AN: There's a fair bit of wordplay in this chapter which may strike some people as odd. If you think of it though, with only one newspaper, one wireless station, and a handful of highly targeted magazines – they're going to have to come up with some way to entertain themselves.

.o0O0o.

Saturday breakfast at the Dursleys' was its usual long affair, made more so by it being served in bed to the two whales in residence. Second and third helpings, all lovingly carried up to them by a gushing Aunt Petunia, left them mostly out of sight and even helped him grab some bit of it to eat himself while his aunt was away. It was well into morning when all the plates had been washed, dried, and put back in their proper places – all by Harry, of course.

With Uncle Vernon taking Dudley out for a new video game – in payment for his stellar performance in boot-licking the night before – Harry hoped being run ragged the day before would provide him some time to himself so he could start writing his replies. His aunt seemed to have different plans for him though.

"Since you're done you can stop lazing about," the horse-faced woman started. "Go upstairs, get your things, and start a load of laundry. Then take out the trash and make yourself scarce. I don't want to see you until it's done."

"Yes, Aunt Petunia," Harry gave his rote response as he made his way back to his room.

For the second time in as many days Harry opened his door to find something waiting on him. A large, disgruntled-looking black owl stood imperiously at his open window. It called to him loudly, as if offended it had been kept waiting.

"And keep that bird quiet!" his Aunt Petunia called up after him.

"Sorry about that," Harry told the owl, closing the door behind him. "I wasn't expecting any more mail."

Relieved of its burden the beast started nipping at the drawer he had stashed everything in earlier.

"You want an owl treat? Hang on, I'll get you something."

Harry dug out the bag he kept his wizarding money in. He had always kept something for Hedwig in there too. Letting the bird root through and take its fill Harry concentrated on his letter. The owl soon departed with its prize: it had a solid silver sickle clutched in its beak.

'Leave it to a bank to charge me postage,' Harry grumbled in his head.

'To: Account-Holder H. J. Potter

Re: Your Inquiry

Thank you for contacting Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Diagon Alley. Your letter has been quite informative and brought forward many issues worthy of discussion. Your hereditary account is currently in the charge of F.M. Gropegold. His practice is to arrive for work shortly after 10 o'clock. Upon a preliminary review it appears the first of August is a very important time for your account and we would suggest seeing your Financial Manager immediately upon his entry.

Due to strictures placed upon us by the Ministry, we are unable to provide non-employee human transport. I am reliably informed emergency wizarding transport already exists in the form of the Knight Bus and that casting forth your wand from any street curb should summon the vehicle to you. Please note they do not accept cheques or promises of payment.

Gringotts looks forward to your visit,

Overseer Barchoke, Hereditary Accounts'

Not sure how today was supposed to be important, Harry wondered if he could really do it. 'Could I really slip away?'

"Laundry! Now!" his aunt bellowed from below.

Harry's mind was made up. He was going. Today. Now.

He crammed the letter into his money pouch and crammed that in his pocket. Out from the drawer came his letters and things and quick as a flash they were tossed into his trunk. The trunk itself was another huge problem. Getting the trunk out of the house without his Aunt Petunia noticing was going to be impossible, even without his broom slung over his shoulder, and unless he happened to stumble into the Weasleys in the middle of Diagon Alley it'd be pointless to even try.

As much as he hated it, Harry knew he'd have to come back.

A few more moments had his wand, Hogwarts robes, and his dad's old invisibility cloak retrieved. Thinking for a moment, Harry removed Hedwig's cage and his Nimbus 2000 from the wardrobe and set them on top of the trunk, carefully arranging the cloak to cover everything.

With his wand up his sleeve, money in his pocket, and Hogwarts robes stuffed unceremoniously into his bulging hand-me-downs, Harry scraped together whatever bits of laundry he had and was out of his room before his aunt could bellow again.

"Hop to it, before I think of something else for you to do," his aunt said as Harry made his way back downstairs. "And don't forget the trash."

Throwing his odds and ends in the wash with a splash of detergent and hitting the button, Harry made his way to the kitchen, glad to have some legitimate reason to go outside. As soon as he was out the back door the trash was dropped and he bolted for the back hedge. Aiming for the well-worn passage Dudley and his gang had made years before, Harry found himself in the alleyway beyond. Turning left, he made his way towards Magnolia Crescent, the nearest side street he could get to that was out of sight of Privet Drive.

There was a thrill of excitement in the air as he stole a glance around to make sure he couldn't be seen. He couldn't believe he was doing this. Harry took out his Gringotts letter to check what he had to do. 'Casting forth your wand from any street curb should summon the vehicle to you.' Hoping there wasn't some special incantation he was supposed to do Harry took out his wand and pointed it towards the street.

With a bang like a canon blast a giant purple triple-decker bus exploded into view as Harry leapt back in surprise. Harry saw some disheveled faces peek out of the bus windows to see where they had landed. In no time at all a pimply young man jumped out and recited his company line.

"Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. I'm Stan Shunpike and I'll be your conductor for this eav-morning."

"You're real," Harry said, still in awe of the giant magical bus in the heart of muggle Surrey.

"Last time I checked," the young man said with a grin. "You gettin' in or not?"

"Absolutely!"

"Well, hop in then," Stan gestured to the door beside him.

If the outside had been impressive the inside was even more bizarre. Large chintz chairs in various patterns were strewn about in no particular order and several witches and wizards looked to be picking up their shopping where it had fallen when they stopped. One old wizard looked to be… wet.

The door closed and the young man grabbed a shiny silver hand-hold.

"Take 'er away, Ern."

Bang! Harry found himself thrown back into the crush of chintz chairs. Seeking safety in one of them Harry pulled his feet and legs up away from the rampaging recliners.

The young man named Stan made his way over.

"So where'bouts choo headed?"

"Gringotts," a breathless Harry said.

"Leaky Cauldron close enough?" Stan asked as another bang had them rambling down a distant country lane. Stan slightly swayed.

"Perfect," Harry replied.

"'Leven sickles ter get 'choo there," Stan said, seemingly unaware of the bus's turbulence. "Firteen gets you 'ot choc'let. No, wait," he corrected himself. "That's only at nigh'. By day it's tea."

Glancing at the wet wizard from before, who now had a greenish twinge to him as he swayed back and forth, Harry decided against the tea and handed over the lesser amount.

"You have a loo?" Harry asked, feeling the lump of his Hogwarts robes behind him.

"In the back," Stan replied, handing Harry his ticket.

"Thanks."

Keeping a firm hand on anything remotely stable, Harry stumbled his way to the back of the bus where he found the lavatory blessedly empty. It was ten turbulent minutes before Harry had his robes on properly and he considered just ditching his hand-me-downs until he thought of trying to explain to the Dursleys why he was wearing robes when he got back there.

Blessedly soon – though not soon enough to save him from more bumps and bruises – Stan was calling out their arrival at the Leaky Cauldron. It was on wobbly legs that Harry found himself in front of the grimy London pub.

"Righ' then, be good," Stan called before the giant purple passage to paralyzation banged its way off again.

"Is it always like that?" Harry asked the green-tinted wizard that had gotten off when he did.

"Better than Apparition," was all the man said as he wobbled his way indoors.

The wizarding world, Harry decided, was insane. 'But at least they're not the Dursleys,' he added as an afterthought.

The Leaky Cauldron was as dark and dingy as ever and Harry wondered if they ever cleaned. The hunch-backed gap-toothed barman smiled his way over, pointing at Harry's school robes.

"Bit early for that, innit?"

"Better early than late," Harry said embarrassed, wishing he had thought to hide his Gryffindor crest before entering for all the attention he was getting. 'At least it's better than looking like a deflated rhinoceros,' he reminded himself.

"Think I could go through?" he asked, pointing towards the back.

"Sure thing," the barman smiled. "This way."

Soon enough the back wall was opened and he was in Diagon Alley proper. 'Made it with time to spare,' Harry thought glancing at his watch to find it just past nine.

The feeling from his dream the night before returned and a smile crept onto his face. He had almost an hour before he had to go to Gringotts and he still had money in his pocket. There might not be an arcade or a three-story fountain but there were no screaming Dobbys in the windows either. This wasn't an opportunity Harry was going to waste.

The small shop directly to his right had a large wooden shoe over a sign saying Cadogans Cordwainery. Deciding anything was better than another day in Dudley's peeling leftovers Harry stepped inside.

He had been expecting to see rows upon rows of shelves, filled to the brim with every sort of shoe imaginable, what he found was a small, balding mustachioed man dozing in a chair and footprints on the wall. The smell of leather hung heavy over everything.

"Come in, come in!" the man cried now cheerily awake. "We're open."

"Er– You sell shoes?" Harry asked, uncertain he had interpreted the sign correctly.

"We make shoes," the man replied hustling Harry over to the chair. "Cooper Cadogan of Cadogan's Cordwainery. The finest footwear money can buy, lovingly crafted by masters of the trade. Come wrap your feet in Adadan leather from Argentina or Mungohide from Ouagadougou and you'll wonder how you ever walked without it."

"Of course," the man said with a twinkle in his eye, "young men like yourself are always looking for a bit of flash. We've also got a nice young dragonhide straight from the Romanian wilds."

"Er–," Harry said uncertainly. He certainly didn't want to run into Hagrid while wearing a pair of Norbert-skin shoes.

"I have to warn you though, they aren't cheap. The best Adadan goes for seventeen – but since it's you I'll let it go for twelve."

Harry had the distinct impression he meant twelve gold galleons, which was more than his wand cost. 'It would be the most expensive thing I had ever bought,' Harry realized, but then he thought– "Why not?" he said. 'It was only one galleon for every year I've been alive,' Harry reckoned. 'Happy Birthday to me.'

"That's the ticket," Mr. Cadogan said with a smile as Harry fished out the money.

"Customer!" the man called and two knobby-kneed creatures wrapped in towels came shuffling out of a back room.

"You have house-elves?" Harry asked.

"Oh yes. Ungo's and his family have been serving the shop for – How long's it been? Two hundred years?" the man asked the elf.

"Three," the older elf croaked in his bullfrog voice, holding up four fingers as the younger one removed Harry's trainers and traced his feet onto parchment.

"Three hundred, bless'em! Good thing they're here too," he said to Harry. "Finding good leather is where I've got it laced up but I'm pants when it comes to shoes," Cadogan said with a wink.

"And do you like working here?" Harry asked them.

"Best boots to buy," Ungo grunted with what Harry thought was a hint of pride.

"Boots or shoes?" the younger elf asked Ungo.

"Boots or shoes?" Ungo asked Cadogan.

"Boots or shoes?" Cadogan asked Harry.

"B–Shoes will be fine," Harry told the elves.

"Had Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, in here for a nice pair of shoes the other day," Cadogan said as he sat on a short stool and Ungo and his friend went to work. "Bowler-hat green he wanted them. Charged him extra 'cause he's an idiot. That's him there." Cadogan pointed to a pair of tiny footprints on the wall.

"Color?" Ungo asked.

"Er– Black," Harry said.

"Had that author fellow too, what was his name? Lockhead, Lockheed – Lock-something," the shopkeeper said with a wave. "Lock up your daughters around that one. If anything, he was worse. Dimmer than a two year old's lumos."

"A what?" Harry asked.

"Little light spell," Cadogan explained pulling out his wand and igniting the tip. He waved it around like a flashlight before extinguishing it with a nox.

"Don't bother looking for him up there," he waved at the wall. "Wouldn't have him there if he paid me – and he did," Cadogan joked. "If anything he put in his books actually happened I'll eat his boots. Lilac indeed."

"Speaking of–," Cadogan said, buoyed back into positive spirits once more. "Used to have your headmaster, Dumbledore, come in for boots 'til about ten years ago," Cadogan continued, pointing to a long pair of feet on the wall by Fudge.

"Guess he reckoned he was over a hundred and wouldn't be living too much longer and stopped. Pity, that. He was always good for a sale. High-heeled, pointed-toed, any color of the rainbow. You name it, he bought it. Never saw an outfit he disliked; always had to match. Hated to see him go.

"There's one of your Hogwarts types I really want to get," the large man said conspiratorially. "Professor Snape. Now, now–," he said when Harry recoiled, "just because he's more curdled than putrefied potion doesn't mean the man can't do with a nice pair of shoes. Always thought his must be pinching something awful to be as bad as he is. Do the world a world of good to get him in that chair."

Harry smiled, more at the man's easy manner and simple solutions than the thought of an extra spring in Snape's step.

"I was curious," Harry said hoping to guide the conversation to more relevant topics. "How did your family come by your elves?"

"Oh, you know how it is," Cadogan said with a wave. "Family on the way down, selling anything they can afford to lose – then everything they can't – to those with a bit of coin to spare. Has to be the best thing my family's ever done to take them in," he finished with a smile to the elves.

"I heard some are downright nasty to their elves," Harry said neutrally.

Cadogan pulled a face.

"They'd be a twisted sort to be mean to an elf. They're family," the man replied. "I grew up with Ungo here. My kids grew up with his–"

The younger elf waved a hammer at Harry before returning to work.

"The only one who'd ever be mean to an elf is one who doesn't know what a proper family is," Cadogan finished. "My brother," the man began again, back in his chipper tone, "he's got a couple of Ungo's kids with him – turns out they were all thumbs when it came to shoes–"

Harry saw Ungo shake his head sadly.

"–So Carl took those two with him to break into the elf-made wine market. Guess he hopes those thumbs are green, eh?"

And with that the conversation was back on its whirlwind tour of topics. Harry didn't mind, he found it a very easy way to spend the time. Not having to add anything to the conversation gave him a very interesting look at the wizarding world. No one ever thought about the man who made their shoes let alone what he thought of things.

Just as Harry was beginning to get nervous about the time, Ungo and his son – who Harry had learned was named Mungo after the animal hide they used – which in turn was named for a wizarding explorer relative of some famous healer – presented Cadogan with their finished work.

"Oh, well look at that! My how time flies," Cadogan cried.

After a bit of prodding from the shop owner's wand, each shoe was declared ready for wear.

"You wrap your feet in these," he said, "and tell me you've felt the like."

Harry's feet were in heaven. They had died, gone to heaven, and were never coming back. It was like he had stuck his feet into a warm stiff pudding. The only word he could think to describe how it felt was supple.

"That's the black Adadan they went with for the outside, sole looked to be Mungo. Charmed to reduce wear and any sort of smell. Should do you fine in rain or snow, plenty of grip – just don't go swimming in them. Well, what do you think?" he prompted.

"They're the best shoes I've ever had," Harry said honestly.

"Splendid," Cadogan smiled. "You want me to do for these?" he asked, gesturing to the remains of Harry's trainers with his wand.

"Er– No, better not," Harry said. "You got anything I can take them in?"

With a look that said Harry was crazier for taking them than he would be to blast them to bits, he produced a nondescript box to hide them in.

"Now," a smiling Cadogan said, presenting Harry with a quill and the outline of his own feet. "Sign here please."

A quick Harry Potter later and his parchment was given pride of place on Cadogan's Wall of Fashionable Feet, between Dumbledore and Fudge. Harry thought if Cadogan ever managed to trip Snape into his chair for an hour at least he'd be in good company if the potions master ever tried to taunt him about it later.

With no less than three invites back should he ever have the need Harry found himself back out in the main alley throng, though his feet certainly felt the difference. Different certainly seemed the apt description for him today as every other eye in the alley darted back to get a second look at his robes. In his haste to blend in it seemed he picked the one thing sure to draw everyone's attention.

It was then that Harry began to appreciate just how omnipresent Hogwarts was in his new world. 'No wonder these people can spot a rogue robe the length of the alley,' Harry thought. 'They'd all been there too.'

Spotting the shop he was sure he had gotten the robes at in the first place – a place called Malkins – Harry angled his way over.

"Sorry," Harry said to the ladies inside as he checked his watch, "but I don't have a lot of time. Do you think you could do something so I don't look like I just escaped from school?"

"Oh dear," the lady he recognized from last year said. "You certainly are out of time, aren't you? You realize it's summer? I'll sort you out," she chuckled.

A few waves of Madam Malkin's wand had the Gryffindor crest gone, the tie a nice deep green, and she even added an inch or so of length to where Harry had grown since his last visit.

"There you go," Madam Malkin smiled. "Now off you go before I change my mind and charge you," she said with a shooing motion.

"Lasts the day," her curly-haired assistant called. "For any more you stay and pay."

"Oh, that's a good one," Malkin said to her as she hustled Harry back to the door. "I'll have to remember that one later."

Now feeling pleasantly unremarkable Harry was able to finish his trip to the gleaming white bank, hitting the doors at five-past ten.

Even with the steady trickle of clients fueling the weekend shopping outside less than half of the teller stalls had a goblin manning them so that each one of them had a queue. One goblin he did note stood alone on the far side of the hall in a pin-striped suit. Hands clasped in front of him and bald head slowly swiveling, his eyes never rested anywhere for long. Harry immediately marked him out as some sort of manager. Making his way over, he pulled out his letter for reference.

"Excuse me," Harry said.

Instantly he was the focus of those appraising eyes. Harry was sure they took in everything from his disheveled hair and rumpled letter to the newness of his shoes.

"I was wondering if you could tell me where I might find – er – F. M. Gropegold? I think I might have an appointment."

Whatever the goblin's appraisal was Harry must have passed for he smiled. It didn't reach its eyes.

"Financial Manager Gropegold just came in and should be available. Gringotts appreciates your timely visit, Mr. Potter. This way please," the goblin said and started towards a large bronze door without a backwards glance.

The door closed behind them, shutting out the sound of the bustling lobby, and Harry found himself in a hallway running the entire back length of the building, filled with doors to what must be very small offices.

"Gropegold's office is right down there," the goblin said, "third on the left from the end."

Harry turned to thank his guide only to find that the little man had vanished.

Feeling decidedly uncomfortable, Harry headed down the hallway. The slight rustle of his robes on the carpet was the only sound that disturbed the oppressive quiet.

Just as he reached the third door from the end another suited goblin – this one with long white hair – came bursting out of it. Harry had to jump back or be trampled.

"Make way, make way!" it said, hurrying down the hallway in a rush.

"Mr. Gropegold?" Harry asked.

"Too important to talk," the goblin cried with a wave of his hand.

"I'm Harry Potter," he called after the little man, "I think you work for me?"

Gropegold stopped and slowly turned, his beady eyes staring at him.

"Nice try," the goblin said with a smirk. "I don't know how you got in here but I don't have time to deal with an impostor like you. Best be gone if you know what's good for you."

"But I am Harry."

"I don't know who you are, but I assure you, no Harry Potter would ever be approaching me for anything," Gropegold said definitively.

'This doesn't make any sense,' Harry thought.

Just then the door behind Gropegold opened and the bald goblin from before stepped out.

"What's all this noise?" he demanded.

"Overseer Barchoke!" Gropegold exclaimed, a new unctuous tone entering his voice. "What a pleasure to see you on this level, sir."

"Ah, Mr. Potter, a pleasure to have you," he said as Harry stepped closer. "What brings you to Gringotts?" the Overseer asked as if he hadn't just spoken to him minutes before.

Catching on to what his role was supposed to be here, Harry told the goblin what he already knew.

"I received a letter saying it was important for me to see Mr. Gropegold here today, but when I arrived he said he was too important to talk to me."

"Really?" the Overseer asked, steely gaze shifting to the goblin in question. "Is this how Gringotts treats valued clients now?"

Gropegold gave the Overseer his falsest smile.

"You know how these little heirs are, sir. Always in a hurry to grow up, always wanting money for something, always thinking their wants are the greatest thing in the world, always wanting to take over the account before it's time–"

"And isn't it your duty to see that he's ready when the time comes?" Barchoke interrupted.

"A task I leave to his able guardian, sir. Little tyke must've given them the slip. I'll see him back where he belongs–"

"And where might that be?" Barchoke demanded. "Just who is this able guardian?"

"You know I can't divulge sensitive information, sir," Gropegold said in his stuffiest voice.

"I do," Barchoke smiled, a mere display of his pointed teeth. "I also know it wasn't listed in his file or written on any of the transfer forms for today when I checked them last night."

"You–you checked my files?" the color drained from Gropegold's face.

A door across the hall opened on a goblin dressed in black and an old warlock with a face that looked hacked from an old stump. Whoever they were they certainly weren't who Gropegold expected to come out of that office as his eyes took on a distinctly panicked look.

"A cursory glance," the new goblin said, his red eyes alight. "A thorough examination should find the answers we seek."

"Auditor Axegrind. Litigator Lichfield," Gropegold said breathlessly. "S–surely you don't think I've done anything–. Su–surely some sort of arrangement can be made here," he said to the group.

"Next he'll try paying us with our own gold," the wizened warlock said. The goblin in black nodded, his lip beginning to curl.

"How could we not check your files," the Overseer asked, angling himself between Harry and his accountant. "Especially when Mr. Potter's most curious letter arrived in the middle of an Overseer's meeting?"

"It seems," Auditor Axegrind said, taking up a position to flank the rogue accountant, "young Mr. Potter was unaware whether he had any investments with us, and had severe doubts as to whether or not you exist. Tell me, citizen Gropegold–"

Gropegold's face turned ashen.

"–Do you bleed?"

The goblin turned and fled. Barely two steps down the hall the warlock struck, a flick of his wand had the panicked goblin suspended in midair by his ankle. Up and down the hall doors opened and goblins in scarlet and gold sprang out. Another flick had the former account manager land on his face hard, as the goblins swarmed.

"You can't do this to me!" the lone goblin cried.

"What we can and cannot do is based completely on your willingness to talk!" Barchoke shouted. "Take him away!"

Gropegold was hauled towards the far end of the hall, his panicked cries lingering far longer than he did.

"Auditor, tear his office apart if you have to. I want answers. Litigator, lock down the assets of his entire extended family. No one gets away until I clear them."

"Yes, Overseer," they said in unison and moved off at once with practiced strides leaving Harry and the Overseer in the quiet hallway once more.

"Was there a point to that?" Harry asked incredulously once he had gotten over his shock.

"Forge fires are hot–," Barchoke said with a smile that actually reached his eyes. "–To burn away impurities. He'll be learning that – very soon."

"Come," Barchoke said, the word having a strangely friendly tone after what Harry just witnessed. "We'll see about getting you some answers."

.o0O0o.

AN: The Barchoke name is a nod to Robst and his work for it was he who finally got me to put the proverbial pen to paper. Similarities end there as our worlds are vastly different.

I had no intention of writing a "Harry goes clothes shopping" scene; they're far too overused and never really accomplish anything. That's actually why I used the trope for the dream in chapter two. Of course once Cadogan started talking I found it hard to shut him up. In the end, I think he served the mood well and he let me slip in some interesting bits. And, if Harry's getting a new perspective on the wizarding world he might as well start at the sole and work his way up.

Thanks for reading.