When she woke up the next morning, he was eating a bowl of cereal in the kitchen.
“Hello.” He said as she emerged from the hallway, pushing the box towards her gently. The cinnamon-crusted cereal offered very little in the way of nutritional value, but the sugar was addictive, and she loved the taste even if she could only ever bear to swallow a little of it. She got a clean bowl from the cabinet, and he gestured toward it with the milk jug, but she refused. The taste of milk had always made her stomach churn. It was far too rich and filling. Instead, she picked at the few dry flakes that she allotted herself, nibbling the sugar coating off of each one.
“So, what’s on the agenda for today?” He asked, crunching his way through another mouthful. She resisted the chuckle that threatened to erupt from her throat. He was a bottomless pit, and she could barely get through half of what was put in front of her. They were a perfect pair.
“Work, as usual.” She said. “You coming in for lunch?”
“I wouldn’t mind sharing another sandwich with you, sure.” He replied.
“What will you do until then? Look for a job?”
He paused. “Yeah, look around a bit.” He was lying, and she knew it. She knew him.
“Okay.” She tied her white apron around her slender hips, fluffing her blonde hair slightly. It had begun to thin a bit in recent years, which was a pity, since it was one of a few remaining features upon which she still prided herself. She didn’t pull it back unless forced to, too afraid it would strain the fragile strands.
“So, see you at about ten-thirty, then?” He added.
“Yes, see you then.” She smiled, turning and opening the door. He stepped out, trying to figure out where to go while she locked the flat. He thought about seeing if he could nick some fresh clothes from a store in mainstream London, but he worried he’d be too recognizable. After a few minutes, he resigned himself to the realization that he would need to get to his vault in Gringotts one way or another. He waited until she turned the corner, and then he began to follow her.
He was halfway down the street when he saw the small coat rack sitting outside the run-down looking secondhand shop. He saw a faux leather jacket that he really liked, but the item next to it captured his attention almost at first sight. The long black coat had a hood, and he snatched it from the rack and tore around the corner before the shopkeeper even realized anyone was there.
He had never been down Knockturn Alley by himself before, and he was a bit frightened, even though anyone who saw him without the disguise would surely turn and run for their lives. He passed Borgin and Burkes, an unsavory shop full of dark artifacts, and a street side vendor selling refurbished wands from a dingy booth. At last, he saw an apothecary at the end of the street.
He stepped up to the counter, informing the potioneer that he was interested in a single batch of Polyjuice Potion. Allowing the bewildered salesman a brief glimpse under his hood and an idle threat in place of the fifty Galleon fee, he was back out into the street in less than five minutes, his secret weapon tucked away in an inside pocket of the coat. Another carefully positioned revealing of his face around the corner from the bank yielded an unwitting victim, an elderly woman who fainted at the very sight of him. He plucked two of her curly grey hairs, downing the potion in one gulp. With both of his disguises settled comfortably in place, he entered the bank.
“Yes?” A young-looking goblin said from behind the counter.
“Vault two seventy-three, please.” Sirius said in his best old woman voice, the result creating the impression that the tidy elderly lady standing before the counter had been smoking since she was at least ten years old.
“Key?” The goblin said.
Bollocks. Key. How could he have forgotten about the key? “Erm…” He stuttered.
“Wait, two seventy-three?” The goblin unrolled a long roll of parchment that had been sitting next to him on the countertop. “Ah, yes, Sirius Black.” Several goblins and customers nearby looked up at him, and he lowered his voice. “Yes, we’ve got that one. Follow me.”
Sirius took the long ride down into the vaults with the goblin, struggling to his feet in his malnourished condition when the cart halted suddenly in front of Two Seventy-Three. Fortunately, the goblin seemed to interpret this as a bad case of arthritis, and he helped Sirius out of the cart. “What are you looking to get out of the vault?” He asked.
“Azkaban wants to draw the money to cover the cost of the search from his inheritance.” Sirius had thought this part through already. It made sense to him, and apparently the goblin bought it, too, because he took the key out of his pocket and opened the vault.
They had taken everything. Aside from mounds and mounds of glittering Galleons, he could see his wand wedged in the back between two of his old schoolbooks, a small tag marked ‘evidence’ still tied around it. A large cardboard box labeled “Grimmauld Place” sat atop a pile of Sickles toward the front. Sirius leaned over the vault, considering whether or not to take the wand. After all, he didn’t know when he could come by again and retrieve it. Unfortunately, the goblin was beginning to look a bit impatient, and so he contented himself by filling a bag with a reasonable amount of gold. He grabbed the wand just long enough to whisper one incantation, changing the wizarding gold into plain Muggle money to make it suitable for use in Rachael’s neighborhood.
The goblin helped him out of the cart when they’d returned to the main floor, thanking him for coming by. “Oh, and Mrs. Eldridge?” He added. “Next time you need to take care of Ministry business, please be sure to bring your identification. Most of us do try to check them regularly.”
Sirius thanked his lucky stars that he’d chosen to knock out a Ministry official. Well, she looked a bit too old for that; he assumed she was a secretary of some kind. He gave the goblin his best innocent old woman smile, and then he turned and left the bank, hiding the bag under his coat.
The clock in the square said ten fifteen. He would have to hurry.
After waiting impatiently in front of an abandoned storefront window until his reflection showed a poor man instead of an old lady, Sirius headed into the diner, taking his place at the counter just as Casey reminded Rachael that it was time for her to have lunch. The pair of them chose to share a large helping of shepherd’s pie this time.
“So, how did job hunting go?” She asked, taking a small bite of potatoes and peas.
“Not so well.” He said. “Places don’t like to hire you if you don’t have a permanent address.”
“You could tell them you live with me.” She said, as if this were the most natural and logical thing in the world. Her lack of concern for much of anything continued to amaze him.
“I guess.” He nodded. “Maybe I’ll try that this afternoon.” He took a bite of lamb.
“So, Stephen, what brings you to this part of town?” She asked, changing the subject.
“I’m sort of a drifter.” He said. It wasn’t untrue. He had left the house that was never a home at sixteen, and he crashed at his best friend’s place until he agreed graciously to move out during James and Lily’s honeymoon. He had been sleeping off and on at Remus’s flat when the Potters were killed, and he took off after Peter immediately, never able to return for his few possessions.
She nodded, sipping her water. He focused on consuming his share of the meal.
At four in the afternoon, he returned from exploring the area around the diner and met her in front of the restaurant as she closed up for the night. She did not ask about his job search again.
“I’d like to keep looking around.” He said, following her to the apartment. “Do you mind if I come in a little later?”
“No.” She said. “I’ll be here. Just lock the door when you come back for the night.” Another shy smile, and she let herself in, picking up a novel from the shelf and going back to the bedroom.
He wanted to go to Hogwarts, looking for a glimpse of his godson, but he was a little too tired from his escapades in wizarding London to make the visit tonight. Instead, he wandered the streets, the bag of change inside his jacket moving softly up and down to the rhythm of his steps. After twenty minutes or so, he came upon a hardware store.
Now that he thought about it, that supply of coins was getting to be a bit cumbersome.
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