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Bruiser was waiting for them at the door, when they finally reached it. He was still wearing that well-tailored muggle suit, stretched taut over his muscular shoulders – but he was stooped now, as though it hurt to stand upright. The fight with the werewolf had obviously left its mark on him. He was getting too old to fight magical creatures with his bare hands.

"You're late," he growled, by way of greeting.  

"We didn't know we'd have to walk five miles just to get to the front door," said Jen Morgan, who clearly didn't want to waste any time in being rude to the muggle. Severus tried to imagine what she must have looked like to Bruiser, standing in the ancient and enormous doorway, with her square-cut bob and clamped-shut lips – all angles and spikes. He must have felt as though he was being taunted by a Cubist painting.

"Security, miss," he explained.

"On the Valance House?" she asked derisively. "That's a joke. It's been burned down by every dark wizard of note since the days of Salazar Slytherin."

Severus raised his eyebrows. It was nice to be listened to, but she could have chosen a better time to reiterate his words. Reluctantly – because he was quite curious to see how Bruiser would handle the sensation of being insulted by a Cubist painting – he put a restraining hand on her shoulder, and watched with faint amusement as she jerked away from him.

"This is Jen Morgan," he said. "She's in protective custody, until we find the attacker who's been picking off Slytherins."

Jen Morgan snorted at the words 'protective custody', but said nothing.

"I thought they weren't just Slytherins," Bruiser replied, with mock innocence. "I thought these poor unfortunates must 'ave 'ad somethin' else in common."

Jen Morgan glared at him defiantly. "If you mean the stench of muggles makes every one of us sick - ,"

"She stays with me until we catch the attacker," Snape interrupted loudly. "She'll behave."

Jen Morgan snorted again, but fainter this time, because she was looking up into Bruiser's face. The patchwork of scars had been wrenched into a worrying smile.  

"I don't doubt she'll be'ave," said Bruiser cheerfully. "I know 'er dad. A model of manners, 'e is."

Jen Morgan's scowl turned into a mask of horror. Severus could almost see her deflating. Her skin turned a waxy green and her shoulders sagged, but she glowered at Bruiser with all the defiance she had left.

"She doesn't meet my daughter, though," said Bruiser, suddenly businesslike. "I'm picky about 'oo meets my daughter. Sure you'll understand, Miss Morgan. Being half-muggle, I reckon you must get this a lot."

Jen Morgan didn't say anything. She was breathing hard through her nose, and her jaw was jutting out even further than usual. Severus knew that expression. It meant her insides were writhing with fury, but she had no way of letting it out. She couldn't lose herself in all that anger. She couldn't stop thinking about how she'd look, what people would say, what would happen next. These were the things that pure-bloods never worried about. Whatever happened next, they always had that unshakeable conviction that they were superior. They would continue to think they were superior, even if you locked them up, or snapped their wands, or stole their girlfriends. They had self-esteem running through her veins.

But people like Jen Morgan had doubt running through their veins. She wanted to shoot curses everywhere she looked, and then tell people off for dying in front of her. She wanted to stalk through life with her nose in the air, like Bella did. But she was half-muggle. She would get it wrong.  

Reluctantly, he remembered that he was supposed to be looking after her. He couldn't leave her alone with the man who'd driven Greyback's claws through his chest. "I think she'd better stay with me," he said quietly.  

Bruiser shook his head. "Sorry, Snape. My daughter's susceptible. You'll understand when you meet 'er. This lovely young lady," he added, turning to Jen Morgan with another disarming smile, "can wait for you in the breakfast room. I'll get the butler to bring 'er some tea."

When Bruiser turned away to ring for the butler, Severus leaned over to Jen and muttered: "Don't drink the tea."

"I'd rather drink troll urine," she hissed.

"Don't annoy him, either," Snape instructed calmly. "He's dangerous."

"He's a muggle," she sneered.

"He will know which curse you're going to perform before you cast it," said Snape, with all the patience he could muster. "He will know purely physical ways of deflecting it. Depending on whether he wants you paralyzed, unconscious, disfigured, or just embarrassed, he will know exactly where to hit you to ensure these results. Also, there are four werewolves watching us from the balcony up there. He's assuming that any trouble-maker with half a brain-cell would have noticed this. Just because he has over-estimated you doesn't mean you have to die."

Jen Morgan turned away from him petulantly, and went to skulk over by the skirting-boards.

"Just don't drink the tea and don't make trouble," Snape insisted, following her into the shadows of the entrance hall. It wasn't until he got there that he realized she had frozen. She was staring into the shadows – and her rigid mouth had, for once in its life, fallen open.

The figure that was now melting out of the shadows – with a sticky, sucking sound, as though he was having to peel himself off the wall – must have been the butler. Severus had heard about him. Silversmith, with his creepy habit of turning up exactly where you didn't want him to be – which, in point of fact, was anywhere – was legendary amongst visitors to the Valance House. Unfortunately, the Valances had no concept of social awkwardness, so they didn't understand the effect that this grinning, bald, milky-eyed spectre had on their guests. He was wearing long black robes, buttoned all the way up to his neck like a cassock, and there was a hoop earring dangling from his right ear. He looked like a cross between a priest and a pirate.

Jen Morgan – who hadn't been prepared for the sight of him, and wasn't as used to controlling her feelings as Severus – had turned green again.

"Oh, Silversmith," said Bruiser, bustling over as though he'd only just noticed the looming figure. "This charmin' young lady is Jen Morgan – Bill Morgan's daughter."

Jen was too terrified to chafe at this introduction.

"Make sure she's comfortable, won't ya?" said Bruiser, seemingly unaware that this was an impossible request for Silversmith to fulfill.

He didn't wait for an answer, but grabbed Severus by the shoulder and steered him towards the great oak staircase that dominated the room. "My daughter's waiting," he explained. "It aint a good idea to keep a Valance waiting."

As they climbed the staircase, Snape wondered how to start shouting. He'd been planning to hurl non-stop insults and hexes at Bruiser until he apologized for teaming up with the Boggart and attacking Death Eaters. He'd been planning to unleash on Bruiser all the fury he'd been storing up against Dumbledore, Lily and the Boggart– who were aloof and untouchable. But he hadn't expected the old man to look so fragile. That wasn't part of the plan. He wasn't allowed to hobble up the staircase as though positive thinking was the only thing holding his limbs together. This wasn't the right time for Bruiser to be suddenly acting his age.

"I know about Greyback," he said, settling – as usual – for quiet fury and sarcasm.

Bruiser looked up and grinned. "I didn't think it would take you long to figure it out. And neither did she, as it 'appens."        

Severus looked at the old man warily. It wouldn't do to underestimate him. Magic was his hobby. He understood the theory perfectly – the twirling of the wand, the pre-spell calculations, the delicate inflection of the incantations. He knew it backwards – he just didn't have any magical ability. It was like a deaf man reading sheet music. He could hear the music in his head, but he would never know what it was like to be a part of the orchestra.

Severus almost pitied him. And it was hard to pity a man who'd made your life so difficult. But Bruiser, despite being tactless, reckless, muscled and scarred, never seemed to mean any harm. When Severus had first seen him, roaring and bleeding in the muggle-baiting ring, he never would have guessed that an animal like that could be so persuasive. If Bruiser could have visited Greyback now, he probably would have been able to persuade him that the whole fight had been nothing more than youthful high-spirits. And that just went to show how persuasive he was, because nobody, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, could have called Bruiser 'youthful'.

He could talk his way out of anything. He had seen to it that Lily was possessed with his dead wife's memories; he had dragged her off to Azkaban where she was nearly frazzled by Foe Fire and Death Eater curses. But, somehow, she was still talking to him – and much more happily than she would talk to Severus, these days.  

"There aint time to talk about it now," Bruiser continued. He lowered his voice until it was a grim, urgent whisper, and added: "My daughter needs your 'elp. You know what Greyback does to children like my daughter?"

"Yes," said Snape quietly. "Although, in fairness, I've heard that his preference is for little boys."

Bruiser slammed him up against the banister angrily. "I would 'ave done it anyway," he growled, "but for your information, I thought the woman 'oo asked me to kill Greyback was our Lily. She turns up at my door in the rain, with smudged mascara, askin' for 'elp, and I figured you'd just screwed everything up and broken 'er 'eart again. I said I'd do whatever I could for 'er."

"And when did you realize that it wasn't our Lily?" Severus asked, biting back another torrent of insults.    

"When she explained what she wanted me to do," Bruiser replied. "No way would Lily Evans ask me to kill – not even a pillock like that Greyback. But then I thought… you know… maybe it was Maggie." He gave Snape a defiant look, as though daring him to laugh.

Severus sighed. He hadn't thought of that. The last time Bruiser had seen Lily Evans looking cruel and murderous, it had been when his dead wife's memories had possessed her.

He didn't need to say anything. Bruiser read his expression, and let go of his collar, as though he was slowly and reluctantly waking up.

"Well, I don't tell you 'ow to live your life, do I?" he asked defensively.

"Yes, you do."

"Yeah, but I don't say it like I ever expect you to listen."

Severus thought of pointing out that he hadn't actually said anything, but thought better of it.

"Where is she?" he asked, but without much hope.

"I aint seen 'er since."

"You didn't think to have her followed?" he asked incredulously. "You thought she was your wife."

"It was because I thought she was my wife that I didn't want to 'ave 'er followed."

Bruiser looked him up and down and then sighed. "You wouldn't understand. All you want to do is tie girls up. Other people – normal people – have something called respect."

Snape gave him a bright, brittle smile. "You know, that isn't anywhere near as universal as you think it is."

Bruiser ignored him. He continued to lumber up the staircase, wincing with every step.           

"I'd like to be paid in a currency that doesn't evaporate this time," Snape added, following him onto the landing, where the werewolves had conveniently disappeared.  

Bruiser looked puzzled for a minute, and then his grizzled face split into that offensively good-humoured grin. "Oh, the leprechaun gold!" he exclaimed, chuckling. "I'd forgotten about that. Kept you out of trouble, though, didn't it?"

"Not really, no."

Elsa Valance turned out to be a miniature copy of her mother: the same tight, baby-blonde curls and pointed teeth. But she had Bruiser's optimistic, sky-blue eyes – and something of his mischievous smile, even though it was hard to notice, because you got distracted by the teeth.

She was bossy and loud; those were Snape's first impressions. She had a little dog – a drooping-looking terrier called Acheron – and she enjoyed ordering it about, draping cloaks over it, making it participate in her tea-party, and getting annoyed when its wagging tail knocked all the china cups off the table.  

She also had the pure-blood tendency to say very tactless things in a very loud voice. Her first observation when she met Snape was:

"You're funny looking! Don't you go out in the sunshine? Don't you eat very much? You're all skin and bone."

"She's got a lively curiosity," Bruiser had muttered, ruffling her hair fondly.

"Yes," said Snape. "I can tell."

"She's ever so keen to get these lessons started."

"That makes one of us."

"She'll be no trouble."

To Severus – who had grown up sheltering from the storm of his parents' arguments in a poky little bedroom that doubled up as a storage-closet – Elsa's room was a palace. Huge French windows stretched from ceiling to floor, bordered by heavy velvet drapes. A collection of china dolls leered and pouted at him from one of the shelves. They reminded him forcibly of Narcissa.

Elsa squinted at him. "I've met you before, haven't I?"

"I was there when you and your brother were pulled out of the ice, if that's what you mean," said Snape stiffly.

"I thought so. Dad never lets me meet new people anymore."

"That's clever of him," Severus muttered. "Now perhaps you can tell me why you need to learn Occlumency? It's an extremely complicated branch of magic, and I seriously doubt it has a chance of being comprehended by an eight year-old. But your father seemed to think it was necessary."

"It's not necessary, that's what I keep telling him!"

"We'll start at the beginning, shall we?" said Snape, with a cold, unfriendly smile.

Elsa Valance squinted at him again. This seemed to be her default expression – just as Narcissa's features were stuck in that text-book sneer, and Sirius Black's shoulders couldn't be prevented from shrugging, not even if you chained them down. She looked puzzled by the idea that there was someone in the world who hadn't heard all about her.  

"Hasn't he told you what I can do?"  

Snape raised his eyebrows with chilly politeness, but Elsa went tearing on, with the air of someone who was cradling a bomb-shell. Obviously, whatever it was she could do, she was proud of it.

"I'm sort of psychic, dad says."

Severus doubted this. If the girl could read his mind, she would definitely not be looking that cheerful.

"Not, like, so's I can read your thoughts," she added. "But I can see people's nightmares. When I go to sleep, I sort of fall into them." She made a sour face and continued: "Yours are nasty. All nasty men and women, standing in a circle, punching that girl in the face - ,"

For the second time in a week, Severus had the sensation that he was falling through the floor. "What did you say?"

Elsa Valance seemed to recollect herself. "Oh, yeah. Sorry. Dad says it's rude to let people know that I know. He says people can't help their nightmares. I've never had any of my own, so I don't know – but it seems to me like you shouldn't read so many scary stories before you go to bed."

"That's impossible."

"Well, then, maybe you could read some nice stories as well, 'cause I get your nightmares, like, four times a week," she said matter-of-factly.

Snape stared at her. The idea of a tactless little girl, who couldn't keep her mouth shut at the best of times, knowing about that nightmare… Dear God, she lived in the same house as Meg Valance! The story could get around the Gryffindor common room in half an hour!

"That's impossible," he repeated, as clearly as his dry throat would allow.

"It aint just yours," she added, in what she evidently thought was a comforting tone. "I see loads of nightmares. Dad reckons it's just the people I've met, face to face. That's why he doesn't like me meeting new people. That's why he took me out of school. That's how come I have to have lessons from the butler." She lowered her voice to a dark, conspiratorial whisper and added: "He's creepy. Creepier than you, even."

Severus didn't have the strength for sarcasm. "Don't these nightmares frighten you?" he managed.

Elsa gave a defiant sniff. "No way. 'Cause I know they aint real. I know the whole time. 'Sides, I'm a Valance. We don't get scared."

Severus just stared at her.

"My mum fought dragons," she added hopefully, in case he wanted to hear about it. Obviously, not many people did.

Snape tried to pull himself together. He couldn't be seen to go to pieces in front of an eight-year-old girl.

"And you want to learn Occlumency so that you can block these nightmares out?" he asked weakly.

Elsa rolled her eyes. "I told you, I don't want to block them out. It's dad.  See, there's one I've been seeing even when I'm awake. I keep falling over." She fixed him with her blue eyes, as if daring him to laugh. When he didn't, she grinned and swept back her hair to reveal a huge purple bruise on her forehead. "That's how come I got this. Uncle Max says it makes me look like a warrior, but dad got upset."

Severus decided not to imagine what Bruiser looked like when he was upset.

"And whose nightmare is that?" he asked.

The girl shrugged. "I dunno what her name is. She was the one who gave us blankets and hot chocolate when we came out of the ice."

Severus froze. "Are you talking about Madam Pomfrey?"

Elsa rolled her eyes. "Like I said, I don't know - ,"

"An old woman?" he interrupted urgently. "With sort of blonde-grey hair and big bags under her eyes?"

"Yeah. I see her nightmares at weird times. Could be midnight, could be four in the afternoon. She must sleep a lot."

"She's in a coma," said Snape.

Elsa gave him her patented squint. "What's a coma?"

"A long sleep that people can't wake up from."  

"What, not even if you, like, shout in their ear really loud?"

"I think it's been tried," said Snape wearily. "What's her nightmare like?"

Elsa frowned. "It's sort of cold, and there aint no sunlight. And she's terrified, but I can never see what's scaring her."  

"Can you talk to her?"

"Nah. She don't know I'm there. No-one ever does." She gave him a sharper squint than all the others and added: "You didn't notice me, did you? But then I guess you 'ad your mind on other things."

Snape held her gaze coldly. "I'll be watching out for you next time, I promise you."

Elsa had the good sense to recognize this threat for what it was, because she didn't reply. It was probably politeness that was restraining her, though. Valances didn't have much time for prudence.

"One more question," said Snape – and he made sure it sounded sneeringly casual, even though his heart was thudding uncomfortably in his chest. "You travel from one nightmare to another in the same night, I take it? How does that work?"

"There's a door," said Elsa proudly. "There's always a door. It might not look like a door – sometimes, it can be a window, or a chair, or even a person – but it's the way out. It aint the same as waking up, though. It just leads to another person's nightmare. To get out good and proper, I have to wake up the normal way. Like, with a loud noise, or something."

"So, if you were in – say – my nightmare, you could find a direct route to Madam Pomfrey's?"

"Yeah."

"Quickly?"

"'Course."

"And take me with you?"

Elsa hesitated. "I aint never done that before. 'Sides, you won't know I'm there, remember? You wouldn't be able to follow me if you couldn't see me."

"The next time I have that nightmare, I will know you're there. That's what Occlumency entails. Compartmentalizing yourself. I can hide thoughts behind other thoughts."

Elsa shrugged awkwardly. She obviously hadn't understood much of that last remark. "Even if you did know I was there, I'm still not sure you could travel between the nightmares like I can."   

It was difficult to teach her after that. Severus was excited and annoyed at the same time. He finally had something to tell Lily; he could finally do something for her, and it was excruciating to force himself to think about other things. The time went painfully slowly. The hands on the clock scraped round like rusted metal, dragging sparks in their wake.  

But, at the same time, he knew he didn't have a solution yet. What he had was a clue. Elsa wanted to help Madam Pomfrey, but he doubted Bruiser would let her. And, even if she could get him in to the dream, there was no guarantee she could get him out again.

What would it be like, inside that nightmare? What would you see in the recesses of a cursed coma? He thought of Madam Pomfrey's labored breathing and shuddered.

But, at the same time, there was no choice. There was never any choice. However downtrodden he felt – however many sickening Quidditch players taunted him, or cursed him, or dangled him upside-down in front of the entire school – he was still hungry. He couldn't help it. If he had been able to give up on Lily, he would have done it by now.

Now it was hope – just as loathsome as Potter, but a lot more persistent – that was dangling him upside-down and making him look like an idiot. And all the other things he had to worry about: catching the Boggart, protecting his mother, spying on Voldemort – they were all secondary. He couldn't concentrate on them anymore, no matter how much they frightened him. He spent his whole life dodging bullets, tiptoeing around the traps, just so that he could be with Lily. Not even that – just so that he could convince himself that being with Lily was still an option. He supposed that was what it meant to be a Slytherin – that was the curse of being ambitious. You were always hungrier than you were scared.
Just a quick continuation to the story, to assure everyone that I'm not dead! As you know, I get impatient with chapters that don't contain lots of Sev/Lily arguments or elaborate descriptions of potions, so I struggled with this one. Next week (or, indeed, month, depending on how organized I am) will see lots more gemstones, jewelry and potion ingredients!

Continuing from 'Notes on the Bad Guy' [link] , although most of the events in this chapter are set up in 'Miss Morgan' [link] . Sev's nightmare is described in detail in 'Spilt Milk, Part Three' [link]

As ever, thank you for reading! :)
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:iconpolkadotpeony:
polkadotpeony Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2011
I love Snapes reactions and sarcasm in this chapter. And I don't care how long it takes you to get to the dream thingy I can't wait to read it, it should be very interesting. :)
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2011
Hee hee, you know by now that it takes ages for me to even mention the dream again (but, fortunately, you're a fast reader, so hopefully you won't have minded! :hug:) You know, you're definitely going to get to the end of these chapters before I've finished the story - I'm going to have to get a move on...
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:iconasmg:
asmg Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2011
ooh, Elsa's a very intriguing character, can't wait to read more about her! =D
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2011
Yay! :w00t: I like Elsa Valance - she can be a little brat sometimes, but she's very strong-minded (very much her father's daughter!)
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:iconwearesevenstudios:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner May 26, 2010  Professional Artisan Crafter
Ack - this is so exciting. :eager: I'm so looking forward to a dream excursion.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 26, 2010
Yay! :hug: (Although I fear it takes me quite a while to get round to the dream excursion! :blush: Am still writing it now! :giggle:)
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:iconflameofthewest7:
FlameoftheWest7 Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2009
I'm so glad you're alive!!!!!!!
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2009
:giggle: :hug: Thank you!
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Very interesting chapter. I never tire of the whole dream traveling concept. I can't wait to see what happens next! :)
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2009
Thank you! :hug: I'm happier about the next chapter, so hopefully it should be up soon! Although I've just increased my hours at work, in a desperate bid to get some Christmas money! :phew: :faint:
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Christmas is sneaking up, isn't it?! :faint:
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2009
:nod: Must get organized this time (although I say that every year!)
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:iconmelorik:
Melorik Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2009
Woohoo!

Good to see you're still at it. And a chapter with Bruiser... that's an immediate plus in my book. Poor guy got a bit beat up after laying a poundin on Greyback.

Don't drink the tea

Heh heh... somehow I'm reminded of Mr. Teatime :D

You know.. I'm getting quite curious as to what exactly Jen's father did to her that has made her so..well.. nuts. It seems liek she's a female version of Severus... minus the intelligence and aptitude :P.

Look forward to seeing how Sev manages this whole affair. Should be interesting trying to explain to Bruiser why you took his little girl joyriding in the nightmare realm.... and keeping one's kneecaps in the process.

Keep it up :D

-Sam
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 24, 2009
Hee hee, that's exactly how I imagine Jen Morgan - a female version of Severus, only without the intelligence! :giggle: There will be more about her weird hang-ups in the next chapter, poor girl! I'm starting to like her, against all expectations. The only Death Eater that I haven't managed to like (even a tiny bit) at this point is Bellatrix, and I don't really think that's going to change! ;)
Sorry the updates to this story have been so infrequent - I always find it hard to write chapters where Sev and Lily aren't together. But I'm hoping to get the next one finished soon!
(P.S. What a good villain Mr Teatime was! Or teh-ah-ti-meh, or however he insisted it was pronounced! :giggle:)
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:icondronarron:
dronarron Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2009
As you know, I get impatient with chapters that don't contain lots of Sev/Lily arguments or elaborate descriptions of potions

*chuckles*


"Make sure she's comfortable, won't ya?" said Bruiser, seemingly unaware that this was an impossible request for Silversmith to fulfill.

and

"I'm sort of psychic, dad says."

Severus doubted this. If the girl could read his mind, she would definitely not be looking that cheerful.


both LOL!


This has got kind of a Terry Pratchett quality in some places... dunno if I've mentioned that.
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:icondronarron:
dronarron Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2009
er, I appear to have screwed up my html formatting... oh well.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2009
:dance: I love Terry Pratchett! He's one of my favourite authors, so it's an honour to be compared with him! I think even Sev would have enjoyed him (I imagine he'd be quite difficult to please in terms of books, but Terry Pratchett does have a lot of sarcasm, even if he isn't as dark and gloomy as Sev might have liked! ;))
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:icondronarron:
dronarron Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2009
Oh yes, some Pratchett would be right up his alley. But OTOH sometimes I see him having a bit of a thing for Monty Python-like humour... I guess he just likes the unusual ;)
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2009
Oooh, yes, definitely Monty Python! If only there was some form of comedy where Quidditch-players were regularly humiliated, that would be perfect for him! Maybe there is in the wizard world...
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