ABSTRACT: I have written this essay in an attmept to shed some light about the breed of the dragon from Gringotts. I have detailed each of the breeds of dragon, and drawn conclusions about each. Although I do come to a coclusion in the end, the essay also seeks to portray the difficulty in assigning a breed to the dragon and to leave the issue open (to an extent) to further debate. I have referenced all the intext quotes using end-notes. Please enjoy reading :)
The unfortunate dragon that is held captive by the goblins of Gringotts for the purpose of guarding the oldest vaults in the place (hereafter called 'the Gringotts Dragon') has not only endured torture in the form of "hot swords" smote across it's snout, but it is also unidentified by gender and even breed. Although female dragons are in general more aggressive than the males, it is difficult to assign a gender to the dragon without having another of the same breed to compare it to, as the degree of ferociousness may vary greatly across breeds. As to the question of the breed of the Gringotts dragon, a little more ground can be made. From the sketchy description given in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, certain breeds may be ruled out; however there is not enough information to come to a definitive answer. This lack of information is partially due to the fact that all of the information is given from Harry's point of view - for instance, it is highly likely that Hermione instantly recognised what breed the Gringotts dragon was, either as one of the five dragon breeds which she has personally seen (the Hungarian Horntail, Swedish Short-Snout, Chinese Fireball and Common Welsh Green during the Triwizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire, as well as the Norwegian Ridgeback in Philosopher's Stone) or the other five breeds for which she would have memorised the descriptions of. Although it is admittedly hard to identify something from only a written description, Hermione's correct identification of the Erumpent horn in Xenophilius Lovegood's house from the description in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them shows her ability to identify accurately without a picture. Unfortunately, she neglects to mention her opinion of the Gringotts dragon's breed to Harry. This lack of canonical information leaves the issue endlessly open to debate and dispute.
A patchy description of the Gringotts dragon must be pieced together from various sections of the novel. Initially, it is described by Harry as a "gigantic dragon" with scales that are "pale and flaky" due to its extended incarceration and "milkily pink" eyes. It also possesses "great, spiked wings" and an "ugly head" and expels a "jet of fire". Later in the chapter, the scales are expressed as being as "hard as steel" and "jagged". It is also revealed to have a "spiked tail." In the next chapter, the scales are again described, this time as "metallic". As the dragon flies "further and further north", it is revealed to have a "yellow underbelly". Finally, the dragon lands amongst mountains by a small lake. These descriptions form the basis for the task of identifying the Gringotts dragon.
Ten completely different breeds of dragon are listed and described (in varying levels of detail) in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001) by Newt Scamander. It is unlikely that the Gringotts dragon is any of four of these breeds, although a determined debater would probably be able to argue otherwise. The Chinese Fireball may originally be considered a prime candidate for the breed of the Gringotts dragon purely on account of its colour. The Gringotts dragon is described as having a "yellow underbelly", while Fantastic Beasts describes the Fireball as "scarlet" with "a fringe of golden spikes" around its face. It is then not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see the Fireball with a yellow underbelly. However, here the similarities end. Despite the connection in the colouring of the scales, the Fireball is described as being "smooth-scaled" whereas the Gringotts dragon's scales are distinctly "jagged". One of the more distinguishing features of the Chinese Fireball and its namesake is the mushroom-shaped flame that it ejects from its nostrils. This is in complete disparity with the "jet of fire" that the Gringotts dragon shoots at the invaders in its cavern. The Fireball is also noted for preferring pigs and humans to eat. The Gringotts dragon displays absolutely no interest in eating or even chasing the "three highly edible humans" which it carries to safety on its back. Finally, the Fireball is native to China, and it is therefore unlikely that the goblins would have gone to the trouble of capturing and importing a highly dangerous not to mention illegal dragon or even egg halfway across the world, even by magical means, when there are local dragons better suited to the task of guarding the treasure as well as being easier to get a hold of.
Two breeds of dragon that may be easily crossed off the list of potential breeds are the Hungarian Horntail and the Norwegian Ridgeback. Primarily, this is because Harry has had intimate dealings with representatives of both of these breeds (in particular the Horntail) and would surely have recognised and identified the Gringotts dragon accordingly. The Horntail also has the completely wrong physical appearance: it is black, with no mention of a yellow underbelly, and has yellow (not pink) eyes. It is also incredibly aggressive to humans as they are its preferred food, and thus applies the same reasoning as for the Chinese Fireball above. As Harry only had dealings with an infant Ridgeback, it is possible that he would not have recognised the Gringotts dragon as such. However, the Ridgeback is also black in colour, and is vicious to larger mammals including humans, both of which are the opposite of the Gringotts dragon. The Ridgeback is named for the ridges along its back and tail which it has instead of tail spikes, while the Gringotts dragon is specifically described as having a "spiked tail".
The last breed of dragon that may be (relatively) safe to be ruled out as the Gringotts dragon is the Peruvian Vipertooth. Although it's copper-coloured scales may result in a yellow underbelly after extended incarcerations, as with the Fireball it is described as being "smooth-scaled", not jagged. It is also described as having such a liking for the taste of human that the International Confederation of Wizards sent delegations of exterminators to reduce Vipertooth numbers, which makes it highly unlikely that a Vipertooth would ignore three tasty humans after such a long incarcerations period.
Of the remaining breeds, most have factors that contribute to the idea of that breed being that of the Gringotts dragon, as well as factors that go against it. An exception to this is the Romanian Longhorn, which has only a limited amount of information available from Fantastic Beasts. The only information relates to the colour of the Longhorn's scales, which are dark-green and therefore unsuitable for the Gringotts dragon, and the fact that its golden horns are highly coveted as potion ingredients when powdered. This has lead to extensive over-hunting of the Longhorn. The goblins may have caught the Longhorn, removed its horns and then kept the dragon, however the Gringotts dragon is described as having a "horned head" which suggests that its horns are still intact.
In terms of the behaviour of the Gringotts dragon, the Swedish Short-Snout seems to be a likely candidate. The Short-Snout lives in uninhabited mountain areas, and the Gringotts dragon flies straight to a mountain ranges and stops there for refreshments. It is also Swedish, which fits with the Gringotts dragon flying north into land closer to and more similar to its native land. Finally, the Short-Snout has killed few humans and it is therefore not out of character for that breed to leave three humans in search of other prey. On the other hand, the Short-Snout is silverly-blue in colour and therefore unlikely to have a yellow underbelly. It also has a distinctive blue flame, which would surely have been noticed by Harry when the dragon shoots its fire at the invaders.
Two breeds of dragons are native to Britain, which (given Gringotts' location) would be the prime candidates. The Common Welsh Green inhabits the higher mountains of Wales, fitting the description of the mountains where the Gringotts dragon eventually lands. However, the Gringotts dragon appears to be flying north into Scotland, not west or north-west into the Welsh mountains. It also avoids humans unless provoked, which fits with the Gringotts dragon as it fights back to the goblins who tortured and imprisoned it, yet ignored its riders when they left it in peace on the opposite bank of the lake. The fire of the Welsh Green is issued in thin jets, which is also in accordance with the Gringotts dragon. However, as is described in its name, the Welsh Green has green scales, and is therefore unlikely to have the yellow underbelly of the Gringotts dragon. Green scales also make pink or similar colours unlikely for the eyes.
All of the above dragons have fairly obvious physical or behavioural characteristics which make them unlikely candidates for the Gringotts dragon. However, the remaining three are all possible candidates. The Antipodean Opaleye, the Ukrainian Ironbelly and the Hebridean Black are all similar to the Gringotts dragon in both physical appearance and behaviour.
The Ukrainian Ironbelly has the required "metallic scales", although they are grey in colour, as well as red eyes which may well have paled to the "milky pink" described in Deathly Hallows. However, the grey colour of the Ironbelly's scales, coupled with the name "Ironbelly", points to it being highly unlikely to have a yellow underbelly. Indeed, the name "Ironbelly" indicates that the underside of the dragon is the colour of iron - that is, grey. The Ironbelly is also the largest breed of dragon, which makes it unsuited to being locked in a cave underground to guard vaults where space is an issue. It is also unlikely that a dragon of such large proportions that it is capable of "crushing dwellings on which it lands" would be able to dig and writhe its way out of an underground cavern. The Ironbelly is described by Fantastic Beasts as being "rotund and slower in flight" than other breeds of dragon, which is again inconsistent with the dive that the Gringotts dragon pulls off to enter the small passage opening. The Ironbelly is noted for its "particularly long and vicious" talons, which are completely omitted from the description in Deathly Hallows. Finally, the Ironbelly has been under constant observation by Ukrainian wizarding authorities since 1799, when an Ironbelly carried off a sailing boat from the Black sea, which would make the obtaining of eggs or a live dragon extremely difficult for the goblins or dragon poachers.
One of the most similar to the Gringotts dragon in terms of physical appearance is the Antipodean Opaleye. The Opaleye has "iridescent, pearly scales" which may easily have turned "pale and flaky" after being imprisoned. It is named for its pupil-less eyes, which are remarkably similar to the "milkily pink" eyes of the Gringotts dragon. However, this distinctive eye colour may also be a by-product of the beast's incarceration and not as a result of it being an Opaleye. The Opaleye eyes are "glittering [and] multi-coloured", and while the glitter in the eyes would easily have been lost due to its captivity, the Gringotts dragon eyes are definitely not multi-coloured. The "milky" aspect of the Gringotts dragon's eyes is likely to have been caused not because it is an Opaleye, but because it is "partially blind", as described by Griphook. This description is very close to that which Harry gives in Chamber of Secrets about Aragog's blind eyes: "...each of the eyes on his ugly, pincered head was milky white. He was blind."
This earlier use of the same adjective indicates that it does not necessarily refer to the Gringotts dragon being an Opaleye, but the fact that it was partially blind. It is also described as being "not particularly aggressive" by dragon standards, making it the perfect breed to ignore the humans on the lake shore. Nonetheless, it also produces a vivid scarlet flame, which would surely have been noted by Harry when they first met the Gringotts dragon and it sent the invaders scurrying back up the passageway with a jet of fire. The Opaleye is also noted by Fantastic Beasts as being "perhaps the most beautiful type of dragon", an opinion not shared by Harry when he describes the Gringotts dragon having an "ugly head". Moreover, the Opaleye is known to dwell in valleys, not the mountains where it carries Harry, Ron and Hermione after their flight.
The Hebridean Black is native to the Hebrides Islands west of mainland Scotland. This initial homeland is right on target for the Gringotts dragon: it flies north, into the Scottish mountains. The Black is known for its "brilliant purple eyes", which very easily could have paled during its incarceration to the "milkily pink" of the Gringotts dragon. It is also "rough-scaled" in accordance with the "jagged scales" of the Gringotts dragon, and Blacks have an arrow shaped spike on the tip of their tails just as the Gringotts dragon has a spiked tail. The only objection to the Gringotts dragon being a Hebridean Black is that Blacks typically have dark coloured scales, however they are not necessarily black as seems to be indicated by its name. Nevertheless, a dark brown may easily fade to yellow after extended imprisonment - easier than the dark green of the Welsh Green or Longhorn, or even the grey of the Ironbelly. The Hebridean Black is also a native British dragon and therefore an easy target for British goblin dragon hunters.
These last three breeds of dragons are the most likely for the Gringotts dragon. It is possible that it is a hybrid of these breeds or even of one of these breeds and another, previously discounted breed. However, according to Fantastic Beasts dragons only interbreed "on occasion", and hybrids are "rare", it is relatively unlikely that the goblins managed to obtain a rare hybrid dragon solely for the purpose of guarding the treasure placed in their care. It is unknown how easy or otherwise it is to get hold of dragon eggs, as little is known about dragon trading other than the fact that the eggs are classified as Class A Non-Tradable Goods, and that dragon breeding was outlawed by the Warlocks' Convention of 1709. However, it is easy to imagine that those dragons which are under surveillance, such as the Ironbelly, would be the more difficult breeds to get hold of. This makes the chance that the Gringotts dragon is a member of those breeds less than others. As the only instance of someone in Harry Potter successfully obtaining a dragon egg got hold of it through Lord Voldemort, this does not shed much light over the market in dragon eggs or live dragons.
While most of the ten breeds of dragon have qualities that match that of the Gringotts dragon, most also have qualities which are startling different. Of the pure-breed dragons, the closest breed to match the Gringotts dragon is the Hebridean Black, although the Antipodean Opaleye and Ukrainian Ironbelly are also contenders. However, both the Ironbelly and Opaleye also have flaws that indicate they are not the Gringotts dragon. Discounting the possibility of a hybrid dragon (rightly or wrongly), the description given by Deathly Hallows indicates that the Gringotts dragon is more than likely a Hebridean Black.
Scamander, N. 2001, "Dragon", Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Bloomsbury Publishing, London
Rowling, J. K. 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Bloomsbury Publishing, London
Rowling, J. K. 1998, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury Publishing, London
Rowling, J. K. 2000, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Bloomsbury Publishing, London
Rowling, J. K. 2007, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Bloomsbury Publishing, London