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PROLOGUE

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More than anything, Harry yearned for an ordinary life, but, with no Muggle diploma and a six-month old daughter depending on him, his options were limited. Truthfully, this wasn't the worst place he could work and so long as he continued to entice the customers, the management didn't ask any questions.

Tucked in the quietest corner of the cluttered dressing room, Harry finished brushing his long raven hair and carefully settled the headpiece so that the large artificial emerald dangled in the precise position to obscure his identifiable lightening bolt scar in a way plain makeup could not.

He glanced down into the small port-a-crib nestled securely between his dressing table and the corner; the quiescent infant was following the activity with her sleepy emerald eyes. It was overly warm in the dressing room so she was dressed only in an indigo onesie decorated with random yellow ducks. Harry leaned down and stroked her blonde hair; she let out a huge yawn.

"Past your bedtime, Rose."

There was a slight wave of cooler air as another one of the dancers slipped out of the dressing room door, a slight judder to his step. Harry slipped his feet into his flat, jeweled sandals; he never understood how anyone could dance wearing five-inch stilettos.

Harry carefully adjusted his last veil, kohl smudged emerald eyes accentuated the unearthly beauty of his reflection. He glanced at his sleeping daughter, glad she was not old enough to understand how he earned money to support them. With feline grace, he exited the dressing room, a final glance at his sleeping daughter.

Mark, one of the club's bouncers, took one last look around the bar area before slipping backstage for his dinner break. He stepped aside as the next dancer slipped beside him, waiting for the cue to go on. Mark smiled in greeting to the little figure draped head to foot in veils; the bright green eyes met his and nervously glanced toward the stage.

Laughter from the audience drifted toward them. Just off-stage Harry waited for the comedian to finish. Mark gently massaged the tension from the slight dancer's shoulders; he liked Harry, even if he was a bit of a kittle.

"You'll do fine, Em, You always do."

Mark was a Squib; he knew who and what Harry was. He was also probably the only person in the club to understand the significance of the small serpent tattoo Harry wore low on his hip.

With a final round of applause, the comedian exited the stage. Mark squeezed Harry's shoulder one last time.

"I'm on break, beautiful," he said. "I'll watch after Rosie for you."

"Thank you," Harry whispered, gliding toward the stage. The first strains of vaguely Arabian music began; it was his cue to go on.




Lucius paid the Muggle cabdriver as he stepped onto the pavement, which shimmered in the warmth of the late July heat-wave. Ignoring the cabdriver's smirk, the elegant white blond wizard stepped into an air-conditioned "Gentleman's Club", the flickering neon sign reading "Fiddlestick" — the "s" long since burned out.

From a darkened corner, he watched the dancers and the customers. During the day and early evening, Fiddlesticks catered to the businessman desiring a little cheesecake with his three-martini lunch — scantily clad waitresses and female strippers — but late at night, the clientele changed and tastes shifted to pretty boys.

Lucius sipped at his top-shelf scotch. He looked over the contents of a slim manila envelope again, looking up as a comedian took the stage. Unlike the nefarious clubs littering Knockturn Alley, this establishment was rather tasteful. He assumed it was a front for prostitution and other vices, but the additional "services" were well hidden.

He examined the waiters and waitresses that seemed to zip through the crowd wearing clothing that left little to the imagination; there was nothing familiar in their faces. Lucius hated being among Muggles and he hoped that his search was ending soon. Tucking several photographs back into the envelope, he scanned the room again; the Muggle private investigator he had hired assured him he would find his quarry here.

He leaned back, listening to the comedian tell his off-color jokes, perplexed at the crowd's laughter. He pushed away the complimentary bowl of snacks in distain; he was unfamiliar with Muggle snack foods and whatever the bowl contained, it was liberally dowsed in salt. Obviously designed to sell more beverages, he thought as the comedian mercifully left the stage.

The music seemed to amplify in his ears as a slender dancer took center stage. The crowd applauded and several overly familiar catcalls rang out. Covered head to toe in green and blue silk; it was impossible to tell the dancer's sex. But the clever deception was lost on Lucius; he would know that graceful beauty anywhere.

To the delight of the crowd, Harry performed a flawless rendition of "The Dance of the Veils". The cheers grew lewder as each square of silk fluttered away until the final piece was dropped, revealing the delicious body wearing barely a scrap.

Lucius' face was a mask, concealing his growing anger. Harry exited the stage, lecherous men attempting to grope him as they tucked pound notes into his thong.

Harry circulated the room, clutching his discarded veils as inadequate protection. He gracefully declined offers of a drink, a private performance or a quick fuck. His face frozen in a staged smile, the slight wizard passed so closely that Lucius could have touched him. It was with a sense of relief when Harry finally slipped through the doors leading back stage.

"Why was his runaway pet in a place like this?" Lucius thought in horror.




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