Characters: Snape, Luna
Warnings: Thoughts and mentions of suicide
Summary: Snape’s words reach more people than he'd counted on when he is recruited for The Quibbler's new advice column.
Author's Notes: Thanks to S for the original idea, Dear Abby for providing some fodder, and M for the beta.
I’m not giving you this job out of pity, Severus,” said Luna Lovegood airily as she showed him to a tiny office on the third floor of The Quibbler’s new building in Diagon Alley.
“Then why are you doing it?” Snape grumbled, irritated that she seemed to know what he was thinking even before he did. He reinforced his Occlumency shields though he could sense no intrusion. Lovegood smiled, gazing down the hallway with a faraway look in her eyes.
“I know that if you put your mind to it, you're perfectly capable of writing a column that will keep the readers coming back. After all, your comments on my Potions essays were always quite entertaining. Plus -" she stopped, turning to look him in the eye squarely - "the heliopaths told me to do it. They said you have always looked out for everyone's best interests. Now you can just give them advice without having to pretend otherwise."
Snape sighed. Why does everyone persist in putting me in the position of looking after others? I really do not care if the imbeciles all die off. He opened the door to what would be his office. It was just large enough for a desk and chair, with a small area of floor left over. Sunlight streamed through a window high in the far wall, illuminating a small pile of letters on the corner of the desk. It was clean and empty, and Snape felt even more depressed.
"Well," said Lovegood briskly, tossing a lock of her tangled, dirty blonde hair over her shoulder, "I'll leave you to it. The announcement has only been in the paper for two issues, so I expect we'll get more letters next week once they see what you can do."
Snape nodded gravely and stepped inside, shutting the door. He looked around for a long moment, then sat in the rickety chair and put his head in his hands. For shame, that a Prince should have been reduced to this. This will not bring me riches. It will not even bring me fame, since I must remain anonymous. Then he shook himself and straightened up. It could be worse, he told himself firmly. If this is what I must do to earn a living in this ungrateful world, then so be it. He reached for the top letter on the pile and opened it.
"Dear Aunt Sophia," he read. "I'm afraid my wife is having an affair..." Snape snorted. "Of course, she's having an affair," he grumbled. "She's married to the sort of uninteresting twit who reads The Quibbler!" He sighed again. That sort of response would not keep the readers happy, and much as he despised the idea, keeping them happy was what he would need to do. No, he would have to appear to actually care about their puerile little problems. He would have to be nice. Bugger it all.
The Quibbler – 1 September, 2001
Ask Aunt Sophia
Your questions, answered by manners and life expert Aunt Sophia.
Dear Aunt Sophia,
I'm afraid my wife is having an affair. I've seen the same unfamiliar owl come to the back garden three times in the last week, but my wife keeps insisting that she doesn't know what I'm talking about. We've been together for 20 years and I love her dearly. I've never written to an advice columnist before but I saw the call for letters in The Quibbler just after the owl's most recent visit and I do hope you can help me. What should I do?
Owl Worked Up
Dear Owl Worked Up,
I sympathise with your uncertainty. However, I think you're jumping to conclusions. Can you not think of any other reasons for your wife's actions? Perhaps she is arranging a gift for you, and is afraid that your curiosity will ruin the surprise. Whatever the reason, she is your wife. If you love her, you should trust her to do what is right. Push the issue to the back of your mind. If the answer to your mystery is not revealed in, say, six months, you will be within your rights to bring it up again.
Dear Aunt Sophia,
My twin brother and I are very close, almost like we are two halves of the same person. But lately something about him seems off, and I think he's been drinking too much firewhisky. At first I didn't think anything of it, but last week we were thrown out of a Celestina Warbeck concert because he was belching fire at the other concertgoers. I didn't even know firewhisky could do that to you! Is this really a problem? We've always had so much fun together, but I'm afraid that the war has affected him in a way I can't understand. How can I talk to him about it without ruining our relationship?
Wet Blanket Brother
Dear Wet Blanket,
It is a little known fact that repeated, intense firewhisky use can cause burning eructation. The fact that your brother has experienced this indicates that he does indeed have a drinking problem. The bad news is that such overuse can result in burning of the stomach lining. Eventually the person becomes unable to eat and subsists entirely on the drink, which is the only thing able to quench the burning sensation. Then they die. The good news is that you have seen the signs of abuse and are in a position to do something about it. Get your brother to St. Mungo's immediately. No doubt he will be angry at first. But once he is cured, surely he will understand why you had to act. Even if he does not, you must not hesitate. Imagine what it would be like to live, knowing you let your brother die because you wanted to keep him happy.
Three weeks went by, Snape splitting his days between reading inane letters in the tiny, cramped office and tending the small, magically-created garden behind his house in Spinner's End. The salary Lovegood provided him was enough for the necessities, but Snape wasn't above using the hints in the paper's Herbology Tips section (written by Longbottom, of all people!) to make up the difference with homegrown vegetables. His life was peaceful, and by Apparating directly into the paper's front office from his flat, he managed to avoid most of those who either directly attempted to harm him or who merely expressed their distaste for Albus Dumbledore's killer by spitting as he passed by. He routinely nodded respectfully at his colleagues and the receptionist in the lobby, and gradually began to get nods in return. And every time he sat down with the slowly growing pile of letters, he sighed and carefully reined in everything he truly wanted to say.
One afternoon, however, a knock on the door interrupted Snape's frustration as he stared at yet another imbecile's desperate scrawl.
"Come in," he said. Luna Lovegood's blonde head, complete with purple carrot earrings, poked inside.
"Hullo Severus," she said cheerily, and then stepped all the way in. Snape wished, not for the first time, that he had been given even one other employment option. Then he would not have to suffer the indignity of being addressed by his first name by a chit of a girl who seemed not to know the meaning of the word "respect." Or, well, she probably knew the word, but believed that it meant "lightly salted."
"How is everything?" she asked. "Settling in all right? I do like to make sure my employees are enjoying themselves. If people are sad they might attract glumbumbles, and that always ends up being terribly disruptive to business."
"Everything is fine," said Snape wearily.
"Oh, good," said Lovegood. She turned to leave, then paused. "Only…"
"What?" snapped Snape irritably. Lovegood turned back with a faint look of puzzlement on her face.
"I was just wondering if you'd, well, gotten into the spirit of the thing. Your letters, they're fine, I suppose. A bit boring, really." Snape bristled.
"Boring? I'm giving advice! What do you want, a song and dance number?"
Lovegood snickered. "Oooh, could you? That would be delightful. A bit difficult to convey in print, though. Perhaps with some photographs…" Snape gave a wordless snarl.
"No?" she continued. "I suppose not. But still, I'd expected a bit more… pizzazz. Something to showcase your unique way with words." She looked him in the eye and with a faint smile, turned away again. "Do you think you might be losing your touch?"
Before Snape could reply, she was gone. He cursed and threw his quill to the floor, barely resisting the urge to stomp on it. Then his eyes narrowed and he picked it up again, returning to the latest letter. Pizzazz? I'll show that bint pizzazz!
The Quibbler – 29 September, 2001
Ask Aunt Sophia
Dear Aunt Sophia,
My husband and I are a good match, or so we've always been told. We are both wealthy purebloods from good families, and when we were growing up I thought we were destined for each other. Now that we are married, however, everything seems to be going wrong. My husband constantly tells me what to do and screams at me if I don't immediately obey, even if we're in public. I've tried to do what he wants, but it never seems to be enough and he always manages to find fault with something – my decorating, my friends, my choice of drinks at dinner. What can I do to make him happy?
Dear Wanting Heartsease,
Sweet Merlin on a Firebolt, woman! Get yourself to St. Mungo's and have them grow you a spine. Your husband is a controlling arse and you are a weak-minded, brainless idiot. If you are truly as rich and well-bred as you describe, surely there are other gentlemen pining for your attentions. Eliminate your husband by any means necessary and sort through the rest until you find one worthy of you. And be sure to make sure of the next one before you marry him; after two dead husbands, other suitors might get suspicious. If you can't manage that, I wash my hands of you.
Dear Aunt Sophia,
My adult sister is getting married a few months from now. We have never been close and haven't seen each other in a few years, but are not estranged or anything like that. We simply never had much in common. The problem is that my cousin's daughter is getting married on the same day. I am very close to my cousin and have delighted in watching her daughter grow up. Is there a rule of etiquette that says which wedding I should attend? I am afraid that whatever I do, I will hurt someone's feelings, and if I had a rule to cite I would at least have a good excuse.
Wedding Bells Of Doom
Dear Wedding Bells of Doom,
It boggles the mind that you could sign your letter Wedding Bells Of Doom in complete sincerity. You people who write in to this column have a disturbing tendency to make Fireballs out of flobberworms. Go wherever you like, and if either of the brides complains, hex her.
Two days after this column was printed, Snape opened his office door and was stunned to see that his normal pile of letters had grown to something like the size of a house-elf. As he stood in the doorway gaping, Lovegood's voice sounded from behind him.
"Oh, Severus," she said. "I see you've noticed the increased volume of mail." Snape turned, raising a questioning eyebrow. "It seems," she explained, "that your most recent column was particularly popular. Good work! I knew you could add some spice if you just put your mind to it!" She skipped away down the hallway, humming a nameless tune.
Snape turned back to the pile of mail, irritated. He'd been forceful, even rude, in answering those last two questions. Why had that drawn such a positive response? Every other time in his life, he'd ended up on the wrong end of a wand for giving his unvarnished opinions. He picked up a letter and opened it, reading aloud.
"Dear Aunt Sophia, Thank you for putting those silly witches into their place last week. I was afraid your column would turn out to be just like the one in The Daily Prophet – always pandering to the stupidest readers. I am sure you won't find my question so ridiculous…"
What followed was a question every bit as narrow-minded and inane as the ones he'd published. Snape scoffed, tossed it aside, and opened another.
"Dear Aunt Sophia," he read. "I love the way you tell your readers the truth, not just what they want to hear. There are far too many sycophantic newspapers around these days. Here is my question: How can I get my co-workers to appreciate the work I do? They all say that I'm lazy, but they don't understand the value of all the time I spend networking and polishing the right wands. If it weren't for me…"
Snape rolled his eyes and picked up another. Thirty letters later he had thirty variations on the same response; the readers enjoyed his scathing commentary when directed at someone else, but assumed that they themselves would be immune. Snape paused in his reading to lean back in his chair and gaze at the blue sky just barely visible through the window. He sighed, feeling inexplicably worn, and tossed the letter in his hand on the desk.
Why do I keep on? he asked himself suddenly.What is there left for me? Surely the next life would bring something better than this humiliation. But deep in his heart, he felt doubt: for all his righteousness, a part of him knew that much of his life had been spent poorly, acting in anger or in hatred or in pride. In life, he had managed to escape judgment – the Wizengamot, confused by the mountains of evidence both for and against him, had chosen to leave him alone, neither condemned nor rewarded. In death, he knew he would not be so lucky.
No, he reminded himself, I will continue to survive. It is what I do best.
Snape looked down at the letter on the desk and his mouth twisted into a cruel parody of a smile. Besides, he thought, some rabid do-gooder will catch up with me sooner or later. And I'll be damned if I go out without having told the wizarding world what I think of it.
The Quibbler – 13 October, 2001
Ask Aunt Sophia
Dear Aunt Sophia,
How can I learn to impress women? I'm shy. Terribly shy. I have had the luck to make friends with a few important people, but whenever I'm with them I end up overlooked. This war allowed me to prove myself worthy as a fighter, but my true passion is for Herbology and plants. Sometimes I can work up the nerve to start a conversation, but then when I reveal my goals in life (to own my own nursery, to help find a cure for my parents who are very ill), they always lose interest. It always seems like they'd prefer one of my more exciting friends, even the ones who've made a mess of their lives. What am I doing wrong?
Let me remove any illusions you may have about how this world works: most women are fickle and stupid creatures. Even the few who display intelligence in their daily lives often waste that potential by tying themselves to arrogant, cruel, unintelligent men (who are either too stupid or too lacking in scruples to care that they are destroying something beautiful). That is the way of things. And lest you think I am too harsh on the women you are meeting, I will say that you are probably a whiny, insipid conversationalist with little to offer them in terms of entertainment.
For that is what women want – to be pleasured, to be pampered, to have the base truth of the world covered over with an image of sunshine and rainbows. You give them talk of your nursery (too bland, too boring, too much hard work involved) and your parents (too sad, to frightening), when you should shower them with extravagant flattery and let them think you a hero with a future full of valour. That is not reality, but reality comes a poor second to illusion. The sooner you divest yourself of your cumbersome, plodding, unimaginative adherence to the truth, the better you will fare.
Dear Aunt Sophia,
I am 35 and happily married. I have three children, two of which are not yet old enough for Hogwarts. I am an only child; my father was killed in the first war with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The problem is that now my mother, who is 85 but in perfectly good health, insists that she "must" come and live with me. My husband says she is not welcome and frankly I agree – every time she's visited my children end up in tears because she is impossible to please and constantly tells them that they are a disappointment. But she owls me daily, and every letter mentions how cruel and ungrateful I am for not allowing her to live with us. My life is otherwise so happy and I cannot imagine disrupting our lives with her angry, demanding presence. But the constant nagging is driving me mad. What do I do?
Dear Nagged Out,
Are you really so weak and insecure that you need an utter stranger to confirm what you already know? I suspect you are, given that you've let your mother bully you thus far. Since it seems to be expected by the many imbecilic readers of this column, I shall stoop to telling you the obvious: don't let her move in. I cannot imagine why you even entertained the possibility in the first place. Send the bint a howler telling her exactly what you think of her and be done with her. And kindly cease wasting my time with questions you already know the answer to.
Snape's irritated comments seemed, bizarrely, to fill a deep-seated need for the wizarding populace, and before he knew it his mail had grown to three large bags a week, each filled with several hundred mostly inane questions. Many of them he immediately eliminated as being written specifically to provoke him, but most seemed completely sincere, if stupid. Snape wasn't surprised – the description "sincere but stupid" pretty much matched up with his experience of humanity in general (with the exception of a rare few who passed that level into "brutal, cruel, and stupid"). Twice a week he pulled out a few letters and answered them in print, and used the rest in his compost pile. By November, Lovegood had increased his salary by half, quoting increased subscription rates, and Snape was torn between disgust at his fellow wizards and a vindictive sort of pleasure at the fact that he could both tell them off and get paid for it.
Returning from Gringotts, where he had deposited the extra funds into his savings, he carefully cast a warming charm and once again stared out the window at the cold sky.
Is this what I have been reduced to? Mere entertainment? When I was young I knew that I was destined for great things. Yet now it seems I can make no difference to anyone, least of all myself.
A moment later he berated himself for this absurd sentimentality and picked up another letter.
Dear Aunt Sophia,
I don't know why I'm writing to youI'm writing to you because I don't have anyone else to turn to. I need to know if a person is worth something, just for being alive. The warThere was one thing I had to accomplish in my life, and I've done it. Now I wonder whether it's worth it to go on. My friends say that I'm just being stupid and selfish, and that I should just forget these thoughts, but I don't know how. They care for me, but, I don't think they really know me, even after all these years.
You're always honest with the people who write to you. Tell me the truth – is life worth living?
Snape set the letter carefully on the desk and put his head in his hands. I should have learned long ago to be careful what I wished for, he thought. Now I find one who is asking the same questions as I have been. How can I answer? He picked it up and read it again.
Snape thought of his own feelings of despair at being set free from all his obligations - his fear that being without a purpose would drive him mad. He thought of the humiliation he'd felt when Lovegood had offered him this ridiculous job. He thought of the long nights he now spent alone by the fire, the long days toiling in the garden to grow his meager crops. He thought of how winter was coming, and how lucky that salary increase had been. He thought of the lush summer days of his youth, spent dreaming of fame and revenge. He thought of Dumbledore, looking sad and old and ill, pleading with Snape to kill him. He remembered thinking then that it was the most difficult thing he'd ever done. Now he thought how much more difficult it would be to write about the value of life and the existence of hope, when he himself had none.
Slowly Snape's hand formed into a fist, crumpling the letter into a tight ball. Then he thought of Dumbledore's proud face that first night he'd come to beg for help - the way Albus had said, "my son, you have done the right thing." He thought of eight-year-old Draco's pleased smile when his uncle Severus had complimented him on his very first Shrinking Solution. He thought of the careful nods he received from all the staff at The Quibbler and the way Eumaeus Clearwater now almost smiled when they passed each other in the hallway. He thought of Luna Lovegood's faith that he could keep the readers interested, and her assertion that the heliopaths had vouched for his character. He thought of himself as a young man, desperately lonely, and wondered what his life might have been like had someone cared enough then to reach out a hand and pull him from that dangerous, dark path.
Slowly, Snape's fist loosened and he uncrumpled the letter, smoothing it out with shaking hands. He inked his quill and set it to the parchment. Even more slowly, he began to write.