In August 2003, five years after the Battle, the rain came down in torrents so fierce that they seemed to hang perpetually like a curtain over the castle and melt people into shadows in their very tracks. It was in a rare break in these showers and amidst the ominous rumbling of clouds that a large spotted owl took flight towards the hut across the grounds and on landing, tapped on a window ablaze with the glow from a fireplace.
It was a message he knew was imminent, and yet fervently hoped against. He absently poked at the embers in the fireplace as he read the message written in a neat, slanting hand. It was time. After draining his tea-cup and picking up his pink umbrella, Rubeus Hagrid stepped out of his hut and paused to gaze upon the castle he had served as long as he could remember. Lost in thought, he began to trudge across the grounds, toward the Headmistress’ office.
It was about three weeks ago that Professor McGonagall had asked him to recommend a suitable candidate for the Care of Magical Creatures position. Taken aback, he had asked if she were perhaps joking, and in response had received from her a look which proved she wasn’t. Later, in a moment of relative privacy that followed a slow yet generous flow of tears, Hagrid made his decision.
For decades, Hagrid had served dutifully as the Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. Upon his expulsion from Hogwarts years ago, he had been grateful for the job — for the magnanimity of Professor Dumbledore, without which he knew not what dark, anonymous future would have thrust itself upon him. The happiest day of his life, however, was when the Headmaster asked him to take over the Care of Magical Creatures position. It was an honour beyond his ken, and every single moment on the job had brought him immeasurable joy. Yet, again he was being asked to give up something he loved. Never again would he get to share with young witches and wizards of Hogwarts, the knowledge he had amassed over years of burning his beard and blistering his hands.
Perhaps he had always known this day would come, for despite his propensity for love and devotion to magical beasts, he would never be as good as the professors who had had the opportunity to study all their lives, travel the world, and write books about what they had learned. He had been inextricably linked to Hogwarts, never having left since the business with the Chamber, and in between being Keeper of Keys and serving Hogwarts, he had somehow forgotten that he would never be equal to a proper witch or wizard. He knew this day would come, but he could scarcely believe that it was already here.
Before he had the chance to rise from his reverie, he found himself before the gargoyle that guarded the Headmistress’ office, and right beside the red-haired, freckle-faced, humanly tall and lanky image of Charlie Weasley.
“Password?” he said with a shrug.
“Welcome gentlemen. Do sit down,” said Professor McGonagall as they entered her office, which had taken on an extraordinary neatness since she had taken over as Headmistress. Sitting down, Hagrid saw Professor Dumbledore in his portrait on the wall behind the Headmistress’ chair, smiling contentedly, knitting needles moving deftly around a pair of socks. Dumbledore gave him an acknowledging wink.
He saw Professor Snape in his portrait, sitting upright and peacefully asleep. Hagrid could not recall ever seeing him this way. The portraits afforded him the temporary luxury of flashback, before McGonagall brought his attention quickly to the matter at hand.
“Thank you very much, Rubeus, for your recommendations for Care of Magical Creatures professor,” she said with a formal smile. “As you may have guessed, Mr Weasley will be taking up the position this year.”
It was not often that something knocked the wind out of Rubeus Hagrid, but right now, he felt a void opening in his chest – dark, treacherous, and seemingly bottomless – and if he didn’t act now, it would swallow everything. He had scarcely uttered a “But professor–” to begin his protest when the Headmistress cut him off.
“I have already confided in you,” she said firmly, “that while I have no misgivings about your talent as a teacher of Care of Magical Creatures, there is a greater responsibility I must entrust to you this year. Mr Weasley is already aware of the reasons, and I shall explain just as soon as Mr Potter arrives.”
“‘arry?” asked Hagrid, puzzled. What was Harry doing at Hogwarts?
Before McGonagall had the opportunity to explain, the door to her office opened and in walked Harry Potter, wearing his round glasses, and a suspicious smile on his face.
“Take a seat, Mr Potter,” said McGonagall coldly, glancing at her watch. Harry took the seat on Hagrid’s right. “I do hope you will aspire to a higher standard of punctuality for your lessons.”
“Lessons?” repeated Hagrid, thoroughly confused.
“Oh yes,” said McGonagall. “You will be happy to know that Mr Potter will be joining us as Defence Against the Dark Arts professor.”
Though he was still bewildered, Hagrid managed to glance proudly at the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, who had once been a newborn in his arms, a student in his lessons, a leader in his fight, and a dear friend.
“Now while I understand that you must be very proud,” said McGonagall, always efficient, “we should be getting on with the purpose of this meeting. As I was saying, Rubeus, there is a rather important task I have for you, due to which you will not be teaching this year… or indeed for the following three years.”
The sinking, hollow feeling in the middle of his chest was back. This was no temporary arrangement. It was then that they came back to him — all those conversations he had had with himself in a little mirror, trying to convince himself that this was what was best for Hogwarts. All those things didn’t seem to matter. Before he knew it, he was fighting tears. He had to say something.
“Professor please…” he managed, before the first tear rolled down his cheek. Harry and Charlie exchanged nervous glances.
“My decision is final, Hagrid. This is far too important to delay any further. You are to prepare for a day of marketing in London, tomorrow. Here is a list of what you must purchase.” She handed him a small, sealed envelope.
He took it from her gently, tears streaming down his face and into his beard. He would have to make peace. He turned the envelope over to its front, and was surprised to find it so addressed:
Mr Rubeus Hagrid
The Hut at the Edge of the Forbidden Forest
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Scotland, Great Britain.
He looked up at McGonagall who was now standing. Behind her, he could see Dumbledore smiling naughtily at him from his portrait. He looked on either side, and both Charlie and Harry were giving him the same knowing smile. He turned to look once again at McGonagall, and spotting her trying to hide a smirk, he knew instantly that a plot was afoot. He tore open the envelope like he never had before, and from it emerged a letter that read as follows:
Dear Mr Hagrid,
I am pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment for a fourth-year student.
Term begins on 1 September…
He could read no further because he had begun bawling. The walls of the Headmistress’ office echoed with the sound of Hagrid’s sobs as he tried to accommodate a sea of emotion into an abnormally large yet clearly inadequate polka-dotted handkerchief. Both Harry and Charlie patted his back encouragingly. McGonagall shed a tear when she thought no one was looking. After Hagrid was finished sobbing uncontrollably, he looked once again at McGonagall.
“But… how?” he asked, knowing full well that this decision could not have been hers alone.
“It was a wrong that we never corrected. It was time. Thereafter, a single owl to Kingsley Shacklebolt’s office was enough. I am truly sorry, Rubeus, that this took so long. I’m sure you’ll do wonderfully at your O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s. Of course, Mr Potter, Mr Weasley, and all of us shall help you catch up on what you might have forgotten.”
“And when you’re finished, I’ll be on my way, and you’ll be Professor Rubeus Hagrid. For good,” said Charlie.
Hagrid had never been a half-giant of words, but he had also never been quite as speechless as he was now.
“Also, you shouldn’t be needing that dreadful umbrella anymore,” said McGonagall. “I’m sure Mr Potter will be happy to accompany you to Diagon Alley to purchase your new equipment for the start of term.”
Hagrid looked once again at Harry, his face soaked in tears. Harry beamed at him and nodded vigorously. Containing himself no longer, Hagrid stood and engulfed Harry in a gigantic hug, raising him at least a foot off the ground and almost crushing his ribs. It matters not. His heart was in the right place. After what Harry must have thought was an eternity, Hagrid released him, and stood looking at his mischievous green eyes, knowing full well whose idea all of this was.
It was then that Harry Potter looked into his eyes and said, “You’re a wizard, Hagrid.”