Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gringotts, Revisited

When I used to live in a relatively questionable neighborhood in Ypsilanti, there was a crazy stretch where the Bank of America a few blocks down the road got robbed three separate times over a period of about six months. My initial thought after learning about this string of robberies was, “Wow, you don’t really hear much about a good bank heist anymore.” After enjoying its heyday in the Roaring Twenties, this method of crime has become so obsolete in today’s world that it carries a Laura Ingalls Wilder-esque quaintness to it. However, my second (and more important) thought was this: I would still feel better leaving my money at the Bank of America down the road than deposit a single sickle at the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Allow me to explain.

Ron: Look, here’s the stuff Mum got for you in Diagon Alley. And she’s got some gold out of your vault for you.
Harry: Excellent! Tell your mum I say—wait a second…what?      

My first piece of evidence bad pointing to Gringotts’ awfulness is the disturbing fact that Molly Weasley seems to have unrestricted access to Harry’s bank account. Before the start of the school year in Goblet of Fire, Mrs. Weasley is somehow able to make a moderate withdrawal from Harry’s vault, no little gold keys, no photo ID, no signed authorization, apparently no questions asked by the goblins. I guess stealing from Gringotts isn’t exactly as difficult as Hagrid would have it sound. All you have to do is name-drop someone completely different with no evidence that you even know them, head into their vault without their knowledge, and take what you please. Now in this particular case, Mrs. Weasley was just doing Harry a favor, so no harm done, right? Well, all I can say is that I can’t be the only one who found it a bit dodgy that the Weasleys are somehow able to buy an entire year’s worth of school supplies for their four children enrolled at Hogwarts, when their own vault at one point had one galleon in it. On a side note, I also wonder how pleased Harry was to find that his hard-earned trust fund was being used to buy expensive green dress robes that he would wear one time ever.

Griphook: Weasley, what were you doing down in the vaults earlier?
Bill: Uhh…an important client asked me to uh, check their vault for curses. Yeah.

            Next you have Bill Weasley, who also seems to have carte blanche when it comes to the Potter gold, under circumstances somehow even more suspicious than Molly’s. In Half Blood Prince, Bill uses the excuse of the Voldemort panic to justify another unauthorized withdrawal from Harry’s vault. “I got it out of your vault for you Harry, because it’s taking about 5 hours for the public to get their gold at the moment, the goblins have tightened security so much.” On the surface, it makes perfect sense that Bill could get into the vault; he works for the bank as a cursebreaker, and presumably knows the ins and outs of the underground tunnels, as well as the internal security measures in place. He’s in the perfect position to bypass the long lines and help out a family friend. On the other hand, I’ll quote Chris Tucker from Friday by asking, WHAT KINDA SHIT IS THAT??
            Are the goblins also allowed to leave work with their pockets full of their clients’ gold, or is Bill Weasley the only one with that privilege? It’s well-documented that the goblins don’t exactly consider wizards to be trustworthy, so I don’t think that policy would fly with them. This makes me believe that Bill went into Harry’s vault and retrieved some funds without his employer’s knowledge. Notice that he says, “I got it out your vault for you Harry”, instead of “Gornuk took me down there right in the middle of a work day that was so hectic that it caused delays of five hours.” If Bill can get into Harry’s vault undetected, he can probably get into other vaults as well, just saying.
            Before you jump all over me with how great of a guy Bill Weasley is, let me remind you what the guy’s job is: Cursebreaker, for the single richest institution in the entire wizarding world. While in Egypt, his mission was to break through millennia-old curses in tombs and artefacts and retrieve the treasures inside. The Gringotts wiki page claims that Cursebreakers are analogous to muggle archeologists, but that’s not what I see. It seems to me that Bill is more of a magic grave robber who defiles sacred burial grounds and splits the profits with his bank. After all, “The goblins don’t give a damn about my hair, just as long as I bring home plenty of loot.”  With this perspective, I’m actually kind of glad that JK Rowling spared us the full details of Bill’s exploits over the course of Philosopher’s Stone, when he was “in Africa doing something for Gringotts” (Magical blood diamonds, anyone?).
Sirius: I used your name, but told them to take the gold from my own Gringotts vault.
Harry: And that worked?
Sirius: There’s Gringotts for you.

            I’ll lay off the Weasley family for a little bit now and go into some depth about the Holy Grail of shady Gringotts transactions: the infamous Firebolt purchase. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to brush up on Prisoner of Azkaban for a while, here’s a recap of what happened: Harry received a new Firebolt broomstick as a gift after his Nimbus 2000 got wrecked by the Whomping Willow. For the rest of the year, no one had any idea where this new broomstick came from, though there was suspicion that Sirius Black had sent it. At the end of the book, when Harry is learning the truth about Sirius and Peter Pettigrew, Black also reveals that it was him who sent the Firebolt broom after all. He filled out a mail-order form from Quidditch Warehouse magazine or something, and “I used (Harry’s) name, but told them to take the gold from my own Gringotts vault.”
            To have any kind of credibility and fraud protection whatsoever, there would need to be some kind of communication, either parchment or magical, between the bank and the broomstick dealer. Upon reviewing the order form, the reviewer would undoubtedly notice a discrepancy between the buyer’s name and the vault number used. When looking at that order form, there would be a few reasonable theories that can be drawn:
Sirius Black is buying the broom, (poorly) concealing his identity by using Harry’s name.
- Harry is trying to buy himself a broomstick, attempting to steal funds from the Black family vault. 
-Harry and Sirius are working together to buy a broom, either for Harry, or possibly as a means for Black to further elude the Aurors.
-  An unknown third party is defrauding the bank, and using both of their names.


Any of these scenarios would raise serious red flags for any self-respecting bank, leading to an immediate investigation. I guess under the first scenario, it’s possible that the goblins, who tend to separate themselves from wizarding affairs when possible, simply wouldn’t bother to alert the Ministry. However, if they were to believe that any of the other three scenarios may have taken place, it would be in the bank’s own best interest to uphold its proud reputation of excellent security by performing a full investigation. In any case, Gringotts’s inactivity in the midst of a highly suspicious transaction—involving the most famous wizard on earth, and the 2nd most wanted fugitive in the wizarding world—makes me conclude that Gringotts sucks. Badly.

Unauthorized third-party access to certain vaults? Check. Turning a blind eye to extremely fishy transactions involving some of your highest profile clients? Check. Adding funds to your endowment by methodically desecrating the burial sites of ancient cultures? Check. No effective policy to prevent your own employees from sneaking funds from clients’ accounts in the middle of a Ministry coup? Check. Gringotts bank certainly has it all, with the exception of morals, ethics, security, and common sense. As far as convenience goes, let’s also remember that Gringotts has no branches or ATMs, so even Chinese wizards probably need to go all the way to London every few weeks just to galleon their paychecks or grab a few bucks for quidditch tickets.  All I know is, if I was a wizard, I wouldn’t be  taking my galleons anywhere near that goblin-managed travesty; I’d instead keep my gold at home, employing my own gemino and flagrante charms to keep it safe. Or just take it to the Bank of America in Ypsilanti.

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