A Butterfly Flaps its Wings in China
A butterfly flapped its wings in China. The wings, deep brown, were decorated with large circular patterns, which looked much like wide, staring predatory eyes. This defensive coloring worked once again, and the small brown bird that had been eyeing the butterfly hungrily, leaped, startled, into the air, and flapped away, its tiny brain having forgotten the insect, and looking for more food.
The bird's dive, a half-hour later, for a grub on the ground, startled a small vole, which elected to remain in its hole awhile longer. This worked out very well for the vole, which would otherwise have been eaten, in four hours time, by a falcon.
The falcon, in its turn, ended up feasting instead on a mouse, whose absence from a certain tree-branch four days later would cause a brown owl named Wei-Dung to detour for food, delaying his arrival in the Chinese wizarding village of Xai-Shou-Tse by an hour. In that hour, his recipient had gotten drunk, and this, in turn, led to a hangover that kept him from replying to the message -- from his daughter -- for another two hours. The two additional hours it took Wei-Dung to return to the school owlery meant that he was unavailable for the Divination master's note to his opposite number at Durmstrang, so a different owl took that letter, and by a different route.
And so way led on to way, this owl's delay putting that one to work, that owl's speedy arrival causing messages to be read in a different order, and effects began to spread like ripples in a pond.
In the world that you and I know, the message outgoing Minster of Magic Cornelius Fudge sent to Dumbledore was carried by a slow-witted and slack-winged Ministry owl named Slomo, and took four days to arrive. By the time it had done so, the date was too close, and there was no time to make the necessary arrangements, and, anyway, Albus Dumbledore had received word that poor old Tom Riddle had put a great deal of stock into something Dumbledore didn't fully understand -- something called horcruxes -- so Fudge's note had been replied to with a brief, polite, regret, while Dumbledore's concentration was focused on finding Marvolo Gaunt's ring.
But a butterfly had flapped its wings in China, and so had begun a chain of events that put a sleek barn-owl named Hera in front of soon-to-be-former Minister Fudge, and so Dumbledore received the message days earlier, suggesting that the Ministry could begin in some small way to make amends by holding an official inquest within the Ministry's offices, into the death of Sirius Black. Fudge had further mentioned that, with the testimony and pensieve evidence of young Harry Potter and his friends, the inquest would likely also end with an official, if posthumous, declaration of exoneration for Sirius Black.
Dumbledore had sat at his desk for a very long time, looking at that phrase. Posthumous declaration of Exoneration for Mr. Sirius Black.
His blue eyes, moist behind the half-moon glasses, closed briefly in regret, for he, like all the rest, had believed the lies of a moment over the knowledge of a lifetime, and had thought Black guilty of a terrible mass murder. Harry deserved to see his Godfather cleared of those charges. Sirius, poor, dead Sirius, deserved it as well.
Albus Dumbledore stood from his desk, and left his office, walking with surprising speed and grace towards the Hogwarts gates, from beyond which he could Apparate to the Ministry, and so changed forever the fates of all the world.
Because a butterfly flapped its wings in China.
"Mum, Dad," said Hermione, "This is fascinating!"
She was studying unique magic among the ancient Peloponnesian wizarding monarchs.
David and Jane Granger exchanged an amused glance. They cherished their daughter's intelligence, and her extraordinary drive to knowledge, but they did have to admit that there was something of a delta between her idea of "fascinating" and theirs.
"Peloponnesian wizarding royalty used magic binding spells as part of their marriage ceremonies," she told them. "Listen to this! The Nuptialis Unum spell, used by the Regimagi upon their wedded offspring, guaranteed long and faithful marriages, for, when performed upon two people, it resulted in them being left forever touching, and no power in heaven or on earth could part them." She looked up at her parents, eyes alight with wonder. "I bet those Peloponnesians knew how to work at a marriage!"
Jane chuckled. She'd been telling Hermione, the day before, about a cousin, divorcing after six months of marriage, and they'd both tut-tutted a bit about the lack of commitment. "I think that might have been carrying things a bit far, though, don't you dear?"
"Oh, but think of how Daddy would enjoy shopping expeditions!"
David snorted, and reached over with the Times, bonking his daughter gently on the head with it before returning to the crossword.
Hermione grinned back at her dad, and returned to her book. "The spell had to be used judiciously, though," she read. "One angry Regimagus performed Nuptialis Unum on seven people at once, and they were, in the end, only separated by a bloody and terrible knife battle, which left only one survivor."
David chuckled as he tried to think of a nine-letter word for Cube, cubed. "Doesn't take seven to make a marriage like that. Just go in our waiting room, and read any copy of the Sun."
Jane leaned over his shoulder. "Tesseract, dear," she said. "And I didn't know you'd ever made it past page three."
David smiled as he filled in the word, and raised an eyebrow at his wife. "My dear, I couldn't possibly spare the time for page three. Why would I, with you working the drill in Room Two?"
He turned his head, and nuzzled into his wife's neck, and Hermione huffed. "Honestly! You're going to scar my poor psyche for life!"
"Time you knew, sweetheart," her mother said, a little distracted. "I'm afraid this isn't the first time either."
"Oh, I completely don't want to know," Hermione responded, with a fond roll of her eyes, and pretended to return to her book. She loved that her parents were still passionately in love with one another, even if they did indulge in these embarrassing displays on occasion. Her mother stepped away from her father -- who, Hermione noticed from the corner of her eye, gave her bum a little squeeze -- and ruffled her hair on the way by to the kitchen.
"Oh, Hermione," her mother called, a moment later. "There's an owl for you!"
"Oh!" Hermione stood quickly, and her head swam for a moment. She put a hand to her chest, feeling again the burn from Dolohov's near-fatal curse. Her father's eyes narrowed with concern. "Is it from R--" Hermione flushed. "I mean, who is it from?"
Jane returned from the kitchen, her left arm held calmly perpendicular to her, a sleek brown owl perched on her forearm, eating bacon bits from her right palm. Hermione's heart swelled for a moment with pride at her parents. They were kind, intelligent people, and had adapted so well to their lives having plunged into the periphery of the magical world.
"I don't think it's from your young man, dear," her mother was telling her, and Hermione's blush deepened. "This certainly isn't Pigwidgeon!"
Hermione shook her head in agreement as she removed the letter from the owl's leg. It bore the official seal of the Minister of Magic, and her eyes widened. She opened the scroll, and read, eyes widening. She looked up at her parents. "It's from Minister Fudge himself!"
"Soon to be Ex-Minister Fudge, didn't you tell us?" David Granger asked his daughter, with no small satisfaction. Hermione had told her parents about the Minister's campaign against Harry, and they had been livid.
"That's right," Hermione told him. "But he seems to be trying to make some form of amends. He's requesting my presence at the Ministry tomorrow afternoon for an inquest into the death of Sirius Black, and for my pensieve testimony as to Sirius' innocence of the crime for which he was wrongly imprisoned! This is terribly exciting!"
"Pensieve testimony?" asked her mother.
"Oh, yes, Mother, that's the exciting part! It's a sort of magical device for sharing memories! I've never used one, but I'm told that it's an extraordinary experience. Anyway, since Harry, Ron, and I will all have matching memories to display of the Shrieking Shack, it should exonerate poor Sirius!"
David smiled grimly. "Always the way, isn't it? Too late to do the victim any good, the Government pulls its thumbs out and actually tries to set the record straight."
Jane tutted at her husband. "Too late for this Sirius Black, perhaps, but I'm sure that it will be some comfort to Harry."
David Granger paused, remembering the small, handsome, dark-haired boy, quiet, green eyes intense through his glasses, at King's Cross. "It's the least they can do, but I suppose it's all they can do, at this point."
"Anyway," said Hermione, "Apparently the ministry will be sending a car for me tomorrow. Professor Dumbledore is supposed to meet us at the Ministry. I'll want to confirm this with Professor Dumbledore. Do you mind if we get a Floo call, later?"
"Sweetie," said Jane, "You know it only frightened me because I wasn't prepared. That's fine."
Hermione had produced a quill, and ink, and a small roll of parchment, and written down a quick note in her precise, flowing handwriting. She tied it to the owl's leg, and told it, "That is for Professor Albus Dumbledore, and it is fairly urgent."
The owl hooted seriously, bobbing its head, and Hermione led it to the kitchen window, and let the owl fly free.
Ron looked up from the small, official scroll in his hand. "So, Dad, I guess I should just go into work with you in the morning, Yeah?"
Arthur Weasley nodded to his son. "Yes, I think that would be best."
Ron stepped over to his father, looked down at the project he was working on on the small living-room coffee table. Spread out over the surface were parts of a Muggle flashlight. Arthur glanced over at his son and smiled. "Extraordinary gadget, that." He pointed to a small glass ball with a metal threaded base. "Apparently, that actually lights up because a tiny wire inside it gets so hot it glows. And it doesn't burn up because there's no air in there. And those--" he pointed to two cylindrical objects about as long as Ron's thumb, but much thicker "--are supposed to store Eckletricity, just as if it were jam in the cupboard!"
Ron was intrigued in spite of himself. "Have you ever opened one up? To see the Eckletricity?"
Arthur blushed. "Don't tell your mother."
Ron nodded understandingly. "Yeah. I guess it must be pretty dangerous. I mean, if two of those have enough Eckletricity to make a wire so hot it glows...."
"Exactly." Arthur looked seriously at Ron, his gaze slipping down to the runneled scars on his arms. "So, I, er... I guess you come by it honestly enough."
Ron stood a little straighter. "Is this where you give me a talking-to about taking foolish risks?"
Arthur held his son's gaze for a moment. "No," he finally said. "I'll brave the wrath of Mollywobbles."
"Oh, Merlin, Dad! I did eat today, you know!"
Arthur chuckled at his son, then clasped a hand to his shoulder. "You stood by your friends, Ron. I can only ever be proud of that."
Ron held his gaze for a moment, then hurrumphed and look back at the table. "So, what did it look like, then?"
"The Eckletricity. What did it look like?"
"Well, that's the funny thing, Ron," said Arthur, rubbing the back of his head. "There wasn't any in there. Just some nasty wet slimy smelly dirty stuff, and a metal peg. Odd, that."
Ron nodded, regarding the disassembled Muggle device. "Yeah... Odd."
Harry sat for almost half an hour, re-reading the parchment from Dumbledore. His eyes kept returning to that one phrase:
"While justice would have had Sirius live to see his vindication, his memory deserves it now nonetheless."
Harry looked down at his bed, at Minister Fudge's letter. "I cannot begin to describe my regret for this office's -- for my -- treatment of you. I know there are no amends I could make, even if I were in a position to do so. But I hope that by inviting you to take part in his exoneration, I can in some small measure begin to repay my debt by allowing him to be remembered as he should be -- with honour as a hero in this dreadful war against evil."
Harry bit his lip. Fudge. He wanted to hate the man, hate him for his own suffering, hate him for Sirius' death. How much would have been different if Fudge hadn't spent a year denying the return of Voldemort? How many lives might not have been lost?
But Dumbledore's cover letter said that Fudge's contrition was genuine, that he actually wanted, in some small way, to make amends. And there was the other thing Dumbledore's letter had said, as well, something that Harry kept thinking about, over and over again, pulling and gnawing at it as if trying to break it down into its component parts for easier digestion.
I know, Harry, that this will be difficult for you to understand, but it is, perhaps, the most important lesson I will ever try to teach you: Forgiveness is not something you do for someone else. It is not a boon to the forgiven. In the end, forgiveness is a boon to oneself, for it is the laying down of a burden, heavy and unpleasant, that no-one deserves to carry. It is perhaps Tom's greatest tragedy that he seems determined to bear this burden through all eternity. You can do better.
Harry tried to wrap his mind around that. To forgive Fudge seemed unthinkable. The man should be punished! He had sat on his backside for a year, responding to the return of this dreadful threat by persecuting the teen-aged boy who was unfortunate enough to witness it. The people he was responsible to were left to fend for themselves as their only defenders were punished and ridiculed and forced into exile -- and death!
But Dumbledore had placed great importance on the idea. To forgive Fudge seemed unthinkable, but Dumbledore seemed to have done it, and hadn't he suffered the man's cruel harassment as much as Harry had? Hadn't he been mocked in public, called foolish and senile? Hadn't he been forced to relinquish his position as Headmaster to Dolores Umbridge?
Harry pulled out some parchment and wrote his replies quickly, then tied them to Hedwig's leg. "Bring Dumbledore's to him, first. I may be willing to give Fudge the benefit of the doubt, but let's not tempt him, all right?"
And he sent Hedwig out into the night, then headed downstairs to tell his Uncle Vernon that Dumbledore would be arriving to take him out the next day.