In Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius Black anonymously sends Harry a Firebolt broom after the demise of Harry's Nimbus 2000 in the Whomping Willow. At the end of PoA, Sirius writes Harry a letter and explains that, yes, it was he who sent the Firebolt:

There is something I never got round to telling you during our brief meeting. It was I who sent you the Firebolt – Crookshanks took the order to the Owl Office for me. I used your name but told them to take the gold from Gringotts vault number seven hundred and eleven – my own. Please consider it as thirteen birthdays’ worth of presents from your godfather.

Prisoner of Azkaban - page 315 - Bloomsbury - chapter 22, Owl Post Again

Throughout the entire series it's made very obvious that breaching Gringotts' security was punishable by death. Gringotts had tons of security measures in place (and for the sake of this question, I'm not talking about the successful break-in the trio pulled off in Deathly Hallows).

Vault seven hundred and thirteen had no keyhole.

‘Stand back,’ said Griphook importantly. He stroked the door gently with one of his long fingers and it simply melted away. ‘If anyone but a Gringotts goblin tried that, they’d be sucked through the door and trapped in there,’ said Griphook.

‘How often do you check to see if anyone’s inside?’ Harry asked.

‘About once every ten years,’ said Griphook, with a rather nasty grin.

Philosopher's Stone - page 59 - Bloomsbury - chapter 5, Diagon Alley

Why did the Gringotts goblins act on Sirius's written direction that the money for the Firebolt should be taken out of his vault instead of Harry's? Sirius was the most wanted wizard in Britain at the time and it would seem that the goblins wouldn't have followed such suspicious directions so blithely when they received the request for funds from, presumably, Quality Quidditch Supplies for the broom. Why wasn't the Ministry notified that a request for funds from Sirius Black's vault had been made? How is it possible that Sirius was able to purchase Harry's broom via third party? Why did Gringotts pay out?

★ I'm looking for a canon-based answer (the Harry Potter novels and three supplemental books, any J.K. Rowling interviews with relevant information, or Pottermore). I do not prefer an answer from the HP Wikia/Wikipedia.

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    I'd be happy to see a canon answer, though if Slytherincess doesn't know it... :) Personal thoughts - I picture Gringotts as a bit like having a Swiss bank account - secure, private, etc. I'd imagine that, as an account holder, Sirius has some security established - code phrase, etc. And as long as the password is given, they wouldn't care a bit about who it was or what sanctions might be placed against him by the ministry. Unfortunately, no canon information. – Saiboogu Nov 5 '12 at 18:45
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    @Saiboogu +1 for the Swiss bank account comparison - that's what I was imagining, too. There's some information in canon about how the goblins don't care to meddle in Wizarding affairs from the part where Harry and Griphook go get the Hufflepuff Cup in the Gringotts vault. I don't have it in front of me, but this makes me think they'd stay neutral on the matter of Sirius Black. – hairboat Nov 5 '12 at 19:03
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    @Slytherincess: think more about what Hagrid does when he takes the brown package from the vault. He shows a written order from Dumbledore to Gringotts. If Dumbledore can give a written order to allow to access his vault, and a similar method works for Muggles with cheques and visa cards, then I think Sirius could also give a written order to Gringotts to pay a certain amount to the broom company. – b_jonas Nov 6 '12 at 15:34
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    The cheques that we muggles write are just a written instruction to the bank to give out of an account and give it to someone. Before the advent of the standard cheque form, you could just write the instructions in a letter or on a piece of paper. The bank would validate the instructions by checking the signature, seal, or other mark on the letter. It's not hard to imagine that Sirius could write out some instructions and Gringott's would have a way to validate that they were written by someone with permission to control the account. – Kenster Nov 6 '12 at 19:02
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    Late comment is late: but I always thought using Harry's name was supposed to work whether or not the Goblins knew or cared it was really Sirius Black because Harry was also supposed to be Sirius' heir and hence also able to rightfully withdraw from his Gringott's account. – Shisa Feb 22 '15 at 3:23

10 Answers 10

up vote 114 down vote accepted

In Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows, Chapter 15, The Goblin's Revenge, when Ted Tonks asks Griphook why was he on the run, Griphook answers:

"What about you, Griphook?"
"Similar reasons," said the higher-voiced goblin. "Gringotts is no longer under sole control of my race. I recognize no master."

According to this paragraph I assume that the Goblins of Gringotts are not subjected or held liable by Wizarding law. So they are by no means compelled to share the knowledge about Sirius to any third party including the Ministry of Magic.
Furthermore the same could be said about the Lestrange vault. The Lestrange family are notorious Death Eaters imprisoned in Azkaban for life but the content of their vault remains untouched while they served in Azkaban whereas the Ministry could have confiscated it if they had any power over Gringotts.

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    Very good point about the Lestrange family. – Darrick Herwehe Jun 9 '15 at 15:09

This is all purest speculation, but I am assuming that Gringott's doesn't impound an account just because the Ministry wants them to:

Ministry Official: We'd like you to impound the account of a convicted criminal.

Gringott's Representative: We are glad to cooperate with any lawful instructions of the Ministry. What is the criminal's name?

MO: Sirius Black.

GR: Ah, yes, of the ancient and wealthy Black family, I presume?

MO: Yes, that's the one.

GR: Very well. Of what crimes has he been convicted?

MO: Thirteen counts of murder, and three counts of conspiracy to commit murder, and numerous lesser charges.

GR: That does sound like a grave matter. Although we regard the possibility as minute, it may be that as a customer of our establishment, his activities have compromised our security. May we review the records of the investigation, and the transcript of his trial?

MO: We'll forward the records of the investigation shortly.

GR: We look forward to receiving the records. When may we expect the trial transcripts?

MO: Err, there aren't any.

GR: The Wizengamot did not prepare a transcript of his trial?

MO: Um, there was no trial.

GR: There was no trial?

MO: That is correct.

GR: Unless I am mistaken about Wizarding law, that means that he was not, in fact, lawfully convicted of these crimes.

MO: But he is quite dangerous. We have him in Azkaban at this very moment.

GR: Nobody applauds the confinement of dangerous criminals more than we here at Gringott's. However, our policy on the impounding of accounts is very specific: The person whose account is to be impounded must first have been lawfully convicted by the full Wizengamot.

MO: But he is a deranged murderer!

GR: That is beside the point. We cannot proceed with your request until we have received a full transcript of his trial. A simple accusation, no matter how unimpeachable the source, is not sufficient basis.

MO: But he has killed thirteen people!

GR: I am sorry, but until we have reviewed the trial transcripts, he has killed nobody. Now unless you have proper documentation for any other requests, I must ask that you allow Gragnak here to escort you out. There are other customers waiting.

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    Should be canon :) – witchy Oct 20 '16 at 19:07
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    @Neeshka, Damn right it should. Wonderful answer! – Wildcard Oct 22 '16 at 0:12
  • (I didn't realize I would have to wait 23 hours. Oh, well. Remind me if I forget to come back and award it.) :) – Wildcard Oct 22 '16 at 0:12

Again, not quite canon, but the books make it clear that it's very difficult to fool a goblin. (Well, Hermione impersonating Bellatrix aside...?)

So I suggest that the Bank goblins would establish the authenticity of any money order they received, and that it might be as simple to them as the stroke of a finger. I also agree that the books indicate that they wouldn't care what a recently escaped prisoner is doing so long as it's within Gringotts regulations.

Sirius writes the letter -- and the goblins can tell. He signs it with Harry's name to fool anyone screening the post, but knowing it won't mislead the Goblins.

Apparently sloppy work on the Aurors' part, though, not watching Black's vault. Intentional sloppiness by a member of the Order of the Phoenix?

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    I doubt it was intentional sloppiness. Not even Dumbledore knew that Sirius was innocent until the end of PoA so I doubt anybody else in the OotP knew... and that would be the only real reason to be 'sloppy' in the attempt to apprehend Black. – Dason Mar 3 '13 at 16:07
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    The Auror's couldn't have watched Sirius' vault, since it was inside Gringott's, where, as you and others have established, Ministry officials have no power. I doubt Aurors are even admitted into the tunnels with the vaults outside of accessing their private accounts. – 11684 Oct 21 '16 at 23:26

If Gringott's refused to pay they would lose the confidence of other wizards that their money would be available to them at any time. Surely even Deatheater's kept money in Gringott's and would only do so if they could have access to it even if accused of crimes or whatnot. I believe the Goblins are specifically separate from the government of the Wizarding World and would rather help their customers and keep public confidence than help the government and gain nothing.

Plus, they must have some sort of protocol for money transfers outside of actually picking the money up and hand delivering for large purchases like real estate and rare magical items.

  • No one would care if someone didn't pay Sirius Black, if money wasn't given from his account who would care, nonone. The deatheaters wouldn't, the ministry wouldn't, and I know regular wizard's wouldn't. – Pobrecita Jun 16 '14 at 16:35
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    @Pobrecita But they would very much care that their own accounts may not be completely secure and under their exclusive control. If the goblins were willing to make an exception for Sirius, why would they not be willing to make an exception for anyone else? The security and neutrality of the goblin bank is vital to maintaining its customers. – Michael Richardson Nov 29 '16 at 20:10

We know that goblins have their own laws and don't necessarily respect wizarding law. This is made clear by Griphook's attitude to the Sword of Griffindor so as far as they are concerned the fact that Black is a wanted fugitive is probably irrelevant and they don;t see it as being their responsibility to provide the Ministry of Magic with intelligence or enforce their laws.

This is supported by that fact that the Lestrange vault/account is apparently still active by the events of Deathy Hallows, despite the fact that she has been in Azkaban for years as a convicted, unrepentant and very senior supporter of Voldemort. If the MoM has any power at Gringotts you would expect the contents of her vault to have been searched and confiscated. Even though we do hear about the Malfoy home being searched just on suspicion of containing dark objects.

This has a real world analogy of Nazi loot being deposited in Swiss banks during the second world war and never recovered and there are plenty of real world examples of banks being caught out handling criminal funds.

We also have reason to believe that Gringotts accounts are indeed functionally anonymous. At the beginning of the first book when HP first turns up at Gringotts he is asked for his key, not specific proof of his identity.

'Morning,'said Hagrid to a free goblin. 'We've come ter take some money outta Mr Harry Potter's safe.' 'You have his key, sir?' .....[Hagrid rummages for the key]... 'Got it,' said Hagrid at last holding up a tiny golden key.' The goblin looked at it closely. 'That seems to be in order.'

Note that at no point in this exchange does he question either of their identities or even speak directly to Harry.

Similarly when Sirius orders the broom he just gives the vault number and we don't know for sure that it was even in his name it might just be a numbered account and as far as Gringotts is concerned there has been no breach of security the money has been drawn on the account in the proper way. For a routine purchase they might not even bother to cross reference the number with the name on the account.

Even if Gringotts did inform the ministry it doesn't really tell them anything useful.

So in summary :

  • It does Gringotts no harm as long as they are satisfied the proper procedures for withdrawing money have been followed ie nothing has been stolen from them or their clients.
  • The Goblins don't feel under any obligation to report client details to the MoM indeed there is plenty of evidence that client confidentiality is part of their service.
  • There is no evidence that the MoM has the power to interfere with the accounts of convicted criminals.

Assuming there was some type of confirmation within the order that allowed the broom shop to contact Gringotts to get the gold from Sirius' vault, neither the broom shop, Gringotts, or the Owl Office would be able to give solid information on Sirius' location to the Ministry.

Whatever information Sirius provided in the broom order wouldn't have allowed anyone to track him or find him.

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    Thanks for the answer and welcome to the site! I'm not sure that your answer addresses the specific question asked. Please be sure to include references to generally accepted canonical sources. – TGnat Nov 6 '12 at 16:07
  • @TGnat, Treborcram's answer seems well-applied to me. Treborcram's commenting on the information content of the note, which a_Slytherin provided. It's like an intelligence review of emailed messages; we don't need to reference the content to discuss what information could conceivably have been conveyed by the email. – Michael Greisman Mar 5 '13 at 2:44

I think, and I realize this comes as quite late to the game, that Goblins are almost always Lawful Neutral. They have their own laws and codes of conduct. The fact that the Gringott's account for the Black family has been with them for centuries probably comes with some perks. I think the whole "Like a Swiss Bank Account" theory is most likely correct. Also, perhaps since Harry stood to inherit all of Sirius's belonging's and property upon Sirius' death, perhaps he kind of had "power of attorney" so-to-speak since Sirius was incarcerated. Of course at the time, Sirius was at large, maybe for Gringott's sake, his inheritance had already passed to Harry.

  • This is probably right. But some quotes that support this could help make it better. – Adamant Oct 20 '16 at 21:48

A little late for me to say, but since James and Lily and in turn Harry were "family", perhaps Sirius had the Potters down as people who could access the account in his absence.

  • Sirius was Harry's godfather... – Joseph Hansen Jun 27 '16 at 13:10

Because goblins don't take part in wizard wars. They only do so if they are forced. ( Canon information). They really wouldn't care if Sirius Black took money from his vault or harry potter or a cat sending a 'suspicious' letter. Really as long as such person has the correct information needed to get into the vault be their guest. They don't care you're not breaking in!

I always thought that as Sirius's next of kin, all of his possessions went to Harry legally. Although he was disowned by his family, they still had the legal right to take his stuff if he were to die or no longer be able to have it legally. I think he would have written that James would be the next of kin upon his death. And because Harry inherited everything of his parents he also inherited all of Sirius's things as well protecting his vaults from government possession. So all Harry would have to do is specify which vault to take the money from, which is why Sirius was able to do that.

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    Harry wouldn't have inherited anything until Sirius died. The broom was sent while he was alive. – JohnP Jun 18 '15 at 15:37

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