Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Places/Gringotts

Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Place
Location Diagon Alley
Permanent Residents Goblins
First Appearance Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Overview edit

Gringotts is the only known bank of the wizarding world and it is operated primarily by goblins. Wizards and witches keep their money and other valuables in vaults that are protected by very complex and strong security measures.

Extended Description edit

Beginner warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Gringotts is a large multistoried white building, near the intersection of Knockturn Alley and Diagon Alley, that towers over all neighbouring shops. Customers pass through a set of bronze doors and then silver ones before entering the lobby; the floor is paved with marble and has long counters stretching along its length with doors leading off to the vault passageways. The vaults extend for miles under the city and are accessible through rough stone, complex and interconnected passageways by means of speedy carts that are operated by goblins.

The inscription on the front door reads:

Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.

(Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone)

When Harry first visits Gringotts, he is told by Hagrid that one would have to be mad to try to rob Gringotts and that, apart from Hogwarts, it's the safest place for anything valuable to be kept. Goblins are extremely greedy and would protect their money and valuables at any cost, which makes them ideal guardians for the valuables of the wizarding world. The goblins have a code that forbids them to speak of the bank's secrets, and would consider it "base treachery" to break any part of that code.

Gringotts use a variety of security systems:

  • Lower security vaults require a key; higher security vaults (generally deeper underground and owned by the oldest wizarding families) require the touch of a certified Gringotts goblin.
  • Dragons guard the highest security vaults. They can only be controlled by Clankers, which only the goblins possess.
  • The Thief's Downfall can be activated; a charmed waterfall that the goblin carts must pass through, it cancels all enchantments and magical concealments, and throws the carts off their tracks.
  • Some vaults use the Gemino and Flagrante charms; when any item is touched by a thief, it multiplies rapidly and burns them, eventually crushing and scorching them to death.
  • Objects within Gringotts cannot be summoned.
  • At times, Probity Probes are used on customers to detect enchantments, magical concealments and hidden magical objects.

We note that depositors are given individual vaults to keep their valuables, rather than having their funds pooled the way Muggle banks do. We presume that this is an example of the Wizarding world's general archaic atmosphere; just as so many other aspects of the Wizarding world have remained firmly planted in the older ways of doing things, with individual fireplaces and stoves for the rooms, gaslights, and so forth, it seems that the banking style of the day has remained limited to the ancient model encompassing only exchange and storage of valuables. We note that this could be construed also as a security measure, as luck alone determines what you will find when you enter a vault. You could pick one full of riches like the Lestrange vault; but equally, you could end up with a dusty, empty vault like the Hogwarts one mentioned below, or the Weasleys'.

At the beginning of the first book, Gringotts Vault 713, a higher-security vault, held a small grubby bag, which we later learn contains the Philosopher's Stone. Albus Dumbledore sends Hagrid to retrieve it while he escorts Harry to Diagon Alley. Later that very same day, someone, apparently a very powerful wizard, breaks into the vault. Although he is unsuccessful in obtaining the Philosopher's Stone, the break-in shocks the Wizarding world because it is practically unheard of for Gringotts to be robbed. The culprit is not caught, though we later learn that it was almost certainly Professor Quirrell, acting under orders from Lord Voldemort.

While Gringotts is largely staffed by goblins, including Griphook and Ragnok, it is known that the bank does employ humans. Bill Weasley works as a Curse Breaker for Gringotts in Egypt, retrieving artifacts from ancient Egyptian tombs and pyramids. Fleur Delacour took a part-time job with Gringotts after participating in the Triwizard Tournament, apparently to improve her English skills, and wizard guards are mentioned in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows during the break in. Griphook mentions at that time that the goblins resent "wand-bearer" interference in their internal affairs.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry, Ron and Hermione, aided by a reluctant Griphook in exchange for Godric Gryffindor's sword, break into the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange where a Horcrux, Hufflepuff's cup, is hidden. However, when they go into Bellatrix's vault, which is stocked with all manners of treasure, they find out that the treasure has Gemino and Flagrante charms placed on it. Though burned and nearly buried in false treasures, the Trio manage to escape with the Horcrux by fleeing on a half-blind dragon that was part of the security for the vault, leaving parts of the bank in ruins.

Analysis edit

It is only to be expected that there would be banks for wizards, just as there are for Muggles. As magic makes it possible to pass through nominally locked doors, it is also to be expected that security measures at Wizarding banks would be more stringent, and more Wizard-specific, than at Muggle banks; no Muggle bank could stand attack by a single reasonably-determined wizard. Thus the vaults are deep underground, protected presumably by anti-Apparition spells, and concealed by the use of the Goblin-specific carts and confusing routes.

The fact that Gringotts has never been robbed is mentioned in the first book, along with the fact that a break-in had happened. It is interesting to note that in the seventh book, Griphook, despite no longer working for the bank, still attempts to defend Gringotts' record of having no successful burglaries, claiming that the break-in did not count because the vault in question was already empty. It is only blind chance that allowed Gringotts to claim its security was still intact. After the Trio's venture, however, their record is broken; and one must wonder how Griphook explained matters once he returned to the bank.

Initially, the use of dragons to guard the high security vaults is only a rumor. It is possible that the author included that as no more than a way to introduce Hagrid's love of dangerous creatures in general, and dragons in particular, and as a way to establish background for the introduction of Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback.

Questions edit

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Greater Picture edit

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

It is noted that Voldemort hides a Horcrux in the Lestrange vault. This does seem a rather pedestrian place to put something as important as a Horcrux, and Hermione says as much when Harry first mentions that he believes a Horcrux is there. However, Harry points out that only the oldest Wizarding families have vaults in the high-security part of the bank, and so holding a (figurative) key to one of those vaults is equivalent to claiming ancestry from the oldest of Wizarding families. (The key is figurative because the vault actually will only open to the touch of an authorized Gringotts goblin.) Voldemort clearly seems to believe that ancestry is of more value than anything else, even the laws of the land, a belief his grandfather Marvolo also espoused, and so the trappings of that heredity, such as access to a Gringotts deep vault, are expected to be of almost incalculable value to him.