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Ron Weasley has his pitiful pet rat Scabbers with him from almost the get-go. This rat is brought with Ron to Hogwarts for multiple years, and presumably Percy brought Scabbers to Hogwarts when he owned the rat.
Now the papers that Harry received with his acceptance letter clearly stated that a student may bring with them an owl OR a cat OR a toad. Nowhere is it mentioned that, should they be unable to afford an owl, a cat or a toad, then they may bring a rat. But no one at Hogwarts seemed to take notice or mention this fact.

So why was it that Ron (and presumably Percy) were permitted to bring a rat to Hogwarts?

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Wondered this myself while playing Pottermore. – Gabe Willard May 3 '12 at 1:30
Lee Jordan, a year ahead of Harry et al, had a pet tarantula. Ginny brought Arnold the Puffskein (Pygmy Puff?) her fifth year. But perhaps the choices for familiars increase/change as the students get older. I've wondered about Scabbers myself! – Slytherincess May 3 '12 at 1:31
As Slytherincess mentioned, I always assumed the choice of familiars is limited in your first year(s?) only. No canon answer from me though. – dlanod May 3 '12 at 1:42
Maybe Hogwarts provides you help in caring about an owl or a cat or a toad, such as food and suitable rooms (ponds), but you can bring any familiar as long as you can provide all its needs? – b_jonas May 3 '12 at 7:30
For that matter, Hermione's cat was only part cat. – Kyralessa May 6 '12 at 15:14
up vote 46 down vote accepted

There are plenty of examples of students breaking the rules in Hogwarts and getting away with it (e.g. Fred, George, Harry). If bringing rats to Hogwarts was not allowed, Ron would not be the first person to break a rule and get away with it.

Also, that letter never says that you can't bring any pet other than an Owl, Cat, or Toad. My guess is that part of the letter is more of a guideline than a rule. Remember that lots of witches and wizards come from muggle families, and they might have trouble adjusting to their new school. A pet would help with that, and by suggesting some magical pets Hogwarts is making their lives a lot easier.

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Maybe they didn't all start out as mistaken spell, one glitchy wand... – Bart Silverstrim May 8 '12 at 20:40
But would Percy have broken rules? – Mooz Mar 27 '14 at 19:42
I seem to recall Lee Jordan had a pet tarantula.. – BugFinder Aug 16 '15 at 14:40
Dumbledore has pet Phoneix... Arrest him!! :) – prakhar londhe Dec 9 '15 at 12:42

Is it possible we've been misinterpreting the emphasis of this passage all along? As in, when we read it, we assume it's emphasizing the animals that are allowed, and by implication stating that all other animals are disallowed. Grammatically, it is at least equally possible that it is the "may" that is to be emphasized, implying that this is a change to a previous rule in which the students were not permitted to bring those animals.

For example, standing school policy for years prior to Book 1 could have been that students were not allowed to bring owls, cats, and toads. If that was a well-known rule in wizarding circles, then the school would make sure to let all students know that the rule had changed as of this year. The letter should then be taken to mean "(This year, a change to the rules has been implemented. From now on,) students may bring an owl or a cat or a toad." All other animals not listed have always been allowed (including Percy's rat and Lee's spider), and now this year, three animals that had previously been banned are now acceptable as well.

There is no canon to back this up, to my knowledge*. I merely point out a grammatically acceptable interpretation of the letter's passage.

* We know that Percy had owned Hermes since he became Prefect in his 5th year, but that was also Harry's first year, which is when the new rule would have come into effect. I do not know of any other examples of students bringing owls, toads, or cats to Hogwarts prior to the start of the books.

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The letter states you bring a cat, owl or toad, but it refers to them only as a messenger. Don't ask me how a cat or toad are supposed to deliver post, but that's what they're meant to be used for. The tarantula, rat, and whichever other animals that are mentioned are merely pets to entertain yourself with.

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What do you mean when you say that the letter refers to them only as a messenger? In the first book the letter states "Students may also bring an owl OR a cat OR a toad". Nowhere does it say "messenger" - Hagrid mentions later that owls are useful because they also are messengers but this isn't in the letter laying out the guidelines. – Dason Apr 27 '14 at 16:33
And actually, I think that a rat would be able to bring a letter more competently than a toad. – Mithrandir May 26 '15 at 14:38

school wide spells aren't usually hard for the witches and wizards at Hogwarts. I think that if other animals were brought then the teachers would know. The only reason why they got away with scabbers is because he was technically human. The giant spider was born on the schools grounds so technically wasn't brought as a pet to the grounds.

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Welcome to SFFSE! Do you have any evidence to support this theory? It would greatly boost the quality of your answer. Thanks! – Often Right Dec 9 '15 at 5:33
So you're saying that all of the teachers knew that Scabbers was really a human that was supposedly dead and just decided to not say anything about it and made an exception to the rules because of it? – phantom42 Dec 9 '15 at 6:33

Maybe the school allowed rats up to that year but found first year students getting careless - letting the rats loose to chew things etc. - and said "no more" but since Percy had scabbers before the rule went into effect - and knowing Percy there weren't any problems with him keeping control - they made an exception. In law, they'd call it "grandfathering."

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