Gringotts Wizarding Bank
Partway down Diagon Alley, near its intersection with Knockturn Alley, stands an imposing snow-white marble building: Gringotts Wizarding Bank (CS4). "Towering over the other shops" (DH26), it is the place where British witches and wizards store their money and other valuables, in vaults miles below ground. The vaults are heavily guarded - as Hagrid says, "yeh'd be mad teh try an' rob it" (PS5).
The centuries-old bank is run by goblins, and they alone know the secrets of the twisting underground passages and the enchantments (and creatures!) in place to defend against intruders (PS5). 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 (DH24, DH25).
There was a rumor that Cornelius Fudge was trying to take over Gringotts when he was Minister for Magic; however, as it was published in the Quibbler, it was likely unsubstantiated (OP10).
From Diagon Alley, a set of white stairs (CS4) leads up to a set of burnished bronze doors. The doors are flanked by a goblin in a uniform of scarlet and gold (PS5), though during war time the goblin was replaced instead by two wizards with Probity Probes (DH26). This is the entrance to Gringotts, and it leads into a small entrance hall and another set of doors. Engraved on these silver doors are the words:
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. (PS5)
Though these doors - again, flanked by goblins - is a vast marble hall with, by Harry's estimation, a hundred or more goblins sitting at counters. Leading off the hall are "too many doors to count," and it is through at least one (and probably more) of these that customers access the vaults. (PS5).
In contrast to the grand marble of the entryway and the main hall, the passageways to the vaults are stone and dimly lit with flaming torches. They slope down to a track, upon which run little carts controlled by the goblins (DH26). These carts take visitors deep beneath the surface of the earth, through a "maze of twisting passages," to the vaults. The carts only go one speed - fast - which makes Hagrid a little queasy and prevents its occupants from getting a good look at their surroundings (PS5), and seem to run on a vast, complex, interconnected series of tracks that allow them to move to and between any vaults (PS5, CS4).
The vaults themselves vary in size and security. The largest, most well protected vaults belong to the oldest wizarding families and lie deepest beneath the surface (DH25). Those vaults closer to the surface seem to be smaller and have fewer security precautions surrounding them - they use keys, for example, rather than requiring the touch of a goblin to gain access. We know of several vaults specifically:
- The Weasleys' vault, which is likely closer to the surface than Harry's. When Harry visits, the vault contains only a small pile of Sickles and a single Galleon, and Mrs. Weasley cleans it out completely (CS4).
- Harry's vault, which requires a key for entry and seems to be of moderate depth - the cart travels for a while to get there, but it's not as far down as vault 713, where the Philosopher's Stone was held (PS5).
- Vault 713, which stored only the Philosopher's Stone when Harry visited with Hagrid. The vault was very deep and required a goblin to stroke the door with his finger in order to gain entry (PS5).
- Vault 711, belonging to Sirius Black, from which he pays for Harry's Firebolt. The fact that it is numbered so closely to 713 - coupled with the fact that the Blacks are indeed an old wizarding family - suggests that it too is a high-security vault (PA22). It contained a "reasonable amount of gold" (HBP3).
- The Lestrange family vault, with even higher security than vault 713 - a dragon guards its entrance and rather than just a finger, a goblin must place his entire palm to the door to open it. The vault is filled with gold, armor, skins, and potions - and most importantly, Hufflepuff's cup, which Harry steals (DH26).
- Travers has a vault that requires a key, because he's holding it when he runs into Hermione (DH26).
It also seems that only blood relations can inherit a Gringotts vault; Dumbledore implies strongly that when Sirius died as the last of the Black family line, his vault was cleaned out and its contents added to Harry's, rather than Harry inheriting the vault as well (HBP3).
From the time he first learns of Gringotts, Harry hears too the rumor that dragons guard the bank's high-security vaults (PS5) - a rumor he later confirms himself (DH26). However, there are many other security measures on Gringotts vaults as well. Those we know of include:
- Goblins flank the entrance to every door (PS5, CS4, DH26).
- The vaults are "hundreds of miles underground" in a maze of twisting tunnels and caverns (PS5).
- The Gringotts carts can only be controlled by goblins (DH26) and move so rapidly the passengers do not have time to see their surroundings (PS5).
- Keys are required for lower-security vaults; for higher-security vaults a goblin must touch the door to allow access. If anyone else tried this, "they'd be sucked in the door and trapped in there" (PS5).
- When thieves break in, The Thief's Downfall is activated - a waterfall that washes away all enchantments and magical concealments, and the carts throw themselves off the tracks (DH26).
- The dragons guarding the high-security vaults can be controlled only by Clankers, which only the goblins have (DH26).
- Some vaults have Gemino and Flagrante Curses added to them, meaning that everything a thief touches will burn them and multiply, eventually scalding and crushing them to death (DH26).
- Objects within Gringotts vaults cannot be summoned (DH26).
- Wizards with Probity Probes replace the goblins outside the front door, and in the case of Arkie Philpott, a probe was stuck up his... well, never mind (HBP6, DH26).
- Warnings are sent to the Gringotts goblins, informing them of wizards who might try to break into specific vaults, wands that have been stolen, etc. (DH26).
- A number of other unknown precautions mean that it takes about five hours for the public to access their vaults, according to Bill Weasley (HBP6).
We only know of two Gringotts break-ins, though it's likely there have been more throughout history. The first happened on July 31, 1991, when Quirinius Quirrell - ordered to do so by Voldemort - broke into vault 713 in search of the Philosopher's Stone. However, nothing was stolen, as Hagrid had emptied the vault earlier that same day (PS8, PS17).
The second break-in was much more successful, and happened in May 1998. Hermione used Polyjuice Potion to disguise herself as Bellatrix Lestrange, and despite immediately arousing goblin suspicions, she, Harry, Ron, and Griphook used an invisibility cloak, Confundus Charms, Imperius Curses, and Stunners to great effect, stealing Hufflepuff's cup from the Lestrange vault and escaping on the back of a dragon, leaving the bank in ruins (DH26).
There seem to be a number of jobs available at Gringotts for wizards, in addition to those positions held by goblins, though they are largely behind-the-scenes. Bill Weasley took a job as a Curse-Breaker (or Charm-Breaker, GF10), hunting treasure in Egypt after his graduation from Hogwarts (PA1) . The job was described in a pamphlet available to Hogwarts students:
When he wanted to do work for the Order of the Phoenix, Bill transferred to a desk job in England to be near home (OP4). That same year, Fleur Delacour took a job at Gringotts as well, to improve her English (OP4), though she only works part-time (HBP5). There also seems to be a full-time security force that is comprised of wizards, and that rushes to the scene when the Lestranges vault is broken into (DH26).