Harry stepped aside allowing Ginny to be the first to ascend the spiral stairs. As she began to climb back up the hollow pillar in the centre of the circular hall, he followed immediately behind her. Ron, who was bringing up the rear, realised that his best friend was staring at Ginny's backside as they climbed. He clenched his teeth and said nothing. In Ron's opinion his sister's jeans were unnecessarily tight but, regardless of that, Harry should not be staring so blatantly.
'It looks like we're going to have to ask Bill, anyway,' said Ron, in an attempt to distract Harry. 'He probably knows everything there is to know about the Noble and Most Ancient Vaults.'
'We know a few things,' said Ginny. She turned and glanced down at Ron as she spoke.
'Arthur,' said Harry, nodding in agreement with Ginny. He, however, didn't turn to address Ron, contenting himself with addressing the words to Ginny's bum.
'Dad? What about Dad?' Ron tried again. 'He won't know anything, he might be ancient, but he definitely isn't noble.'
'Not your Dad, Ron,' Harry said, still refusing to turn and talk directly to Ron. 'The blue shield with three gold crowns, didn't you recognise it? We were taught about it in History of Magic.'
'I didn't know that you stayed awake during Professor Binns's lessons, Harry,' said Ron.
'It's the crest of Arthur Pendragon, Ron,' said Ginny. 'The Noble and Most Ancient Vault contained Arthur's shield, and twenty-four others, in a circle.'
'Circles are round, Ron,' said Harry.
Ron caught up instantly. 'The Round Table Knights!' he said. 'The Knights of the Many Kingdoms of the Isles of Britain. They were from before there was an England, or a Scotland or the rest. They were Merlin's era, before Hogwarts. Noble and Most Ancient! It's obvious when you think about it. There's only one problem, I've never heard of Brunor the Black.'
'Me neither,' admitted Harry. 'Arturus, his brother by adoption, Cai; Launcelot, his son Gwalhafed; and Gwalchmai, who defeated the green knight, they're the only ones I remember from Professor Binns's lessons. But, that's only five out of twenty-five.'
'Yes, Profesor Binns even managed to make the history of Merlin and the Kingdoms of Britain sound boring,' Ginny agreed. 'I can remember a couple of the names we saw near Brunor's vault. Bedwyr is the one the Muggles call Sir Bedivere, the knight with one hand, and you should both have remembered Palomides the Saracen. But Blubrhys, Brunor and Lucan mean nothing to me.'
'Hermione would know,' said Ron glumly.
'Yes, but she's not here, Ron,' Ginny reminded him. 'You need to think for yourself. You can't spend the rest of your life relying on her.'
'I think he probably can,' said Harry straight-faced, making both Ginny and Ron laugh.
'Provided she doesn't see sense,' Ginny said. 'Do you think that your grandparents will know anything, Harry?'
'I doubt it, but I probably should have asked them. We could go back to my vault on the way out,' Harry said.
They reached the top of the stairs and Harry unselfconsciously took Ginny's hand as they walked across to the cart. Ron watched, but said nothing; he was much too busy thinking about relying on Hermione—being with Hermione—for the rest of his life. It sounded good.
'It appears that you were unsuccessful,' said the goblin, smugly.
'Not entirely,' Harry replied. 'I'd like to revisit my vault, please.' The goblin gave an impassive nod.
'Sorry, Harry,' his grandfather told him. 'The Noble and Most Ancient Houses don't reveal their secrets to outsiders. All I know is that the Houses exist. I've no idea how many there are, and I couldn't even begin to tell you where to start looking for answers.'
'I don't know, either,' Harry's grandmother said. 'But I know this! More years ago than I care to remember, April Malkin told me that her sister married into one of the Noble and Most Ancient houses,'
'April Malkin, is that Madam Malkin, the robe-maker?' Harry asked eagerly.
Harry's grandmother shook her head. 'There were seven Malkin sisters, Harry. April was the eldest. It was the third girl, June, who opened the shop. She's still in business then?'
'Yes,' Harry confirmed.
Harry's grandfather smiled. 'Her older sisters, April and May didn't think she'd make it work, she was a flighty little thing, June Malkin.'
'And you carried a torch for her, Lawrence Potter, don't deny it!'
'That was a very long time ago,' said Harry's grandfather. He gave Harry a sly wink. 'It wasn't the youngest girl, Octavia, was it, Esme?'
'Octavia married a Smith, they're hardly a Noble and most Ancient house,' said Esmeralda Potter crossly. 'Be quiet and let me think, Laurence,'
Harry watched the painting impatiently as his grandparents pondered.
'I could ask Madam Malkin,' he suggested. His grandfather worriedly put his finger to his lips, and his grandmother shushed him, an annoyed expression on her face.
'It was Augusta Malkin,' said Esmeralda Potter triumphantly a few moments later. 'April told me that she had to go through some sort of strange ritual after the marriage, to confirm the ancient line. She married a Lancastrian, but I can't remember his name.
'Augusta Malkin?' Harry said. 'That's Neville's…'
'Did she marry someone called Longbottom?' Ginny asked at the same time.
'That's right!' said Harry's grandmother. 'However did you know that?'
'We know her grandson, Neville, Mrs Potter. If he is the heir to a Noble House, then he'll probably be able to tell us what we need to know. Thank you so much,' said Ginny.
'Thanks, Granny, Granddad,' said Harry. He hesitated. 'I will get you out of here, I promise.'
'We know you will, Harry,' his grandfather said. 'Good luck.'
'Thanks, I'll be back as soon as I can find someone to restore you,' Harry promised. 'Goodbye.'
'Neville will help us, there's no doubt about that,' said Ginny and they walked back to the cart. 'Well done Harry.'
'Me? You realised who Augusta Malkin was, too,' said Harry. He pulled Ginny into a hug and kissed her.
'So, well done Ginny,' he said when they came up for air. 'Great minds think alike,' he added with a grin.
'Do you have to do that in front of me?' Ron asked.
'If you don't want to see, don't look, Ron,' said Ginny. She turned and pulled a face at her brother. 'We can use the Galleons to contact him, Harry.'
'There's no need, little miss clever-clogs,' snapped Ron. 'He'll be in the Ministry, in the Auror Office. Harry and I are not at work today, but Neville is. He swapped shifts for some reason.'
'Can we have a word in private, Neville?' Harry asked.
Neville Longbottom gratefully raised his head from the report he was reading. 'Yeah,' he said, running his fingers through his blond hair. 'Have you ever read any of Williamson's case reports and examples of good practice?'
'Not yet,' Harry admitted.
'They make Professor Binns's lectures seem exciting,' said Neville as he followed them out into the corridor and across into the Auror Office Tea Room.
Harry sat on one of the high backed wooden chairs in the tea room, and Ginny immediately perched on his knees. Ron closed the door behind them and glowered.
'There are enough chairs for all of us, Ginny,' said Ron, looking at the three seats still vacant after he and Neville had also sat.
'The chairs don't look very comfortable, Ron,' said Ginny. 'Not like Harry.'
She turned sideways, threw an arm over Harry's shoulder, and shuffled around on his lap. Harry gave Ron an apologetic look, but that didn't prevent him from putting one hand around Ginny's waist and the other on her thigh the moment he'd finished casting a iMuffliato/i spell.
'What do you know about the Noble and Most Ancient Houses, Neville?' Harry asked without any preamble. Neville stared, obviously astonished by the question.
'The Noble and Most Ancient Houses?' asked Neville. Harry had never seen him look more cautious. 'Why ask me?'
'Was your gran's maiden name Malkin?' asked Ron.
Neville nodded, but remained silent.
'We're trying to find the true heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, Nev,' said Ginny.
Neville began to relax.
'I inherited the Black fortune from my godfather, Sirius,' added Harry. 'But I need to find out who is the true heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House. Aparrently that wasn't covered by Sirius's will. I don't really know where to start, but we've been told that the Longbottoms iare/i a Noble and Most Ancient House.'
'It's not something we brag about; it's just a silly old title. But if the last Black was … was Sirius, and he died in the Ministry. You can't have long to find the heir, only a couple of weeks at most!' said Neville angrily. 'The goblins delayed telling you, didn't they?'
'Yes,' said Ginny. 'We need help, Nev.'
I probably won't be able to tell you much. The Most Ancient Houses guard their secrets, even from each other,' said Neville.
'We need to find the heir before the goblins claim the contents of the inner vault of Brunor le Noir, Nev. So, anything that you can tell us, anything at all…' Ginny stopped and waited for Neville's reply.
'Let me think.' Neville leaned forwards, his elbows on his knees and his chin resting on his clenched hands, lost in contemplation. After a few minutes he stared thoughtfully at Harry.
'In order to find the heir, Harry, you need to know how the Blacks manage their inheritance,' said Neville. 'I don't suppose that they use anything as simple as agnatic primogeniture. Do you have any idea how they choose their heir, and what they use as their testing device?'
'What in Merlin's name are agnostic primogenitals?' asked Ron. 'And what's the testing device?'
'Agnatic primogeniture, Ron,' said Ginny, rolling her eyes despairingly at the brother. 'It means that the firstborn male inherits everything.'
Harry took the opportunity to kiss Ginny's cheek. Ginny grinned.
'You said that the Black Vault belonged to Brunor le Noir, he's La Cote Mal Taillée, isn't he?' asked Neville.
'La Cote Mal Taillée, that's "the badly fitting coat",' said Ginny. 'That's an odd name for one of Arthur's inner circle. I don't think I remember that story.' She paused in thought.
'Cai gave him the name,' said Neville. 'Because he was wearing his dead father's mail coat and it didn't fit him properly.'
'It didn't fit me properly, either, said Harry. 'I put it on, and it simply fell off.'
Neville smiled in triumph. 'If the coat was in the outer vault, and it fell off, then it is probably the testing device. Was there anything else in the vault, Harry?' asked Neville.
'No,' said Harry. Ron and Ginny nodded in confirmation.
'It would be a huge coincidence if you turned out to be the heir to one of the Ancient Houses, Harry, Particularly as you don't know anything about them,' said Neville. 'So the mail coat must be the test item. That makes sense.'
'It does?' said Ron. 'You've completely lost me, mate. The goblins said that it was a test of blood. Not just "put on this mail coat and see if it fits", and why a mail coat, anyway?'
'The coat will be important to the family, Ron,' said Neville. 'Some families test worthiness and lineage, others are only bothered about lineage, but, so far as I know, they all have a testing device, to assess the heir. They all predate the Sorting Hat. I mean the oldest of the houses has a testing device so famous that even the Muggles have heard about it. Excalibur.'
'Whoever pulls this Sword from this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born,' Harry, Ron and Ginny chanted the words simultaneously.
Neville smiled, and then turned and looked in horror at Harry. 'Most of the tests are harmless, Harry; but a few of them are rumoured to kill any pretenders. You were lucky. But, unless you can find out how the inheritance is determined, you'll never do it. You could be looking for absolutely anyone.'
'Can't you give us a clue, Nev,' asked Ginny. 'You're the heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Longbottom, aren't you? How does your inheritance work?'
'Ours is one of the most complicated. I'm nominally the heir, but I've no idea whether or not I'll inherit,' Neville shrugged. 'It's not the house of Longbottom, it's the house of Pelleas, and Niniane's girdle decides.'
'You have to wear a girdle?' Ron spluttered.
'A girdle isn't what you think it is, Ron. It's an embroidered cloth belt,' said Ginny. 'But even so, it's something medieval ladies wore. Niniane was one of the Ladies of the Lake.'
Neville nodded. 'She married Pelleas. Neville hesitated. 'Actually, there's no evidence that they actually married, but they were the parents of Guivret. It's a long story, but basically the Lady Ettard spurned Pelleas, and Niniane fell in love with him and punished Ettard. It's all in the stories, but there are dozens of different versions, and no one is sure which one is true.'
Neville stared at his friends, and looked nervously at the door. He moved as close as he could to Harry, Ron and Ginny and lowered his voice. 'What I'm going to tell you are Ancient House secrets. You can't tell anyone, okay?'
Harry, Ginny and Ron whispered their agreement.
'As secret as the Horcruxes, mate,' Harry promised. Neville nodded gratefully.
'This will show you how complicated your search could be,' said Neville. 'Niniane and Pellias wanted to be certain that their son would choose a good wife, so Niniane enchanted one of her own girdles. If I ever get married, my wife will have to put it on. If it rejects her, or if I don't get married, then the family will have to try to find someone else with the blood of Pelleas, someone who has a good wife.
'The girdle is supposed to ensure that we make a good marriage and produce strong kids. Inheritance can follow the same line for generations, but if the heir marries a woman the girdle doesn't like, it won't fit her, and there's a huge panic. The inheritance will shift to a different branch of the family; it could be a distant relative and after thirteen hundred years that's a lot of people. That's why the Pelletiers, and now the Longbottoms, keep careful records of our family tree, going back centuries.
'Sometimes the girdle picks a daughter and not the wife of a son. My Granddad inherited from his mum, Melisandre Pelletier, because the girdle chose her rather than any of her brother's wives. Like I said, it's ridiculously complicated. I've got no idea how the mail coat will work, Harry. It might be simple. It might need no more than a male of Black blood. But…' he shrugged. 'I can't be certain, sorry.'
'There aren't any males of Black blood,' said Harry.
Neville shrugged. 'It's possible that a female can inherit, like my great-grandmother did, but I don't think that many Houses use that system. The coat will work back through the family line to find an acceptable heir. Are you certain that there are no eligible males? How much do you know about the Black family tree?'
Harry, Ginny, and Ron exchanged a meaningful look.
'Only what I can remember, Neville,' said Harry. 'But there is a version of their family tree hanging on the wall at Grimmauld Place. We'd better get over there.'
They stared at the blasted tapestry.
'We're not related to Ignatius Prewitt, are we?' Ron asked his sister hopefully.
'Of course we are, Ron,' Ginny told him. 'But he wasn't a Black and anyway, he didn't have any kids, so there's no point you trying on the coat!'
Harry and Ginny, Ron noticed, were once again holding hands as they carefully examined the tapestry.
'There is definitely no one left on the male line,' said Harry, after several minutes of careful study. 'I suppose that the heir might be Neville, if he's related to this "Harfang Longbottom". It can't be a Crouch, because Barty Crouch was the last of them.'
We don't know for certain that it must follow the male line, Harry,' said Ginny. 'It could be a woman. But even that leaves us with only two names.' She pointed to a scorch mark, and the name next to it.'
'No!' said Ron.
'If it goes to the eldest, it's Andromeda,' said Ginny.
'But if it doesn't…' Ron gritted his teeth. 'I'd rather that the goblins got the lot than let it go to Malfoy!'
'It's not your choice, Ron, and it isn't ours, either,' said Harry. 'I think that we should go and talk to Andromeda, tell her what we know. There's only one problem.'
'What's that?' asked Ginny.
'It's Saturday, so Andromeda will be visiting her sister.'
'We could wait until tomorrow,' said Ron hopefully.
Harry shook his head. 'We've got ten days, Ron,' he said. 'It's probably best if we talk to both Andromeda and Narcissa. If they can't help us, then we'll need to look further afield. We can ask Neville about his family. It might be another Longbottom.
Harry, Ginny and Ron signed the book at the gate to Malfoy Manor under the watchful gaze of the two Law Office Bailiffs on guard duty. Under the "reason for visit" column, Harry wrote "Black family business". Ron watched his friend with some amusement. Harry was rather annoyed. Probably because Harry was certain that had, he not been Harry Potter, the Bailiffs would have demanded a better explanation. Harry had always been famous, but these days people were almost deferential. Ron knew better than to tease Harry about it.
They stepped into the grounds. The moment the gates closed behind them, Ron drew his wand.
'There's no need for that, Ron,' said Harry.
'The last time I was here, Hermione almost died,' Ron growled.
'Lucius is in Azkaban, Ron. Bellatrix is dead, and neither Narcissa nor Draco has a wand,' Harry reminded his friend.
Put it away, Ron, please,' Harry begged. 'You're a trainee Auror. If you hex Malfoy you'll be in all sorts of trouble with Robards.'
Still grumbling, Ron pushed his wand back into his pocket. 'Do you two have to hold hands all the time?' he asked grumpily.
'No, we don't,' Ginny told him. She shook her hand free of Harry's and instead slipped it into the back pocket of her boyfriend's jeans. After only a second's hesitation, Harry reciprocated.
Ron kicked the gravel drive, sending a shower of stones into the overgrown lawn and then marched ahead of Harry and Ginny. At least now he couldn't see them, but from the noises behind him he suspected that they were trying to kiss and walk at the same time. As they continued up the long drive to the manor house Ron looked around the place. He'd never seen it in daylight. The manor grounds were uniformly untidy and unkempt.
When they reached the imposing front door, Ron tried the handle. The door was locked. Harry stepped alongside him and knocked.
'Can't we shout "Auror Office, this is a raid," and blast it off its hinges,' Ron asked hopefully, although he knew the answer.
When Harry turned, an annoyed and very serious expression on his face, Ron grinned.
'I know, mate,' said Ron. 'We don't have due cause! And it's Malfoy is not due cause!' He paused for a few seconds before adding, 'In my opinion, it bloody well should be!'
Both Harry and Ginny were laughing when Draco opened the door a fraction and peered out. Draco managed to moderate his scowl slightly, but the fact that the visitors were laughing obviously annoyed him.
'Blimey,' said Ron. 'That's the ugliest house-elf I've ever seen. It looks almost like a ferret.'
Draco glared at Ron and released an angry hiss. Somehow, however, he managed to control himself.
'What do you want, Potter?' he snapped.
'I need to talk to Andromeda, Draco, and to your mother too.' said Harry calmly. 'It's urgent, can we come in?'
Draco nodded and silently pulled the door open. He stepped aside, allowing them to enter the echoing hall.
'It's nice to see that Malfoy has found a job he's good at,' said Ron to Ginny. 'He might make a decent doorman, if only he can remember his manners.'
Draco clenched his fists. Ron turned, looked at his old enemy, and smiled grimly.
'Go on, Malfoy, thump me, you know that you want to,' said Ron. 'Oh, I forgot, you don't have any henchmen standing behind you any longer, so you can't act bigger than you are, can you?' He moved closer and stared down into Malfoy's pale, pointed face. 'Your nose looks a little bent. Did somebody break it for you?'
'Leave it, Ron,' warned Harry. 'You know that Draco is under house arrest. He can't do anything. Assaulting an Auror would break the rules of his house-arrest. He'd be in Azkaban until his trial.'
'No great loss to the world,' said Ron. 'Anyway, it would acclimatise him to the place. He'll be seeing a lot more of it soon.'
Draco stepped sideways, ignored Ron and spoke to Harry.
'Welcome to Malfoy Manor, Harry,' he managed to keep his voice even while addressing Harry. 'Weasley,' he added, his face was a blank mask but his voice was a sibilant whisper of contempt. 'And…' Draco stopped, obviously uncertain how to address Ginny.
'Another Weasley,' said Ginny brightly. 'There are so many of us it's difficult to keep track, isn't it?' She smiled sweetly. 'You must remember me, Draco. I'm the Weasley who your Dad almost killed with Voldemort's diary.'
Ron was gratified to note that Draco jumped at Ginny's mention of his former master's name.
'Years and years ago you called me "Harry's girlfriend" as though it was some sort of insult. I don't mind if you call me that now, but perhaps, Miss Weasley, would be better,' Ginny concluded.
'The … family … are in the small living room. I'll take you too them,' said Draco.
He turned and led them across the hall to a tall, dark wood door.
The "small living room", Ron noted when he stepped inside, was bigger than the entire ground floor of the Burrow. Three large sofas formed three sides of a square in front of a marble fireplace. They were lost in the centre of the room. Andromeda Tonks and Narcissa Malfoy sat on one of the sofas, at right angles to the fire; a basket containing a sleeping Teddy Lupin was on the sofa opposite.
Harry introduced Ron to Mrs Tonks, who had cheerfully greeted both Harry and Ginny the moment they entered. Narcissa Malfoy acknowledged their arrival with a polite nod and an inscrutable expression.
Harry, Ginny and Ron sat, as directed by Narcissa, on the sofa facing the fireplace; Draco moved to stand behind his mother and her sister. Like his mother, he attempted to keep his face an unreadable mask. He was not, however, so accomplished.
While Harry, with occasional interruptions from Ginny, explained the situation to Andromeda and Narcissa, Ron concentrated on watching Draco. There was a calculating look in Draco's eye, and he kept glancing at Teddy Lupin, who remained asleep in his basket.
'The Goblins have left me with ten days to find the true heir to the House of Black,' Harry concluded. 'We've looked at the family tree carefully.' He glanced down at the hastily scribbled notes he'd made. 'Phineus Nigellus had three sons. His eldest son, Sirius—my godfather's great-grandfather—has no surviving children. His youngest son, Arcturus, had two daughters. The middle son was your great-grandfather, and you are the last descendents of that male line. I think that the male line has died out.'
'It has,' Narcissa conceded.
'Has there ever been a female heir?' Harry asked. The sisters exchanged a glance.
'Not that I know of, but I'm not certain,' said Andromeda. She shook her head ruefully. 'I wish I'd paid more attention to Grandpa Pollux's stories when I was a little girl.'
'I listened,' said Narcissa quietly.
Ron watched Draco, who stared at his mother.
'The Blacks inherited the title very recently,' said Narcissa. 'The family name was Lenoir until early in the seventeenth century. The last male heir of the Lenoir line failed the test in 1610, and he left for the colonies, a place called Jamestown. The Blacks have been heirs for less than four-hundred years, no time at all. We were a lesser branch and I believe that we were descended from a daughter. Let me think…'
Narcissa paused in thought, her brow furrowed by the effort of remembering. Eventually, she shook her head. 'It's no use. I will need to summon old memories,' she said.
Ron watched with interest as Narcissa closed her eyes in concentration. She placed her hands on her lap and allowed her head to fall forwards as she gave herself up to the recollection of long forgotten events. When her head jerked upright, almost a minute later, her open eyes were strangely unfocussed and she spoke with a quavering, elderly voice.
'See this crest, Narcissa, this is the black family crest. The black shield, the two stars, the chevron and the sword. Do you know what it means, Narcissa?
Narcissa's voice suddenly became childlike. 'No Grandpa.' And then returned again to the unsteady elderly voice.
'The Blacks are a Noble and Most Ancient House, Narcissa. Your Uncle Arcturus is the head of a line which stretches, unbroken, back to the days of Arthur, and Merlin the Great. The Blacks are the keepers of the Shield of Bienpensant. The first shield, the black shield of Bienpensant was the Lenoir crest, the first crest. That shield showed only the sword. But that ancient line, the Lenoir line, was judged unworthy; and so the Noble and Most Ancient House of Lenoir became the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black. To signify the change, the chevron was placed above the sword, and the stars placed above the chevron. We are not night-black, Narcissa, we are star-folk, we are the glimmer in the darkness. Our names remind us of this. It is a tradition, a tradition sadly ignored in your naming. But that matters not, as daughters are unimportant. It is the sons and grandsons, Orion, Sirius, and Regulus, who will inherit. Not you.
'But what if all the menfolk die?' Narcissa asked in her little-girl voice.
The laugh at Narcissa's own question was a hacking one. 'My dear little Cissie, that's exactly what your big sister asked. I will tell you what I told Bella. Murder will achieve nothing. If every male Black dies, then the coat will choose a worthy male heir. He will be the male offspring of one of the daughters of the house of Black. But the coat is clever; it will never choose someone who kills their relatives in order to gain the title. That is why the Lenoir line died. They killed each other, all but one. The survivor was deemed unworthy to inherit, and so he fled. Remember this Narcissa, remember it well.'
'I will, grandfather,' little-girl Narcissa said. Her eyes refocused and she looked around the room in triumph. 'I did, grandfather,' she whispered softly, a sad smile on her face. For a brief moment, Ron saw Narcissa as a human being, as a daughter, wife, and mother, and then the aloof blank mask returned.
'It's me,' said Draco, his eyes gleaming in excitement. 'It imust/i be me. I'm the only male offspring of a daughter of the house of Black. iShe/i only had a daughter.' He glanced dismissively at his Aunt. 'You have to take me to this vault, Potter,' Draco ordered. 'I'm the legitimate heir to the contents of the inner vault.'
'Draco,' his mother hissed, silencing her son. Her eyes flickered an apology to everyone else in the room. Ron was uncertain whether they were expressing regret at Draco's words, or merely at the tactless way he'd spoken.
'Gringotts will be closed now, Draco,' Andromeda Tonks said quietly. 'And tomorrow is Sunday. You will have to contain your excitement until Monday.'
'It will probably take me that long to organise your temporary release from house-arrest, Draco,' said Harry.
Draco nodded, and turned to face Ron. 'Thank you so much for bringing me the good news, Weasley,' he smirked.
Ron tried to stand, intending to walk over and thump Malfoy, but Ginny grabbed the back of his jacket and held him in his seat.
'Why, exactly, is ishe/i here?' Draco asked as they descended the spiral stairs to the vault.
'Ginny is here because I invited her,' said Harry. 'I'm the one who holds the key to the outer vault, Draco. So I can invite anyone into it. From what the goblins said upstairs, that will only change when I give the key to the true heir. Unless I don't find him, in which case I simply give the key to the goblins in eight days time'
'And, if you're interested, I'm here because I'm one of the two trainee Aurors assigned to guard the only Death Eater who isn't in Azkaban, Malfoy,' said Ron. 'So behave yourself.'
Narcissa Malfoy stared at her son, and Draco lapsed into a surly silence as they descended the stairs.
'Your Aunt 'Dromeda is the eldest survivor of the Black line, Draco,' Narcissa said. 'Although we know what Grandpa Pollux told me, Andromeda is eldest. She iwill/i try the coat first, and then it will be my turn. If it does not acknowledge either of us, then you will get your chance.'
'Yes, mother,' said Draco.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Ron watched Andromeda Tonks and the Malfoys. They gazed around the circular chamber, even Narcissa could not disguise the fact that she was impressed. Harry and Ginny did not stop, but simply led the way to the vault of Brunor le Noir. Harry unlocked the door and the odd little group entered the outer vault.
Harry and Ginny went first. They were followed by Grandmother Tonks, who carried her happily burbling grandson. Narcissa, aloof and silent, followed Andromeda. Her edgy and excited son remained at her side, but his eyes darted everywhere. Ron brought up the rear, keeping a close eye on the two Malfoys.
Harry was relaxed, much too relaxed in Ron's opinion. There was, in Ron's opinion, every chance that Draco would try something. Harry disagreed, and so had Hermione when Ron had telephoned her on Sunday afternoon to tell her what was happening. Ron alone thought that Draco should not be allowed to try on the coat. He'd been overruled, so he simply watched Draco like a hawk.
'Well, there it is,' said Harry, pointing at the rusty suit of mail which was, once again hanging lopsidedly on its T-shaped stand.
'It's dirty,' Draco protested.
'You don't have to try it on,' said Ron.
Draco sniffed disdainfully, but said nothing.
'Will you…' Andromeda began, holding Teddy Lupin out to Harry. Harry moved forwards, arms outstretched.
'No,' Ron ordered. 'You're an Auror on duty, Harry. Ginny can hold Teddy. You might be needed if there's trouble.' He glared at Draco as he spoke.
Ginny held out her hands. 'Come to see Aunt Ginny, Teddy,' she said, taking the four-month-old baby from Andromeda.
Andromeda Tonks struggled to lift the heavy mail shirt over her head. When she lowered it in place it seemed to sit there for a second, before suddenly falling to the ground.
'Oh, well,' said Andromeda ruefully. 'Perhaps I should have paid more attention to Grandpa Pollux. It's your turn, Cissie. She helped her sister to put on the mail coat, but once again, it simply fell to the floor.
'My turn,' said Draco. He stepped forward eagerly. Ron slipped his hand into his Auror robes and took a firm grip on his wand.
Draco Malfoy struggled to lift the mail coat over his head, when he slipped his arms into the sleeves and dropped it in place, it stayed there. His cry of triumph was, however, short lived.
'Can't breathe,' he gasped, desperately pulling at the coat, which appeared to be shrinking, and slowly crushing him.
Narcissa screamed and tried to help her son, but the mail coat was already too tight to remove. Harry's iExpansion Charm/i failed to make any difference either.
'Do something,' Narcissa begged.
Harry tried another spell, but with no more success. Draco began to turn blue and Narcissa became even more frantic. Ginny stepped forward, turned Teddy to face Draco, and held the tiny baby forwards. A tiny, podgy, flailing hand caught the collar of the mail coat and it shimmered and gleamed. It seemed to fall through Draco, who staggered backwards gasping for breath.
While Narcissa fussed over her shaking and panting son, Ron watched Teddy.
'Phthph, Abababa,' Teddy burbled happily, shaking the now shining coat, which had shrunk to be small enough to fit him.
'That was brilliant,' said Harry, beaming at Ginny. She shrugged.
'I hoped that, if Teddy was the heir, then he might be able to take the coat from Draco,' said Ginny. 'Besides, the moment Andromeda put it on he started to struggle in my arms. He was trying to reach the coat himself. I simply helped him to get to it. You iare/i a clever little boy, aren't you Teddy? You knew that it was yours.' Ginny kissed Teddy on the back of the head.
'Do you think that he is the heir?' Andromeda asked.
'We'll soon find out,' said Harry. 'Only the heir can open the door to the inner vault, 'Dromeda.'
'Do you think that he needs to actually wear the mail, Harry?' asked Andromeda anxiously. 'After what happened to Draco, I don't want to risk it on Teddy.'
Before Harry could reply, Ginny carried Teddy up to the door to the inner vault and held him up to it. The moment the baby's flailing fist touched the black iron ring in the door, it swung open. Draco, who had been enjoying his mother's concern, made a surprisingly rapid recovery and moved forwards to discover the contents of the inner vault.
He was disappointed. The vault was empty, but for a black shield, on which was painted a white sword.
'That's it?' said Draco. 'I was almost killed for an empty vault?'
'It isn't empty, Draco,' said Narcissa sharply. That is the Shield of Bienpensant, an enchanted item from Merlin's era. It is priceless. It belonged to the Noble and Ancient House of Lenoir, and then to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. Now, it seems, it belongs to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Lupin.
'Mine,' said Teddy, or at least his contented burble sounded close enough to that word to make everyone turn and stare at him.
'He wants to touch it,' said Ginny, as Teddy, the mail coat still held in one fist.
Andromeda took her grandson from Ginny and carried him up to the shield, but despite his struggles, she kept him just out of reach.
'Ababababa,' said Teddy. 'Phthpth.' He wriggled and squirmed and managed to brush the shield with his foot. The deep resounding bell which rang out at his touch was a noise way beyond the force of the blow, and he began to cry.
'There's nothing for us here,' said Draco, we should leave.
'I agree,' said Andromeda, as she attempted to comfort Teddy.
They walked into the outer vault and Harry closed the door. Once back in the outer vault, Teddy dropped the mail coat onto the floor, where it resumed its normal size and appearance. Harry hung it back on the frame and followed the others outside. They were all looking up at the shield above the door. It had changed. The sword and Chevron remained, but the stars had been replaced. The left star was now a wolf's head, the right was ... Harry wasn't certain what it was. Ginny must have sensed his uncertainty
'It's a bouquet of flowers, Harry,' she said quietly. 'Lupins.'
Ron looked around at the assembled group and grinned. 'I do like a happy ending. What about you, Draco?' Ron asked.