Epilogue: Nineteen Years Later...
The air smelled of magic. It was a difficult scent to put one's finger on, but Draco could have recognized it in his sleep. Bonfires of green, purple, and blue danced as if in homage to the stars high above them. The moon was a great, ghostly ship coming to port on the wisps of clouds that streaked the night sky. All around, witches and wizards too numerous to count were cavorting and carrying-on.
In recent years - now that over 48 Houses comprised the blood pact - they had needed to add a second pavilion to the hidden fields by the mountain lake. With such new inclusions came the addition of many new dishes of food. The long tables were still laden with all the same ones Draco had been used to sampling for half his life - only now, while he could still enjoy his family's traditional crème almaundys, he could also indulge in some malai kofta, courtesy of the Patils. The roasted scorpions on sticks remained untouched as ever.
"You look far away," Hermione remarked, touching his arm.
Draco looked down at her; his mind had indeed been drifting. His wife of nineteen years was beautiful as ever, still slender despite having brought children into the world. There were, however, laugh lines permanently etched into her face, and she kept her hair a fair bit shorter than she once had in her youth. These were physical differences from when they had first married, perhaps. But every year since then, she had become more her own witch - become so confident in her place in the world, it was stunning.
Smiling fondly, Draco took her hand and briefly squeezed it. "Every year we come here, I'm reminded of the night I was first bound to you."
Hermione returned his smile and the squeeze of his hand before turning back toward the festivities. Despite this, he noted she was still glancing at him sidelong while a Malfoy smirk for the ages continued to tilt her lips. She quipped, "Lucky wizard."
Though it had never taken him over so completely as before their consummation all those years ago, Draco could feel the Old Magic thrumming through him in much the same way as it permeated the air around them. Oh, that saucy witch was going to get it later, of that he was certain.
Any response Draco might have made, however, was cut off by the sudden appearance of their eldest.
Calex wore an expression of the sort of extreme confidence that only came with youth, but Draco could tell it was a front. At 18, it would be the boy's first year casting in. His fingers were picking at the linen sleeve of his white ceremonial shirt in a nervous manner - the only thing that gave his unruffled mask away. He announced, "Grandmother has arrived."
Looking amused, Hermione interpreted, "So you're escaping?"
"She's trying to introduce me to all of these people." Their eldest son was Draco's spitting image - except for his eyes, which were Hermione's deep brown. He had also been sorted into Gryffindor, much to Draco's initial chagrin. "I went to school with most of them; introductions seem too… formal."
"I'm sure she's only trying to teach you your prospects," Draco assured his son, clapping him on the shoulder. "There are so many this year..."
It was true. Over the past nearly two decades, Hermione and Lestrange had inducted so many new families into the pact that there were to be 114 casters this midsummer. Yet still, every winter solstice, she somehow seemed to find another family, another individual to include…
"There you are!" a familiar voice called over the din of so many high-spirited voices.
"Ginny!" Hermione greeted, waving her friend over.
A heavily pregnant Ginny waddled her way over to the three Malfoys. "It was some work to find you in this throng," she complained mildly, pushing a few sweaty tendrils of her vibrant hair from her forehead. "I don't remember ever being this warm."
"Hey, Aunt Ginny." Unnoticed, Draco's second eldest had sidled up to the little group. It was Ilian's first year attending one of these celebrations, though being barely 17, he would not be making a cast this year.
"Good Godric, Ilian, how long have you been standing there?" Hermione demanded.
Ilian only shrugged. A quintessential Slytherin, the boy had always been sneaky. It was therefore ironic that he was to inherit the Prewett legacy. Draco had often reflected that Ilian had many of the traits traditionally favored by the House of Malfoy, while the actual Malfoy heir, Calex, was really more of a Prewett, himself. But times had been changing for quite awhile now… when both wizards inherited their respective legacies, it would just be yet another tradition made new.
"Ron, Susan, and Rose just got here," Ginny remarked. She fussed briefly with the collar of her godson's shirt - something Calex bore with extreme patience, considering how Ginny's huge belly bumped him as she did it. When she finished, she added, "I've left Harry by the food. He was dropping treacle tart off at the table when he got pulled into some conversation or other with Xenophilius Lovegood."
"Barely escaped with your life and all your senses, did you?" Draco drawled, quirking an eyebrow.
Ginny grinned back, used to bantering with him by this point. "It was a near thing, Malfoy."
Ilian snickered from by Hermione's side, which caused Ginny's attention to shift to him, instead.
"My, you look more like your mother every day, Ilian." He was the only one of their children who had not inherited Draco's platinum blond locks. Truly, Ilian rather looked like Martin Granger more than either of them. "Where have you left Caris and Scorpius for the evening?"
"Lucius is watching them," Hermione supplied, referring to their two youngest children.
Ginny's eyes widened. "You thought that was wise?"
Draco snorted. It was common knowledge that his father - once so austere and unforgiving - had grown into a different wizard upon becoming a grandfather. Lucius was now 'Papa'... and the only thing Draco and Hermione had to worry about when it came to leaving their remaining two children in his care, was that he would overindulge them. Caris, in particular, being the only granddaughter, had had Lucius wrapped around her little finger from the moment she was born. Thirteen years later, she still did, despite that she was to inherit the Ollivander legacy instead of the Malfoy one.
"We've instructed the elves not to allow them too much sugar," Hermione answered with a wink.
"A necessity, that," Draco grumbled. "Otherwise, he'll be feeding them both biscuits and ice cream all evening…"
A boom shook silence into the pavilions and surrounding area. All eyes turned to the base of the low mountain where the sound had emanated from. Now quite old and finally showing his age, a wizened Cornelius Lestrange used his staff to hit the ground twice more. The sound resonated through all those gathered, starting a flurry of quiet movement amongst the families. For the second year in a row, Draco noticed round-faced Hester Longbottom - Neville and Flora's daughter - was trailing the old warlock as he went through his offices. Flora's line within the Carrows had been blood relatives of the Lestranges, and just as Ilian Prewett-Malfoy was to inherit a legacy other than his father's, Hester was to inherit Lestrange's.
Ginny excused herself to join Ron and Susan seeing Rose off for her first casting year. Harry was a short way away, reassuring seventeen-year-old James before his first casting, as well. Being the older of Harry's twins, only he was required to make a cast, though Albus was reportedly debating doing so the following year anyway.
Draco only had a moment to notice these things however, because beside him, he felt Calex tense. Hermione pulled him into a swift embrace; he allowed himself to be held there slightly longer than usual before pulling away.
Nodding in Draco's direction, the boy muttered, "Dad…?"
"Make us proud, son."
He lifted his chin. "I will."
Fondly, Draco reached out to fix what Ginny had earlier adjusted on the boy's shirt collar. "You have nothing to fear. If you're chosen, know that as the heir to the House of Malfoy, the Old Magic promises you nothing less than your perfect match."
Calex ran a hand nervously through his hair. "That's what I'm afraid of…"
Taking her cue, Hermione took Ilian by the shoulder and turned him away from the two of them, discreetly allowing Draco a moment in private with Calex to reassure him.
"I was afraid, too," Draco admitted, dropping his hands from his son's collar. With a glance in Hermione's direction, he amended, "But it worked out better than I could have imagined."
Rolling his eyes, Calex then voiced a different fear. "What if I'm not picked?"
It was another emotion Draco recalled once having before his marriage. "If it doesn't happen this year, you cast again next year. And the next, and the next. It's a life partnership - good things come to those who wait for them."
Reaching into his trouser pocket, Calex pulled out his newly acquired rune-stone, which Draco had taken him to retrieve only three months prior. Both wizards' eyes were trained on the Malfoy family crest chiseled into one side of the smooth quartz until he flipped it over, revealing Calex's personal rune: sowilo.
It had been a curiosity Draco had never prepared himself for, but learning of his child's rune had been both unsurprising and fascinating. Sowilo represented sunlight - and the Malfoy copy of Runes & Symbolism had been creased open to a new page the moment the rune had claimed Calex. Draco, himself, had consulted the page on more than one occasion: Sunlight acts as guidance for success, allowing for faith in outcomes. Representing the transmutation of thought into energy for action, it activates our highest values and promotes invigoration and persistence in any endeavor. It will ward against the harmful opinions of others to keep the heart focused on its purpose. Additionally, sowilo can expose matters to the clear light of day, while simultaneously invoking the ancient code of honor and morality.
If he were being truthful with himself, Draco could not think of a more Gryffindor rune than the one his heir had been given. Runically, sowilo was the direct opposite of Draco's own rune, isa, while working in tandem with Hermione's kenaz. Yet, it fit Calex perfectly - of course it did.
Ilian, however… his would be interesting, when his time came. Draco was unsure what to expect for his second eldest son's rune. Meanwhile Caris, a shrewd and level-headed Ravenclaw, might cast in and come back with kenaz, just like her mother. It would not shock Draco. Scorpius, who was only nine but destined to inherit the legacy of the House of Black, was still discovering his personality… though Draco had a strong suspicion this youngest son would end up in Hufflepuff. Four Hogwarts houses… and four different Houses within the blood pact as well...
What a life, he reflected before shaking himself and focusing back on the present. Reaching out, he closed Calex's hand around the small stone.
"It's normal not to want to give it up so soon." Reaching into his own trouser pocket, Draco pulled out Hermione's rune-stone. He had continued to carry it with him every day, as constant as the wedding band on his finger. "But you'll see… someday, there will be something even more precious to you. But only when you're ready."
Simultaneously, both wizards slipped the rune-stones they carried back into their pockets. Draco could see the change that had come over Calex, the determination now obvious in the set of his mouth and in his eyes, so like his mother's. So like sowilo.
Hermione and Ilian reapproached, Ilian looking curiously at his brother while Hermione was glancing at the clusters of white-clad purebloods ascending the mountain toward the henge in the distance.
"It's time," she said, her eyes fixed on her grown son.
Straightening himself, Calex's eyes caught a similar scene playing out not far away. James Potter - the living image of Harry in the same way that Calex was Draco's - was readying himself for his own ascent; he was barely seventeen, but had been called to make a cast almost immediately. Without another word, James and Calex locked eyes across the field and strode from their parents to meet in the middle and head up the mount together. Rose Weasley tagged along behind them, wrenching herself out of her mother's arms to shout after the boys to wait up for her. While both James and Rose were a year younger than Calex and not yet quite finished with their education, they had all grown up together.
When Ginny rejoined them this time, she was accompanied by Ron, Susan, and Harry. The six adults watched the children disappear into the tree line, only turning away when the last swish of Rose's linen gown was no longer within sight.
At some point, Ilian appeared to have slipped off, just as unnoticed as he had come. Some distance away, Draco spotted him with Albus Potter. Fast friends in Slytherin and both about to begin their final year, the two boys had climbed up onto a large boulder protruding from the ground nearby the second pavilion, as if to get a better view of what might be happening up at the henge. Draco wondered what Ilian was thinking, if he were ruminating on his own casting, which surely was not far off. Ilian had been born very quickly after Calex, though it had been another four years between him and Caris...
The thought of his only daughter eventually casting in and being married off made Draco's fist clench by his side. He knew it was what she was destined to do, that he and Hermione had chosen that life for her with open eyes… but that did not mean he liked it. He was sure he was going to be unequal to the task when the time came. Caris spent much of her summers studying wandlore under Garrick Ollivander: something she took to with such ease that it almost seemed as if she had been studying up on it in the womb. When she was old enough, she would make a house cast for the House of Ollivander, to marry a younger son. This as-yet-unknown wizard would take her last name, and their ilk would take up the mantle of wand-making for all of Great Britain.
Even at thirteen, Caris already seemed to know exactly how important this was - how important she was. She had already spoken of such a future without any kind of fear... and yet, all Draco could see when he looked at her, were the platinum blonde ringlets that fell past her shoulders, mimicking her mother's, and her enormous gray eyes, so like his. He had not known what it was to truly want to protect something with everything he had, until he'd had a daughter.
Many of those not sworn by their life's blood to protect the Old Magic had commented on how unusual it was for all four of the Malfoy children to have different last names. Yes, perhaps it was unusual, Draco conceded. But, as all of his children were blood-related to the surnames that had been chosen for them, they could each take on the responsibility of those Houses when the time came, each inherit their own legacy - and perhaps give all four of their Houses a new reputation in this modern age.
"This is rubbish, innit?" Ron muttered, his voice low and throaty as it broke through the silence from amongst the adults. Susan was gently crying. Draco did not blame them, as they had had to part with their daughter. The mere thought of parting with his own…
Don't think on it, he inwardly chastised.
Susan Bones had been amongst the first Hermione initially approached regarding their addition to the blood pact, in those first couple of years. She had agreed to take on responsibility for protecting the Old Magic, and proudly cast in for her first time the following year. That same summer, Ron had also decided to make a cast for the House of Weasley in the hopes of being paired to her - though as a younger son, he had not been required to cast a stake at all. Something about their compatibility must have resonated well with the Old Magic, because they were directly married in their first year. Perhaps it was because Susan had already been pregnant with Rose at the time, unbeknownst to either of them.
"Completely rubbish," Harry grumbled moodily, agreeing with Ron.
Hermione touched first Ron's shoulder, then Harry's. "Wouldn't it be something if James and Rose got paired?"
The suggestion half-cleared Harry's melancholy and he managed to chuckle. "Daphne would have absolute kittens if James was married and she wasn't here. She's counting on him not to be."
"She's at home with Lily, I take it?"
Harry nodded; Draco thought the man rather looked as if he was sorely missing his wife's presence, and wondered why they had not been able to get a sitter. He tried to imagine sending Calex up that hill without Hermione by his side, and decided it sounded like a dismal prospect.
"I thank Merlin none of mine are old enough to be casting yet," Ginny put in, shifting so that the weight of her enormous belly could be more evenly distributed. "I'll wait to complain about that after this one's finally born." She made a face and explained, "He's a kicker."
Susan perked up. "Have you discovered it's a boy, then?"
"It is. Theo's ecstatic. He's at home with the girls... didn't want me to come tonight for fear of me overexerting myself." She rolled her eyes. "As if he weren't responsible for my condition in the first place…"
Draco snickered; even Hermione looked amused.
Seven booms from the top of the hill softly echoed down to the field, signaling the start of the casting ceremony. Looking apprehensive, Hermione slipped her hand into Draco's, her eyes trained on the rocky outcropping where the henge was just visible from within the trees. The stone circle was so crowded in white-clad figures, it nearly looked as though the place was buried in snow, from far away.
Wrapped up in their own thoughts, the six of them waited in silence, all eyes trained on the hilltop above. Draco wondered if his own mother had once done this very thing, her heart pattering quickly, unsure which outcome she wanted for her son. It was what was currently happening for Draco, now - he knew only that he wanted what was best for Calex. He had to trust the Old Magic to know exactly what that seemed an eternity had passed before the first of the casters made it to the bottom of the hill again. Trying not to crane his neck, Draco waited as patiently as he could, watching as the unpaired rejoined the celebrations still going on in the pavilions. Some of the younger witches or wizards ran to their parents or friends waiting at the base of the hill, alongside Draco.
"Dad!" James Potter was running down the hill, pushing his glasses up his face and looking winded as he ran to Harry.
A moment later, Rose appeared from the treeline. Now, Draco was actually craning his neck. Hermione took his hand, offering him a tentative smile, and squeezed.
After a few more minutes, everyone headed into the pavilion except Draco, Hermione, and Ginny. Finally, Ginny voiced what all three of them were thinking, "Do you think he was matched?"
"It does seem as if he should've returned by now…" Hermione allowed.
Draco refused to speak on the subject either way, until it was confirmed. He tried to imagine Calex, so recently just a child, going through the marriage rite and subsequent consummation. Had Draco, himself, really only been 19 when he had taken Hermione into that henge for two hours?
"Calex!" Hermione cried.
Head whipping around, Draco spotted his son slowly making his way from the narrow forest path before stepping into the wildflower-strewn field. He approached slowly, as if he were merely taking an afternoon stroll. Once he finally stood before them, he grinned. "Hey, mum."
"You're not married?" she demanded, though the answer was obvious.
"Nope." His grin spread wider; Draco wanted to both hug him and box him over the ears for his cheek. Instead, Calex nudged Hermione affectionately, "You get to be the most important witch in my life for another year, yet."
...for another year, yet. It was similar to something he remembered telling his own mother, once.
"Think we can eat now? I'm starving?"
With a chuckle from Draco and some eye rolling from Hermione, the four them turned their backs on the hillside, to head into the celebrations - together.
Author's Note: Somehow, we have reached the end of the journey. It's a bit surreal, to be honest. Thank you for reading, following, favoriting... and especially reviewing. All feedback is appreciated to the utmost degree. I hope the epilogue has answered most of your questions and tied up sufficient loose ends that you're satisfied... but please let me know either way! I am going to miss reading all your theories, feelings, and speculations now that it's over.
If you're interested in more of my work, please check out my WIP, Set In Stone, which will soon be complete as well. Or any of my other completed works. As always, reviews are treated like treasure.
Lastly, and potentially most importantly, I absolutely need to give a big, smooshy thank-you to my alpha/beta, I was BOTWP, who has been instrumental in the formation, plotting, and scheming of this fic. Her enthusiasm, prodding comments, and all-around fabulousness are without compare. All my (sticky, glittery) love.