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.
Everyday magic, as its name implied, was present in everything, every day of the year and was much different from Old Magic; this had a distinct nostalgia, of pacts made centuries ago, of power that most modern minds could barely comprehend, of times even his ancestors had forgotten…
Layered atop it was the familiar smell of burning sage and the varied perfumes of oils being worn by all the purebloods present that evening. Censers of incense muddled it all together, making it seem less like they were on the brink of sensory overload and more as though the myriad collection of smells actually went together. Even though they didn't, really.
The sun had not fully set until quite late in the evening, as tonight marked the solstice. All the same, Draco and his mother had arrived for the midsummer celebrations some hours ago. He had spent much of the previous week preparing himself for this day. Tonight, for the first time, he would cast in with the Old Magic - for this was the first year it had called him. Tonight, he might even marry… or he might not, depending on what the magic had in store for him. He'd had his nineteenth birthday only a couple weeks prior and though Draco had been in attendance for two of these celebrations before, this was his first year actually participating. It had certainly flipped his perspective upside-down.
A breeze rushed past him, raising gooseflesh on his skin in its wake; as he wore only a thin, white linen shirt and trousers, it nearly felt as if he were naked. He glanced down at his bare feet and experienced a moment's suffering as he noted that they were dirty from wandering about. Going without shoes was really quite uncivilized, in his opinion – but as it was only one day of the year, he felt optimistic that he could cope.
At the top of the hill, he waited for his turn to enter the henge. Though he had intended to swagger in, brimming with confidence, the moment his bare, dirty feet stepped inside the circle of stone monoliths, he felt only humbled, suddenly berated by the magic he had been sensing all evening. This was a power the likes of which he had never contended with... not even when the Dark Lord had been at his full strength.
He plucked his rune-stone from his trouser pocket and hesitated. That rune-stone had been his for above five months now, ever since the Old Magic had first called him. On one side, it was carefully carved with the Malfoy family crest, while on the other, was a rune the Old Magic had specifically chosen for him. What if he did not want to cast it away?
To do so would mean he was officially accepting his inheritance... but it was also a final soldering point to the blood pact, which would continue to affect his life for as long as he breathed.
It's your duty, he castigated himself.
It was not hard to sense his father in those words.
Lucius was still in Azkaban, finishing up a two-year sentence left over from the war. Despite that the Battle of Hogwarts had been thirteen months ago, Draco's father had not actually been tried until three months later due to the high volume of persons arrested at the time and their newfound, Boy-Wonder-led determination to give everyone a fair trial.
Mouth set into a hard line, Draco tossed his rune-stone into the center basin and took a vacant place amongst the other purebloods that stood along the inside perimeter of the stone circle.
Both Draco and Narcissa had been given short house-arrest sentences, followed by a probationary period, which was quickly waning. They had got lucky that the Minister for Magic was Kingsley Shacklebolt, because he had been able to allow a reprieve for Draco to complete this ritual, as he had been called to do. The House of Shacklebolt was another pureblood family, other keepers of the blood pact. Kingsley understood.
With only some bitterness, Draco reflected, But then, it's always been about blood.
There were thirty-three of them gathered there that night. He glanced over to where the tall, dark Kingsley Shacklebolt stood in his own place of the circle. He might be the most politically powerful wizard in Britain but here he was, complying with the Old Magic himself. This type of authority went beyond any one person; it was older than England, nearly as old as the earth itself. What were mere witches and wizards in the face of such power?
The officiant of the casting ceremony, Cornelius Lestrange, was a very old man indeed, rumored to be 128 years old - though you would never know it to look at him. He was the singular remaining member of the House of Lestrange following the death of his two grandsons during the Battle of Hogwarts. Rodolphus and Bellatrix had thankfully never had any children, while nearly everyone suspected Rabastan of having been a deeply closeted homosexual. They had given up their lives for Voldemort and in doing so, had essentially rendered their entire line extinct.
As the picks for casting were chosen in order from eldest to youngest person present, Lestrange commenced with, "Etta Rosier, eldest daughter of the House of Rosier."
One by one, they were announced and called forward. Kingsley Shacklebolt was the second called, as he was in his mid-thirties. Most of those present were in some phase of their twenties, though there were a few teenagers. The Old Magic could require you to stake your first cast at any point between your coming of age at seventeen, up until the age of twenty-one... and keep casting until you were matched, or older than fifty-five.
"Percival Weasley, thirdborn son of the House of Weasley."
The red-haired man – who, in Draco's opinion, had always been the most tolerable of all the Weasleys – had taken his eldest brother's place as the representative for that House, apparently. Despite that the Weasleys had long been considered blood traitors, they were still compelled by the Old Magic to make a cast. Percy stepped forward to take a rune-stone from the center basin and must have come back with his match, because his face became white as a sheet, followed quickly by a spreading flush as red as his hair. He stepped backward to remain in the henge, the first to do so. His eyes never left the stone in his hand except to glance up around the circle, no doubt searching for the face of his imminent wife-to-be.
"Pansy Parkinson, eldest daughter of the House of Parkinson."
Please not mine, Draco inwardly wished. There had always been an unofficial hope between her family and his that they would be paired – but he and Pansy had tried an informal sort of courting while they were at Hogwarts. As it turned out, neither were really attracted to the other and they had opted to remain close acquaintances.
The hard-faced girl reached into the basin and pulled out her destiny. Ever the Slytherin, her expression was impassive though she stepped back into the circle with the others that had been chosen.
"Theodore Nott IV, last heir and sole survivor of the House of Nott."
Draco watched as his good friend stepped forward and reached down to remove a rune-stone. He picked it up, glanced at it... and breathed an audible sigh of relief. Knowing Theo had been adamant in his wish not to marry this year, Draco suspected the Nott heir had pulled out the same rune-stone he had cast in. This was confirmed when the wiry, dark-haired wizard smirked in satisfaction and made his way out of the henge.
Finally, "Draco Malfoy, sole heir of the House of Malfoy."
He was a bundle of nerves. What if he was picked? What if he wasn't picked? Some of the purebloods there had been casting for over a decade with no luck…
He feigned his best composure, fighting to emulate Lucius's iciness when it had been at its best. Nevertheless, when he reached in and plucked out a rune-stone, he felt his heart stop completely. He could very nearly feel the weight of destiny entombed within his fingers.
He opened his hand. The Malfoy crest was chiseled into the dolomite.
A flood of relief spread like warmth into his limbs and even into the extremities of his fingertips. No pairing for him tonight. Thank Merlin!
He made his way toward the outside of the stone circle where Theo had been waiting for him. His friend laughed at the expression on his face. "You look positively relieved!"
"Aren't you?" Draco queried cheekily, feeling much more chipper with his own rune-stone still in his pocket.
Theo glanced back into the henge, where the ceremony was swiftly coming to a close and shuddered. "I suppose I am. This was my second year casting in. I felt like I was starting to play with fire this year. Like it's only a matter of time for me…"
Draco laughed. "It's marriage, Theo, not death."
"Don't try to tell me you weren't glad when your own family crest was staring you in the face just now," Nott teased. The wizards began to descend back to the bottom of the hill toward the brightly colored pavilion in a meadow where the rest of the celebrations were well underway. Bonfires in flames of red, blue, green, or purple formed a perimeter around the clearing, where a veritable feast was occurring.
As they set foot inside, Narcissa hastened toward Draco. One look at his face told her all she needed to know. "So, you are still my son for another year."
Theo politely excused himself.
Draco smirked. "It looks as if you're stuck with me."
It was not that Draco was necessarily against marriage, it just did not feel like good timing for him yet. He was only nineteen, and it had been a mere year since the Dark Lord had fallen. He was still going through some personal issues, especially with regard to his father.
She placed a hand on his cheek and made a small smile. "I'm glad. It's another year I get to be your mother."
"Another year you get to be the most important witch in my life," he agreed indulgently.
Her small smile blossomed out into something more full-fledged. "Do enjoy the feasting, won't you?"
She departed to recommence with the festivities herself, leaving Draco to his own devices. By this time, Theo had moved off to acquire a plateful of assorted delicacies and had joined Avery at an end of one of the long tables assembled there.
Cadfael Avery had been a year ahead of them in Slytherin, and had also not been paired that night. His flaxen hair was pulled back into a ponytail while a small scruff of beard dusted his cheeks and jawline. Dark lashes framed his hazel eyes.
"Well, well, well," Draco drawled, approaching his friends as they indulged in some of the freely flowing wine. "Another year as free wizards, all three of us. How shall we commemorate this auspicious event?"
"You're behind, mate," Cadfael grinned. "We've already decided we're getting completely pissed."
"It's too bad they've only got wine here," Theo bemoaned, drinking from his goblet nonetheless.
Cadfael's grin morphed into a smirk and he reached into the pocket of his ceremonial linen trousers to produce a flask. "Amateurs, both of you. Always come prepared to a casting ceremony."
"Firewhiskey?" Nott eyed the flask with interest before protesting, "There's hardly enough there."
"It's called a Bottomless Charm, nimrod."
Cadfael unscrewed the top and drank deeply before offering it to Draco. Feeling he could certainly use a pick-me-up, he took a deep swig before passing it to Theo. All around them, ninety-odd other purebloods were carrying on, feasting and celebrating; even those without family members casting in were mostly in attendance, as all those who were of age were encouraged to come.
Meanwhile, the last of the unpaired stragglers from the casting ceremony were making their way into the pavilion to join the others. Draco noticed that this included both of the Carrow twins in their matching white gowns embroidered with silver thread, along with the Greengrass sisters, and Longbottom, who was stumbling over himself as usual.
Standing alone at the bottom of the hill, were the wary, careworn figures of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley (Draco could remember that the patriarch's name was Arthur, but for the life of him he could not remember his wife's given name). Their hands were clasped in solidarity and their eyes gazed upward toward the henge, where fourteen figures in white now stood in pairs. Draco recalled that their son would be up there, currently getting married; he wondered what was going through their minds.
"Thoughts on who'll have to go first to consummate?" Cadfael interrupted his pondering, rubbing his hands together as he eyed the long table off near the front of the pavilion. It was set up for the seven paired couples to enjoy their feasting later on.
"They always pick the eldest couple to start, right?" Theo queried.
"Who do you suppose Parkinson got matched to?" Draco wondered, his eyes still fixed on the group of figures standing stock-still in the circle of monolithic stones at the top of the hill.
"It was Declan. He was standing right beside me up there. I saw that the rune-stone he had picked out was hers." The smile slid from Theo's face immediately. "She wanted Rowan, didn't she?"
The three wizards simultaneously looked toward the other side of the celebration tent where Rowan Selwyn, a quiet wizard who had been a couple years ahead of them in Slytherin, was staring blankly at the wall of the tent, unseeing. He had clearly hoped to be paired with Pansy, too.
"It's a little bit sick," Theo observed, glancing away from the stricken wizard, "that she got paired to his older brother. He and Declan are nothing alike."
It was true: Declan Selwyn, who had been five years their senior at Hogwarts, had been an almost clinically stereotypical Ravenclaw.
Draco was merely relieved he had not been paired with Pansy, himself. He supposed it would not have been awful being married to her – he could at least respect her cunning nature – but it would not have been very rewarding, either. She was in love with another man, and considering that wizard was also in love with her… well, Draco did not fancy being cuckolded, that was for sure.
He winced, wondering how Pansy was handling herself knowing she would have to be married to the brother of the man she loved, until death do them part…
A short while later, six of the seven pairs descended the hill into a cacophony of noise and congratulations. Some of these new couples were beaming, clearly ecstatic to have been matched to their now-spouse, while others like Pansy and Declan, merely remained impassive. In fact, Pansy might have seemed completely unaffected but for the fact that her good friend, Daphne Greengrass, immediately rushed to her side and began consoling her.
Draco drank deeply from his wine; a smaller, white-clad figure trailing behind Daphne caught his eye.
Astoria Greengrass had cast in for her first year, at only just seventeen. Despite that the blood pact only called for an eldest son and eldest daughter from the same family (if both were available), many families urged younger sons or daughters to cast in as well. The Greengrasses were no exception.
While Theo and Cadfael amused themselves by shouting bawdy comments in the direction of the six couples who were awaiting their turn to consummate their marriage in the henge, Draco eyed Astoria contemplatively.
She's too young to be here, he thought to himself. She surely was not yet ready for the responsibilities and trials of the blood pact... or of marriage…
Draco had never paid her any mind while she was two years behind them in school. She had always just been Daphne's younger sister and that had comprised the extent of her personality. Tonight, Draco surveyed her in her white casting gown and recognized her potential to turn into something exquisite. There were flowers in her hair – many of the witches making a cast chose to do this, and there was always a deeper meaning to the flowers they opted to use.
He'd had too much wine but still was just sober enough to recognize that Astoria had chosen daisies, which represented purity and innocence. His skin felt hot under his white linen shirt and pants. Perhaps it would not hurt to get to know her in the year before the next casting…