When we left Chapter 30, this had just occurred:

The police arrived at #4 Privet Drive just in time to watch the roof cave in. The fire was peculiar in that it never strayed from the foundation of the home, not even burning the grass in front where they found the sole survivor on.

Chapter 31 – Sirius Black

"And how is his aunt?" Dumbledore asked the face in the fire sombrely.

"She's been healed and more obliviated than a Quidditch Cup Muggle, but she'll be up and feeding herself soon, I suspect," Kingsley answered.

"Well, that's something," Dumbledore breathed. "What of her family? And the house?"

"Too many witnesses for the house, but we've managed to plant evidence that should lead to a decision that it was nothing more than an electrical fire. Electricity is what—."

"No, I know what it is," Dumbledore interrupted, waving his hand dismissively. "Her husband? Son? How are they?"

"Bit shaken up, though her husband seemed rather happy that his car hadn't been there at the time," Kingsley said with a roll of his eyes. "Neither of them connected the event with their nephew, openly or silently."

"Good good," Dumbledore said enthusiastically. "It may be prudent to consider obliviating the existence of their nephew from their memories completely at some time in the future."

Kingsley's eyebrows rose slightly in surprise at this, but otherwise his face was impassive.

"For their protection, of course," Dumbledore said, his blue eyes twinkling.

"Of course," Kingsley answered agreeably enough. "So he no longer calls their home his own, then?"

Dumbledore's eyes lost their twinkle briefly. "No, I daresay not. Safer lodgings have been found with one of our members."

Their floo conversation might be protected, but it was always safer not to use specifics whenever possible.

"Perhaps those obliviations should occur sooner than later?" Kingsley asked.

"Perhaps," Was Dumbledore's ambiguous response.

. . .

Sirius' journey didn't stop at the Dursley's house. It was just the beginning. While at Hogwarts, he had started shaving his face clean in anticipation of not being recognized by his Wanted Posters. He further added to the deception by cutting his hair short with a pair of shears he had found in the Dursley's shed. He spelled his eyes grey-green with one of the only cosmetic spells he knew.

After doing that, a thought occurred to him and he froze for a moment looking down at the wand in his hand. It was his wand, but he hadn't had a wand since they had thrown him in Azkaban. For all he knew, they had snapped it, but the wand he was holding was clear evidence against that.

"James?" He whispered, but there was no response.

Feeling very wary against angering the irate spirit any further, he continued on with his plan, but that didn't alleviate the cold lump that had settled in the bottom of his gut.

He apparated from the backyard of the Dursley home mere seconds before the aurors arrived. He arrived in a back alley of London that just happened to be near the Leaky Cauldron. It had been spelled secret by he and James over a decade before. The muggles could build a bloody shopping mall there, and he could still apparate in and out without anyone the wiser. It was one of those spots that he had planned on sharing with Harry when the boy got a bit older. And now it seemed that there was at least a fighting chance of that still happening.

On his way to the Leaky Cauldron, he ducked into a few different muggle clothing shops and made off with a few inexpensive clothing items. He avoided the more respectable places, like the place he had first seen Harry and Snape together. By the time he reached the magical pub, he was dressed in a brown plaid shirt with a pair of semi-worn green corduroy slacks. Hiding a grim smirk, he wondered if they brought out the green in his eyes.

Over one arm, he carried his robes, which he had transfigured to look like a black trench coat. It was rather warm out, and he didn't want to draw attention by sweating unnecessarily.

With that thought, he took a breath and stepped into the cool and predictably gloomy atmosphere of the Leaky Cauldron. It was the middle of a warm afternoon, and traffic was uncomfortably sparse. He nodded idly to Tom as he strolled past. In his mind, he was acting the part of a distant Black relative; one who didn't speak the language very well, and had no interest in stooping down to the level of 'commoners.' It didn't matter that he was dressed like a muggle ragamuffin. His muggle clothes were of no consequence here. They were merely a disguise for traversing the muggle world. It also didn't matter why he had found it necessary to deal with the non-magical world. Blacks didn't need a reason behind their actions.

Thankfully, he felt no unwanted eyes as he made his way to the wall behind the pub. Tapping the bricks in the prescribed order, he waited for the wall to dissolve and focused on his breathing. Blacks didn't get ruffled, and he didn't want to break character by appearing nervous or suspicious.

Walking through Diagon Ally, he surreptitiously scanned his surroundings as he headed in the direction of Gringotts. He was taking a risk, but it was a necessary one, should he ever want to find where Harry and Snape had stashed themselves.

One of the gifts that James and Lily had given him upon naming him godfather was a handy little pendant that had Harry's magical signature infused into it. In the middle of the plain gold disk was a tiny blood coloured thumbprint. During the godfather naming ceremony, baby Harry's thumb had been pricked and pressed into a piece of malleable gold. It had then been magically hardened and Harry's thumb had been healed. The disk had been spelled with a borderline dark spell that would keep Sirius aware of Harry's general location, regardless of space and even time—if so necessary.

James, at least, had been aware of the kind of magical activities that involved time travel, and knowing the sorts of trouble a son of a Potter was likely to get into, he had included that part of the spell even though Lily hadn't understood the need for it.

He hadn't been wearing the pendant at the time of James and Lily's deaths, because of a paranoid worry that its existence would cause him to become a target for the dark. His occlumency skills were slightly above average, but every auror knew of the Dark Lord's prowess in the magical mind arts. It wasn't worth the risk of having his godson revealed. It was better for everyone if Sirius didn't know how to find them—at least until the unthinkable had happened.

With his thoughts on such dark memories, his travel through the expanse of the magical alley seemed to take almost no time at all. Pushing through the large doors of Gringotts, he waited a brief moment for his eyes to adjust from the brightness outside to the dim chill inside the large marble building. Stepping away from the entrance, he briefly scanned the tellers and then picked one at random. There was only one other patron there; a portly gentleman who didn't even bother glancing up as he quietly conversed with his teller.

"How can I help you?" The goblin teller asked with a sneer that told Sirius he'd rather be doing anything else but.

"Is Flensing here?" He asked, referring to the name of the goblin who had long handled the finances of the expansive Black vaults.

The goblin on the other side of the desk turned suddenly aware eyes on him, and Sirius just barely managed to keep from flinching under the scrutiny.

"He is busy," The goblin answered after a moment of tense silence.

"I need to speak with him. Family matters," Sirius answered lightly.

The goblin stared at him a moment longer before reaching down and pulling out a jewelled dagger.

"Three drops of blood are needed to confirm," The goblin barked at him.

"Certainly," Sirius answered, still playing his role.

He took the dagger and cut his pinkie finger. He let three drops of blood fall out onto the piece of parchment that the goblin held out and then watched as it healed itself. Magic was a wonderful thing. He was especially thankful for its existence after so many months on the run.

On the piece of parchment, a brief family tree was forming from where his blood had landed. It named his parents and grandparents, but went no further back. At the bottom of the page was his name, shining out darkly in bold script.

The goblin did no more than raised an eyebrow at the sight before turning to bark orders in gobbledygook to a waiting goblin standing a few feet behind him. As the other goblin marched off, his teller turned back and snapped his fingers. The piece of paper blackened and crumpled with invisible fire as Sirius watched with pleased surprise. When the piece of incriminating parchment was nothing more than ashes, the goblin gestured him toward a set of heavy metal doors at the nearest end of the lobby.

Flensing met him as he pushed open the large ruby encrusted door. He was an elderly goblin with long silver ear hairs that flowed seamlessly into his grey beard.

The goblin didn't say a word until the doors were firmly shut behind them, and then all he said was, "Come."

Sirius followed him down a long hallway with a number of unlabelled closed doors. Finally, Flensing stopped and pushed his long fingers at a very plain looking door. It opened at his touch and Sirius followed silently behind him. Flensing sat behind a large oaken desk and indicated that Sirius should sit in the plush armchair that sat opposite him.

"Imagine my surprise when your name appeared on my list of acceptable Black heirs," Flensing said, speaking in a gravelly voice that sounded like it didn't get much use.

Narrowing his eyes, Sirius answered, "I thought that Mother blasted me from the family tree."

"It seems that she forgot," Flensing answered and then paused. "The last time I saw you here was before you had started Hogwarts. Do you remember? You tried to catch my beard on fire," Flensing added with a dark glare.

Internally Sirius winced. It wasn't as though human-goblin relationships were particularly well maintained as is.

"Is it too late to apologize?" Sirius asked, attempting to look contrite. It wasn't too terribly difficult, considering the circumstances. He needed access to his vault in order to find Harry. Flensing could potentially keep him from that task.

Flensing paused to look at the contents of a folder on the side of his desk.

"As the only Black heir, your account's outgoing funds have severely decreased. Luckily, thanks to my constant supervision, the incoming monies have only increased."

Sirius only frowned. What was Flensing saying?

"In other words, Mr Black," Flensing continued, fixing a knowing gaze on him. "Your lack of spending has made this goblin a very rich goblin indeed. I think I shall overlook your prank as mere 'youthful indiscretion.' I suspect," Here the goblin smirked cruelly, "That you were punished adequately for your actions that day."

Sirius remembered the punishment from that prank very well. He had only started using a chair again a few days before attending Hogwarts for the first time. For several months, he had been something of a non-entity within his parents. Of course, that had only changed for the worse when he had been sorted into Gryffindor, but that was all in the past.

More explicitly, he didn't care to think about it. Flensing seemed to pick up on that and instead of gloating, the old goblin asked him his business.

He described the pendant as he remembered it. Flensing asked no questions at the end of Sirius' description, but merely summoned a goblin with a short bark. Another thought occurred to him shortly after the goblin was gone, and he turned questioning eyes to Flensing.

"Aren't my accounts frozen?" He asked bluntly. If old Flensing was doing this for an unspoken fee, then he wasn't certain the price was actually worth it.

Flensing gave him a sharp toothed grin. "Are they, Mr Black?"

Sirius frowned. "Escaped or not, I'm still a convict, yes?"

Flensing waved a dismissive gnarled hand. "You are a customer first and foremost. Our dealings with the Ministry are secondary, at best."

"But the Black accounts?"

"Frozen monetarily, yes regrettably so. However, there are a number of other related accounts which you also have access to."

Sirius only raised an eyebrow.

Flensing sighed gustily and began ticking off on his fingers, "Bulstrode, Crabbe, Flint, McMillan . . . of course, I would use their accounts in name only. The real money would be derived from what you have made me in the years you've been incarcerated. Oh dear," Flensing grinned evilly again. "I suppose what the Black account has made in the past decade isn't actually on the books anywhere. I suspect that the oversight would be fixed if you were to ever be pardoned, but I for one am not holding my breath."

Sirius snorted. Oh dear indeed. He decided that he really didn't want to know.

At that moment, the door opened, and the unnamed goblin returned with a small wooden box atop a wooden tray. He put it on the desk and then left without another word.

"Do you mind?" Sirius asked, reaching in the direction of the box.

"I certainly wouldn't want to risk losing a finger," Flensing answered. "That box is spelled directly to you, if you remember."

He didn't, but that was entirely beside the point. His memories of the years just prior to Azkaban were pitted with holes, but he wisely kept that knowledge to himself. He remembered this, though he hadn't when he had first escaped. It seemed that Hadwyn's influence over his life had resulted in at least one positive.

He touched the box and pulled it closer. His finger prickled at the magic imbued within the box, but none of it was directed at him. The top opened easily on smooth hinges. Inside was the golden pendant strung on a simple chain. It was as he remembered it and he quickly picked it up and put it on. He closed his eyes as his connection with Harry was reawakened and leaned back in his chair as the information mounted in his mind.

A few minutes later, he opened his eyes and looked at Flensing with a determined expression.

"Can you get me a translation potion and a bottomless pouch?" He asked; his mind on the brilliant lakes that surrounded his godson's location.

"May I ask where it is you are travelling?" Flensing leaned in toward him conspiratorially.

"Croatia," Sirius answered simply.

"I can get those requested items for a small fee, of course."

"Of course. I would expect nothing less."

"Then we are agreed. However, Mr Black, I do have one final question."

"Only one?" Sirius grinned wearily. Merlin, they're in Croatia? Bloody hell, he thought.

"Only one," Flensing grinned, flashing his teeth in a frightening manner. "Why did you choose to travel here under such a façade today? Why not use your other talent to enter the Alley?"

Sirius blinked twice. How the goblin knew he was an animagus was beyond him. But his other question . . .

"I suppose I felt like conducting my business as a man for once," He answered contemplatively.

"A wise decision, I think. I think I shall enjoy doing business with Sirius Black, the man."

A/n: I think I lost my thread on this one a bit, but have no fear, I have found my way back! And yes, the end is in sight.

Chapter 32 preview:

The first sign that there was a problem was the distant sight of spell-fire reflected against the water in the lake next to their cabin.