[Image description: Cover art for “Hydrus.” Digitally illustrated. Meant to imitate a magazine photoshoot picture. At the bottom right of the image there is the text, “Hydrus Nader, 29, Fashion Designer” in a modern typeface. Hydrus stands in the frame against a dark background, wearing a translucent kimono and tights. They are androgynous, attractive, and are of Moroccan descent, with medium-toned skin and not-quite-shoulder-length black hair that is pulled back from their face. They look somewhat impassively at the camera and their breasts are mostly covered by the kimono. With their left hand, they wandlessly levitate a strip of measuring tape, a maroon quill, and a notepad.]
Sometime after Ginny turned twenty-five, the parties she gravitated toward changed. More of her friends were in relationships, and as she neared the end of her Quidditch career, her connections to young people weakened. She said “young people” as though she wasn’t young—but she was no longer in her early twenties and had passed the age at which her parents got married. Already, she had been a bridesmaid three times, not to mention the other weddings she had been a part of, a number of which either jumpstarted or ended her relationship.
Her dozenth wedding since graduation was also her first without a plus one. Rather than chop off her hair after her breakup, she opted for getting a tattoo of a yew branch on her collarbone. By the time she wondered whether this combined with her low-cut dress was making her availability too obvious, she was already walking up the pavement to the church.
Many of the attendees were Muggles she didn’t know, so to kill time before the ceremony started, she let her eyes wander. About a quarter of the faces were familiar; most of the wix in attendance played for Quidditch teams Ginny had faced in the past. An attractive lot, even including a couple exes, whom she tried not to look at for too long. (Who were they with? How did they look?)
That’s a good neck, she thought absently, staring at the back of one person’s head, which was on the other side of the aisle. Is this what being single at a wedding is like? Usually, she wasn’t drawn in by the impeccably makeup-ed faces or the posh dress robes or sultry colognes, with the exception of times she neared the end of a relationship.
The head attached to the neck turned slightly so Ginny could see the person’s face.
“Ginny, it’s been forever!” came a voice from above, startling her out of her transfixed state.
“Oh, hello, Mona! Yes, it’s been two full weeks. How were tryouts?” But it was hard to concentrate when all she wanted to think about was how gorgeous that person was and their lips and that she could feel them staring now that she had looked away. As soon as their mutual pleasantries were over, Ginny snuck a glance back across the aisle. It took a moment, but they finally made eye contact, which the person met with a smile that would have been bashful if they weren’t overbrimming with confidence.
As soon as there was an appropriate gap in the conversation, Ginny asked Mona, “Do you know who that person is in the third row? With the black robes—”
“The one with short curly hair?”
Mona smirked. “You are so predictable.”
“What? I was just curious!”
“Their name is Hydrus Nader, you’ve probably met them before. They’re a fashion designer, I believe they redid the uniforms for our team.”
“I would remember,” said Ginny, at once annoyed at her own blatant interest.
“Well, they’re a Metamorphmagus. Look different every time I see them. The only things they don’t change are their eyes and their skin color. This is a version of one of their more common looks, though.”
“Do you know them?”
“I’ve met them a few times through mutual friends. And one mutual ex.”
Ginny thought for a moment. “Graham?”
“Yep,” said Mona, wincing.
Fantasizing about Hydrus made the ceremony zip by. Ginny alternated sacrilegiously between bafflement at Muggle wedding traditions (weddings in general, perhaps) and imagining Hydrus’ fingers sliding up her thigh, the unchanging eyes trained on her as she tried to stifle a moan… When she brought her attention back to the vows, she tried to get a grip on herself, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. Merlin, she had to get laid.
“The vows were interesting, weren’t they?” asked Mona as they followed the photographer to a grassy spot for pictures.
“Very. They looked happy, though.” The two paused their conversation for the pictures and to talk briefly to the bride, Frances, who stood beside all of the athletes. Ginny was caught between watching Hydrus and trying to act unfazed as two of her (taller) Quidditch ex-flings filed in behind her. As soon as they were done, Ginny quickly walked away, with Mona in tow.
“You’re always so suave,” said Mona once they slowed down.
“What do you mean?”
“Your exes get weird and flustered around you. Or they are clearly still attracted. Didn’t you notice Jayden ogling your tits? Meanwhile, you’re polite and—I dunno, normal.”
“It takes practice,” said Ginny. “To be honest, I didn’t want to open the possibility of hooking up with an ex tonight.”
“What about hooking up with someone new? Like…Hydrus?”
“Easier said than done.”
“I would get one of my friends to set you up with them, but I doubt they’re single because they’re a serial monogamist, much like yourself.”
“I’m going to ignore that, if you pretend I didn’t nearly come on a church pew in front of God.”
“As if that’s the worst thing you’ve done,” Mona said, wrapping her arm around Ginny.
“Whatever embarrassing story you’re going to remind me of, don’t.”
A Portkey disguised as a bouquet of flowers transported them to the reception venue. Mona announced she would play wing-woman, convinced she had to act fast or someone else would swoop in.
“Hydrus! You look amazing, per usual.”
“Thank you, Ramona.” They hugged her, kissing both cheeks, before taking a sip of their champagne. “Weddings are a good excuse to try something new.” Their eyes had flickered to Ginny twice now.
“Ah, this is Ginny Weasley, up until recently she played Chaser for the Holyhead Harpies.”
Ginny shook their hand. “Hi. Maybe we’ve met? Anyhow, it’s nice to meet you.”
“She was a fan of the new uniforms,” said Mona, voice a bit too sugary for Ginny’s liking.
“I’m glad to hear it.” Their smile was slight, but warm.
Mona glanced past them as though she spotted someone, and waved. “Oh, sorry, I’ve got to say hello to a friend, I’ll catch you later, love. We’ll probably be sat at the same table, so talk to you then!”
To Ginny, this was an obvious tactic to get her alone with Hydrus, but it might have gone over their head.
“Frances and Peyton are lucky, it’s quite nice weather for April,” said Ginny, glancing out the window nearest them.
Hydrus smiled as though she’d said something funny.
“What, you don’t think so?”
“No, you’re right. Rarely do I talk to a British person who does not mention the weather first.”
Ginny chuckled, though she cursed in her head. “Where are you from, then?”
“Belgium,” they replied. This was a bit firm, leading Ginny to wonder how often people asked to find out about their ethnicity.
“Yes, you are right, nearly all Belgian wix are from Bruges.”
The tone of this comment was unclear, and for several seconds it seemed that would be the end of their conversation.
“How do you know Peyton?”
“How do you know Frances?”
They both let out a short laugh, and Hydrus gestured for Ginny to go first.
“Frances was one of my best friends after I graduated Hogwarts. She was the assistant to Holyhead’s manager.”
“Ah, I thought so. I met Peyton before he started dating Frances, actually. His stepfather is a wizard, and friends with my mother. He took me to some Muggle cities, I showed him some wizarding cities. But the highlight was to see a dragon in the wild near Slovenia.”
Their conversation carried over to the unofficial Quidditch table (where their names may or may not have been moved by Mona) and Ginny started to lose track of how much she was drinking.
“What is it about Quidditch that you most like?” Hydrus asked, propping their head up with their hand. The two of them had gravitated closer over the past hour. Once the music started, this could be excused as necessary rather than as courtship.
“The team. And the discipline of the sport. Ugh, how can I talk about it without sounding cliché? Tournaments were always the highlight of the year. Winning was a bonus, though knowing we were all improving was what I actually enjoyed, and being immersed in it.” She felt a bit choked up, both from frustration that she was lacking coherence and self-pity at having left the team. “What I want to say is—it’s rewarding. Emotionally, physically, spiritually…Quidditch shaped me as a person.” Already, she felt like she was talking about a life that was no longer hers. “What about fashion? What drew you to that field?”
“It was an easy choice. Being a Métamorphomage—Metamorphmagus—I changed my appearance frequently. I liked experimenting with clothing. My mother is a painter, so I played in her studio with fabrics as she worked.”
“You started by making clothing for yourself?”
“Yes. It was easier that way, you know, because I didn’t want to be a girl all of the time, or a boy all of the time, so instead of buying for more than one child, my mother bought fabrics for me to create. And from then I knew I wanted to work in fashion.”
“It’s a privilege, really, to make a living doing something you have felt connected to since childhood.”
“Yes, I agree. At ten I could talk about fashion all day, and even now—it is the biggest part of my life. Fashion represents the fluidity of the self. Who and what we strive to be, our past and our future as much as our present. More than that, it’s just fun.”
“I’ve never thought of it that way. In comparison, Quidditch seems quite crude.”
“Sports are a form of expression as well. Both professions require discipline and a motivation deep within yourself that is hard to explain to others.”
“The main difference, though, is the team. With journalism, at least, I can work with the other writers and keep in constant contact with members of the Quidditch league.”
“Perhaps I do spend more time than I realize working by myself, but it isn’t more lonely. It gives me freedom. And the industry worldwide is small enough that I know everyone.”
They chatted a bit more about work, which seemed increasingly distant as the energy of the wedding carried them off.
“Are you still close with anyone from Beauxbatons?”
“Yes, of course, I talk with some people now and then. I had a group of friends in school and I occasionally meet them for drinks. Later in my twenties, we began seeing each other only a few times a year. I am the last to not start a family or marry.”
“That’s the thing with weddings, isn’t it?”
“You start to think about your life, where you should be by now, how you measure up.”
She was going to add something about singledom and how it had felt that night when Hydrus said, “My experience is different because people often stare at me.” This made Ginny cringe at her past behavior, even though she had a feeling Hydrus would pardon her. “Like you, the doubts I perhaps would not normally feel arise because of others. Despite this, I resent any effect this has on what I decide to wear or how I decide to look. Likewise, some people resent me changing how I look.”
Ginny didn’t quite know what to say. A small part of her, still louder than the alcohol, told her not to compare Hydrus’ experience to her experience being bisexual, because it was different, easier, even if there were some similarities. “I can imagine people react so strongly because they want you to be one thing. Why should you get more than them? Why can’t I define you, one or the other?”
Hydrus processed this, then nodded. “Often it is not so hard in countries other than Britain. This is largely because I am in small communities that understand and respect me.” They were having to shout at this point, so they said, “We should dance.”
Most of the Muggles were under a light Prosequorus Charm, so they wouldn’t bat an eye at the unusual phenomena of the wedding: an assortment of creatures in the band, glowing orbs of light floating overhead, small cakes that unfurled like flowers. In part to help aid the charm, the DJ played Muggle songs, which Ginny found vibrant, interesting, but unfamiliar. It also became clear that the few wix pop songs were heavily inspired by, if not ripped off of, a few popular nonmagic songs.
As she danced, Ginny wished Fred and George were there to encourage her; they were always unafraid of judgment. Luckily, Mona chose that moment to find her in the crowd, dancing the whole way, and leaned in to ask, “How’s it going?”
Glancing up at Hydrus, who smiled but was unsuspecting, Ginny said over the music, “Good, I thought the food was good!”
“So things are good?”
Mona refrained from further comment, merely cocking an eyebrow, and joined them for a while.
Despite her efforts to pay equal attention to both of them, the glimmer of Hydrus’ robes kept pulling her attention back. It didn’t help that their forehead now glistened from the dancing, and when they smiled it was a bit breathless.
Ginny had only registered Mona’s absence when the lights changed to purple and the music slowed. There was a moment when they both looked at each other, unsure, until Hydrus said, “I have to use the restroom, I’ll see you after?”
“Okay.” Was there anyone else looking for dance partner? A quick assessment of the room yielded no options. With no one to join, she went back to their table and drank the remainder of her glass, which mostly contained melted ice at that point.
“Hey,” said Hydrus, sitting down next to her.
“Hey.” She shouldn’t have overthought things. Hydrus looked like they wanted to be there with her, so why was she worrying? “Want to dance again?”
“Yes, let’s dance.”
There were fewer people than before, as many were talking a break, so they mostly swayed to the music. A few kids ran up to Hydrus during “Wannabe” (one of the few Muggle songs Ginny knew) and started asking all at once about their outfit.
“Why is it so sparkly?” one boy asked, entirely serious.
Hydrus knelt down. “Why?”
“I made it that way.”
The kids gaped at them. “Whoa…”
The boy fiddled with his hand. “You made that?”
“I did. Do you want to touch the sparkles?”
They all nodded, and the three of them seemed mystified by the glint of red that flickered a little more than should have been possible. Just before the kids scurried back onto the dance floor, Ginny caught herself watching Hydrus longingly and tried to make her expression neutral again.
“Children love my more flashy clothing,” said Hydrus, straightening.
“I bet. Do you want to go to the minibar?”
Another round of drinks and Ginny felt the last of her nerves transform into anticipation. She waited for a lull in conversation to ask, as casually as she could manage, “Where are you staying?”
“Actually, I’m leaving early to meet my girlfriend in London. We reserved a hotel.”
“Ah.” Ginny had drunk too much to conceal her disappointment. “Should be nice.”
Hydrus looked as though they wanted to say more, but instead touched Ginny’s arm briefly—she jumped in surprise from the desire that shot through her—and said something about having to find their friend.
She shouldn’t have expected anything. It was foolish of her to think that her attraction meant Hydrus would be able to or even want to reciprocate her own feelings. To make it through another half an hour of the reception, she distracted herself with the friends she had there, went home at eleven, and dipped into a pint of Florean’s before going to bed.
Four months passed before Ginny saw Hydrus again. She had started dating a Muggle named Jade a few weeks prior, but even still, couldn’t her friends have told her ahead of time who was planning on meeting at the pub? They ought to have realized there could be a potential for awkward ex encounters. Though it wasn’t like they had a history. Why was she making such a big deal about it? Hydrus certainly wouldn’t be so fixated on her presence.
Rather than wait until it came up, Ginny jumped on the first opportunity to say she was in a relationship, and did her best to hide her reaction when Hydrus said they were recently single. As the rest of the group paired off in conversation, Ginny ended up talking about dating in the Muggle world, which prompted Hydrus to talk about how they dated as a Metamorphmagus.
“Approaching someone I’m interested in is difficult, as I am often tempted to play off of who they’re attracted to.”
“Oh?” Heart racing as she knew what she planned to say, Ginny said, “So do you think you know my type?”
“I can guess. You dated that Quidditch player Wilhelm something-or-other, right? And Harris, which I know from the papers, they were both quite tall…” As they said this, they grew a few inches. “Androgynous, certainly.” Their eyebrows thickened, jaw hardened, and shoulders broadened.
Ginny stubbornly tried to calm the fierce pounding in her chest. “I can’t imagine you’re ever rejected, looking however you want to.”
Hydrus shrugged. “Very few wix are interested in someone who does not have a consistent appearance. Consistency is…desirable. Comforting. And my exes would tell you I’m indecisive, that my head is always in the clouds.”
Ginny didn’t think she’d had much to drink until tears sprung in her eyes. How many times had people said that about Luna?
“Why should that be a bad thing? If everyone were grounded and boring, the world would stay the same. The people I’m most drawn to resist the norm.” She spoke quickly, aware she had overshared. “Anyhow, do people think they can accept it, and then change their minds?”
“There are usually other problems that cause my breakups. Distance, emotionally. Or I don’t date people who are right for me. What about you? What is the main reason your relationships end?”
“If we’re being really honest, I tend to fall for people too quickly… and deeply. Even if they’re wrong for me, I just—can’t stand not trying. Can we do some shots before I get into it?”
Either the sense that they would someday become something more or the unlikelihood that they would meet again soon prompted Ginny to dive deeper than traditionally considered appropriate for a pub setting. By now, the others had called it a night and left the two of them alone.
“My best friend died when I was sixteen. She was killed by Voldemort’s followers.” Ginny only glanced at Hydrus to get the gist of their reaction. It was harder to look people in the eye when talking about her.
Hydrus shook their head. “I am so sorry. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been.”
“Yeah. Thank you. Sometimes I still—I can’t believe it.” Getting into the guilt she had struggled to overcome, the feelings she never fully pursued were for another time, if she got that far. She projected into the future, lying on the sofa, Hydrus stroking her hair, holding her, assuring her it was okay, then flung herself back into self-doubt for getting so far ahead of herself. “Luna’s a part of the reason I wanted to write for the Prophet. I want to be a part of something meaningful. Not saying Quidditch isn’t meaningful, but I’m approaching a point in my life where I want to be heard more than seen, known more than loved.”
“I understand what you mean. At what point does creative expression undermine one’s potential to make a difference? Have you failed somehow if your art is not as political or influential as it could be?”
“Mhm.” Ginny mulled this over. “If you weren’t a fashion designer, what would you do?”
“Oh, that’s a good question. I imagine I would work to foster nonmagic-wix relations. The queer community already has close connections to nonmagic folk, I think I would want to help research on an integration commission like the European WANDS. Let me think, it’s short for the Wizarding…and Nonmagic De-mystification Scheme.”
“You aren’t worried what will happen when they know?”
Hydrus stirred their drink. “Of course I am. My hope is that if we have some control over when they know and who knows that we may lessen the potential harm. To both sides.”
Even though Ginny was far more conflicted about what could happen—the coopting of magic to fight Muggle wars, the persecution of wix, and the violence Muggles may face in kind, not to mention the inevitable bureaucracy—she could sense Hydrus’ conviction. Maybe they could ease her fears about it all.
“That is so different from what you do now.”
“Yes. I know I would be miserable in politics full-time.”
“I have friends who tried working for the government, but some could only stay for a few years before they decided it was too much. There was a lot of pressure to go into politics or the government after Voldemort fell, but when things leveled out the Ministry was oversaturated and a lot of people left.”
“So writing for the paper is the other thing you wanted to do.”
“I suppose it is. Everything would have been so different if the war continued, so back then I almost didn’t expect I could pursue Quidditch.”
Hydrus was looking at her, brow furrowed slightly, as though the next thought was that if the war had continued, perhaps they never would have met. Or that was just her projecting. “I remember reading an article about your team in the Temps des Wixen. You said something really insightful about playing for a women’s Quidditch team.”
“Oh yes, I think I know what interview that was. The Harpies were really like a family. Everyone says that, but for us, it was really true. After growing up with six brothers, I think I needed to spend time in an environment that was supportive and driven by women. The friends I made were for life. Granted, some drama was inevitable, half of the team dated each other at some point—”
“At the same time?”
Ginny laughed. “No. Well…there was—er, no, not for the most part. But overall we were that close. Now that I’m no longer playing for the Harpies, I may be romanticizing it…”
“Not necessarily, you may have been too pessimistic—”
“Too in the moment.”
“Exactly, too in the moment to see the bigger picture.”
Listening to Hydrus, looking at Hydrus, made Ginny wonder how she herself existed in the world. They moved like water, languid and dynamic, though Ginny couldn’t quite figure out if they were more like the hidden trickle of a stream or the dark churn of an ocean current.
When they parted that night, the world came into focus again. Why was everything so loud?
Despite her obvious attraction to Hydrus, Ginny felt she owed it to Jade to give their relationship a chance. Almost a year passed, during which time she fell in and out of love, and according to rumor, so did Hydrus.
In June, they were featured in an issue of some European fashion magazine that Mona sent her. They looked into the camera, but Ginny couldn’t help pretend they were looking at her. Maybe now she had an excuse to try to ask them out, or would it be weird? Hey, I saw you half-nude in a magazine, now I’m interested, let’s date? That wasn’t why at all.
Luckily, she had another less eager mutual friend through whom she could reach out. “Can you tell them I want to take them out for drinks?”
And before she knew it, she was looking through the window of the pub, fixing her skirt, trying to control the squirming in her stomach.
She saw them first, and hoped the dim lighting would obscure the blush rising to her cheeks.
“Hydrus! Oh my god, how are you?”
“I’m quite good, how are you?”
“Good, how are—oh. It’s nice to see you.”
“You cut your hair. I like it that length.”
Fumbling with the ends of her hair as though she forgot it now grazed her shoulders, Ginny thought about how absurd it was for Hydrus to comment on a change in her appearance.
“You recognized me this time.”
“Third time is the charm, right?” Before, the only clues she’d had were Hydrus’ dark gray eyes, their brown skin, and once they spoke, the rich lilt of their accent. Now, it was their expression, the distant, solemn look that warmed so slowly into a smile upon seeing someone they liked. They held themself a certain way, too, as though their own personal soundtrack lifted them through life.
Ginny was glad she had decided it was better to overdress, since Hydrus clearly had the same idea. Their purple blouse had a slit down the center, inducing near-physical pain as Ginny forced herself not to stare. They appeared to wear no makeup, though their eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair were a faint silver-blue. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Oh, thank you. A Flitterby would be great.”
“Right.” They leaned over the counter, eye catching the bartender’s at once, ordered, and seemed relieved to return their attention to Ginny. “So how is the Daily Prophet so far? I’ve kept up with your writing, I enjoy hearing your voice in them.”
“Oh! Thank you. I’m flattered. Er, so far, I like it. There aren’t many young people writing for them at the moment, but they have plans to hire more.”
“Well, your perspective is much-needed.”
“Thank you.” Their drinks levitated to land in front of them.
It only took two drinks to break down the wall Ginny had attempted to put up, so that she gazed unabashedly at Hydrus as they spoke about their past loves.
“Sometimes I think I haven’t changed much from who I was as a child. In school, I fell for this boy—I was obsessed with him—and when it was clear he wasn’t interested, I threw myself into other relationships. And on top of that, one of my biggest regrets is not confronting my feelings for my best friend before she died.” Shit. Mentioning the dead friend again on the first date? Now it would be in the back of both of their minds for the whole night.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you. Ugh, I’ve never cried on a—well, is this a date?” When Hydrus nodded, she continued, “Has anyone cried on their first date with you?”
“Only on the second,” they said, smiling.
“Well. That first crush is now married with children. Meanwhile, I can’t imagine marrying a Hogwarts sweetheart. There are too many people in the world.”
“Don’t you believe in fate?”
“I believe fate isn’t as common as people want to believe.”
“You’re right, I think. But sometimes beautiful things come from believing in them, and no one can tell the difference, so does it matter?”
“If you believe something to be more than it is and lie to yourself, it’ll fall apart.” At Hydrus’ part-bemused, part-sympathetic look, she added, “Clearly I’ve never been hurt. Ha.” Anticipating a spell of awkwardness, she tried to dig herself out of it. “I am happy! Truly. There are so many things in my life that have changed for the better. I just want someone to share my life with.” Ginny dropped her head in her hands. “That sounds so cliché…”
Hydrus pried her hands away, wafting the slight scent of cologne toward her. “Not at all.”
“What about you?”
“Me…Ah, probably the same. I have a hard time imagining it until I’m with someone, and then it’s always different.”
“Is there a type of person you’re attracted to?”
“Maybe there is. I have only seriously dated two men, their personalities were quite, eh, out—I forget the word—outliers. Otherwise, I tend to date people who are strong-willed, passionate, kind.” They took a long sip of their cocktail as an excuse to stop.
“My type has been all over the place, especially since I’m almost never friends with the person first. Because I fancy people who are independent, driven, my relationships end up rather unbalanced. I tend to fall faster for people with a sharp wit. And it doesn’t hurt if they’re beautiful.”
“Then how fast would you fall for me?”
Weighing the options between corny and offhanded, Ginny chose the former. “How long does it take for lightning to strike the ground?”
“Perhaps I should be careful, then.”
“Yeah. Yeah, maybe you should.”
Their conversation only occasionally dipped above the noise of the bar, which made them feel they could talk freely.
“…Hardly anyone was out at school at the time,” said Ginny. “It wasn’t—I don’t know, it sounds so archaic now, but it wasn’t something people wanted to acknowledge. Queer people were expected to use magic to conform to wizarding society or integrate within the Muggle community. Anything to avoid confronting it in our culture.”
“For you, did it mean whether to deny part of yourself and stay in the wix community or choose to leave?”
“Maybe I would have stayed and denied it if I hadn’t had clear feelings for girls during school.”
“I think of you as the type to do what you want regardless of the norm.”
“Maybe. I’m quite stubborn.”
“As a Métamorphomage I could have conformed, if I liked someone enough to choose the appropriate gender.”
“Would you have?”
Hydrus shook their head, then hesitated. “There is too much in my life that would have had to be different to force me to deny myself. I hate to think of a version of me that had less power to determine myself than I do now.”
“Has it gotten better in Belgium—or France, I should say—for you over the last few years?”
“Certainly. More for sexuality rather than gender identity.”
“France is more progressive in queer rights than we are, I think.”
“Yes, I think so. Now we are. You had Harry Potter, though, so for a while you had the advantage—”
“Your activism is much more robust, as is your connection to international movements.”
“That is true.”
“I read an article about you in the Prophet and it discussed the impact you’ve had on gender expression and queer rights in Western Europe.”
They looked down. “I’m always embarrassed by that sort of thing. The interview itself was fine.”
“You come across as a natural.” Spurred on by Hydrus’ bashfulness, Ginny added, “I have to say, when I saw your picture in this month’s issue of Wix Mode, my heart stopped. In a good way. I regretted not—” She faltered and Hydrus put a hand on her arm. “I should have pursued you sooner.”
Hydrus shook their head. “There was never going to be a perfect time. We will make out—ah, up for it.”
“We can make out to make up for it,” said Ginny, leaning closer.
“You’re right.” Hydrus closed the distance between them, only briefly.
If they weren’t in public, they may have continued. There was a mutual unspoken sense that they ought to wait.
Now, whenever the two fumbled with the right thing to say, they laughed it off, openly flirting. The hours Ginny spent agonizing over her decision to date Jade seemed frivolous.
“What did you think when you first met me?” She wasn’t even sure if Hydrus remembered.
“We would have met…four years ago. My assistant had done measurements and after I designed them I came to your first game with the new uniforms.”
“We won that game, didn’t we?”
“Yes, you did.” They seemed suddenly shy. “You were beautiful. That’s what I thought. There is nothing more attractive than seeing someone in their element. I wish…I want to say I saw something no one else did. Yet I know that everyone was entranced by you, your strength, the way your face twisted before you dove for the Snitch.”
In an attempt to hide her embarrassment, Ginny scrunched up her face and was rewarded with Hydrus’ laughter.
“Yes, that’s it.”
They had left the bar and had started walking in the direction of Ginny’s apartment. The streetlights fluttered, and she had to concentrate to walk properly.
“You were sweaty when you shook my hand, I remember that.”
Ginny ran her hands down her face. “No…”
“You were.” Hydrus stopped walking to look at her. “It was your passion I liked, more than anything.”
Before they could say more, Ginny touched Hydrus’ face and kissed them; their lips were soft, soft, soft! Everything was happening sugary sweet spinning.
“We can’t,” said Hydrus, gently pushing her away.
“You’ve—we’ve had too much to drink, and it’s late. I want to, but we should wait.”
“Then you should come to my place this weekend!”
“Saturday? At eight?”
“It’s a date! I’ll send you my address…”
Ginny didn’t remember anything after that, waking up in pajamas that dissolved instantly back into her dress from the night before. On the nightstand next to her bed was a note, signed from Hydrus:
“Ginny—I helped you home last night, and charmed your dress. In case you don’t remember, I only came inside for a minute. Looking forward to Saturday.
Ginny was too hungover to feel embarrassed, and besides, they had another date.
After a grocery shop at the market and the posh store down the street, followed by a top to bottom clean of her apartment, Ginny had an hour before Hydrus was due to arrive. She spent this time trying in vain to calm her nerves, tinkering in the kitchen so everything would be in place for her to start cooking. She reread the magazine article about Hydrus, which was far less intimate than the photos. Given the tendency of rumor and personal details to stick in the wizarding community, it made sense.
A knock at the door jolted her to her feet. Holy shit, was she ready?
Hydrus was a foot taller than her, and this time, when they hugged, Ginny only felt her own breasts push against their chest.
“I brought cider. Something not too strong.”
Ginny laughed. “I appreciate it. I am so sorry for my behavior the other day, that was completely unlike me.”
“I should apologize for not cutting us both off. Also, I was more intoxicated than I seemed.”
“You hid it well.” Ginny knew there was a very good chance they would have sex, and wondered if the anticipation was mutual. Surely it was no coincidence that Hydrus’ hair was tied back.
“What’s in the bag?”
“Ah, I hope you don’t mind—there’s a few things I wondered if I could fit you for.”
“Things you designed?”
“A dress, some robes.”
Ginny nodded, assuming she should take it as a compliment. Her brain jumped ahead, imagining if this was a way to get her into bed. “Do you do this on all your second dates?”
“Only my third dates,” they replied, winking. “No, it is hard to explain when and why I have people do this. The last time someone I was interested in tried on my clothes was two years ago.” Their tone deflated, and Ginny knew where this conversation was bound to lead.
“We shouldn’t spend the night talking about exes again.”
“You’re right, you’re right.”
“Tell me about what you’re planning for that fashion weekend in Paris while I prepare our dinner.”
Kitchens, in and of themselves, are not sexy. They’re often cramped, piled with too many of their owner’s darlings: shitty mugs and rarely-used spices, more tea than one person needs and mismatched dinnerware. And yet, in the light of a few flickering candles set against the remaining glimmer of the sunset, Ginny couldn’t look at Hydrus without imagining them sitting on the kitchen island, head back, hand gripping her hair.
Cooking distracted her for the time being, getting the salmon and rice just right, relieved that she had gelato in the cooler in case the dinner flopped.
As she poured water from the tap, it occurred to her that water was likely the most appropriate symbol for Hydrus. Ultimately, people learn what water is—standing flat in a cup, lapping against a harbor dock, stinging skin in January—but never fully understood. Its state constantly changed, known and unknown, drawing her in, threading through her past and her present, washing up everything she had felt for another person. Oh shit, she was monologuing and romanticizing, all before they even got together.
Fortunately, the meal was delicious, probably because they were eating so late. Something in Hydrus’ expression changed after the food, unless it was just in Ginny’s imagination. She thought she’d seen it before in her past SOs: the release of tension, a first taste of domesticity.
Hydrus brought out their bag full of clothing and supplies. “It is harder to fit right after you have eaten, I realize, but we can certainly try the robes.” They set their bag down in the lounge.
“Right, just tell me what to do.”
“Can you stand here? At any point, tell me if you’re uncomfortable, and I’ll stop.”
“If you could strip to your underwear…”
Ginny did so, relishing how nervous Hydrus suddenly became. “How’s that?”
“Great,” they said, voice more composed than they looked.
Ginny felt increasingly bold. “Have you ever designed lingerie?”
“Ah, yes, I have. What are you thinking?”
“That you should design some for me. But just for me.”
Hydrus slowly set down the robes they had picked up, tracing Ginny’s body in the air. “You tend to wear red, am I right?”
She shrugged. “It’s my color.”
“Yes, of course. For something new, I’m thinking of a periwinkle.” They waved their wand, and the color changed to a pale blue. Stepping closer, they stopped to examine the lace on her pants. “Can I touch you?”
“Yes,” replied Ginny, knowing Hydrus could see the gooseflesh creeping up her legs.
Their fingers traced the edge of the pants on either side, creating thinner panels of lace. “And now the bra…” Hydrus ran their fingers along Ginny’s side again, this time along her bra straps, along the underwire, and without looking she knew her nipples were visible through the fabric. She had no idea how the garment was transforming because she was staring down at Hydrus. Belatedly, she realized she had reached up to press Hydrus’ hand harder to her, and when they looked up, Ginny kissed them.
Although they had been coy before, even reserved, Hydrus no longer held back, hoisting Ginny up as she wrapped her legs around them. It was only when they rolled onto the bed that Hydrus paused, looking down at Ginny, whose bra had already been dropped somewhere on their path. Rather than say something, they just shook their head, brow furrowed.
“What is it?” asked Ginny, though she’d seen versions of the expression before.
“Tu es belle. Beautiful.”
She tried not to shiver. “You could probably say anything in French and I’d melt.”
Hydrus shifted down on the bed and kissed Ginny’s breast, then said, voice husky, “Tes cheveux sont comme des pommes frites.”
“And what’s that mean?”
“Your hair is like pommes frites.” They grinned, and Ginny chuckled, grateful for a chance to catch her breath.
“Before we go further, I want to ask you if you are comfortable with me changing my form. If you are not, it will not bother me.”
The wildest of possibilities flashed through Ginny’s mind. “Er, as long as you stay human?” She relaxed a little at Hydrus’ reaction, their shoulders shaking with laughter. “And maybe don’t transform into anyone I know.”
“Okay, that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Right.” She hadn’t been nervous until then, naked in front of Hydrus, not knowing what to expect. Their next kiss was slow, and the heavy wanting was back in a flash.
“When you like something…” breathed Hydrus as they squeezed Ginny’s ass. “Make sure to let me know it.”
Ginny managed a careful “Mhm,” preventing a whine from escaping her lips.
“Same goes if you don’t like something, I don’t want to overwhelm you.”
All Ginny wanted was to be overwhelmed. If Hydrus consumed her, turned her inside out, she could die happy.
Hydrus lowered her onto the bed, hips at the edge. They touched her thighs and pressed their lips to the edge of where Ginny hadn’t bothered shaving her soft leg hair.
“You have freckles on your thighs,” said Hydrus, tapping the darkest among them.
“That I do,” said Ginny, used to bedroom compliments about her skin.
Hydrus noticed her expression and stopped. “You alright?”
Ginny sighed and covered her face with her arm. “I dunno why, but I’m a bit—can we go slower?”
“Yeah, of course, of course.” Hydrus pulled themself onto the bed and touched her face. They stared at each other, drawn closer until their eyes looked like one giant eye, blinking only occasionally. Almost lazily, their hands found each other’s upper thigh, inching closer until Ginny felt the wet patch of Hydrus’ pants, moving her fingers back and forth. They did the same, mirroring her movements, until Ginny rolled over to sit on their lap.
“Can I change my form?” asked Hydrus, voice low, hands moving up to grip Ginny’s hips.
“Yeah,” she replied, knowing right before it happened what Hydrus meant. Spurred on by how hard Hydrus was, Ginny rubbed against them.
“Holy shit,” moaned Hydrus, breasts pooled against their chest. One of the first things Ginny noticed about them at Frances and Peyton’s wedding was their composure; this was so unlike what she knew, seeing them completely surrender themselves to pleasure, their shuddering breath when they were finally inside her.
Her own breathing quickened until she matched Hydrus, dimly aware that the sounds she was making were more like whines than moans.
They watched her until it became too difficult and their head pushed back into the bed with their eyes squeezed shut. “Ah—ah—fuck, I’m, ngh! Aha, ah…!”
Ginny rode out Hydrus’ orgasm until she too tipped over the edge, and collapsed next to them.
“Mm…” Hydrus brushed aside her hair.
“You like it?”
“Yes, of course.”
There was so much Ginny wanted to say. Hydrus seemed to sense this and ran a feather-light finger over her arm. “I had imagined what it would be like with you.”
Although she was already glowing, blood rushed to Ginny’s face. “Yeah?”
“Reality was better than my imagination.” They hesitated. “I want to hear you sound like that again.” Their hands were soft on her back, tracing unknown letters.
“I don’t doubt you will.” She wanted the comment to be ambiguous—did she mean that night, or in the months to come? For the time being, she sidled up to Hydrus, draped her leg over them, and closed her eyes.
Throughout the night, when one of them sprawled a hand over onto the other, or they happened to rouse from sleep at the same time, they moved together again. Her tongue in Hydrus, drawing out twitches of pleasure; Hydrus pressed up against her, fingers running over wherever they could find, even the spot in her side that had taken past lovers at least seven shared nights to find; kneeling, grinding on each other’s thighs as they kissed.
Between dreams, sex, and sleep, visions crossed Ginny’s eyes, blurring reality. In the days after, she couldn’t remember what was real and what was not. She walked into the Black Lake, cool water lapping against her legs, until she was suddenly immersed, floating naked in the water as the merfolk touched her—she was their prize, or prey, or god; she couldn’t tell. Before that, or maybe after, she stood in a dark corridor, peering down until she saw a tall translucent creature peel off from the wall, approach her slowly even as she drove a stake through its heart, pinning it back to the wall so it burst.
She was definitely awake when Hydrus created a field between them so they couldn’t touch, only watch as the other got off. She may have been awake when they transfigured the bed into a cloud, the mist soaking them to the bone until they clung together to see, to feel warmth. There was a chance she was dreaming when Hydrus pinned her down, eyes completely black, long fingers making her legs numb. Space and time were distant concepts.
In her last dream, she could fly. She lived in the Forbidden Forest, up in the trees where the Death Eaters couldn’t reach her. Hydrus, their features undefined, climbed up and hid her in an invisibility cloak. As they waited for the danger to pass, they began to move against each other—causing them to fall out of the tree, a peril they narrowly escaped when Ginny started to fly just in time, wings pushing the air, launching them into the sky, up and up…
Ginny awoke to bright sunlight spilling through the curtains. Next to her, Hydrus yawned and squinted in the light. Their face was imprinted from the covers. Blinking from sleep, they reached up and ran a hand over Ginny’s hair. “Good morning. Do you want breakfast? I can get something at this incredible nonmagic bakery in the West End.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, you shower, I will be back by the time you’re done.”
“Thank you,” said Ginny, as she watched Hydrus leave. A pang of lust hit her again and she wished she could wake up this sore every weekend. She was grinning like an idiot when Hydrus suddenly peeked through the doorway, already dressed. “Do you want coffee? Oh, what are you smiling about?”
“You,” replied Ginny, smile growing.
“I could get used to the way you look at me, that’s for certain.” Hydrus crossed to the bed and sat down beside her. “Last night was wonderful.”
There was something about Hydrus being clothed, looking down on her, that made her reply husky. “I thought so, too.” She parted her lips and pulled Hydrus closer, moving to prop her knees on either side of them and sit on their lap.
They broke apart to ask, looking into her eyes, “You aren’t tired?”
“Only a bit. Can you wake me up?”
They slid a hand over her pants. Ginny took their hand and pressed it harder, not realizing she had let out a small whine.
Hydrus took her hand gently and pulled away. “If we continue, I’ll never leave the house.”
“I want you,” said Ginny, cheeks and chest flush with renewed desire.
“I will be right back.”
“Mm.” She kissed them again, touching the back of their neck.
“As much as it pains me.”
“I’ll be patient. I waited this long, didn’t I?”
“What was it you were waiting for?” Hydrus wrapped their arms around her, smiling.
“Something more than a hook-up.”
They raised an eyebrow. “Ah, is that so? Do you always ask people out when you’re naked in their bed?”
“You’d be the first.”
“Oh, I am honored.”
“It’s high praise, really.”
Their brown eyes lingered on hers, and a familiar ache rent Ginny’s chest, the pull of potential against the part of her that told her to be careful, take it slow.
“You don’t have to censor yourself for me,” said Hydrus gently. “Don’t hold yourself in because you think that is what I want.”
“I’ll do my best,” was all Ginny could say in response. After Hydrus left, she felt everything more intensely than before, the sunlight cast over her, the rumble in her stomach, the twinge in her wrist, the possibilities.