," Severus says.
"Oh, did you use it? Does it work?"
"It seems to. Of course, I'm no judge of its accuracy."
"I could help you test it sometime," Aspasia says, readily.
"I'd appreciate that," Severus says. Aspasia smiles and oh, yes, he may not have a great deal of experience talking to girls (and even less talking to girls who fancy him), but there's no missing the interest in that smile.
"In fact," Severus continues, "perhaps you could help me learn to read music myself."
"I'd be happy to," Aspasia says. "I think you'd – "
"Sorry to interrupt," Modesty says from the doorway, sounding even less sorry than Lucius Malfoy does when using a similar turn of phrase, "but I need to close up."
Aspasia rolls her eyes, but picks up her organ case and heads up the stairs without further protest.
Modesty looks significantly after her. "Bad idea," she says to Severus, before waving her wand to extinguish the lights in the room. "Nox."
And maybe it is a bad idea, but Severus hardly has a clean record at resisting those.
He kisses Aspasia for the first time five days later, on his twenty-seventh birthday.
Three weeks after that, he spends the night with her on what should have been Lily's twenty-seventh birthday. He doesn't bother to lie to himself and pretend that's just a coincidence.
Modesty doesn't say anything else about it, and the rest of the band don't seem to think anything of it. Nothing much changes at all. Aspasia has always been the member the most likely to agree with him, just as Gil has always been the least likely. He goes on writing, and Aspasia or no, he's still writing more about Lily than anything else, though he gets better at obscuring that fact.