Down in the odious, stinking depths of Knockturn Alley was an incongruously flowery, redolently perfumed venue named ‘Velveteen’ that opened shortly before midnight and closed only at dawn. It was, as the common man would call it, a strip club, and a popular club it was, given that Malfoy, Avery and Lestrange had all become its customers in recent months.
Voldemort had never deigned to visit such a disreputable establishment before, but needs must. His ever-reliable intelligence network of Dark creatures, double agents and Imperio-controlled Ministry officials had informed him that the Order had planted undercover agents here after discovering that some of Voldemort’s followers were patrons of this club. The idiocy of his own minions aside—he had warned them to only drop hints that were calculated to mislead—Voldemort had decided to use this as an opportunity.
If Voldemort could pretend not to know that the Order had a presence in this club, then he could avail himself of further insights into the Order itself. He could turn their pathetic attempt at subterfuge back on them. If those foolhardy Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs were planning to outfox him, the very Heir of Slytherin, then they would be sorely disappointed.
Besides, it wasn’t as though Voldemort personally harboured the pointless carnal desires that drove his minions—and the most of humanity—mad. He would remain balanced, objective and in complete control of his faculties. He would attend this club and pay a few of its strippers to dance for him, all while gently peeling back the layers of their minds and extracting clues about the Order’s inner workings. Voldemort had always been more interested in stripping minds than he had been in stripping bodies, and despite the nature of the club he was in, that had not changed.
No, Voldemort would pretend desire, as he so often had, to get what he required. The Order would, in its attempt to discover more about Voldemort, inadvertently shed light on itself—just as light was now being shed upon the stage, in a glowing, enchanted circle within which miniature stars glinted in and out of sight like fireflies. The previous dancer, a gyrating Metamorphmagus whose transformations had kept the audience enthralled, winked and waved as she left.
Voldemort settled back in his moderately uncomfortable chair and waited, bored already, unlike the eagerly murmuring patrons around him who were waging money on who the next dancer would be.
Except that… it wasn’t a dancer.
Or it wasn’t only a dancer.
The figure that stepped nimbly into the glowing circle was more nymph than boy, his long, lean limbs clad in nothing but twining green vines, from which sprouted strategically placed leaves that only just covered his nipples and his groin. In-between those vines, his body sparkled with golden specks that caught the light as he moved. Tiny slippers of leaves clad his dainty feet, too, like the makeshift shoes of a very waifish, very mischievous Peter Pan. A fey creature not of this world, but of another, where touch promised not only pleasure, but adventure.
But what truly captured Voldemort’s attention were the boy’s eyes. Those kohl-rimmed green eyes glimmered with secrets, with laughter, with magic—a magic that arced and sizzled between him and Voldemort when their gazes met. A magic that leapt and sparked like a struck flint, and Voldemort burned as though his every vein had suddenly been flooded with firewhiskey. An intoxicating, maddening heat.
“Gentlemen,” said the puckish sprite, in a musical, half-mocking tone, without once breaking eye-contact with Voldemort, “you know me only as Harry, but I promise that before this night is through, you will know more of me than my name. You might even,” the boy’s hands ran up his own mostly-naked thighs, along the delicate tracery of those vines, “…see more of me.”
And Harry parted those thighs ever-so-slightly. An invitation. A taunt. A damnation.
Voldemort’s heart jolted as if it were a fish caught on a hook, reeled right out of his ribcage only to lodge itself in his throat.
The smirk that ‘Harry’ gave Voldemort then was downright evil—but sweetly evil, as though he were a tempting little devil that had materialised on Voldemort’s shoulder. And Voldemort had always thought he had demons enough. Apparently not.
Around him, the audience had exploded in cheers, but Voldemort hardly heard them. All he could hear was the blood roaring in his ears as Harry turned to smile at the rest of the crowd, but that smile lost some of its sharpness when it was no longer directed at Voldemort, as though Harry knew who he was.
As though Harry was a member of the Order.
He was, Voldemort was suddenly certain. Not that Voldemort could pinpoint how exactly he was certain, given that he hadn’t subjected Harry to Legilimency yet, but Voldemort’s nerves sang with the knowledge nonetheless. It was a knowledge gifted to him by magic itself, like so many truths were made evident to him before the supporting facts presented themselves. While Voldemort wasn’t a seer, he had always had a special Sight that was all his own, ever since childhood, an ability to sense whether people were lying.
And Harry was lying. He was a soldier in the guise of a stripper. He was a pretender.
But instead of anger, what Voldemort experienced then was a flare of dangerous interest, a deadly curiosity. The thought that Harry had been spying for the Order thus far, had been entertaining the slavering masses and perhaps even dancing privately for some of Voldemort’s own followers, permitting them to paw at him like the brainless animals they were—that was an insult, an abhorrent injustice, an abomination. When Voldemort discovered who among his Death Eaters had put their filthy hands on Harry, he would cut those hands off. It wasn’t as though they wouldn’t regrow; there were spells for that. Very painful spells, admittedly, but still.
None of those fools deserved to have Harry. None of them could expose Harry like Voldemort would. None of them could strip Harry beyond the skin.
Harry may bare his body here, but he was hiding what lay beneath it, and that would remain hidden until Voldemort pried it open, until Voldemort teased it open with touches and promises and words. Impervious though Voldemort generally was to lust, it was not as though he could not play the game; he was an accomplished master of all games, including the game of desire, and the thought that Harry might be a worthy opponent was thrilling. Harry would be prying him open, too.
The question was, who would be stripped down to the soul sooner?
Voldemort knew what Harry was seeking—information of his own to feed back to the Order. How could Harry possibly refuse an opportunity as perfect as Voldemort himself walking into this club? If Voldemort summoned him, Harry would comply like an obedient pet, would kneel at Voldemort’s feet if told to, would look up at Voldemort through those kohl-darkened lashes, would give Voldemort whatever he wished.
And Voldemort would take. The universe had always been his for the taking, and now it presented him with this chance to take even more than he usually did, to sate a hunger he so rarely felt. That he could do so while picking his way across Harry’s doubtless fascinating mind and gaining ammunition against Dumbledore was only a bonus.
As a low, throbbing music filled the smoke-obscured, candelabra-lit room, and as scantily-clad waiters and waitresses wove through the throng with trays of food and alcohol, Harry began to dance.
Again, it was less a dance than it was a playful, seductive display of skin, of dappled shadows that alternately concealed and revealed the soft insides of Harry’s thighs, of his wrists, the backs of his knees. Harry was applying wandless magic to the spotlight that pooled around him, splitting it into glittering strands and wrapping those strands about himself in rippling, gauzy ribbons, playing with the absence of illumination as much as its presence. One ribbon of light became a tantalising veil for Harry’s form while the other became a blindfold that briefly shielded Harry’s eyes; one bound Harry’s wrists behind his back while the other slipped as satiny as a tongue between Harry’s legs, making him shiver.
Voldemort had never before witnessed such a masterful ability to manipulate light itself, and that he was witnessing it upon a stage in an almost-brothel and not upon a battlefield was a matter of some astonishment.
So this was what had drawn decent, relatively devoted Pureblood husbands like Malfoy to venture into such a den of iniquity. This dazzling, delectable, surprisingly sophisticated performance. This unbearably sensual, exquisitely woven demonstration of Light magic, which called to Dark wizards like a siren called to sailors, if only to devour them. For Light magic was as greedy as Dark magic; it consumed the Dark as hungrily as the Dark sought to consume it, and it was in this tenuous balance that the world existed, tipping endlessly between the two like the pendulum of a clock.
A clock whose every ticking second lured Voldemort towards the stage; he wasn’t even aware of having left his chair, but he had, and soon he was standing directly before the stage, amongst Harry’s most ardent admirers, though they were naught but pests. The only reason Voldemort did not blast them away from the stage was that it would interrupt Harry’s dance, and Voldemort could not bear that.
Harry continued to dance, bound and unbound in a series of positions that inspired the imagination, ribbons of light snaking around him like pale serpents, like circlets and collars of gold, crowning him and enslaving him by turns. And then there were the subtle twists of Harry’s slim hips, twists that indicated what else they could do, how well they could ride.
There was no pole, no chair, as was standard in these dances if the Metamorphmagus woman had been anything to go by. No, Harry needed no physical props; he was flawless as he was, and utterly shameless, besides. Shameless but artful, deliberate despite his playfulness, Slytherin despite his Gryffindor courage in directly meeting Voldemort’s eyes, and oh, Voldemort wanted. Here, below the stage, he was at eye-level with Harry’s lovely legs, and they were driving Voldemort to distraction.
And so, when Harry’s first sequence ended, Voldemort’s hand shot out to grab Harry’s ankle.
Harry stumbled a bit, but regained his footing and scowled down at Voldemort. Even fixed in a scowl, that pursed mouth was delicious, plump as though bee-stung with kisses, and glossy with the same golden flecks that made Harry shimmer like a dream, like a mirage. “No touching, sir, unless it’s paid for.”
“I’ll pay for it.” In that moment, Voldemort was completely overtaken by how silken Harry’s sweat-damp skin was, by how fragile Harry’s anklebone was within his grip.
“Wonderful,” Harry replied sweetly. “Throw a couple of galleons on the stage and ask for me after my show, all right? I’m not done, yet.”
“You’re done.” The declaration was as heavy and solid as a brick.
Harry’s eyebrows climbed. “Unless you can pay me as much as the entire audience pays me in tips, I’m not done, sir.” The scarcely discernible emphasis on that honorific was as sarcastic as Voldemort might have expected from an Order member who would rather fall on Godric Gryffindor’s sword than address Voldemort as ‘lord’.
Voldemort grinned, bright and vicious, and Harry paled at the sight of it. Ah, this clever boy. This clever, clever boy, but still not clever enough to outwit Lord Voldemort. “My dear, I could buy this establishment from its owner, if it pleased you.”
“It isn’t about—about pleasing me—” Harry went red, no longer as shameless as he was when he was untouchable on a stage, it seemed. “It’s… It’s unprofessional! And the owner won’t sell, anyway. So be good and wait.”
“Oi,” yelled a fan of Harry’s from further back in the audience. “He was about to strip in his next number! Leave him up there for the rest of us, you arsehole!”
Voldemort didn’t even glance back into the crowd; his magic lashed out behind him, unseen, and throttled the man into silence. Slowly, calmly, Voldemort said to Harry, “You. Are. Done.”
Harry glared at him. And then at the chaos that was breaking out behind Voldemort as people noticed the man Voldemort had silenced clawing at his throat. “Release him. Assaulting a patron is a crime liable to get you permanently kicked out of the club and arrested by Aurors, you realise.”
“Oh, my apologies. That unfortunate display of accidental magic was purely involuntary.” Voldemort widened his eyes, the very picture of innocence, as though he weren’t covertly threatening the civilians in this club—civilians that Harry, as an Order member, would be sworn to protect. “You wouldn’t charge me for accidental magic, would you?”
Harry’s glare grew at least ten degrees hotter, and Voldemort shuddered in delight.
Harry climbed off the stage begrudgingly, and the man suffocating to death in the audience could abruptly breathe again.
“That was a very well-timed display of ‘accidental’ magic,” Harry commented sourly, unselfconsciously alluring even now, still clad in vines and nothing else. He had his arms crossed defensively over his chest, but they only drew attention to the small leaves covering his nipples. His previously laughter-lit eyes were now dark with accusation, but his feyness, his otherworldliness remained, in the elfin cant of his hip and in the vulnerable set of his jaw. He was standing near enough for Voldemort to catch his scent, a scent of pine needles and clover and absolute, unadulterated magic.
Voldemort inhaled deeply. “I would like to request a lap dance.”
“Request? You practically threatened me by holding some random wizard hostage.”
“Yes?” Voldemort tilted his head. “And?”
Harry sighed, somehow both courteous and put-upon, like a harried stripper having to pretend to cooperate with a bullying customer. But the twitch of Harry’s wand-hand gave him away. The lad was terrified. Brave, but terrified. Because he would do this—he had to do this—just as Voldemort had known he would. Securing the elusive Voldemort himself as a client was a tactical advantage that Harry could not waste. The Order depended on it. The wizarding world, if Dumbledore’s propaganda was to believed, depended on it.
“Come along, then,” Harry said archly, pulling on his cavalier stripper persona like the disguise it was. He set off for a curtained cubicle with his hips swaying hypnotically, not bothering to check if Voldemort was following him.
But of course Voldemort followed him, because the view was beautiful.