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In the book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, when Harry and Hagrid go into Gringotts, there's a scene that strikes me as strange.

Griphook unlocked the door. A lot of green smoke came billowing out, and as it cleared, Harry gasped. Inside were mounds of gold coins. Columns of silver. Heaps of little bronze Knuts.

What is this green smoke? I'm sure I wouldn't be wrong in suggesting it's some sort of spell or hex protecting the vault. However, I'd like something a little more concrete.

Has the purpose of this billowing green smoke ever been addressed? Does it ever appear again?

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    I've turned your title into a question. If you don't like the one I've chosen feel free to edit. – The Dark Lord Aug 30 '17 at 11:40
  • Thanks. I was supposed to change that before I published the question. :P – Recelica Aug 30 '17 at 12:54
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    They just happened to be electing the new goblin pope. – starpilotsix Aug 30 '17 at 13:51
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    The HP Companion posits that it's some kind of spell used to prevent the coins from corroding; books.google.co.uk/… – Valorum Aug 30 '17 at 16:33
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We don't know.

I hate to post a defeatest answer but I don't think it's at all clear what this smoke is or why it appears at this moment in the story. We see several other examples of Gringotts vaults being opened in the series and there's no green smoke mentioned on any of those occasions.

  • Nicolas Flamel's vault:

    Something really extraordinary had to be inside this top-security vault, Harry was sure, and he leant forward eagerly, expecting to see fabulous jewels at the very least - but at first he thought it was empty. Then he noticed a gruby little package wrapped up in brown paper lying on the floor.
    (Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 5, Diagon Alley).

    Verdict: No smoke.

  • The Weasleys' vault:

    Harry enjoyed the breakneck journey down to the Weasleys' vault, but felt dreadful, far worse than he had in Knockturn Alley, when it was opened. There was a very small pile of silver Sickles inside, and just one gold Galleon. Mrs Weasley felt right into the corners before sweeping the whole lot into her bag.
    (Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 4, At Flourish and Blotts).

    Verdict: No smoke.

  • Harry Potter's vault (again):

    Harry felt even worse when they reached his vault. He tried to block the contents from view as he hastily shoved handfuls of coins into a leather bag.
    (Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 4, At Flourish and Blotts).

    Verdict: No smoke.

  • The Lestranges' vault:

    The old goblin obeyed, pressing his palm to the wood, and the door of the vault melted away to reveal a cave-like opening crammed from floor to ceiling with golden coins and giblets, silver armour, the skins of strange creatures, some with long spines, others with drooping wings, potions in jeweller flasks, and a skull still wearing a crown.
    (Deathly Hallows, Chapter 26, Gringotts).

    Verdict: No smoke.

On the other occasions that Harry gets money out of Gringotts, somebody else does it for him or his trip to the vault isn't actually described in the narrative. However, in each of the four examples above, there is no mention given of the distinctive green smoke that appears in the Potter vault.

I can guess several reasons why this may be the case.

Out-of-universe:

  • Having Harry's wealth slowly materialise through a haze of smoke adds a touch of drama and heightens his sense of surprise at what he has (compared with what he was expecting to have). This lends emphasis to the 'poor orphan done good' theme.
  • The green smoke might emenate from every vault on every opening, but JK Rowling neglected to take the effort to describe this every time someone went into Gringotts (or became tired of doing so).

In-universe:

  • The goblins of Gringotts take guarding their treasure seriously. It may well be the case that the Potters' vault had additional protections to it and that Griphook disabling these caused some green smoke to appear. (If this is true then it begs the question as to why the Flamel and Lestrange vaults didn't have this protection since they contained more valuable treasure - although the latter did have a blind dragon guarding it).

  • The Potters' vault hadn't been opened in a long time (ten years, at least). It may be that either wizarding money or the Gringotts vaults themselves give off this smoke over time. This would explain why Harry's vault isn't said to have any smoke coming out from it a year later.

  • The Harry Potter Companion speculates that the smoke could have been a charm used by the goblins to protect the coins from corrosion (thanks to Valorum for the tip):

    Since the green smoke was not toxic and Harry's coins appeared in perfect condition after 10 years underground, it may have been an anti-tarnish device as bronze and silver tend to go off if not polished by constant handling.

  • We're not told the identity of the goblin who takes Harry and the Weasleys down to their vaults in Chamber of Secrets. It could be that the smoke was a byproduct of the way in which Griphook opens the vaults (although this is unlikely to be the true reason since he also opens the Flamel vault).

I'm afraid this doesn't add much more detail than that contained in the question itself. But, as JK Rowling hasn't addressed this to my knowledge, educated guesswork is really the best we can do.

  • Hey, no worries. Thanks for the answer, it was an interesting read. :) Now, unless someone actually discovers the reason for the smoke, I'll mark this as the answer. – Recelica Aug 30 '17 at 18:25

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