John didn't much like having to work Saturdays. He'd much rather be at home, in his armchair with a good book (usually a Western, like the ones his muggle father used to have) or losing to Gwen at a game of wizard chess (she beat him so often he sometimes regretted ever having taught her how to play). But he knew that if he ever was called in to work on weekends it was always for a good reason, and on this occasion it was for a meeting with Barty Crouch Sr., Albus Dumbledore and Nicolas Flamel.
He'd already decided he was going to make a point of speaking to Crouch in private afterwards. He'd noticed that Gwen had seemed rather subdued and upset yesterday, and even though she insisted nothing was wrong he could tell otherwise. John was fairly certain it had something to do with Barty Crouch – although whether it was Jr. or Sr. he wasn't entirely sure. He thought it was possible that Crouch Jr. might have done something to upset her, although given the way she'd been defending him on Thursday evening he thought it was more likely she'd been upset at the way his father had been blaming her. Or maybe she was upset with them both. Either way, John thought he had a few issues to settle with Crouch.
When John arrived at the meeting room on the seventh floor the chief goblin, Elrex, was already inside waiting. John rather wished he wasn't. The others hadn't arrived yet and John didn't particularly like being left alone in the company of goblins. They all seemed to have the same stern, sour attitude, and John found them impossible to have a normal conversation with. He hoped the others would arrive soon, so that they could get down to business.
"Morning, Elrex," John said stiffly as he took a seat at the table opposite Elrex.
"Good morning, Mr Coulthard," the goblin replied in a tone that was rather cold and serious. He said nothing else, and few moments passed in silence which John found rather awkward. Elrex seemed to be completely indifferent to whether John was in the room or not, and John felt like he should say something to assert his presence.
"Are those the security files for Vault 713?" he asked, nodding to the folder on the table in front of Elrex.
That was all the response he got, and John was beginning to get the sense of annoyance he usually felt when dealing with goblins. Even after all these years they were no easier to deal with. "Mind if I have a quick look before the others get here?"
Elrex gave John a look that might have been a glare (or it could just have been his ordinary way of looking at people – John still couldn't tell the difference) and slid the folder across the table to him. John was just about to open it when the door to the room opened again and in walked Maurice Redknapp accompanied by Barty Crouch Sr.
John abandoned the folder and got up to greet them. On the other side of the table Elrex hopped off his chair to do the same, his expression still not changing in the slightest. John greeted Crouch first with a handshake and a friendly smile. "Barty, it's good to see you again." Despite the conversation he was planning on having with him later, John genuinely meant it.
Crouch, on the other hand, didn't seem to have the energy to return his enthusiasm. "And you, John, although it would be nice if one day we could meet in less serious circumstances." He seemed rather tired and stressed, and John thought the demands of work must be getting to him. He couldn't help but feel ever so slightly sorry for the Ministerial Head of Department, realising how difficult he must be finding things in the current circumstances, but at the same time that wasn't going to stop him from saying what he had to later. No matter how much he liked Crouch, John wasn't going to let him get away with upsetting his daughter.
John had just finished greeting Redknapp and they were all about to take their places at the table, when the door opened again and Gringotts' third executive, Oscar Lytton, entered the meeting room. Following behind him were two wizards – one a tall, elderly wizard with a long white beard and half moon spectacles, and the other who – in appearance at least – seemed slightly younger, and had a short, grey beard and moustache. Professor Albus Dumbledore and Nicolas Flamel - they were two of the most respected men in the wizarding world, and it had been they who had requested this meeting.
Following the customary greetings, the six men and one goblin in the room finally sat down to discuss business. Lytton began the meeting by giving brief details about the scheduled review of security measures in place on Vault 713, but then handed over to Dumbledore to elaborate the case more.
Dumbledore cleared his throat discreetly before beginning. "As you know, for the past three centuries the Philosopher's Stone has been kept in this bank in a vault belonging to Nicolas Flamel, which is at the highest level of security. The vault is only opened once every ten years to allow Mr Flamel to use the stone to produce a fresh batch of elixir for his and his wife's upkeep. The next opening of the vault is scheduled in a month's time, but in light of recent events, Nicolas and I have been discussing changes we would like to make to the security arrangements surrounding the stone."
Dumbledore then nodded to Flamel, and the others in the room turned to face him as he continued to outline the plans. "As you are aware," Flamel said, with only the faintest trace of a French accent in his voice, "There are several Death Eaters currently at large who wish to find their master. Their master in question has suffered badly at the hands of his own killing curse, but is no doubt still intent on finding a way of returning to power. In his current weakened state, it makes sense that he and his followers would be seeking for a way to restore him to a strengthened corporeal form, and the Philosopher's Stone is the ideal candidate for this task. Therefore we would like to request the co-operation of the Bank of Gringotts and the Department for Magical Law Enforcement in improving the Stone's security."
Once Flamel had finished he looked to the three bank executives and the Goblin Chief of Staff for a response, but it was Crouch who responded first. "What do you mean about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named 'finding a way of returning to power?'"
Flamel gave him a look as if he couldn't understand why he was being asked. "I mean just that, Mr Crouch."
"How can he return to power if he's dead?" Crouch's tone seemed rather hostile.
Flamel was about to reply, but Dumbledore interjected, "Ah, Bartemius, you've made the mistake that so many others in the wizarding world have made. Do not assume that just because he is gone he is dead. Nicolas is right to say it is likely Lord Voldemort will see the Stone as a means of returning to power."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Dumbledore," Crouch definitely seemed irritated, "You-Know-Who is dead, end of story. My main focus right now is on rounding up the Death Eaters that remain at large, not on improving the security around an artefact that no-one has ever before succeeded in stealing."
"But do you know for sure Lord Voldemort is dead, Bartemius?" Dumbledore said quite calmly.
Crouch, like the others in the room, was slightly bothered by Dumbledore's use of You-Know-Who's name but was trying not to show it. His response was just as snappish as ever. "No, but that is what all the evidence in our investigation points to, and it would take a lot of hard evidence to suggest otherwise."
Dumbledore sighed. "I'm afraid your investigation has not been presented with all the evidence, Bartemius. There are some things the Department of Mysteries keeps secret even from you."
"Well, they say they've shown me everything that's relevant, and right now that's good enough for me. Maybe we'll have time to do a more thorough investigation once all the Death Eater's are in Azkaban, but at the moment I don't have the time or resources to be dealing with hypothetical scenarios in which You-Know-Who might still be alive."
Dumbledore could have responded again, but Lytton got in there first. "Bartemius, I really don't think which should write off Dumbledore's proposals just yet. Even if You-Know-Who is gone completely, it's still possible that his followers might seek to steal the stone in the belief that it will bring their master back."
John was studying Crouch's responses to the various points being put to him very carefully. It seemed as though Crouch was trying to dismiss the case as quickly as possible. That was quite unusual for Crouch, John thought. Even if Crouch was stressed, he was still normally completely focussed on every aspect of his job, but this time it seemed as if something else was bothering him.
"Well, if they're all in Azkaban they can't exactly go after it, can they? Sorry, Professor Dumbledore, Mr Flamel, but the Department currently cannot afford to stretch its resources any more than it already has. If we invested in increasing the security on the Stone now we'd have to take a lot of staff away from tracking down Death Eaters, and we simply can't do it."
Thinking Crouch's outright dismissal of the case was unjustified, John decided to say something. "Barty, I accept it may be difficult for you to find the staff for it right now, but I don't think Professor Dumbledore would have suggested it if he didn't think it was something we should prioritise."
"Well," said Crouch, looking at John huffily, "I, as the overseer of the Potter investigation, think Professor Dumbledore is wrong."
"Bartemius," it was Redknapp this time. "I know you don't think it's a good idea, but my wife's the American liaison officer with the Department of Mysteries, and her recommendations from the Bureau in Washington are that we focus our efforts on denying the Death Eaters anything they may use to gain the upper hand…"
"Well, I think putting them in Azkaban ought to do that!" Crouch snapped, "Are the Americans prepared to put up money and aurors for this? Because, if not, I'm not going to let them dictate how I run this operation."
Redknapp gave Crouch a slightly angry look, but then it disappeared as he glanced over at John, accepting that Crouch's bullishness was most likely born out of stress and not genuine hostility.
"Perhaps we should consult with one of your aurors about this?" Lytton suggested, "Maybe Alastor Moody?"
"I don't need Moody's opinion," Crouch said irritably, "He works for me, not the other way round."
Realising Crouch was not in a mood to be reasoned with, silence descended in the room as everybody tried to avoid an argument with the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Then there was the sound of someone clearing their throat as the only person in the room who had yet to say something decided to speak. "You are making the assumption that all the security measures need to be implemented by wizards," said Elrex in his deep, hoarse voice. "I can assure you that goblin magic is unmatched when it comes to keeping artefacts safe, and we can provide a primary level of security on the stone that would be of little cost to your department, Mr Crouch. However, we are limited by the nature of our storage facilities. A vault is a vault, and we cannot provide any degree of protection beyond the vault or outside the bank. If the threat of attack becomes too high it may be necessary for the Ministry or others to implement a secondary level of security beyond what the bank is able to provide, but I think it the current circumstances it would not be unreasonable to allow the security alterations to go ahead if the Ministry is prepared to invest more in it at a later date."
Following Elrex's speech there were a few more moments of silence as the wizards considered his proposals, and then Dumbledore spoke again, "I think that is a highly sensible suggestion, Bartemius, don't you agree?"
Crouch looked at Dumbledore, clearly still reluctant to agree to it. "I'll have someone at the Department draw up a protocol for if the threat of the Stone is deemed too high, but that's all I can promise. Is that satisfactory for you?"
Dumbledore nodded, "Yes, Bartemius, I think we can make that arrangement work."
At that point Flamel spoke again, "Could Dumbledore and I be provided with a copy of the protocol, please?"
"Yes, I'll have copies forwarded to you and the bank."
"Very well," said Lytton, who seemed quite keen to round up the meeting. Crouch's hostile attitude had been quite unpleasant for all of them. "Are there any other particular points you would like to bring up Professor Dumbledore, Mr Flamel?"
Dumbledore and Flamel exchanged glances as if to ask the other if they had anything more they wished to say, but it seemed that they didn't. "No, thank you, Oscar," Dumbledore said "We'll be in correspondence once we've received more details of the plans. Hopefully before the vault is next due to be opened?" Dumbledore glanced at Crouch for confirmation of that last sentence, who gave a stiff nod.
"Very well, then, gentlemen," said Redknapp to finish off. "I think that's everything for today. I'm sure we'll all keep in touch in order to co-ordinate the bank's plans with the Department."
"Yes, I think that will be all then," Crouch said as they all began to get up from the table, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to trying to find Sirius Black." He was the first man to leave the room and was heading off quickly down the corridor before most of the others had even risen from their seats. John still wanted to talk to him and was beginning to head after him, but then realised it was probably pointless to do so now. Crouch really did seem to be in a hurry and was quite clearly stressed, although John got the impression that perhaps it wasn't entirely to do with work. Work stress was something Crouch could handle, but he hadn't seemed to have handled that at all well just now. Even though John really was no expert on Crouch's family life, he was prepared to guess that it had something to do with his son. Which meant that it probably also had something to do with Gwen, at least to some extent. John didn't want to put off talking to Crouch any longer than he had to, especially if it meant going back home to a miserable daughter again today. That conversation wasn't going to wait. Perhaps it just necessitated an after-work call on the Department for Magical Law Enforcement.