Title: Interpreting Draconis
Thank you to
I frowned at my appearance in the mirror above the receptionist's desk. There was nothing to be done about the hair. Maybe the client would assume I was one of those young professionals who pay good coin for products that create multiple dark tufts like mine on purpose. I really needed to find a new barber, or stop going to my regular and find someone willing to listen when I tell them, 'Not too short or it won't sit right'. Anyway, it's a battle I might never win.
"You're new," said the woman behind the desk. She peeked over her glasses and inspected me while her blonde curls bounced forward.
I nodded, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. "Harry. Er—nice to meet you."
One brightly tipped finger pushed her glasses back up her nose. "Well, you're attractive enough, let's hope that will distract him for a while."
"Oh, you poor dear!" she said with a half-pout, looking at me as if I were a homeless kitten. "They didn't give you any warning, did they? Well, perhaps that's for the best. Swim before you crawl, am I right?" She stood abruptly, rounded her desk and gave me an unexpected push forward. "He's in there, the copper door," she whispered. I glanced at the highly polished surface and saw our distorted reflections. "That's the one. You have water?" I shook my head as she reached back around the desk and slapped a bottle into my hand. "You're going to need it. He's not going to like your outfit, but let's hope he's dazzled by your…charm. There you go. Best of luck!"
With another 'What?' still on my lips and a mumbled 'thank you' for the water, I stumbled into the massive office and glanced back as the overly helpful and slightly disturbing woman vanished behind the shiny door.
At the opposite end of the room, I saw a young man with his head bent over a massive glass desk, intently focused on his work. Or more accurately, I saw only the top of his white-blond, sharp haircut, the shoulders of an exquisitely cut suit and his manicured hand clutching a pen to the point of turning the knuckles white.
I forced myself to stop staring, and instead looked around for the light switch. After a few flicks, he was staring right at me.
I'm Harry, the interpreter, I signed.
He dropped his pen, put on a scowl and raised his hands. He was faster than I'd seen in a while, but I understood him.
I've never seen you before. Where'd they find you? Are you qualified? Why would you wear jeans to a business meeting? What's your mother's name? You have no clue what I'm saying, do you? Just like all the others. Get out!
In a practiced motion, he scooped up his pen, used his other hand to hit a white button on the phone, and dismissed me with a sharp break of our eye contact. Before I could respond to his outburst, he bent his head over his work again.
Great. First job in London, and I'd been sacked before I'd even begun. Not on. I took a slow breath in, organized his rant in my mind and flicked the lights off and on again.
Steel-grey eyes flashed with anger and his finger jabbed toward the door.
I didn't want to start a row, but I wasn't going to stand there and take unwarranted abuse from a stranger. I held up my left hand and calmly listed off my answers.
One finger. I'm new, moved into town last month.
Some of the hostility slipped away from his hard expression, leaving behind flushed cheeks and perfect skin. He might have been attractive if he wasn't so combative.
The door gave a minute squeak as the receptionist swayed into the room, a clipboard in her hand and a knowing look of disappointment evident in the tight-lipped expression she cast in the direction of the desk.
Tell her you'll be staying.
"Looks like I'm staying."
"Wonderful!" she said, making a wide turn back to the door, her tone instantly bright again. She whispered something else on her way out, but the heavy door silenced whatever it was.
I turned back to the room. My assignment form named the client as Draco Malfoy, the same name on the cut crystal nameplate on the desk. He gestured for me to sit in one of the two leather office chairs in front of him. I sank into the nearest and tried to be invisible, now that I'd made a scene. I should have just let it alone, walked out and moved on to the next job, but no, I had to prove myself, and now the client would probably make a formal complaint to the agency. Well done, Potter.
I'm meeting with Samuel Cobalt of Cobalt Industries. He is concerned, along with all our other distributers, with my father's disappearance and recent mess with the media. You've heard?
I took a deep breath and tried to accept the abrupt change of face. I'm sorry, I don't know the situation.
He examined me with his eyes as if searching for a lie. I got the feeling that anyone else in London would already know what he was talking about.
With my move , setting up house and looking for work, I haven't been keeping up with the news, I clarified, waiting for the suspicion to leave his gaze.
He nodded, opened a file drawer under his desk and handed me sections of two newspapers. The first had yesterday's date at the top. I skimmed down the page to the first quote. Constable Andrew Gander reports: "Lucius Malfoy (owner of Denique Timepieces) has either taken the coward's way out by orchestrating his own disappearance to avoid a hearing, or, as his son believes, may be the victim of a kidnapping. Evidence will tell on this one. It's only a matter of time." The second was a slightly yellowed copy of last Monday's Times. The headline caught my eye: Time runs out for watch mogul: Investors call for justice as timepiece future rests in the hands of disabled heir.
The word 'disabled' made my skin crawl, but the reaction had more to do with my own experiences working as an interpreter than with any indignation I might have had on behalf of my client. I had only just met him, and yet with one glance up from my reading, I knew instinctively that he hated the word as much as I did.
I quickly read through the rest of the article, memorizing the spelling of his father's name, the names of the parties making claims against the company, time and place of his disappearance and any other details that I thought might come up with Samuel Cobalt—the distributer who stood to lose millions if Malfoy's empire crumbled. I handed the newspaper back to him as the door opened once more.
He saw it, but quickly signed, I'm sorry about your mother, before a balding, stern-looking man in a pressed navy suit came into view and took the chair beside mine.
An apology. Well, that was unexpected.
I gave Draco a private nod of acknowledgement, and attempted to clear my mind for work.
After leaving the office, I stopped in at the ground floor Thai restaurant in my building for some take-away noodles. I managed to balance everything while kicking off my shoes and settling down at the computer to check my e-mail. The food filled the air with spicy warmth as I popped open the lid and tore the paper from my wooden chopsticks.
I scanned my e-mail in-box: advert from a cruise line, daily vocabulary word, a few odd jobs from the interpreting agency's work list, confirmation of my donation to the Orphan Sponsorship Fund, a short note from Hermione saying she'd be home for Christmas and 'I better be dating someone by then', and something forwarded from Denique Timepieces.
Forwarded from: Reception, Denique Timepieces
All the best,
To: Samuel Goading
The meeting with Cobalt went better than expected. He refuses to drop charges, but is willing to wait out the market panic to see 'which way the wind blows'. The police showed up to take my statement as he was leaving. I'd waited their stupid required time to report Father as officially missing, so I wanted to get them in and out as soon as possible. From the looks they kept exchanging, I know they weren't taking me seriously, but at least if they do their job and find him, I can always press discrimination charges once he's back home.
The one good thing that came out of today was the new interpreter. They finally managed to send someone proficient enough to keep up with me. He even kept redirecting the constables to give me eye contact when they did the whole "Tell Mr Malfoy this" business. At last, someone with a measure of professionalism and cultural sensitivity, even if his grooming fails to reflect his other skills. I've asked him to come back tomorrow for the board meeting. I'm not using that Simpson girl again. Do you know she actually cried when I told her to go back to university? You think she'd be used to people calling her incompetent by now. Oversensitive, that's all there is to it.
I suppose I should ask how your day went? If it was worse than mine, I might want to hear about it.
I was halfway through the letter before I realised that I had no business reading it. It took another second to get properly angry at the batty receptionist for sending it. I set down my food, paced around the living room and wondered if I felt strongly enough about it to mention something to my client. It was his personal e-mail to a friend, I assumed, and whether I was the subject or not, wasn't important. I could probably get this woman sacked, but would I?
Ethical dilemmas. It was what kept me on my toes as an interpreter, and was also the hardest part of my job. In theory, I was just a means of communication. Whatever happened around me was held secret and confidential, even if I was called before a judge, or asked for the truth outright. Most of my colleagues adopted "I don't know," or "I can't recall," to their arsenal of responses to personal questions involving our clients.
On one side, it was nice to read the left-handed compliment about my work, but on the flip side, I knew Carla Simpson, and thought she did great work when she wasn't under pressure. I'd also read a client's personal e-mail. That added up to too many secrets. I had to do something.
I took the coward's way out and sent it back to Draco directly, and added a note that said I'd received his e-mail by mistake. I didn't mention anything about the receptionist, but I figured that if she kept up that kind of behaviour, she'd get herself sacked soon enough anyway.
I switched off the computer, rescued what was left of my food and dropped myself in front of the telly to wonder if Malfoy would sack me in favour of an interpreter who hadn't read his e-mail.
I'd find out soon enough, so I readied my chopsticks again. There was no sense in letting good noodles go cold.
The scene was ideal, and I made a mental note to remember it again on some damp, gloomy day in February. The sun was glorious, the grass cool and perfect, the breeze moved like a Sunday afternoon and carried the sound of children's laughter. No, distant bells. Maybe more like jingling, or perhaps ringing. Ringing. Ringing.
I rolled over, nearly upsetting my entire night table, blasted phone and all. As the alarm clock dived toward the floor, my fuzzy brain registered the glowing numbers: three forty-six in the morning.
"Yes. Who is this?"
"This is SignTalk Video Relay. Your caller is using sign language to communicate. I will be interpreting the call for you. Are you familiar with our service?"
"Yes. Er… Tell them to call direct to my videophone," I said, reciting the number, knowing that the only person who would call me in the middle of the night already knew how to contact me. I said a quick prayer that no one was hurt. I had had bad experiences with phone calls in the dead of night, asking for me by name. My heart was already thumping out of control, and I didn't even know if anything was wrong yet—but my body had made up its mind.
"Very good, sir. Thank you for using SignTalk. I'm interpreter seven thirty-nine. Have a pleasant evening."
It was rude to just hang up, but I was more concerned with pulling on some shorts during my run down the hall, switching the telly on and pushing the power button on the videophone. Then I sat there, shivering in my near-empty living room, waiting for the strobe light to start flashing so I could answer.
My next thought turned into a mental arse-kicking when I reminded myself that I could have saved a lot of panic by just asking the interpreter who was calling. Well, it was an indecent time to be woken up, and I was going to stand behind that excuse.
The flashing light caught me off guard, but the remote was already in my hand, so all I had to do was press one button to answer.
Draco appeared and relief passed over his face the moment he saw me. I looked at myself, projected in a smaller frame under his picture, and noticed that all the shock I was feeling was there for Draco to see, as well as my entire naked upper body and bed-punk hair. I kicked myself for not bringing a shirt from the bedroom, but it was too late for that now. I wasn't going to try signing with the sofa blanket wrapped awkwardly around me, or put him on hold, so I waved hello and decided to ignore my state of undress and give him a chance to tell me why he was calling at this hour.
Yeah. My best friend is the only one who has my new VP number, and clients don't call this late—normally.
Your best friend is Deaf?
Yeah. We grew up next door to each other. Her whole family is Deaf, so that's why…
My train of thought sped away as my waking mind took in his location. He was sitting alone in something that looked like one of those photo booths at the shopping centres. Small space. Blue walls. No windows. I was positive it was one of those public videophone boxes that were set up in libraries, community centres and hospit…
Where are you?
Hospital. I need you to… He paused whatever he had been planning to say and looked as if he were taking a moment to regroup. I zoomed his picture in closer to get a better look at his face. He looked a wreck but was trying his best not to appear that way. I'm sorry to call so late. Would you be willing to come down for an hour or so? I don't have money on me right now, but I'll get it for you. Please.
Are you all right? I don't know why I said it; it was less than professional, but then again, so was taking calls from clients in the middle of the night while practically naked.
He gave a tight shudder, ran a hand through his flat hair and painted on a calm expression. My father's been found. The doctors and police are waiting to talk to me, and I'd rather not have to write notes all night. Time might be important, and I don't want my… He stopped signing and made a vague gesture toward his ear. I'd rather have an interpreter here. I know I'm not going through the proper channels, but I wanted you, and I had your card from…
He was right—there was a system set up for emergencies. A protocol we were expected to follow for the safety of both clients and interpreters. The ink was still drying on my new job, and I didn't want to lose favour with the agency within the first week of employment.
On the other hand, if I added in the e-mail episode, I was already in for a penny.
Which hospital? I asked, knowing already what he would tell me. Fate has a nasty sense of humour. My mind was made up before he finished spelling out the name.
I'm close. I'll be there in ten minutes.
I found him almost the moment I stepped through the automatic double doors. Two police officers were blocking his way down a corridor, their raised voices annoying the hospital staff, who made their own noise by telling them to, "Shush!" One young man in a lab coat tried to get Draco's attention by tapping him on the head, while a woman holding a clipboard jabbed her finger at a crinkled form and pushed it into his line of sight. Draco knocked it out of her hand and let out a cry of frustration.
I sped up my pace until he saw me out of the corner of his eye. He reached out a hand.
Without thinking, I took it, pulled him out of the chaos and blocked their way. Suddenly all eyes were on me—not a great feeling for someone whose professional goal in life was to be as invisible as possible. At least everyone was quiet for a moment.
I decided an introduction might help save face. "I'm Harry, Mr Malfoy's interpreter," I said, signing while I talked. Draco stepped in line with me and lifted his hands.
"Now you will all listen to me!" I said, colouring Draco's words with the emotion I could see radiating off of him.
"Now why are you yelling?" the woman asked me. Draco held his breath as splotches of red crept up his neck.
I flipped back to speaking and signing for myself. "When Draco signs, I'm his voice. I switch to speaking in first person so it's easier for you to believe that you're talking to him, because you are. Just pretend I'm not here."
I'd given that speech too many times to number, and that—by far—had been the worst explanation to date. I was already far too emotionally attached to the client and the situation to pretend at neutrality. Also, it was gone four in the morning. I comforted myself with the reassurance that no one did good work at that hour.
"Mr Malfoy," said the lab coat, whose name badge read Dr Ben Spanswick. "I know you must want to see your father."
While I was interpreting, one of the constables started to interrupt, but the doctor held up his hand and continued as Draco nodded his answer.
"He wants to see you before he gives his statement to the police, but that request has been met with slight reluctance."
"How would you feel? Do neither of you have sons or fathers?" Draco asked the officers through me. When no one answered, he swept the back of his hand across his wet eyes.
The group parted without another word as Draco followed the doctor down the hall. Clipboard woman and I trailed after them. I heard the officers mumble something about coming back for a statement after a hot cup of tea, but Draco was already too far ahead for me to relay the message.
I wasn't needed for the father and son reunion, so I stood out in the near-empty corridor and took a moment to list how many ethical guidelines I had broken in such a short span of time. Part of me was disgusted with myself. In nearly six years of being an interpreter, I had prided myself on my professionalism and my ability to maintain personal boundaries. I kept my emotions in check, no matter the situation. So why was I breaking my own rules with this client? Standing there with the adrenalin melting away and my weariness ready to take its place, I couldn't lie to myself any longer. I knew why Draco was different.
A tap on my arm jolted me out of my thoughts. Draco's face still held the signs of high emotion, but I could tell that the reunion had gone well by the drowsy smile he gave me.
He glanced down the deserted hallway. Police?
They'll be back at five-thirty to interview your dad.
I need a drink before they come back. Care to join me? I owe you, after all.
We started walking. Thanks, I could use some coffee.
We might even have time for a quick breakfast. He pushed up the sleeve of his grey jumper to check the time, and revealed a striking silver watch. The hour markers caught the light and sparkled like sunlight on water.
Wow, I signed. It's beautiful. Before I could protest, he unfastened the clasp and handed it to me for inspection.
This is me.
It was solid, weighty, but still managed to be sleek and fluid as the metal links formed to the contours of my hand. The face was a vertical rectangle with only the numbers twelve at the top and six at the bottom, inlaid as silver roman numerals. The other hours were each marked with what looked like diamonds.
I could give you the whole sales push if you like.
I laughed and signed Sure.
This one is named for me, or at least the group of stars my parents named me after, Draconis. The ancient Egyptians told time by it, and were able to know the position of the sun at night by the movement of the star clock in the night sky. Father designed it as a limited edition for my birthday last year. I love it, but it didn't sell well.
Well, it comes with all the normal features: smooth-action second hand, water resistant, scratch-resistant glass and automatic movement. He continued when my expression told him I was unfamiliar with the term It means it takes energy from the movement of my arm to run itself, instead of winding.
That sounds amazing.
Yes, but the reason it didn't sell had more to do with the price. I wasn't about to ask him how much it cost, but he read it in my eyes anyway. It's dipped in white gold three times to prevent scratching and rust, and there are also the ten diamonds. I think he went over the top, but I still love that he didn't spare any expense.
I nodded and suddenly felt too average a bloke to hold a watch that was most likely more valuable than my new river-view flat. I felt something like a scratch mark on the back of the watch. Puzzled, I turned it over and saw an inscription: Time is money.
He ran his index finger over the words. It's half an inside joke, and half the family business motto. Get it? Time, he lifted the watch out of my hand and gave it a little shake, equals a lot of money! I laughed with him until his smile fell away abruptly. He shifted his stance. My mother hated that he put that sentence on the back. She wanted something more meaningful.
We walked the rest of the way to the tearoom in silence, and I was glad because it gave me a moment to think about what he'd just said about his mother. If I was right in my assumptions, we had more in common than I'd first thought.
There wasn't much of a queue to the cashier, once we had our drinks in hand, but the room was quite busy with the night crew enjoying tea and breakfast before going home for some sleep. We found an available table in the middle, and we quickly tuned out the activity around us. We had our own language, and that gave us all the privacy we needed.
At first we floated along the surface, talking more about the watch industry and then of my new flat, about my work for the agency and how there should be more male interpreters in the city. Next he asked about my childhood—a normal and important question because I'd told him about my friend earlier and he was looking for a connection.
I gave him the short, controlled answer, but I didn't want to. We were connecting more and more with each moment spent together and that bothered me slightly. Only yesterday he'd been a wealthy, volcanic client who threw tantrums in one breath and apologised with the next. Now, he was exhausted, open, I might even say kind, and the lines between business and personal were blurring. I didn't know who was more of a comfort to whom at the moment. I was here for him, but it was Draco who'd given me the opportunity to finally face this hospital again, and he didn't even know it.
I was born in the city, I told him. My parents both worked in security and we lived in a tiny flat in Bloomsbury. When I was eight, we moved out to the country because they wanted to raise me somewhere I could play outdoors and still be safe. It took us a while to adjust to village life, but it got easier for me once I found a friend my age.
The Deaf neighbours, right? Would I know them?
Maybe. Granger Family. It's just the parents and their daughter. Brown wavy hair, face in a book, really smart.
Yes. She took the sixteen plus program at Oak Lodge—I think we were in university preparation together. If she's the one I recall, it's no wonder you can keep up with me. She always argued with the professors, and had a unusual name, right?
Yeah, Hermione. She taught me to sign, included me in her family, and we're still close. She's off in Sheffield right now doing some training, but she'll be back in London for Christmas. She's been offered a teaching job at Doncaster next year.
Doncaster! Impressive. A lot of history there.
Yeah, I think that was her main reason for accepting. I'm going to miss her, but she's a brilliant teacher.
There must be plenty of work around there for interpreters too. Perhaps you could…
Maybe. I've thought about it, but for now I wanted to be busier than Doncaster would have kept me, so I came back here. I talk to her every day by e-mail and a few times a week on the VP, but it'll be great to see her for the holidays. It's ages away, though.
Give me a call when she comes to town. I'd love to see her again. Does she drink? There's a Deaf pub night every Sunday at Galley's. We fill the place and empty the well. It's a lot of fun at Christmas—drunken performances and Deaf poetry!
I laughed out loud and got a sharp look from the cashier. Sounds great. I took a quick look around and saw that the room had all but emptied while we were chatting. Draco tapped my hand and I gave him my attention again.
Hey. You should come next week. It's nothing special this time of year, but we talk and drink. Other hearing people sometimes come, but we don't let them use voice, he said with a loaded smile.
I swallowed, not meaning to, but my body heard a lot more in the invitation than was probably offered. Blood rushed around with the suggestions my lonely mind played back to me in an endless loop. I was sure I was blushing, but I grabbed my cup and finished off my coffee to give me some time to mull over my ethical dilemma. He was my client, and probably not even interested anyway. I was sure my mind was just reading too much into the innocent offer. Then again, that smile was too sinful to be innocent.
As if sensing my inner battle, he changed the subject and let me off the hook. I should tell you about what my father said.
The change to 'business' took me a little off guard. Oh, you don't have to. That's between the two of you.
He lifted his shoulders in a small shrug. Well, the more you know now, the better the interpretation will be, right? Fewer surprises, open channels. He gestured at the space between us and smiled warmly. Better communication.
I returned his smile and I thought it was a real shame that our working relationship was getting in the way of a great possible friendship—or more. More is always better than less. Thanks. There. I was definitely flirting. Bloody hell. Stay focused, Potter.
His expression melted into something that showed what the traumatic night and early morning had cost him.
He confessed to exploring a few investment options that seemed too good to be true, and were. He lost big, almost everything. The company is in serious danger of folding. We have some hard decisions to make as soon as I can get him released from the hospital.
My heat sank for a man I hardly knew. So was he really kidnapped?
He gave a short, dark laugh. I loved the sound, though I could see the sarcasm in his expression.
He rented a small, private plane to go off and think about this situation. He was going to text me when he got there, but they never made it. They went down in Wales, and it took the police a while to track them down through the woods. The local rescue team was actually looking for the pilot because his wife reported him missing. I got my father back by chance.
Wow. Well, he's safe now, anyway. You must be relieved.
I am. He has his flaws, but he's the only parent I have left. We've gotten much closer since my mother's death.
Thank you, but enough time has gone by that the memories are more manageable now.
How long did it take?
I didn't mean to say it, and I started mentally kicking myself the moment the question rolled off of my fingers, but he looked at me with such familiarity that I couldn't take it back, or stop the rogue tear that escaped.
It's still new for you.
I wiped at my face with a napkin. Last autumn.
Was she ill?
I swallowed. I breathed in and out. I looked at him and then at the door that led into the hall. I lifted my hands to answer, but my chest and throat were closing up, as if they were on a mission to stop me from sharing something so personal. I could feel my face burning red and the cool tracks of the tears that were now flowing without interruption. I dropped my hands to the table.
Then he touched me.
I looked down at his hand covering mine and my tears blurred the image. I was too far gone too quickly to be embarrassed or to admit how pathetic it was to be pushing my own emotional pain onto a client. As his thumb moved in a slow repetitive slide over mine, he suddenly wasn't 'client' anymore, he was just Draco. He was someone who had been there. Someone who knew.
I signed one handed. Car crash. Lost them both. It was all I could get out before the sobs began. I half-registered a chair being pushed close to mine. When Draco's arms came around me, I tried to turn and apologise for the scene I was making, but he just held me firm, trapping me against his warm body and soft jumper. For once in my life, I didn't try to say I was 'fine' or start a row to keep from facing the aching emptiness I felt, or use my work and muscle relaxants as an excuse to exhaust myself into avoiding my nightmares. I just let myself be held. It was the easiest and the hardest thing I'd ever done.
I was astounded by how right, how safe and good it felt to finally let someone else guide me through the pain I wasn't able to face on my own. The worst part was I knew it wouldn't last. We'd both have to let go, clean up and return to the real world in a matter of minutes. Fuck, I still had to work for him. I had no idea how I was going to keep up a professional appearance after I'd clung to him like a frightened child and soaked him with tears. But he knew, didn't he? He'd probably done the same thing—maybe not with a near stranger, but he'd been there. As different as we were, grief was our bridge, and I tried not to let my embarrassment show as I reluctantly eased back.
I was more aware of him now that I had pulled myself together—more or less. He was breathing fast, his own tears drying on his flushed face. Shining eyes, perfect mouth. He was studying me too, searching my face and lowering one hand down to rest on my leg. A hand slid through my hair and urged me slowly forward. My mind was sending off dozens of alarms, but I let him guide me until it came time to part my lips and close my eyes. There were no words, no permission asked, and yet we were perfectly attuned to each other in that moment. I covered the hand on my leg and gave it a light squeeze. He echoed me, flexing his fingers. Communication received.
"And just what are you doing?"
I pulled back so quickly that Draco nearly toppled from his chair as his relaxed body tried to follow mine. We both stared in horrified shock at the two officers who were standing at the other end of the table.
We'll meet you in my father's room in two minutes, Draco signed, recovering swiftly.
I interpreted what Draco had said, and was rewarded with a bewildered shake of the older constable's head. "Make it five. And clean yourselves up."
My hand flew instinctively to my still-wet face, and I tried to quickly dry my eyes with my sleeve.
As they walked away, I heard the other one mumble, "Right in the middle of the room! Can you believe that?"
We got to our feet and stared at each other. I'd never felt so awkward in my life, struggling for something intelligent to say while my body wanted me to shut up and pick up where we'd left off. I took a deep breath and tried to get everything working again. A million different ways to apologize filtered through my mind, but a simple, inadequate Thank you, was what I finally managed to produce.
He gave a short nod, and continued to stand there, looking dazed again, and perhaps a little sad. It was hard to tell. Eventually, he pointed toward the men's room, and it was my turn to nod. We washed our faces in silence and left the bathroom as strangers again, ready to face the police and Draco's father.
It was only when the sun was full in the sky and I was finally crawling back into bed that I realised that 'thank you' might have been too vague, considering all that had happened.
I fell asleep with the memory of his face, wet with tears, and I wondered if they'd been for his mother, for the safety of his father, or for me.
When Sunday night rolled around, I was still undecided on my plan. To be truthful, I really didn't have one. I kept changing my mind between staying at home to check the agency's list for more work, or switching off the computer and making an appearance down at the pub. On one hand I wanted the work; I had more reason than ever to want a constant distraction from my life and my too-quiet loft, but I wanted to see him again—not just through the videophone, or across the room while interpreting yet another meeting.
It was stupid of me, but I wanted to see what he was wearing, hear his laugh, and dear god, I wanted to touch him again. I'd made up several reasons why going to the pub was unwise—two columns, actually, one for personal reasons, and one for professional. They were both long, depressing and failed to win over my heart to the idea of staying away.
As I was pulling on my jacket, a memory from a few years ago came back to me. I'd had a handful of relationships that didn't last any longer than a few months, and was feeling discouraged, so I did what every confused young man needs to do when they've run out of answers—I'd gone for tea with my mum. She listened, she laughed, she cried for me, and then she said, "You don't do anything by halves, Harry. I know your heart wants to find someone who won't leave at the first sign of trouble—someone you need as much as they need you." And when I asked her how I was to go about finding someone like that when the rest had run, she said the most daft thing I've ever heard, "Your heart will know. Time will stop and there'll be no one else. Believe me."
I took one last look in the mirror, and smiled at the shiver that ran through me at the thought of seeing Draco in less than an hour.
"Well, Mum, I hope you're right," I said, pulling the door closed and doing my best not to let my nerves get the better of me.
The pub was a circus for all the senses. Bass-heavy music pumped out of two weary speakers that were sitting on the edge of the dance floor, the air was thick with the aroma that only fish oil and stale beer can create, and hands were flying every which way with dozens of visual conversations all going on at once.
A quick look around showed me a few familiar faces, several new ones and the one I was actually looking for. He looked liked the rest of them, so much so that I nearly disregarded him on the first sweep. His suit and polish were gone, but he was still a sight in jeans and a faded Jeff Beck t-shirt. By the ease of his smile and the faint pink glow of his cheeks, I could tell he'd had a few and was feeling the lift. He abruptly stopped the discussion he was having with the other men at the table and practically ran for me.
I wasn't expecting the strong embrace, or the two firm claps on the back, but it was worth all the eyes suddenly on us like a hundred spotlights to see the expression on his face. He was glad I'd come. He shifted slightly to place the crowd at his back and gave me a private smile—one the devil himself would have been proud of.
In the next second, he spun around and introduced me to everyone as Harry Potter, hearing interpreter. He then gave the typical information that hearing people usually ignore, but is key within the Deaf world: where I'd grown up, what school I'd attended, where I'd learned sign language, and which prominent members of the community would vouch for me. I was used to it, knew it was all part of the ritual, and for their part, everyone made me feel right at home.
After my entrance had lost its shine, everyone returned to what they'd been doing before, and Draco led me back to his table to pick up where he'd left off. We took turns telling stories, filling our cups, and stealing birthday balloons from the party in the small private room at the back so that we could conduct an experiment.
At some unknown signal, everyone at our table got up, balloons in hand, and made for the dance floor. Draco gestured to the DJ, and a thumping dance song garbled out, filling the pub with enough bottom end to make my kidneys rattle. I praised the gods of experience as I shoved earplugs into my thankful ears.
Each Deaf person with a balloon held it with both hands at chest height and closed their eyes. Slowly but surely, everyone began to sway, bounce, nod and tap to the beat. Eventually, eyes started opening and everyone danced. It was a strange sight, blokes and girls dancing with balloons as partners, but it also looked like a lot of fun to my beer-warmed brain. I grabbed a stray blue one that said 'happy birthday' across the middle, and held it in both hands. The pulse from the bass was amplified in physical sound waves that tried to push out through my fingers. It danced in my grip and buzzed my sensitive fingertips.
All at once, Draco tossed his balloon over his head and sauntered toward one of the old, tired speakers. He pressed his hands to the surface of the wood, and the others followed. They split into two groups, turning the speaker boxes into Maypoles. Soon, heads started bobbing again and hips swayed, but I was happy to be a spectator this round.
Draco tilted his face up to the ceiling and closed his eyes once more. He shook out his damp hair and I watched the coloured lights play over his skin. Some of the birthday crowd had filtered in and joined the dance floor, making the small place feel suddenly cramped, but I still had him in my line of sight.
I found it almost impossible to connect this Draco, who looked so carefree and peaceful, with the Draco who was impeccably dressed during business hours and feared by every interpreter in the book. I chuckled when I realized that his coping tactics were the exact opposite of mine. One thing was for certain. If we took whatever it was that we had going on between us any further, we would either be the final destination in each other's journey, or we would explode and take a good part of London with us.
As if hearing my thoughts, Draco opened his eyes. He caught me staring and produced a naughtier version of his earlier devilish smile.
Without thinking, I nodded to the main door, the music experiment completely forgotten.
It was sudden, vigorous, and was exactly what I'd been fantasizing about for days—almost. I was suddenly aware of our public location and the pub full of potential clients. It took longer than I thought to clear my mind enough to slip a hand against his chest and interrupt us.
What? he asked, the dim glow of the street lamp giving us just enough light to communicate by.
I couldn't stop myself from stealing a kiss. Just not here.
He eased his leg between my thighs, and I moaned as pleasure ran like wildfire below my belt.
I gripped his shoulders and pulled him in for more kisses. I knew I was making a poor case for myself, but after several nights of wondering what he tasted like, I finally knew, and it was harder to give up than I could have possibly imagined. I forced myself to pull back again, and tried my best to still our hips before I started signing.
What if someone comes out right now and sees us like this? I'm going to be working for these people one day. All my professional credibility will be gone.
He brushed my fringe from my eyes. You work for me, and I have no problem with it.
But you should. We're not thinking this through. If we do this, and I can't tell you how much I want to, it'll change everything. I wouldn't be able to work for you anymore.
Because there's no way I could be neutral and remain emotionally at a safe distance if we get involved. It wouldn't be fair to either one of us. I just want you to know that if we keep going, it has to be just as 'us'. I pressed my hand against his chest again and wondered if this would be that last time I'd be allowed to touch him. You can't be my client, and I can't be your interpreter.
I understand. But we still have my father's hearings. I don't trust anyone but you to get it right. You wouldn't believe how many idiots are out there who call themselves interpreters.
We can find someone else, bring them in from a different district if we have to. I think you should do that anyway. Keep your family's business private to protect you both.
And if we keep it strictly professional between us?
Honestly, I don't think I could and still stay true to my code of ethics. I care for you too much already. He stilled my moving hands and placed them against the wall by my side. I wasn't sure if that meant acceptance or refusal, but my instincts told me it probably wasn’t good news.
We stared at each other for a moment, then Draco made a big show of pretending to mull over his decision. My heart soared.
Then I supposed you're sacked. I laughed as he devoured my neck for a few seconds, eventually stealing my breath. He pulled back, eyes hungry. Hail us a taxi.
His flat was on the top floor, like mine, and about the same size, but much more elegantly decorated. Even once I was completely moved in and settled, mine was never going to compare. Draco's was ultra modern and had a control panel by the door that looked like it would be better suited for running a ship than a flat. I didn't take in all these details right away, however; I was too busy stumbling down the hall after the owner. I barely noticed the furniture, portraits and doors we passed in a blur of colour.
My heart was hammering by the time he pulled me into his dark bedroom and down onto the bed. There was a brief thought of slowing down and savouring the moment, but neither of our libidos was having any of that idea. We were back to clutching, pulling and removing whichever piece of clothing separated us from giving our skin the contact it wanted.
The shirts were the first to fly out from the bed and land somewhere beyond, but the order became mixed up after that in our mad dash to get closer still. Sound rushed out of both of us, once we were able to touch again without barriers.
Draco pulled back abruptly, rolled away and grabbed for the remote control on the bedside table. A line of fairy lights that were strung up around the canopy of his four-poster appeared, glowing softly. I watched him roll back to me, enjoying the view. The reality of him was even better than my imagination had been. I was sure some would say he wasn't perfect—too sharp or too angled, but he was perfect to me, and that was all I cared about as my eyes catalogued him from head to toe. I couldn't wait to get my hands, mouth and the rest of me back onto him as soon as possible.
With delayed reaction, which I blamed on a few pints and the proximity of a naked man laid out in front of me, I'd missed the fact that he was taking me in as well. I immediately became aware that I hadn't done much in the way of exercise since my move, had ingested a parade of take-aways, and spent most of my evenings either standing around working or sitting in front of my telly until I fell asleep. I supposed I looked all right, considering, but in comparison, it was as if our bodies reflected our flats: Draco, sophisticated and sleek, and me, comfortable and a tad overpriced for what you actually got.
Why are you blushing?
Because you're a Concorde, and I'm an arm chair.
No more beer for you, he signed, then laid a hand against my chest as I laughed.
I had no idea how we'd gone from our frantic undressing to the present familiar banter and closeness, but I liked it just as much. He moved a little closer and started massaging my chest. It was unexpected, but it felt incredible. I moaned and he took a turn laughing.
I love hearing you laugh.
I like making you moan. Your whole body vibrates with it. Try a lower tone.
Well this was new. I did what he asked, feeling foolish, but loving his undivided attention. He grinned in reply and started kissing where his fingers traced. I didn't need to fake the sounds that escaped next as he draped a leg over me, rubbing against all the best bits along the way. Both his hands worked up my chest and encouraged me to lift my arms up over my head, so he'd have clear roadways to continue his exploration. Once I was stretched out, his hands locked onto mine. I held him firm as he eased the leg covering me over to the other side. His weight was balanced between the knees on either side of my hips and the glorious position of his hands pushing mine into the mattress.
Time slowed down as we stared at each other in the faint light.
I wasn't sure what I was feeling, but I knew I'd never experienced it before. I didn't know if I was in love, but staring into Draco's awestruck expression, I knew we were already past the shallowness of lust. There was an entire person behind those stunning eyes that I hardly knew, but I was committed to taking all the time needed to discover him completely, even if it took a lifetime.
Draco lowered himself until we were kissing once more. We took the time we needed, enjoying the feel of each other, archiving the subtle flavours and making our own combined sounds and vibrations. I was drunk on something far more potent than the few glasses I'd had at the pub, and I was hoping I wouldn't do anything stupid to foul it all up.
When the time came, he released my hands and reached to the table on the left. Without over thinking, like I'd always done at this juncture with the few blokes I'd been with in the past, I pulled up my knees, planted my feet on the bed and let the gesture speak for itself. With anyone else, I would have been hesitant, waiting until they told me what they wanted. But once I saw delight and hunger staring back at me from Draco's eyes, I motioned for the condom, opened it, rolled it down over him and pulled him to me. His skin was hot and slick and he seemed to know just where to touch me to short out coherent thought. We kissed and glided against each other until he shifted slightly, and then cool, wet fingers coaxed their way inside.
For a brief moment I wondered if he knew how well he was playing my body, if he could feel the sounds he was pulling from me. In that one suspended second, I would have given anything to hear how my name sounded on his lips. But then he was at my mouth with his tongue, and his fingers were replaced with what he'd been preparing me for.
I was too far gone to do anything except gasp and wrap my tongue around his fingers when they slipped into my mouth as something much lower slid home, burning in the best possible way.
He came first, panting against my ear, and sending shocks of pleasure right to where I needed them. I untangled an arm and held his head close so that I could keep that amazing mouth right where I wanted it while he pulsed inside me. He slipped his head down onto my shoulder and settled onto one side when he was finished, but his hand wrapped around me while his tongue did incredible things to my neck and ear before I could miss the warm pressure of his body covering mine.
He pulled up on an elbow and watched me as I came. I reached up for him, and we finished with panting kisses and a dramatic flop onto our backs.
When I could think again, I pulled a sheet up enough to cover our hips, and then settled back against the pillows. Draco tapped me and then pointed the remote at the canopy above us. A bamboo blind rolled away to reveal a mirror.
I laughed sleepily and signed to the reflection. I'm going to need a longer break if you want to go again.
I watched as he smacked me in the arm. Would you believe it came with the bed? I found it when I was trying to figure out what all these buttons were for, he signed, shaking the remote.
I kept laughing. Sure you did.
Believe what you want, but this is the first time I've used it. What better way to talk without rolling over?
Some would call it spoiled, or lazy.
What do you call it?
Brilliant and convenient, possibly kinky.
I was just going to say the same about you.
It was my turn to hit him as he laughed. I ended up a little closer and rested my head on his sprawled arm.
I almost didn't go to the pub tonight. I was sure you wouldn't come.
I thought you went every week?
I used to, but it's been a while. I thought you might run if I asked you on a date outright.
I might have. I've never dated a client before, and I didn't want everyone to get the impression that it was a habit for me.
Even so, you wanted me. I could feel it.
I laughed a little and then nodded. Since the hospital. I was worried that it was all a product of the 'moment', but every time I saw you after that, I knew I hadn't imagined it. I was almost sure you felt the same, and when you looked at me tonight…
He nudged me with a warm knee. Got the message, did you?
I must have nodded off for a second, because I was suddenly entangled with Draco again and didn't remember how I'd gotten there. It was still dark, and the fairy lights gave me a lovely view of Draco on his side facing me, the sheet a mere suggestion at his hip.
He smiled and kissed me. What time is it?
I shrugged. Where's your watch?
In the wardrobe with the suits. I didn't wear it tonight.
I should have taken the time to process what he was saying, but with my thoughts still scrambled from our recent activities and more recent nap, I asked anyway. Why not?
He shrugged. Everyone at the pub knows who I am, what I do and who my father is, but we don't talk about it. It's not fair.
This time I did take a moment. I thought about all the Deaf people I knew, everyone I'd ever been friends with or had interpreted for. Most struggled to make ends meet with jobs that didn't pay what their 'hearing' counterpart would make, some were unemployed and living off the dole, and almost all of them struggled with literacy as a result of an education system that still hadn't figured out the best way to teach Deaf children how to read and write a language they'd never be able to sound out or hear. Draco's wealth and position would have made him an outcast in his own Community if he had flaunted it.
Was it hard at first, when your father brought you into the business? Was there backlash from the Community?
He took a deep breath and nodded. That's why we don't talk about it. I had the best education money could buy, tutors, endless hours of practice and summers spent indoors while I did it all, but that's not what they see when they look at me. He rolled onto his back and signed to the mirror.
What we do have in common, most of us, anyway, are families who wanted 'normal' children, parents who tried every cure in the book before accepting our deafness and moving on. He turned to me again. So that's where we connect, where we're equal. The suits, the watch, and the job—it's all part of 'Draconis', someone who has to be smarter, sharper and meaner than the rest of the hearing world, or else I don't get respect. It's not who I am, but it's what I have to do. He tapped on his empty wrist. Time is money. I'm reminded of that every day.
I didn't know what to say, but I settled for, I'm sorry.
He shrugged. It might not even be an issue in a few days' time anyway. If we don't clear up the mess my father's made, all of this will be gone soon enough. So, if you fell for 'Draconis' and his lifestyle, this might be a short relationship, he finished with a forced laugh, but I felt the insecurity behind it. I'd felt the same way once with someone whom I thought had cared for me, but really only had eyes for my inheritance.
Fortunately, that bloke was long gone, and I knew a good cure for apprehension. I captured his hands, took my time kissing each knuckle, and then placed them close to my chest as I answered what he wouldn't ask.
I fell for the man who lost his mother, for the man who held a blubbering interpreter he hardly knew and I most certainly fell for the balloon dancer in the pub.
He looked at me with mock suspicion. Which balloon dancer?
The watchless one with the jeans and the faded t-shirt. I tried to copy one of his impish grins. The one who kept flirting with me all night.
One hand wandered over the curve of my hip. Really? I know him. Nice bloke, good in bed.
I laughed and pushed forward with my thigh—the one that was nicely sandwiched between his. It brought other important and interested parts together. Really good in bed.
Before I knew it, the bright light of Monday morning was shining in my face. The abruptness was made a little more endurable by the warm fingers laced with mine that gave a gentle squeeze as I came out of the best sleep I'd had in a while.
Coffee? he asked, just before leaning in to kiss my forehead. It made me smile.
Yeah, can I help?
Sure. You're in charge of breakfast.
He rolled back over to his side and sat up, but before he could leave, I touched his hand. He looked back at me over his shoulder.
Something from our conversations the night before had stuck in my mind, and I knew I had to deal with it before we moved on with whatever kind of relationship we were creating.
Your wealth had nothing to do with why I'm here now. You know that, right?
He squeezed my hand. I believe you.
I didn't know if it was the right time to tell him, but since he'd been honest with me, I thought he deserved my secret in return.
I have money of my own—enough that I don't need to work. My parents made sure I was taken care of in case anything happened.
He thought about that for a while, long enough to make me nervous. Eventually, he stood and turned to face me fully, not seeming to mind the fact that he wasn't wearing anything.
But you still work.
I nodded. Part of it is that I really love my job and the people I get to meet along the way. The other part is that if I can keep busy, get out, help others, it makes everything hurt a little less. If I sit at home, the memories bear down and I'm useless. I'd rather be on my feet for now, at least until there's some more distance.
The sheet billowed as he slid back into bed and pointed at the mirror above us. We looked rumpled and sleepy in the morning light. It was an image I'd be willing to replicate on many future mornings if he'd let me.
He continued our conversation, signing to the canopy. I understand. I've always been involved in the business in one way or another, learning what I could, making sure I wasn't going to be another deaf citizen who lived off of government handouts. But it wasn't until my mother died that I really threw myself into work. I think I did it partly to keep an eye on my father and in part to keep myself occupied.
I nodded and let my mind wander to my mother's prediction again. I wondered briefly what she would make of this whole situation.
What will you do if things do fall apart for the company? I asked him. I don't want to think the worst, but it could happen.
He gave it some thought, but his expression stayed calm. He shrugged. We'll regroup and move on. Make the best of whatever happens.
And 'Draconis'? I asked, watching as his eyes darted briefly to the wardrobe.
His days are numbered. If we're left with anything, I'd like to go back to school, maybe become an educator, like your friend.
The bed made a creaking noise as I turned to face him. I think you'd be a brilliant teacher, as long as we found a healthy outlet for your temper.
He slowly pulled the sheet down until it hid very little of me from his eyes. I think I've found my outlet.
I gave him a look that filled the room with laughter from the both of us. He stole a kiss, swatted my bare hip and then pulled me in close.
I think my mother would have really liked you. She was the only other person who could really make me laugh.
I kissed him and smiled. My dad would have liked your determination, and my mum would have given me a high-five for finally finding someone who made me happy and had some 'fire'.
We paused our conversation for a bit of physical communication. After a short while, he pulled back a little and started signing again.
Do you believe in… Do you think we'll ever get a chance to see them again?
I hope so. I like the idea of getting as much time as you need in heaven. No end, no goodbyes.
I'd like to see a place where time has no meaning. I suppose that's my idea of peace.
I nodded. Sounded perfect to me.
All of a sudden, Draco was sitting on top of me, head tilted and wearing an indescribable grin.
I changed my mind. Let's go out for breakfast and coffee.
I laughed, causing all kinds of wonderful friction. All right. Show me to the shower first, though?
He scrambled off of me and hopped onto the floor. My pleasure, but if I get distracted somewhere along the way, remind me to bring the computer to breakfast.
What for? I asked, stretching a little as I reluctantly left the warm bed.
Well, I seem to have sacked my interpreter in order to promote him to 'boyfriend', so I have a few nicely-worded e-mails to send to the agency.
Do that, and they'll never believe they're from you.
As he chased me down the hallway, I was already forming a present for him in my mind. A new backing for his watch with an engraving that would add my mark to his life—Time is ours.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy and other Harry Potter characters belong to J.K. Rowling and her associated businesses. The Harry/Draco World Cup and its participants make no claim upon them.