Tuesday, December 23, 2008

94. How to Break into Gringotts

Concept contributed by: Angelbot
Contest winners: Cady, Linda Carrig, jatibbal, Xantha, Shadow Phoenix, TWZRD, Celairiel, _houdini and amylynn91403

My dear goblins, undergoblins, security trolls, curse-breakers, and other beings and creatures of Gringotts Bank:

I have no doubt that every one of you has been deeply concerned since it was discovered Gringotts was successfully broken into, and broken out of again, and treasure taken from one of our deepest vaults. I am sure your concern hasn’t been entirely due to the fact that you were all mercilessly interrogated in order to, ahem, eliminate the possibility that the break-in was an “inside job.” For this break-in has been a crushing blow to the pride and prestige of a bank that has long been deemed an absolutely secure place to hide stuff. For the first time in generations, it means that we must re-evaluate our security protocols and make serious changes where they are needed.

For a thousand years, Dark wizards and witches have been trying to break into Gringotts to steal goblin gold and other treasures. For nearly all of them, this has proved an elusive goal. Of those few who have succeeded in breaking in, only a handful have managed to break out again. But with the right planning, personnel, and materials, it can be done. It was done several years ago by a group of wizards and clowns, though it took them several years to get out and they did not actually steal anything of value. It was done again, a year or two later, by the Dark Lord or one of his servants, but again – and purely by chance – nothing was taken.

Each time, we were consoled by the fact that the property held in Gringotts' vaults remained safe – and that we had sealed the routes in and out of the bank that had been exploited by the intruders. Nevertheless, we must now face the shameful fact that a coordinated band of Dark wizards and witches has not only entered the bank, but also promptly escaped with several priceless items from the vault of Yves the Leper.

This, in itself, would almost be acceptable – after all, the client affected by this robbery is merely a trust fund, supposely set up to keep the vault paid for until the owner’s return – who, incidentally, has been dead for hundreds of years. Only, we have just lately found out that another vault was also plundered, belonging to our distinguished and very-much-alive customer, Il Comte di Bestemmia. Il Comte will be very displeased when he is restored to consciousness and human form. So it behooves us to answer three questions before that time comes:
  1. Who did the break-in?
  2. How did they do it?
  3. What exactly did they take from the two plundered vaults?
When we have answered these questions, we should be able to capture the culprits, protect the bank from similar break-ins, and perhaps recover the stolen goods.

So far we have found out this much about the gang responsible for this crime: First, one or both of the criminals who attempted to break into vault 1,066 all those years ago – they were among the group of clowns and wizards who escaped empty-handed – must have been involved in the conspiracy. Otherwise, they could not have found the vault in question.

Second, the crime was masterminded, or at least financially backed, by someone very rich. I say this because of the sheer number of people and amount of hard-to-get magical equipment needed to bring it off. A third member of the party has an expert knowledge of portable holes and magical walls – including the location and properties of certain magical walls that have served Gringotts for many years. Fourth, they needed someone who could identify rare potions held in crocks that have not been opened since the days of Undergrim. Fifth, they needed an expert burglar who could disarm the most sophisticated trip-curses, jinx-traps, alarm hexes, and locking spells known to goblin or wizard. Sixth, they used three masters of diguise – probably Metamorphmagi – to create a diversion covering their entrance; plus Shredtripe knows who or what was in that crate labeled “Rheosaurus.”

And then there was a considerable amount of muscle involved. I estimate they had at least half a dozen wizards, expert duelers to a man, whose sole task was to provide cover for the burglars’ retreat. These powerful fighters neutralized a dragon, nearly three dozen nifflers, two squads of undergoblins, a troll, a water serpent, a very courageous house-elf, and of course Il Comte himself. In spite of the number of witnesses, only three goblins are currently in any shape to describe the wizards who attacked them. From their confused and contradictory statements, we can only gather that these hit-wizards used untraceable, contraband wands with unusual cores, to cast unusual spells that are proving difficult to analyze or reverse.

We have also learned that one of the hit-wizards used two wands simultaneously. This is a significant clue that we intend to follow up on, though at present the only known double-barreled wizard in England is the RMB liaison who has done much to help us with this case.

Finally, there is a strong likelihood that there were two teams of vault-crackers, since both vaults were plundered very quickly, and vault 1,066 should have taken the whole time by itself. It is possible that Il Comte’s vault was cracked merely as a diversion, to throw us off the trail. Until Il Comte awakens and can enlighten us about the contents of his vault, we have only the manifest of his vault’s contents to go on. And right now, the only property missing from Il Comte’s vault is a bottle of wine – of good vintage, but hardly worth the risk of breaking into a Gringotts vault!

The only positive suspects are those who have broken into Gringotts before. One of them is dead, the servant of the Dark Lord who broke into vault 713 that one time. The three clown wizards have an alibi; they were performing at the birthday party of a niece of Sir Lionel Niblet, whose services to this bank put his word above question. Rigel Oldmanson’s father swears that he was at home, puttering around with his Godfather Clock, during the time of the break-in; and Old Man Oldmanson is another loyal friend of the bank. Of the four foreign wizards, two were teaching and two were keeping shop in faraway countries, according to reliable witnesses. That leaves only a wizard of fortune, whose name I forget, but who when last seen was recovering from fox pox. No one with fox pox was near Gringotts that day; the nifflers did not sniff out a single fox hair.

Let’s leave aside the difficult question of who done it, for the moment. Now, how did they do it? Much of that has already been told. Three conspirators used disguises to set up a diversion in the upper levels, then attacked and subdued an entire squad of goblins before escaping undetected – probably through the front door of the bank! The rest of the burglars, meanwhile, penetrated a magical wall in one of the deepest, least-trafficked parts of the bank. One group apparently set up a chain of portable holes to reach vault 1,066, while a second group went to Il Comte’s vault. The first group disarmed a lot of traps and alarms, then analyzed the potions of Yves the Leper before selecting one to take with them. The second group pinched a bottle of wine, then both groups met up just as a second squad of undergoblins arrived, with backup. They fought a valiant retreat, inflicting numerous casualties on us without sustaining even one on their side. Then they disappeared.

That’s the how. Now for the what: What did they steal? Our current guess – meaning mine and that of Agent Spankison of the RMB – is that Il Comte’s wine bottle contained a djinn, presumably one discovered by the previous party of burglars that spent time trapped in that vault. This could explain why nothing more valuable was taken; the djinn would then be commanded to make all the burglars filthy rich. So we need only look for a sudden spate of large deposits; those making the deposits may be involved in the crime.

As for what was taken from the vault of Yves the Leper, we are stymied at the moment. No one with the security clearance needed to enter that vault has the ability to analyze its contents. Agent Spankison has suggested we deputize a certain master confectioner, named Endora something-or-other, who is said to have an extraordinary nose for potions. The Security Committee and the Trust Fund Subcommittee are still debating the question.

However, we did notice that dust had been disturbed around the seals of several of the potions. This may indicate that the seals were magically removed and then reapplied, perhaps in order to give the burglars’ potions expert a chance to analyze the contents. It is interesting to note that all of the disturbed potions have one thing in common: each one, according to the runes carved into the crocks, is based on the concentrated essence of a non-magical creature. Apparently, in Yves the Leper’s time, many creatures that are now considered non-magical were held in such awe that their essence was supposed to have a magical effect. So perhaps the firefly essence was used to make things glow; the spider essence, to lend steely strength to the finest thread. Hummingbird essence may have been used for hovering, bat essence for navigating in the dark, cat essence for stealth, cockroach essence for invulnerability, owl essence for seeing behind you, and so on. Can’t quite imagine what the seahorse essence would be good for, but I digress.

Since the “usual suspects” all seem to have reasonable alibis, and since no one with the skills needed for this burglary has been identified, I believe it is fundamental to the solving of this crime that we cooperate with Agent Spankison and his team of RMB-approved investigators. Besides, we can also use their protection, what with two squads of undergoblins on the injured list. Therefore, I ask for a motion to extend full trust to the RMB agents assigned to this case, and to direct the Security Committee and Trust Fund Subcommittee to open the crime scene to them for thorough analysis. Thank you, Spleengraft. Is there a second? Sawtooth – excellent. Discussion? No? Are you ready for the question then? All in favor...”


This week we have not a double, but a TRIPLE challenge – 2 Surveys and a Contest!

To send Robbie your personal feedback or original ideas, visit the Feedback Form [EDIT: Rather, leave a Comment]. To vote in the Surveys and Contest to determine what happens in the Chapter-After-Next, visit the Discussion Forum here [EDIT: This discussion is closed].

SURVEY #1: Remember, even though the goblins think Joe, Rigel, and the Spankison kids escaped, they are still in Gringotts somewhere. Are they (A) trying to find their way down to the Pit so they can escape the way the rest of the burglars came in? (B) still disguised and trying to blend in with the goblins until they get a chance to make a run for it? (C) being held hostage by someone or something previously encountered in the Magic Quill?

SURVEY #2: Spanky’s ploy to get into vault 1,066 as an RMB investigator is: (D) really just a diversion so he and his friends can rescue Joe and the kids. (E) actually part of their plan to get something out of the vault, and the “break-in” was only a trick to make the real heist possible. (F) an attempt to fix a mistake the burglars made when they broke into the vault, such as stealing the wrong item. (G) a clever way to cover any trail the burglars may have left behind.

CONTEST: Describe the potion that Harvey REALLY wants to steal from the Vault of Yves the Leper.

The Survey answers that get the most votes, and the Contest entry that Robbie likes the most, will be featured in Magic Quill #96. So be sure to visit our Discussion Thread – and if you aren’t a member of COS Forums, join today!

[Originally posted 7/16/06]

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