1. Sydney, Australia
“I hate you,” Harry said.
Ron smacked him on the shoulder. Their eyes met and Harry was not amused to find that instead of the remorse a good mate should feel after subjecting one’s best friend to humiliation, said mate was instead well pleased with himself.
“Yep,” said Ron. He beamed at Harry and Harry hated him even more for being so ridiculously photogenic. What a twat. Maybe if Harry was that photogenic he could’ve found a nice bloke on his own by now. “But you know what’ll comfort me in the long, lonely nights I’ll spend with Hermione watching your suffering on our magicbox?”
Harry grit his teeth. When he didn’t answer, Ron prodded him in the shoulder, and Harry managed to get out, “What.”
“It’ll be the fact that I’ll be too busy laughing my arse off over how fucking hilarious this is going to be.”
“I hate you,” Harry repeated. “I thought we were friends.”
“After this if you still want to be I’m totally down for it,” Ron said, still grinning. “What’s that they say? If your friendship can survive one party signing the other up for a magivised dating programme, it can survive anything.”
“No one’s ever said that before you,” said Harry.
Ron shrugged. “They will after this. Off you go, tiger. Make me proud.”
He shoved Harry unceremoniously onto the Portkey platform. Harry stumbled, but didn’t fall. Fuck that man, he thought as he blinked at the bright lights. Fuck him and fuck Harry for thinking he was having a laugh when he said last month that he’d sent an owl in with Harry’s name for the inaugural series of the very unfortunately named Stag Shag Show. He was a twenty-six-year-old man; he shouldn’t have to suffer indignities like this anymore.
Harry considered not touching the Portkey, letting it activate without him there. He’d miss his connection to Sydney and then maybe he could go home and just…Nope. Magical binding contract. Fuck magic, Harry thought. This was the Goblet of Fire all over and he should have known better when Ron asked for his signature on an extra copy of some Auror paperwork. Ron never did paperwork.
“Oh, hey, Harry?”
Harry glared at him.
Ron smiled. “I do hope you find someone you like.”
In the end, Harry always did what was expected of him, and so therefore wrapped his hand around the string of anal beads, and let himself be whisked away to Australia.
He whirled around and found himself facing Luna Lovegood, looking rather like a photonegative with her white-blonde hair set against unusually tanned skin. “Harry!” she called again. “You’re right on time!”
“For my humiliation and misery?” he clarified.
“No, for dating twenty-four men at a time. Well, twenty-three, really.”
Harry was not sure if he wanted to know what that meant, so he didn’t ask. Luna put an arm around his shoulder and led him into the waiting car. He slid inside and found himself face to face with three cameras and stage lightning. He blinked. Luna shoved in beside him, beaming.
“This is your camera crew, Harry,” she said. “Javier Dorado, and of course you know Dennis Creevey and Miles Bletchley.”
Harry tried not to make a face. For a moment, he’d worried about a Slytherin being around to get all his humiliation on camera, and then he remembered that it didn’t matter who was filming it, everyone was going to watch it on one of those damned magicboxes anyway. “Hullo,” he said.
“So pleased to be working with you, Harry!” Dennis said. “Luna’s a great producer. We’re going to have so much fun!”
“Potter, what’s your good side?” asked Miles.
“Not sure I have one,” Harry said.
Miles nodded. “I didn’t think so either, but I didn’t want to be rude.” He turned back to his camera to fiddle with the zoom, leaving Harry staring at him.
“So this is how it’s going to work,” Luna said. “We’ll get you settled into your hotel room, have lunch, and work out some sights you’d like to see. That’s where we’ll have your dates take place. Your contenders will arrive before dinner and you’ll be introduced to them one at a time. Afterwards, there’ll be a cocktail party to open things up and let you get to know them all. Then, you’ll send nine of them home and continue on with the remaining fifteen. And then there’s the prize money, of course, for you and your winner. One million each at the end.”
Harry nodded glumly. “Sounds great.”
“Doesn’t it?” said Luna, excitedly. “If your series goes well, I think we can get renewed for at least three more, so be sure to be exciting.”
They arrived at the hotel and Luna directed the staff to take care of Harry’s bags. Javier, Miles, and Dennis followed, filming, while Luna chattered on about the beauty of Australia and how much fun they were going to have during the next three weeks.
Harry nodded along, but in his head, he was planning a very extreme, very painful, very humiliating revenge.
Harry sighed, shifted on his feet. Javier was looking at him very peculiarly as if he didn’t like the way Harry’s face was showing up on camera. Indeed, Miles sighed heavily and stalked over to him, pressing his hair down to his head with unnecessary force.
“It ain’t goin’!” he called to Javier. Javier scowled and waved Miles back into place. Dennis was hopping around getting hipster angles. He was currently on his back on the ground by Harry’s feet, filming up at him.
Harry felt the whoosh of displaced air before he saw the approaching figure. It was twilight and the wizard was in dark clothing. He dismounted deftly, shot Harry a caddish smile, and flipped his broom up on his shoulder.
“Zeph Harris,” he said, holding out his hand.
Harry swallowed. His throat was suddenly dry. Good Merlin, this bloke was actually here to date him? Harry took his hand and shook. He unconsciously sucked in his stomach, wondering if two hours a day of training for his Auror work was enough for this unnaturally fit bloke.
“Harry Potter,” said Harry. Zeph smiled again, all pearly white teeth, russet hair, and sharp black eyes. Harry was immediately in love. Zeph followed Luna’s direction into the Opera House and Harry turned in time for the next wizard flying down.
“Dune Fraiser,” said the new wizard, and Harry was in love again. Freckles. Freckles everywhere. Harry had a fondness for freckles. They were like comfort food.
The next wizard flew in. Harry gaped as he dismounted. “Michael Corner,” he said, as if Harry could forget. “Ginny’s other gay ex-boyfriend.”
“Are you taking the piss?” Harry asked. He looked around for someone to jump out with a camera and tell him he’d been had, and while Dennis did jump out with a camera, no one yelled ‘You’ve been blatched!’ He shook Michael’s hand on autopilot and Michael gave him a lopsided smile in return.
“Nope. Just wanted a shag and a date. Plus there’s the prize money if I win. Luna convinced me to give it a go.”
Harry wanted to die. Not only was his humiliation going to be public in the abstract sense that while he was globetrotting and being filmed people back in Britain would be watching him flounder around, but now it was going to be public in the very immediate sense that he was going to have to date someone he knew. Someone he knew who’d also probably got off with Ginny eight or ten years ago.
This went on entirely too long. Harry was also in love with the tenth arrival, a big, sturdy man who flew a broom like it was an afterthought and made Harry feel absolutely scrawny when they shook hands. “Reuben Smythe,” he said in a baritone that had Harry half-hard already. “Call me Ruby.”
Any man man enough to go by Ruby was man enough for Harry, he thought as he watched Ruby walk to join the others by Luna. Well, not walk, exactly—prowl, really. God, if the man’s cock was anything like his arms—
And then came number eleven. Number eleven was not a great flyer, Harry could see, even as the wizard approached. Probably not a up for a Quidditch match date, he thought with some disappointment. And then the wizard lowered his hood and Harry saw that he was not a wizard after all. Twenty-three suddenly had meaning.
“Hermione?!” He huffed in exasperation. Of course. His humiliation just wouldn’t be complete without one of his besties here to chaperone. No doubt Ron set this all up, the fucking wanker.
Hermione pursed her lips, looking extremely unrepentant. “Yes, well. I was so angry with Ron when I found out he signed you up for this that I decided he ought to get a little surprise, too. And I wanted to give you a safe option in case everyone here turns out to be a fame-seeking creep. And also I wanted to show all of you—” and here she turned and faced each of the cameramen in turn, “—that it’s shameful that all of you would profit off Harry’s discomfort and sit in your living rooms watching your magicboxes and laughing at Harry’s love life as if you’d ever get out here and let yourselves be filmed—and you, Harry!” she said, turning back to him. “Gender and sexuality aren’t black and white and everyone should be more open to the possibility of fluid, natural love.”
Harry’s eyes flicked to the side in desperation. Ron was going to kill him. Miles had set his camera aside and was now performing a gentle Summoning charm on Hermione. She resisted for a moment, but then leaned up to give Harry a peck on the cheek before walking off to join the other wizards, head high.
Harry was in turn introduced to Atlas, Nero, Claudius, Finian, Quill, Martin, Harry Henry (Harry’s life: more mortifying by the moment), Phoenix, Socorro, Felix, Byron, Gregorious, Jesse, Titus, Raul, Gardner, Jake, and Heathcliff. By the grace of Merlin, there was only one contender left to arrive. Harry stared up at the bridge, waiting for the wizard to remove his Disillusionment charm and fly his arse down so they could all get inside, Harry could throw back several beers, and they would be that much closer to the end.
The wizard was taking his bloody time, wasn’t he? Finally, Harry saw a figure appear as the charm was dropped. And then he saw the wizard jumping off the bridge and—Dear god, Harry thought in some desperation, the prospect of dating me has driven this man to suicide—
But then his descent stopped and he looped back up and Harry fell in love for the final time that night because this wizard had just dived off a fucking bridge and mounted his broom a metre from the water. He corkscrewed up, robes trailing behind him like a banner of masculinity. His long pale hair streamed out and Harry had to shift his legs to try to get his dick to lay properly again.
The wizard approached, and Harry fell out of love. It was the most heartbreaking moment of his life.
“Malfoy?” said Harry. He was disappointed, he realized. He’d thought—Merlin, he’d seen this wizard flying and thought of all the races they could have, all the Quidditch matches they could catch, all the lazy Sunday broom rides over to Bristol they could take together, all the times he could lay Harry back on his Firebolt and fuck him thirty metres in the air—
Malfoy smirked. Harry hated him because eight years had done nothing but make him more attractive than ever. His hair was longer than Harry’d ever seen him let it get—down to his shoulders and wispy. His chin was still pointy enough to cause questions at the airport, and his eyes still looked permanently narrowed, but Merlin, those shoulders—that scrawny waist, those slim hips. Harry was not a man with a type, but he hated that Malfoy was fit and attractive anyway.
“What are you doing here?” Harry hissed.
“I thought the point was to win your heart, or did Lovegood misinform me?”
“She did if she said you had a chance at it.”
To Harry’s consternation, this only seemed to please Malfoy, who stepped closer, right into Harry’s personal space. He flipped his broom over his shoulder and reached out with his free hand, trailing his fingers down Harry’s chest.
“Oh, I think we’ll get on just fine, Potter. Just fine.”
Malfoy stepped around him, walking to join Luna and the others.
“Malfoy!” Harry called after him. Malfoy paused, glancing back over his shoulder.
“Why do you think so?”
Malfoy grinned. “Because no one knows how to rile you up like I do.”
Harry took it anyway, glaring. “What the fuck are you doing here, Malfoy? Seriously?”
“Can’t a fellow just want a chance at love?”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “A fellow could, if he weren’t married with an infant.”
Malfoy smirked. “Heard about that, did you? Wasn’t even in the papers. You do keep up with me, don’t you?”
“Malfoy,” Harry growled.
“You don’t keep up with me enough, though,” Malfoy continued. “My father paid Astoria Greengrass to have my heir. She divorced me as soon as she was recovered from labour.”
Harry gave him an incredulous look. “Why are you pure-bloods all so strange?” he wondered. Then, “Wait, why bother even getting married if you were just going to get divorced right after?”
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Scorpius wouldn’t be able to inherit if he were illegitimate, you fuckwit.”
This time, Harry rolled his eyes. “You’re not making a strong case for yourself here.”
Fortunately, Hermione brought over adorably shy and comfortably-freckled Dune then, and Harry didn’t have to talk to Malfoy again. Dune was a good conversationalist, if rather blushy. Harry was charmed by his smile and then by his flexibility when he demonstrated what happened after being forced into ballet during developmental years.
He wasn’t much of a social butterfly, so it was a good thing that all the contestants were desperate for his attention and that Hermione was willing to bring over pre-screened ones as well. By the end of the night, Harry found that he’d almost enjoyed himself. He was a bit fuzzy around the edges when Luna told him it was time to choose the fifteen who would be staying on.
“Tell us how you feel, Harry,” said Luna, leading him off to a side room where he would be allowed to ‘ponder’ his choices. “You’re about to give out your first Snitches to the Seekers of Your Heart. Love is like a Quidditch match, don’t you find?”
“In what way?” he asked.
“Well, many people score points for the team, but only one person decides when the game is over.”
“Um—right,” he said.
“So. You’ve fifteen Snitches here in this bag. Everyone who gets one will get a chance to win your heart. The nine who don’t are going home at the first Portkey tomorrow morning, never to have the chance to know your tender soul. How do you feel?”
“Vaguely nauseated,” he said, which was true. He’d drank way too much. “I should’ve never confessed to Ron that I was—um. Lonely.”
It was then that he noticed the red blinking light on the magicamcorder Javier held up. His face drained of blood. He knew, in an abstract sense, that they were filming him, would always be filming him, but seeing it was like a fresh punch to the stomach. He hated being on camera, hated having attention in general.
“Why do you think you’ve been thus far unable to find a meaningful relationship?” Luna asked.
Harry stared at the camcorder again, swallowing heavily. A thousand things came to mind. He said none of them, thank god. “I don’t know.”
Luna frowned, checking her watch. She sighed and stood. “Well, it’s nine o’clock. We’d better get these Snitches handed out. Early day tomorrow!”
She passed him the bag, fluttering and twitching like it was full of cats instead of Snitches. Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath, attempting to steady his breathing. Outside those doors, there were twenty-three men—and Hermione—waiting to see if he’d keep them around. He had all of five minutes to decide who would stay, and the only person he was certain of was Hermione.
And how pathetic was that? He was on a gay dating show and he’d rather keep on his married, female, best friend instead of leaving the spot open for another man he might, potentially, be interested in sex with. But real sex had always been such a disappointment that Harry didn’t really see a difference, really.
Hermione or some random wizard—either way, Harry didn’t get off.
In the end, he gave a Snitch to Dune, Hermione, that big stud Ruby, Titus, Atlas, Felix, Byron, Socorro, Gardner, a bloke Harry thought had the same name as himself and which he thought was funny but which, upon waking up the next morning, he would find to be humiliating, Michael Corner, Zeph, Quill, and Finian.
Then he had one Snitch left and as he stared at the men still waiting empty-handed, he realized he didn’t know any of their names. He couldn’t give the Snitch to one of them even if he wanted to. Harry began to panic. And that’s when he saw Malfoy’s scowling face in the back row. Relieved to have even one person he could call up, Harry said, “Draco Malfoy.”
Malfoy’s surprise was caught on camera, as was everything else embarrassing that night, but Harry felt rather pleased (and drunk) as he passed the final Snitch to Malfoy, and Malfoy’s cool fingers brushed over his to take it. Harry shivered, probably drunk, and Dennis got it on film.
“Is my fucking wife there with you, Harry?” Ron demanded as soon as Harry came into view.
Harry’s eyes shifted to the side. It was a bad habit that Kingsley railed him for at least twice a month. “Erm. Yes.”
Ron’s eyes narrowed. “You send her home right now, Harry. I swear to Merlin, if you give her a Snitch—!”
“You signed me up for this, Ron! And anyway, I’ve already given her one. You’ll tune in next week when the episode airs, yeah?”
“Harry! She left me here with Rosie and a freezer full of pumped milk. What am I supposed to do when it runs out?”
Harry smirked. “Dunno. Floo your mum? You could try the Tesco for formula. Anyway, love you man—it’s been real, but I gotta go. I’ve a date with Hermione in the morning.”
In the background, Rosie started crying. Harry smirked and cut the connection. Maybe he could go a little easy on Ron when he planned his retribution since Hermione’d already made a good start on it.
Harry was not sure how anyone could sleep through those eyes staring at them. He pushed himself up on his elbows. “Yeah, I’m up.”
“You can bring eight contenders with you for the first date. Who do you want?”
Harry flopped back on the bed and dearly wished this was all a bad dream caused by an injury during an Auror raid. “Um. Hermione,” he said.
Luna noted this down. “I think it’s lovely that Ron is so comfortable with you dating his wife. Do you think you’ve always been in love with both of them or were you in love with Ron first and you fell in love with Hermione later because you realized that love transcends gender?”
Harry did not have an answer for that. “Um. Ruby,” he said instead. Luna noted this down. “And Dune, Felix, Quill, Zeph, Atlas.” He paused. Luna looked up at him, blinking slowly. Harry swallowed. “Malfoy,” he said on a sigh. Ugh. He hated himself in that moment.
“Did you decide on what you wanted for your first date or do you want me and Dennis to pick?”
Harry absolutely did not want that. He wanted the exact opposite of anything Luna, Dennis, Miles, or Javier might pick. He said, therefore the first thing that came to his mind. “Can we go snorkeling or scuba diving or whatever? At the Great Barrier Reef.”
“That doesn’t provide a great deal of opportunity for talking,” Luna observed.
Harry considered the fact that Malfoy would be along. “Good.”
She tapped her quill against her notebook. “Yes, I think you’re right. Sometimes one must eschew talking and get straight to sexual attraction. Coral reefs are very sensual, so I understand wanting to see a school of men swimming around it in swim trunks, like very sexy fish without shirts on.”
I hate you, Ron, Harry thought, not, most likely, for the last time. He smiled at Luna. “Yeah, sounds great.”
“I think we’ll have the contenders you’ve chosen make their swimsuits out of found objects, to demonstrate their creativity.”
Thinking of Hermione, and Ron’s fist in Harry’s face if any of her ended up on national magivison, Harry said, “No!” He jumped up from the bed. “No—that’s not necessary. Maybe they could transfigure them instead? From, um, winter cloaks? And extra points if they, um, make them my favourite colour.”
“Everyone knows your favourite colour,” Luna said. “It was in the September 2002 Witch Weekly.”
“Well, how about points for style then?”
Luna sighed. “I suppose Miles and I will have to be the judges there. Alright, Harry. I need to run so I can deliver the assignment letter to the contenders you’ve selected.” She opened the hotel room door and leaned out to yell, “Dennis, you can come in now!”
“No, he can’t!” Harry said. “I’m not dressed!”
She gave him a confused look. “Boxers cover the same as swim trunks.” And then she was gone, replaced by a bouncing Dennis who had a Polaroid hanging from the strap around his neck and a magicamcorder in one hand.
“Morning, Harry!” he said. He panned the camcorder down and back up again, and Harry, belatedly, covered his groin with his hands. Fuck, he hoped he didn’t have morning wood. “How are you feeling?”
“Distinctly uncomfortable,” Harry said.
“So you’ve eliminated nine contenders for your heart. Nine heartbroken wizards are on a Portkey home this morning. How do you feel? Do you worry that one of them might actually be your soul mate, but you eliminated him based on a first impression and you’ll never find true love or ever be fulfilled, thus spending your entire life alone and yearning? Tell me about it.”
Harry tried to react, he really did, but he’d lost the ability. He sat staring at Dennis, at his magicamcorder and the blinking red light flashing in time with Harry’s pulse. What. How was he supposed to even respond to that? Dennis peered around the camcorder, motioning for him to start talking.
‘Green room,’ he mouthed. ‘Talk.’
“I,” Harry said, trailing off. His mouth gaped. He cleared his throat. He thought of Ron. His eyes narrowed. He smirked. “I’m really grateful my best friend Ron Weasley signed me up for this programme. Most blokes have a best friend, probably, but no one’s got a best friend like Ron. He’s the most caring, most compassionate man I’ve ever met. He’s so strong and masculine, but inside, he’s like a gentle puffskein. He’s home with the baby right now while his beautiful wife, my other best friend, Hermione, is here with me. I don’t think I sent home any potential soul mates last night, but I’m comforted by the knowledge that even if I don’t find my perfect sexual match here on the Stag Shag, I’ll at least have my perfect best friend match waiting for me back home.”
The red light stopped flashing and Dennis put the camera down, beaming. “Perfect, Harry! I know the wizarding public is going to be so excited to get this deep and meaningful view into your psyche.”
“Do you think you could put some pictures of Ron up to show while you’re playing my quote? So everyone can see what a great man he is?”
“Yeah, have you got any?”
Harry thought of the ones from the Yule Ball; maybe the one showing Ron dropping to the floor when Mrs Granger came out to the St Mungo’s waiting room to let them know Rosie had been born; those of Ron drooling as he slept on the Weasleys’ new recliner with his mouth open. “I’m sure I can find something.”
“Morning, Harry,” said Ruby, his voice deep and rumbling. Harry glanced at him and his stomach flipped. Merlin, what a man, what a man. His eyes travelled over Ruby, taking in the thick hair covering his muscular chest and stomach. He was stocky, strong-looking, not too tall, but everything about him screamed testosterone. His red beard could’ve used a trim but Harry had thoughts of that beard tickling his inner thighs as Ruby licked his bollocks.
“Morning,” Harry said, his voice catching. He flushed, looked down to hide his eyes, and made the mistake of taking in Ruby’s swim trunks. Red tartan. Why is red tartan attractive? he wondered desperately.
Luna Apparated in with the scuba instructor, and they had to sit through an entire hour of Bubble-head safety instructions. Any erection Harry might’ve had from Ruby’s hairy legs was long gone by the time they actually got to fall back into the water. They all swam around, taking in the corals. Harry was enthralled, and found himself tracking a school of little red fish, then a huge turtle, and nearly pissing himself when he saw a shark swimming towards them.
Please eat Malfoy first, he prayed. It would give the rest of them time to get back to the boat.
With some degree of disappointment, Harry reconsidered. I’d probably try to save the stupid fuck, he then thought, dejected. And of course he would. He wouldn’t let even Malfoy get eaten by a shark.
Hermione, who was in a scandalously low-cut red one-piece that Harry was sure was meant to annoy Ron when he saw it on the magicbox, appeared to be more interested in collecting samples from the sea anemones and trying to coax a blue starfish into her collection jar. She gave the shark a cursory look and returned to her inspections, though Harry noticed she did retrieve her wand from her thigh holster.
Quill was not impressed by the shark, though that was perhaps putting it quite nicely. In actuality, Harry was concerned that Quill did, in fact, piss himself when he saw it approaching. He hid himself behind Harry. The water got warmer, and Harry would’ve gagged if he wasn’t underwater with a Bubble-head charm on. He glanced over his shoulder to give the man a disgusted look and swam, slowly, away from the shark, trying not to provoke it with any sudden movements. Ruby and Malfoy were treading water near to one another, keeping a steady eye on the shark and well alert of their surroundings, but, like Hermione, remaining otherwise unphased.
Dune, Zeph, Felix, and Atlas were currently heading upwards, towards the boat and the ladder hanging from it. Dennis was below them, filming their escape from a sassy angle.
Swimming away was a perfectly reasonable course of action when confronted by a shark, Harry was forced to admit. If one weren’t on a date with him, that is. Harry was not impressed with their lack of...sense of adventure, but at least they weren’t pissing on him. Something bumped into him and he whirled around, coming face to face with a huge humpbacked fish. It was blue, with a funny-looking face and it stared at Harry as if to convey that he was in the way and would he please move. Harry reached out, tentatively, to touch it.
It was—sort of soft. He stroked it again. Hermione came up to him, eyes bright behind her Bubble-head. She mouthed something to him, a name probably, but all he could make out was ‘humpback’. The fish swam through their outstretched arms, like a cat twining around legs. Harry grinned at her. He noticed Miles swimming in to get a better shot of them with the fish, but he didn’t even mind.
Malfoy swam up to them, his eyes cutting briefly to Harry’s before he reached out and touched the fish, too. He jerked his hand back, as if he’d not expected it to feel that way, before hesitantly returning to it again. He looked like he wanted to smile, but he was being filmed, and Harry could understand not wanting one’s innermost thoughts recorded forever and broadcast to everyone.
He sort of hated Malfoy, but right then, he felt like maybe they were thinking the same thing. If they could both appreciate this weird-arse fish, then maybe they weren’t so different after all.
Wow, Harry, he thought then. This is what your life’s come to.
She gave him a look as her fingers closed around it. “I know that I came here specifically to take one of the twenty-four slots, but I didn’t intend for you to actually keep giving me Snitches,” she said. “I know that I’ve said—things—about this programme, but you really should consider dating again.” She grimaced. “Even if you’re being filmed doing it.”
Harry glanced around for the cameramen, but unless Dennis was hiding behind a potted plant, they had some modicum of privacy. “It’s—terrifying,” he said. “It never goes well when I date. I don’t want a bad date caught on film forever.”
She bit her lip. “You’re only the first series,” she said. “Others much less suave will come after, and people will forget the particulars of the episodes.”
“Maybe,” he said. “I just don’t want to fuck up. I want you here, for advice.”
“I’ll do what I can,” she said. “But in the end, you need to choose someone. Someone real. Not me. It doesn’t have to be on this admittedly ridiculous show, but it needs to be somewhere. You have to try again, Harry. You’re not doomed to be in bad relationships your whole life; you just need to find the right person.”
Harry thought of the few, straggled dates he’d had over the years and how absolutely horridly they’d all gone. He thought maybe he was...dysfunctional. Other wizards—and witches, when he’d still be trying for that and a family—seemed to agree. He thought maybe if he just found a good witch who would be open to his sexual inadequacy, they could have a family together and be pretty happy. He just wanted to be a dad so desperately, but there wasn’t anything to be done there since he couldn’t, in fact, get off while penetrating anyone without…outside help.
“I’ll try,” he said. Merlin, he wished Ron was here, too. The stupid wanker. He’d never told either of them why he had so much trouble dating, but he had a feeling they knew. Ginny was very close to her brother, after all.
“Harry, there you are,” said Luna, peering into the alcove they shared. “Hello, Hermione. Harry, I didn’t think I needed to remind you that you’re not allowed to have sex with any of the contenders before the end of the season. It gives an unfair advantage.”
“We weren’t having sex,” Hermione said.
“Yet,” said Luna. She gave them a pointed look, which they responded to with mute confusion. Harry was gay. Hermione was married. To Harry’s best friend. “Your last date in Australia, Harry—it’s now. Are you ready? Everyone will be coming.”
“Where?” he asked.
“We’re going to see a mysterious rock. Have you heard of Uluru?”
“Oh for god’s sake,” Hermione muttered, pushing around Harry to exit the alcove. “It’s not mysterious.”
“It is,” Luna insisted. “Why is a limestone rock just sitting there in the middle of an otherwise flat landscape?”
“Because alluvial fans,” Hermione called over her shoulder. She was already disappearing up the hotel stairs to her room, no doubt to change into clothes more suited to rocks.
Luna frowned. She turned back to Harry. “There’s a late lunch waiting for you in your room. You have time for a nap if you want. We’ll be Portkeying to Uluru at three.”
“There are wallabies,” Luna said, as if to tempt him.
It worked. “Wallabies, really?” he said. He’d never seen a wallaby.
“Yes, and lots of men.”
Harry sighed. “Alright. I’ll be down in a while.”
Hermione, sensibly dressed in a sleeveless shirt, khaki shorts, and a wide-brimmed hat, had a knapsack on her back that clinked with the telltale sound of collection jars when she walked.
“It’s so hot,” said Felix, tugging uncomfortably at his cravat.
“It’s Australia,” said Harry. “And February. And we’re in a desert, basically.” It was easily 28C. Why anyone would wear a suit to a rock was beyond Harry.
Felix scrunched his nose. “One can never be overdressed.”
Behind them, someone snorted, and they both turned. Malfoy was dressed similarly to Harry, right down to the khaki shorts. His legs, however, were blindingly pale. “One can, I assure you, Mr Faungrazer.”
Faungrazer? Harry thought. Had he really missed that when Felix introduced himself?
They spent some time exploring the rock and, for a rock, it was pretty fun. Luna educated them on the structure of Uluru and its connection (mysterious) to Kata Tjuta. Hermione supplemented this with a steady, cited, monologue of refutations, which she said under her breath and to Harry only. That Malfoy seemed to hover nearby and snort with laughter every now and again was something he tried to ignore.
The men did their damnedest to get to know Harry, or extoll their own virtues to him. They showed him plants, they pointed out wild turkeys and emus, they made jokes at the expense of Australians. One even brought him wild flowers. It was—unexpected, but Harry blushed just the same, especially when Socorro gave him the most brilliant smile as he did it.
Michael Corner was nice and friendly to Harry, but not overly so. They had a bit of history, so talking to him wasn’t quite as hard as it was with Finian and Zeph, who were both just as attractive as Michael, but unknown quantities. Most of the men just liked to yammer on about themselves. It was due to this exuberant self-promotion that Harry was able to quickly strike Gardner and Quill off his list of candidates.
“Have dreamt of feeling your big, thick cock in my arse for fifteen years,” Gardner murmured, coming up to Harry as he was standing on the edge of the rock and looking out at the landscape before him. Despite the fact that, fifteen years ago Harry was only eleven and that was creepy as fuck, he didn’t want to have to deal with the constant pressure of a lover who always wanted Harry to fuck him. He had enough stress in his life without that, too. He also really hoped that the fifteen years part had been hyperbolic.
And Quill was nice, but when he said, “Oh, yes, Merlin, do I love a good hard shag,” Harry knew he was not the one, either. They could be friends. They could talk about their boyfriends to each other. But they could not be boyfriends themselves. Also, he’d peed on Harry, so maybe not even friends.
And Harry just thought Felix was a prick. So that helped things a bit.
The sun started to set and the air cooled some. Hermione’s arms were covered in goose pimples but she looked delighted crouching down to scoop up dirt samples with her little trowel. Luna’s production company had provided a picnic dinner for them to be held atop the rock. She erected an open-faced tent with pillows for chairs and candles hovering all inside. It was...pretty. Harry couldn’t help thinking that this was the sort of thing he’d like to do with a lover, but he didn’t have one of those.
Ruby brought him a plate, shouldering freckly Dune out of the way with the sort of friendly disregard that only those who don’t understand their true size can have. And Ruby was definitely a man of size. Harry watched his shoulders flexing under his red plaid shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, and thought, Now that is a man who could fuck me right.
“Thanks,” Harry said, grinning.
Ruby smiled back, though it was a bit hard to see under his bright red beard. Harry imagined that beard against his bollocks as Ruby sucked him off, three fingers in his arse, and shuddered at the sensations it brought.
“Yep,” said Ruby. He handed Harry a beer and settled in beside him, saying nothing more.
They had a lovely view. No wallabies yet, but Harry was hopeful. The sun began to set and the light from the candles made Ruby’s beard sparkle and shine. Still he said nothing. It wasn’t bad, really. Harry could get used to someone who didn’t want anything from him but a shag and love. He was quiet himself. And it was—it was a comfortable sort of quiet.
“I found the most amazing caterpillar,” Hermione said, plopping down across from them with her own plate. Her hair was plastered to her forehead and her cheeks were blotchy and pink but when Dennis came up behind Harry to film her, Harry knew Ron would think she was gorgeous on the magicbox. “Do you want to see it?”
“Yeah,” Harry said.
She pulled out a jar with holes spelled into the top. There was a terrifying, hairy motherfucker in the jar, little legs trying to reach through the air holes.
“Oh, god!” Harry said, leaning back. “It’s hideous.”
Hermione frowned and brought the jar up to her eyes to look closer. “It’s beautiful,” she said, still frowning. “It’s just a caterpillar.”
There was a smattering of laughter from the far side of the tent. Harry and Hermione glanced that way to find Byron, Felix, and Atlas huddled up together watching Hermione with her bug. Harry frowned.
“Not a very good strategy,” came Malfoy’s voice. He sat down between Harry and Hermione, balancing a plate of bread and cheese and a glass of red wine. They turned to him. “Laughing at Granger, I mean. Anyone who knows you at all would know you’d never pick someone who couldn’t accept your friends.”
“Which writes you out,” Hermione said. “What are you even doing here?”
“Wanted to see the world,” he said. But then he smiled at Harry and Harry knew there was something else to it. He blinked, watching Malfoy closely. He didn’t laugh at Hermione’s bug even once.
And he had to give a little speech first. To soften the blow. He imagined Ron sitting at home in front of the magicbox, wearing only his pants and Rosie’s spit up in his hair, Rosie passed out against his chest, a beer in his free hand. Fuck, Harry would love that. He’d love to have a family of his own.
Ron would be laughing at him right now.
“Um,” said Harry. He shifted on his feet. He’d never felt so uncomfortable in his life. At least the first night he’d had Portkey lag and pleasant drunkenness to soften the awkwardness. “It’s been really great getting to know all of you. I had a good time scuba diving and then again at the…” Fuck, what was it called? “The rock. I, um, wish that we could all continue on to Greece together, but Luna says no, so I guess it’s time to hand out Snitches.”
Hermione was already holding hers up by her face per Miles’ instruction, so the cameras could see. As the shortest of all the contenders, she was in front, and Harry could see Dennis filming her from a number of angles, no doubt to use for voiceover material during editing. He pulled the first Snitch from the bag.
“The first Snitch I’m going to give is to Ruby,” he said. Ruby manoeuvered his way down to the front to accept his Snitch. Harry handed it to him, smiling shyly. He said, “I think we had a good time today and yesterday.”
“Yeah, we did,” Ruby said.
“The next Snitch is for Michael,” said Harry. “You’re a good friend,” he added. “I don’t know if there could be more, but I’d like to find out.”
Michael took his Snitch and returned to his place in the lineup.
Thinking of Socorro’s smile, Harry gave one to him. And then he gave one each to Finian and Zeph because Merlin they were good-looking. After that, it was more an operation in avoiding giving Snitches to the men he really didn’t like. Felix, Atlas, and Byron had sniggered at Hermione’s fascination with the caterpillar and Quill and Gardner were...sexually incompatible. So that left Snitches for Malfoy, Titus, Dune with the lovely freckles, and—here, Harry cringed:
“Harry,” he called. Harry Henry grinned, sauntering up to take the final Snitch from Harry. Harry was determined to get rid of Harry in the next city because there was absolutely no fucking way in hell that he would date a man with the same name as him. The papers would have a fucking field day.
The five remaining men stared back at him, some glumly, some angry. All without a Snitch. Harry shrugged apologetically. “Best of luck,” he said, and felt ridiculous. He turned and escaped up to his hotel room as soon as Luna gave him a thumbs up.