Serpentes by xErised

Setting the Stage

Bad coffee, a smirking Kingsley Shacklebolt and... Malfoy — never a good start to a Monday morning.

Harry gulps his tepid coffee and swallows thickly. Wincing from the aftertaste, Harry stares at the picture of Draco Malfoy on the Ministry file — Malfoy's mug shot, taken during his sentencing to Azkaban after the War: dishevelled blond hair, defeated grey eyes, healed-over wounds knitted on his cheek, and the black spider's scrawl of Azkaban's serial number tattooed on the right side of his neck. Harry had testified for both Narcissa and Draco Malfoy during the Trials two years ago, reducing Malfoy's sentence to a mere month and releasing Narcissa from custody. Ever since then, he hasn't heard anything about either Malfoy.

Until now.

"Good morning," Kingsley greets. Harry looks up from the file and nods at Kingsley. Beside Harry, Parvati Patil cranes her head over her colleague and shoots a nervous glance at the Gaboon viper seated on the other side of Harry.

The snake catches her eye and hisses. "Do my dashing good looks still make your friend uneasy? Perhaps she would find my other side more welcoming." With that, he slides in a circle on the table, draws himself to full height and poses, throwing Parvati a flirtatious wink.

"I've told you that she's afraid of snakes. Now play nice, won't you?" Harry replies, remembering Parvati's cobra Boggart in their third year of Hogwarts. She's now staring straight ahead at Kingsley, but Harry notices her knuckles clenching around her quill.

The snake deflates and sighs rather tragically, "Oh, how we snakes are always misunderstood...", earning a shush from Harry.

"Draco Malfoy," Kingsley announces, gesturing to the case files in front of both Aurors. "Owner of Serpentes, an exclusive gay dance club in London that doubles as headquarters of the snake trafficking ring we've been investigating for the past few months. Parvati's research and Harry's interviews with Bacon have finally led us here."

The snake called Bacon raises his head when they all turn to look at him.

Expensive, rare and highly dangerous snakes — both pure and mixed-blood — are being poached as part of an international reptile trafficking ring. Not only are the snakes themselves being traded, snake parts such as venom, fangs and eggs are being sold illegally, usually involving the potion trafficking circles. The Auror office is currently working with the Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures on this case.

Although Harry and Parvati weren't able to catch any criminals on their last raid, they did manage to snag one of the mixed-blood snakes. Bacon couldn't read and understand English, but he told Harry what he knew — for a price, of course.

"Your name, along with the Lord of the Snakes, descendant of the great Salazar Slytherin, is famed amongst our kind. How fitting that I would be rescued by you, vanquisher of the owner of Nagini, whose name also passes down in our legends! It would be an honour to fight alongside you!"

"I... er... really just want some information..."

"Hmm... if that's the case, I shall only give you what you desire if you promise to take me in. I have nowhere to go now; my home is far, far away from here. Don't look so aghast, I have powers that would be useful to your line of work."

Bacon had kept his word. His mixed blood — half-Runespoor, half-Gaboon viper (the Muggle blood had suppressed the three heads and conspicuous colouring of a Runespoor) — had gifted the grey snake with the ability to camouflage himself flawlessly in darkness, proving himself a valuable asset in stealth and tracking missions. Since he was an ambush predator, many a time Bacon could be found lying alert, motionless, coiled and concealed for hours on the dashboard of a car while Harry napped in the back seat.

"I've also got the highest venom yield out of all snakes," Bacon had boasted, grinning at Harry with a mischievous flash of long fang. "Don't worry, I promise I won't bite."

Harry didn't find it so bad hanging around a 1.3 metres-long venomous snake with a snarky, sarcastic attitude. Bacon made for amusing company — in fact, it kinda reminded Harry of someone from school...

Harry pulls himself back to the here and now, his eyes skimming over the photograph of Malfoy as he turns to a page detailing information about Serpentes. He can't believe that the stolen snakes were partnered with strippers because these were very dangerous animals — Bacon had told them about snakes with Ashwinder heritage that could spit fire; a female snake with Basilisk blood that could paralyze people for a short amount of time if she wanted to-

"She was a total babe, though. Dangerous but sexy as hell…"

Harry had prudently left out this part when he was translating the conversation for Parvati.

"It's legal to use snakes in entertainment. When I ran a check on the club's permits, however, there were a few problems…" Parvati trails off and flips through a folder of documents. "Based on the paperwork, they're cleared to use only Muggle snakes, but according to Bacon, they're using these magical snakes too. Apparently no one in Magical Creatures followed up," Parvati says, frowning. She turns to Harry. "Have you heard about Serpentes before?"

Harry shakes his head. It's not a secret that Harry is gay — he doesn't go around announcing it to everyone, of course, but Kingsley, Parvati and his close friends knew and were completely fine with it.

"We'll have to be careful because it's headquarters, so you're posted undercover this time round," Kingsley says, and once again Harry spots that smirk twitching on his lips.

Harry nods. "I'll ask around at the clubs tonight, see if I can get an invitation or something."

"No need for that," Kingsley tosses a bag at Harry. Harry pulls out a full-length photograph of a tall and seriously good-looking young man with messy black hair and cheerful blue eyes. Harry notices a sculpted physique; all broad shoulders and bulging biceps. The rest of him looks pretty good too, Harry thinks, sending an appreciative gaze down the man's lower body.

Harry puts the picture away and extracts a container of Polyjuice pills from the bag. Unlike the liquid Polyjuice that Harry had first been accustomed to in his teens, the Ministry had developed a more sophisticated form to be used exclusively by its Aurors — pills that lasted for different time durations, ranging from half an hour to twelve hours.

Kingsley clears his throat. "Serpentesis holding auditions for new strippers this Friday night."

Harry looks at the photograph, to the Polyjuice pills, and back to the photograph again.

He goes very still.

"Kingsley, no."

"Kingsley yes," Kingsley says around a grin, while Parvati tries very hard not to burst out laughing.

"I can't dance!" Harry protests, and it's true. Even though he does frequent clubs, he never tries to dance, knowing that he'll probably look like a floppy wet fish. "Just give me something else. How about a... a book-keeper?!"

"Harry, you have no idea what a book-keeper does."

"'Course I do! They... uh... keep books and stuff. Or... how about a cleaner?" Harry pleads.

"A cleaner might not have access to the snakes, and it's much easier to infiltrate the club and obtain information as a stripper."

Parvati bites her lip before jumping in.

"We would have asked you first, but you were on holiday with Ron and Hermione last week. You know how I'm like when we're this close to breaking a case. I hung around outside the club last Thursday night and I heard some of them talking about the auditions. The deadline for applications was last Saturday. I talked it over with Kingsley, and we couldn't see any other way," Parvati explains in a rather apologetic air. She gestures to the photograph. "I found him at the Muggle airport boarding a plane for Southeast Asia. Asked him to pose for a photo, got enough hairs and sent him on his way."

"We don't know if there'll be other opportunities like this," Kingsley adds. Harry exhales heavily, knowing that it's true. Once again, Harry finds his gaze wandering to the picture of Malfoy.

So... he's going to be stripping at Malfoy's club.

This could be interesting.

"I understand," Harry says, injecting a reassuring note in his words even though he doesn't feel reassured at all.

"Spend the next few days clearing the paperwork on your remaining cases. I won't be expecting you in the office when you're undercover, since Dan Felton" — Kingsley indicates the photo with his chin (Harry knows that the name is as genuine as his dancing skills) — "will be busy undercover, or should I say... uncovering at night."

Both Parvati and Harry groan at his pun as they pack up their things and shuffle out of the room, Bacon slithering beside Harry.

"Oh, and Harry?"

Harry turns back to Kingsley, who winks at him before speaking.

"Don't forget to practise. Who knows, you might be good enough to land a spot in the department's talent show this Christmas."

Surprisingly, Serpentes isn't located anywhere in Wizarding London; instead, it's sandwiched unobtrusively between a Boots pharmacy and a Starbucks in a rather quiet street near Vauxhall. The Muggle passers-by don't even look twice at the club.

Harry feels Bacon's sinuous body clench briefly around his arm, shoulder and upper back before he slides away, almost collapsing on the ground.

"I still can't get used to this... Apparation. Even the fireplace is better," Bacon gasps and glides to the wall, where he lies hidden in the shadow of the adjacent dumpster. If Harry looks hard enough, he can see the snake's triangular head, tapering into a narrow neck. Bacon's entire body is a sleek gun-metal grey, with the exception of a triangular patch of dark blue-black below each eye. A small distinctive pair of pointy horns protrude from his snout — for some reason, this is Harry's favourite feature about him.

"I'll meet you back here in an hour," Harry says. In response, the snake flicks his tongue out to smell the air around them. They're skulking about in an alleyway opposite Serpentes. Harry whips out his Invisibility Cloak, disappears under it and makes his way towards the club. He catches a glimmer of diamond-like scales as Bacon moves together with him before disappearing momentarily under a parked car and re-emerging a short distance away from Harry. The snake turns towards the back of the club while Harry advances towards the front.

The entire exterior of Serpentes is black, except for the letters in royal purple spelling out Serpentes, with the S stylised similarly to the S in Slytherin House. There are no windows for Harry to peer into and no sound that he can hear. He waits by the doors, and it isn't long before a well-dressed gentleman approaches the entrance. Harry stays close to his back, ducks in after him…

…and manages to step back just in time when two bouncers immediately flank the guest, requesting identification. "You'd think that you'd recognise me by now, since I come here almost every night," the gentleman harrumphs as he brandishes a thick black card with the purple stylised S embossed on it.

"Gotta follow protocol," one of the bouncers grunts, tapping his wand to the card. The other bouncer frowns at the door. He advances towards Harry, who knocks against the gentleman to escape to the sides.

"There's no need to push me, please," the gentleman bites out.

"Sorry. I thought the door..." the second bouncer trails off, confused. Harry slinks towards the empty cloak-room where he stows the Cloak away in his pocket. He looks at his Glamoured reflection in a mirror — neat mousy-brown hair, dull brown eyes, thin lips, unremarkable Muggle clothes — he looks as nondescript and forgettable as the club's exterior. Satisfied with his appearance, Harry starts the familiar process of reconnaissance.

This isn't like any gay club he's visited — Harry's all too used to the dizzying technicolour strobe lights illuminating the bumping and grinding of half-naked bodies on the dance floor; glitter raining down on the heaving masses that twirl on linoleum floors stained, sticky and sweet because of spilt alcohol — but this... this is posh. But Harry shouldn't be surprised — it's Malfoy's club, after all.

Harry's shoes step on thick and cream-coloured carpet as he walks towards the stage. Circular red lamps drift on top of the stage, throwing flattering light on the three strippers. He sits on one of the black leather chairs, flips half-heartedly at the menu and places it back on its stand. Beneath the thumping music — the only thing that Serpenteshas in common with the other clubs — Harry can detect a thrum of... anticipation in the air, as if the audience is waiting for something.

Harry casually scopes the clientele that Serpentes attracts. He's astonished when he recognises some of them — a handful of politicians that are married; Quidditch players that Harry didn't even know were gay; and some businessmen that Harry knew by face but not by name. Harry looks towards the stage and squints at the snakes wrapped around the strippers. He recognises all three snakes, according to Bacon's descriptions and what the Aurors have seen during their previous raids.

When the strippers finish their set, Harry gets up and threads his way to where they step off the stage. He can only proceed a few steps along the narrow corridor when he sees a pair of bouncers lurking around a corner. The Invisibility Cloak presses against his thigh, and he's just about to use it when he hears a door open and footsteps drawing closer. He hurries back to the main area and watches as a fresh group of strippers emerge, flanked by the bouncers, who stand guard at the spot where Harry stood mere seconds ago. Harry spots another pair of bouncers and strippers crossing the adjacent walkway.

Security's tight here.

Careful to stick to the perimeter of the crowd, Harry explores the rest of the club — the loos; a quieter area where patrons can order drinks and chat, and a smaller, more private room (currently cordoned off) with a stage. He does another sweep of the club, this time discreetly casting charms that check for concealment, frustrated when he turns up short. Compared to the other clubs, the public area of Serpentesis much smaller.

He saves the bar for his last stop — God, even the bartender is fit as hell here. Someone calls out the bartender's name and orders a shamelessly checks out Jacob, the sandy-blond, half-naked bartender while he works his craft, producing a fizzy, frothy lime-green concoction garnished with cherries spiralled with gold flakes. Jacob flicks his wrist towards the customer, and the drink slowly levitates and starts to float…

…towards Draco Malfoy, who raises the glass, nods at Jacob and turns back to another man.

Harry is not prepared for this assault of Malfoy-related memories and emotions. It's as if his mind is working on rewind — Malfoy's pale, drawn face during the Trials; his screams echoing in Harry's ear as Fiendfyre licks their heels; Harry's own hands coming away with Malfoy's blood, which trickles down and mixes with the water on the bathroom floor... and so many more...

Harry drops his gaze, careful to not get caught staring. He grabs a napkin from the holder and rubs at a spot on the table, taking the chance to centre himself. It's been two years, and he's here, undercover for work. Harry takes a deep breath and pulls his professionalism front and centre.

"Let me get that," Jacob reaches over, wipes the mahogany counter down and grins at Harry. "Hey, you're new! What can I get for you tonight?"

"Ogden's, please," Harry smiles. Jacob bustles back to his arsenal of alcohol and Harry shifts his attention back to Malfoy. Malfoy's engrossed in a serious conversation with his companion, judging by the way he's gnawing on a knuckle and frowning. He's wearing a dark-blue collared shirt with the sleeves folded up to his forearms, revealing his Dark Mark. Malfoy pushes blond hair away from his neck and Harry spots the Azkaban serial number printed across his pale skin. Malfoy picks up his drink, long fingers twirling the stem of the glass. Harry watches as Malfoy lets the cherry rest briefly against his lips before popping it in his mouth.

Harry wonders why he can't look away from Malfoy's throat.

"And no, Draco's not dancing tonight, if you're wondering," Jacob's voice jolts Harry out of his thoughts — no, he was definitely not having inappropriately sexy thoughts about Malfoy, of all people — "You're not the first to look at him like that," Jacob pushes the Firewhiskey towards Harry and winks at him. He waves Harry's proffered Galleons away. "First drink's on the house!"

Harry takes a pull of Firewhiskey.

"So this... Draco... he's a pretty popular dancer?" Harry asks casually. Draco's name feels strange, almost dangerous on his tongue. Harry's also surprised that Malfoy's a stripper even though he owns the place.

"Yep. One of the best we've got. Actually... one of the best in the business," Jacob offers, and Harry thanks his lucky stars for fit and chatty bartenders.

"Why isn't he dancing tonight, then?"

"He's not working this week — something to do with family, I reckon, but he did drop by two days ago," Jacob rests an elbow on the bar, his body angled towards Malfoy. "He's prickly and sharp when you first get to know him, but he's a pretty decent bloke to work for. Don't get him drunk, though, he's a dreadful drunk," Jacob laughs, shaking his head, but the tone of affection in his voice is apparent.

They watch the dancers for a while.

"They don't have what Draco has though. The crowd just eats up his bad-boy stunt," Jacob says.

"What d'you mean?"

"You can't miss his Dark Mark and Azkaban number when he dances. Uses them to his advantage, sets him apart from the other strippers. He's made some mistakes in his past, but he's paid dearly for them," Jacob pauses. "Oh, but why am I describing his dancing to you? Come back and watch him! He's doing his first set of the week on Friday night, right after the auditions."

The auditions.

Harry takes an extremely long gulp of Firewhiskey.

"The... auditions?" Harry asks, feeling a bit of bravado seep into him.

"Stripper auditions! It's gonna be a great show," Jacob grins, then lowers his voice. "Just between you and me, there's one of 'em worth watching — tall with messy black hair, gorgeous blue eyes, amazing body. I could just lick ice-cream off his abs, ya know what I mean? I can't really remember his name, one of those single-syllable names, I think. We've all got our eye on him."

"We?" Harry croaks, the remnants of said bravado fleeing entirely when he realises that Jacob's talking about him, or rather, him in Dan's skin.

"Well, of course he'll be dancing for the crowd!" Jacob exclaims, looking surprised. "Draco and Matt," — he indicates the man with red hair talking to Malfoy — "will be the judges. We're all very eager to see this mystery man perform. If he dances as good as he looks, then..." Jacob fans himself theatrically and smirks at Harry, before his expression dissolves into one of concern.

"You don't look too well. D'you want some water?"

"No! I just gotta… go. It's late," Harry gulps down whatever's left of his Firewhiskey.

Jacob looks at his watch. "It's only eleven! You should stay 'til midnight. The club looks and feels really different after twelve."

"No, I really gotta-" Harry's pushing away from the counter, the stool scraping against the floor. He stands, and he's not exactly sure why he's feeling faint; is it because he drank on a half-empty stomach, or is it because in less than four days, he's supposed to go up on that stage with those lights and snakes and all the people watching him strip with Draco Malfoy assessing his non-existent dancing skills so he can get a job at a strip club, bloody hell-

This is not in his Auror contract.

"Come back soon, then. Hey, what did you say your name was?"

"I didn't," Harry throws over his shoulder as he stumbles away from the bar and hurries out of the club. Grateful for the fresh air and cessation of thumping music, he goes back to the alleyway to meet Bacon.

"You alright?" Bacon asks at once. Harry nods, closes his eyes to recover his equilibrium and lets the snake crawl up his body so they can Apparate home.

Harry lets Bacon disembark, then he goes to the kitchen, pours himself a glass of water and drinks deeply. Feeling much better, Harry enters his bedroom where Bacon is already coiled up beside a sheaf of parchment on his table. Harry sits down, loads his quill with ink and starts to draw a map of the club's interior. When he's done, he explains it to Bacon, who adds his own embellishments to the map.

"There are many areas that are well-guarded, but these two rooms are especially suspicious," Bacon points out. Harry labels them with a question mark. "I spent half the time hunting for adjacent pipes or windows to allow me access, but every possible opening is sealed except for the main doors." Bacon jabs his tail at one of the two rooms. "The snakes are kept here. But I do not know if it's much use even if you talk to them — they are drugged and kept asleep most of the time when they're not on stage."

"How about you go undercover too?"

Bacon shakes his large triangular head. "I cannot pretend to be one of them. You rescued me before they could brand me with a number" — another set of serial numbers pressed on pale skin flashes in Harry's mind — "so they'll know that I didn't enter by the official channels. Even if I let them catch me, they might ship me off to somewhere else instead."

Bacon flicks his tongue at the other room. "But we can work on this. Once you become a stripper, you'll have a lot more access to the back areas. We might find other useful clues then."

"We're back to that again, huh?" Harry says, dredging up a watery smile. He locks the map up and takes out the bag of Polyjuice pills, with Bacon practically bouncing up and down with excitement by his side. Harry strips down to his underwear, fishes out a half-an-hour pill and swallows it, chasing it down with water. It's not long before the transformation is complete.

"Well?" Harry asks, tugging off his glasses and splaying his arms out in front of the snake. Bacon has stopped bouncing and is gaping openly at Harry. He hurries over to the mirror. When he sees his own reflection, his expression is similar to Bacon's.

"You are... as what you bipeds say... fit," the snake says, nodding his head in approval.

"Not just fit. I'm bloody fit. Bloody hell," Harry whispers with echoing disbelief. He can't keep his eyes away from the mirror as he turns this new body slowly in a circle. Harry runs a hand through Dan Felton's scrawls of messy black hair not unlike Harry's original hair, but the similarities stop there. Dan's tall — roughly 1.9 metres — with eyes the shade of bright periwinkle-blue. Harry tries a smile on for size; straight, white teeth flash behind full pink lips and laugh lines appear at the corners of his eyes. His nose is longer too, Harry notices as he rubs his face with his large hands.

"Would it not help your love life immensely to make your Polyjuice form more... ah... permanent?" Bacon asks delicately.

Harry glares at him.

Harry turns back to his body and runs his palm from his neck down to the broad shoulders, his biceps — he clenches his hand into a fist and feels the muscles jump underneath his touch — down to his abs. His fingers graze the trail of dark hair leading down to his pants and he pauses, his face red (Dan apparently blushes very easily). Harry opens the waistband and quickly closes it, his blush deepening even further — yep, bigger, definitely bigger.

"When you're done checking yourself out, could we get on with it?" Bacon urges, uncoiling his tail and pushing Harry's iPod into his hand. "You look terrific, but you're going to have to dance!"

With a few jabs on his iPod — even the device feels smaller in Harry's hands — the bedroom is filled with generic club music. Bacon is already bobbing his head to the beat, no doubt feeling the vibrations from the speakers. Harry tries to follow his lead, swinging his hands and legs, but he can't help feeling like an Erumpent trying to do ballet. It's going to take some time to get used to this body. Bacon doesn't even wait for the chorus to begin before he stops the music.

"Come on, get on me. I gotta practise with a snake," Harry grumps, sticking an arm out.

Bacon looks horrified.

"No way! You can't even dance without a snake!" Upon catching the thunderous expression on Harry's face, Bacon immediately comes closer to Harry, his tone softening. "Harry, you're supposed to be dancing, but you look like you're having a fit. This isn't surprising, of course, seeing how you humans stomp around with rubbish posture, clumsy feet and absolutely no finesse at all." Bacon wrinkles his snout with distaste and draws himself up to his full height. "There is no other time when you need my help the most. I shall be..." — he tosses his head to the side dramatically — "your dancing teacher."

Harry snorts. "Last time I checked, you don't even have legs."

"But that is a mere technicality! You forget that I know exactly what they want. You'll be dancing with a snake, and what best to have a snake as a coach! When you've improved, I'll dance with you." An encouraging nod accompanies those words. Harry pinches the bridge of his nose, feeling briefly confused when his fingers don't stumble on his glasses like they usually do.

Bacon slithers back to the iPod and beams at Harry, who's sure that Bacon would have clapped his hands if he had them.

"Shall we begin?"

The waiting is the worst. The last time Harry had felt like this was when he was waiting for his turn to face the dragon in the Triwizard Tournament, and of course luck would have it that once again, he was due to go last.

Harry had watched, with mounting anxiety, as the seven other applicants filed out one by one from the dressing-room — all of them brimming with a quiet confidence that Harry did not have. Harry had realised that his competitors were experienced in stripping when he ran into an obstacle during registration...

"Reference letters? From your previous strip clubs?"

"I... er... left them at a friend's house, and she's overseas..."

"Well, then you better find a way to get them back. No letter, no audition."

And then Draco Malfoy had appeared, fingernail tapping against the glass of his favourite green drink, lips stained with cherry glaze and his eyebrow arched in query while his gaze raked Harry up and down.

"No letters? Well... we can't turn him away now, can we? Many people will be disappointed, and that's not good for business. Let him in. Let's see whether he can dance as well as he looks," Malfoy ordered imperiously, words drizzling from his mouth in a lazy drawl.

Now, Harry paces restlessly along the length of the dressing-room, trying to work off his excess energy.

"Dan Felton?" A man holding a clipboard pokes his head into the room. "When the song ends, go to the stairs behind the stage and we'll cue you in. When you've got your shirt off, we'll send the snake out. Keep the pants on. Good luck," he says and leaves as abruptly as he entered.

Harry looks at himself in one of the many mirrors studding the walls. He looks exactly like how a stripper should, but deep down, he's Harry — Harry that hates being the centre of attention because he'd practically grown up under the public eye; Harry with two left feet at the Yule Ball; Auror Harry who is more at home chasing criminals down dark alleyways dodging curses left and right rather than in the guise of Stripper Dan, who had to, in less than a minute, perform for a raucous crowd of gay men and dance and take his clothes off and most importantly, look good while doing it-

Harry really wishes that the flock of dainty butterflies inside him would just go away.

He cards his fingers through his black hair, making it stick up even more. As he inhales and exhales heavily, Harry can see the rise and fall of his bare chest and flat stomach through his unbuttoned shirt. All of the strippers were given the same clothes to wear — a simple collared white shirt left open and a pair of black pants.

"You're so hot," Harry says to himself loudly in the mirror, seeing not familiar green eyes but eyes of sparkling blue. "You're so hot that someone wants to drip ice-cream on you and lick it all off. Now go out there in front of a horde of horny men and get.. your... kit... off," Harry finishes, punching the air rather weakly.

Bloody hell, that was the most depressing pep talk that Harry's ever heard.

The song playing on stage ends; the ensuing silence echoes like a death knell.

With his heart beating like a frantic creature trying to run away, Harry shambles out of the room, mounts the steps, up the stage, towards the crowd, who greet him with whoops and wolf-whistles louder than they'd given any of the other strippers.

Harry shakily steps up to the spotlight, and it's only then that he realises that this is a far, far cry from practising in his room with Bacon. How could he think that that was good enough for this — there are so many eyes on him, including Bacon's, who lies concealed somewhere in the room. The air's thick with anticipation and excitement, causing the butterflies in Harry's belly to mutate into a herd of stampeding centaurs... and somewhere, he can already hear the promising rise of music filtering through his ears, but he just can't seem to move his body-

And right in the centre of the front row sits Malfoy, sharing a table with Matt the redhead. Harry sees Malfoy narrow his eyes, throw his napkin down on the table, as if he's thinking waste of my time, knew he couldn't be that good- and cross his arms, fingers tapping on his upper arm impatiently.

"Come on, Dan, give us what we've all been waiting for! Give us a show!" The presenter encourages, and the crowd cheers in response.

Harry can't stop looking at Malfoy, that sharp, nostalgic flare of competitiveness rearing up in him when Malfoy's lips form that familiar Hogwarts sneer that Harry is so well-acquainted with. Harry wants so much to wipe that stupid, patronising expression off Malfoy's pale pointy face and Harry knows that he's got to win, got to show Malfoy that he's the very best.

"We've got the best music, the best audience, the best dance floor, come on, Dan!" There's a note of panic in the presenter's voice now, and small clusters of said audience begin to murmur amongst themselves.


He's Dan Felton, not Harry Potter. That thought hits him, wham, as hard as the thumping bassline blasting from the speakers.

It's Stripper Dan that's up here, not Auror and Saviour Harry. Cloaked in this web of anonymity, Harry feels the tight knot of anxiety and fear in his stomach loosening. He's Dan Felton and he's free to do anything he wants.

He's free.

New-found confidence blossoms in Harry, galvanising him into action. Harry starts to dance; small movements at first to warm up — gentle shoulder and hip rolls, but that's enough to reclaim the flagging attention of the crowd. The presenter shouts his name and that only emboldens Harry even more — he snaps his fingers, throws his arms high up in the air, slightly bends his knees to exaggerate his rolling hips as they move in smooth circles to the beat of the music. Harry traces his fingers down the side of his face... his throat... right in the middle of his chest, his wandering fingers teasing the crowd by pushing apart half of his shirt, revealing the left side of his bare chest and shoulder — God, Harry can hardly believe that he has it in him to drive the audience this wild — then his hand, with his fingers pointing southward, is ghosting down his abdomen... his abs... going down even more, tips of his fingers resting on the waistband of his pants.

Harry chances a look at Malfoy, whose face is a jigsaw. But he's definitely watching Harry now, and that thought — of having Malfoy's full, undivided attention on his body as he dances and gyrates and moves and thrusts to a room-full of roaring, hot-blooded men — is driving Harry wild.

Feeling especially cheeky, Harry winks at Malfoy and drags his tongue slowly across the bottom of his upper lip, all the while locking eyes with Malfoy. Harry feels a hot surge of annoyance as Malfoy's face doesn't change. Snarling under his breath, Harry strides across the stage, his steps matching the rhythm of the song. The music's picking up now, both in volume and speed, and Harry syncs himself to the change — head thrown back and nodding to the beat, eyes closed, fingers buried in his messy hair, bottom lip popping out between teeth in a playful pout, wandering palms pressed against hips moving with increased urgency, almost of their own accord — this is what Bacon means to give up, surrender to the music and let his body take over.

This is what it means to be free.

The shirt barely hangs off Harry as he grinds his way back towards Malfoy.

"Take it off already, Dan!" Someone shouts from the crowd, and Harry grins predatorily at Malfoy.

Poker faces like that should be illegal, Harry frowns when the other man's face barely flickers, although grey eyes tail Harry's every movement. Harry hooks his thumbs on the waistband of his pants, looks towards his left shoulder and rotates it, letting the left side of his shirt fall down to his elbow, exposing tan skin and muscular arms. Harry does the same on the other side, turns his wrists behind his back to break free of the shirt, twirls it hard over his head and-

-throws it right smack into Malfoy's face.

There's a stunned silence. Uneasiness starts to gather in Harry, but not for long, because the crowd explodes into a firework of cheers. Harry laughs loudly as his shirt slowly slides off Malfoy's face, which is a picture of utter disbelief. Beside him, Matt hides a guffaw behind his cocktail.

Merlin, all of this, and the snake hasn't even appeared yet.

Harry turns and gives the crowd a good look at his shoulders and well-toned back as he swirls his hips and swings his arms to the music. Since he's facing the back of the stage, Harry sees the snake coming — a boomslang with green scales that shimmer when the light catches them the right way. Needless to say, the boomslang is a highly venomous snake and Harry's dancing falters when he sees the harsh black serial numbers magicked across the snake's neck.

Harry reminds himself not to speak to the snake — his cover will be blown if anyone, especially Malfoy, sees him talking to it; but on further inspection, Harry sees that there's no point — based on the de-fanged boomslang's glazed-over eyes, it's too drugged to respond anyway. Nevertheless, it still winds its way up Harry's body when he extends an arm to it.

The crowd is quieter, waiting and watching to see how Harry would deal with having a snake twisting itself all over his body. Would this challenge mess up an otherwise-perfect audition?

Malfoy's leaning forward on his chair now, an elbow resting on crossed knees while he studies Harry with an intensity that makes Harry's cock twitch. Malfoy taps a finger on pursed cherry-pink lips, deep in concentration. Bacon's words come rushing back to Harry the most important thing is your chemistry with the snake, that's why the club's called Serpentes, after all-

If that's the case, Harry shouldn't have a problem at all.

Grinning confidently and with barely a flicker of hesitation and apprehension in his movements and facial expression, Harry moves his body in slow, sinuous strokes; lazily painting an infinity sign with his hips to the music, which had slowed when the snake appeared. Most of the snake's body is coiled around Harry's arm, and he holds the snake up to his own face, leaning in to it, the tip of his tongue peeking out between his teeth as the snake's tongue flicks out at the exact same moment.

The snake bobs its head, matching the hypnotic sway of Harry's body while it meanders down Harry's body, following the same path that Harry's own hands had taken just minutes ago. Harry tosses his head back and closes his eyes, displaying his fearlessness of the snake while he rocks his body side to side, gently encouraging the snake along on its way. When the snake finally slides off entirely, the music gradually fades away.

A pause, and then the audience erupts into raucous shouts of approval and applause. Matt's clapping, but Malfoy isn't; instead, the side of his mouth curves up slightly, throwing Harry a lingering, appreciative look under half-lidded eyes. Malfoy fishes a cherry from his cocktail, pops it into his mouth and sucks very pointedly on it.

With his face suddenly engulfed in a hot blush, Harry bows and practically runs off the stage back to the dressing-room, where he pulls on proper clothes. His ears are still ringing from the music and excitement's still fizzing in his bloodstream as if someone's popped open a bottle of champagne in him.

I felt free.

Harry knows he nailed it, and this is proven when Malfoy and Matt enter the room a mere fifteen minutes later.

"Matthew Taylor, choreographer," Matt introduces himself, and Harry grasps his hand.

"Draco Malfoy," Malfoy says, stretching a hand out, and Harry suddenly thinks of my name's Malfoy, Draco Malfoy, you don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort-

A heartbeat passes, Malfoy frowns, and Harry quickly shakes Malfoy's hand. He notices that Malfoy didn't bother introducing himself as the owner, as if Harry was supposed to know that naturally.

"You're hired," Matt says straight off the bat. "Pretty foregone conclusion, judging from the crowd. Rocky start, but I reckon it was just nerves. Draco told me that you said you didn't bring your references, but... it was your first time stripping, wasn't it?"

Harry looks away. "Yeah. Does this disqualify me?"

"Usually we require references, but after watching you with the snake..." Matt smiles. "You dance... almost as if you can talk to it. You're a natural with them — half of the other applicants could barely look at their snakes and the others treated them as they were dead weight. You danced with the snake, and that's exactly what we're looking for." Matt glances briefly at Harry's body. "That's some pretty decent dancing for your first try, but you'll need to be better. That won't be a problem, we'll sort you out. Right, follow me, and we're going to settle the paperwork — non-disclosure things, payment and the such."

Matt leaves, and Harry's about to follow him, but Malfoy reaches over and grabs him by the wrist, pulling him close and he smells just like cherries and vanilla, reminding Harry of rich, decadent dessert-

"I'll be dancing later, if you'd like to watch," Malfoy says huskily.

Harry gulps. "Yeah. I'd... I'd love to watch you."

Malfoy smirks, satisfied, and leans in even closer. In response, a thrum of pleasure shivers down Harry's spine. "Welcome to Serpentes," Malfoy murmurs, his voice as light as silk, fingertips grazing the delta of veins under Harry's wrist.

Harry Potter is now a bona fide stripper.

This is why they say Draco Malfoy's one of the best in the business.

Harry's been turned on ever since Malfoy took off his Slytherin tie and black shirt — God, Harry can almost hear the whisper of silk leaving skin. There's something in the way the other man coordinates every part of his slim body with the sultry music as he slinks with the hypnotising grace of the well-practised — all slicked-back and layered blond hair; sharp collarbones and jutting hips; shoulders thrown back; acres and acres of pale skin interrupted only by Malfoy's Dark Mark, Azkaban serial numbers and a network of healed-over scars on his abdomen — a twinge of guilt slashes through Harry — but Malfoy wears all of these blemishes like a king wearing a jewelled crown.

Not taking his eyes off Malfoy, Harry leans his back against the bar counter, reaches a hand out and gropes around for his pint. His fingers stumble on cool glass, but grabs empty air as his pint crashes down to the floor.

"Sorry!" Harry turns around properly and shoots an apologetic look at Jacob. With a long-suffering, yet good-natured sigh, he repairs the glass and Vanishes the mess. While he goes about preparing a new drink, Harry sneaks a quick glance at the other patrons — they're all watching Malfoy, bottles of alcohol neglected at the bar — one of the men's trying to take a pull from his Firewhiskey but he misses the lip of the bottle entirely, splashing Firewhiskey all over his lap.

"I've got a lot to learn," Harry says, grinning at Jacob when he returns with a fresh pint.

"Don't stress yourself out. He's been doing this for two years. Started out as a stripper, and now? Owns the whole bloody thing. A pretty quick rise up to the top, if you ask me. A bit too quickly," Jacob says. Normally, Harry would have questioned Jacob further about his last comment, but Harry's brain isn't working normally because he's turned his attention back to Malfoy, who's sliding a palm down the left side of his waist, thumb and forefinger pinching the top of his black briefs, pushing them down just a few inches…

Malfoy unleashes a heartbreaker smile, his full strawberry-pink mouth pouting as he wiggles a finger teasingly, as if rebuking the crowd. A groan of disappointment rings out from the audience; Malfoy chuckles while he tugs his briefs back up lips like an angel but hips like a porn star-, pale lashes batting in front of grey eyes smouldering hot and midnight sultry.

Malfoy abruptly drops to his knees, running his hands all over himself, his hips still swirling in figure eights. Harry almost chokes on his beer as the head of a black mamba coils up Malfoy's right thigh. It's an amazing sight — the stark contrast of the entirely black snake spiralling up Malfoy's pale half-naked body, its head disappearing periodically behind Malfoy's back as it begins to twists itself continuously around Malfoy's trunk and shoulders. Malfoy performs a few body waves, urging the snake on.

He turns his head to the side, and the snake's tongue flicks towards his Azkaban tattoo once before continuing its descent, but now down to Malfoy's left arm, coiling around it exactly just like how the snake in the Dark Mark displays itself. He shoots the crowd a feral grin which melts into a moan when the black mamba slithers down to his thighs and makes its way back up, pausing momentarily when Malfoy stands up. It settles heavily across Malfoy's outstretched arms, shoulders and neck; at last, the music fades, both snake and man bow to thunderous whoops and disappear back-stage.

Dazed, Harry closes his eyes briefly and swivels his stool to face the bar. As he nurses his pint, he feels his surroundings swimming back into focus, world clicking back into normalcy as though he has just been released from a long spell. He polishes off his beer and nods to Jacob, who winks back at him before busying himself with fresh orders.

Harry goes to the loo and splashes cold water on his face, trying to steady his thumping heart. He's here on Auror business, Harry reminds himself sternly, chasing all Inappropriate Malfoy Thoughts away. No matter how good Malfoy looks on the dance floor, he is still a suspect under investigation.

Harry could not get involved.


Serpentes is a three-chaptered fic, with updates every Friday.