1-- The Burning
Half an hour before the start of his sixteenth birthday, Harry sat looking at two letters, contemplating his last year.
It had been horrible. From the Dementor attack that had made a bad end to his summer of isolation, through the death of his godfather, in which Harry himself had not been blameless, straight through to the letter he had received from Hermione, only a week after the end of term, being fifteen had been horrible.
Harry picked up the folded letter from Hermione and fingered it. He didn’t open it – he didn’t need to. Most of the words were burned into his mind. Hermione had taken him to task for his attitude about certain events of their fifth year.
She had been kind enough to say that didn’t hold him solely, or even primarily, to blame for his godfather’s death, which she had been dreading as near-inevitable since Sirius came with Harry to Kings Cross Station, but she told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had no right to blame Snape, Dumbledore, or anyone else for his failure to learn Occlumency. The letter was long, detailed, and well-argued, but the gist of it was in one paragraph:
That it is your teacher’s job to teach makes it no less your job to learn. I saw no indication that you made any attempt to learn while you were receiving Occlumency lessons. Furthermore, when you drove off Professor Snape (and I don’t know how, but I did hear your lessons ended because of a fight, not because he thought you were ready) you made no attempt to win him back as a teacher, to acquire another teacher, or to learn on your own. Understand that I’m not telling you this because I’m angry at you, Harry. I’m telling you this because I know you can do better, and you need to do better, but as long as you keep blaming your lack of responsibility on other people, you’re not going to do it.
Harry had flown into a fury about the whole thing, and sent Hermione an angry three-page reply describing exactly how everything was someone else’s fault, and how Hermione didn’t understand how normal people couldn’t learn everything at a glance, like she could. He had fumed for days, got into a fight with Dudley, from which he naturally came off the worse, and in doing so focused his aunt and uncle’s general dislike of him into immediate animosity. While locked in his room, he had found a draft of the letter he sent Hermione less than a week earlier, and been dismayed at how whiny it seemed. Checking back to compare points to her letter had driven him to the depressing conclusion that she was right. He really never had tried, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault but his own. He’d sent her a short note (“Ignore my earlier ravings – summer makes me stupid. I’ll try to do better.”) and set about trying to live up to it.
For the past two weeks, he had ended every day by turning off his light, sitting on his bed, and saying, “I will not avoid lessons that I do not like. It is not Snape’s fault I would not learn from him. It is not Dumbledore’s fault I would not talk to him.” After this, he practiced clearing his mind, as he should have done that spring. He did this grimly, as a penance offered to Sirius. It was not pleasant, but clearing his mind, at least, became easier.
Yesterday, he had awoken thinking that he needed to mark the end of the year and move on. He had started to write a letter to Hermione, telling her what he was intending to do, but after agonizing over it for several hours, he had decided it would sound much more sincere if he could actually say he had done things. Gritting his teeth, he had written a short note to Professor Snape, formally apologizing for intruding on the professor’s memories. After three minutely different versions, he had realized that it didn’t really matter what he said – Snape was never going to forgive him and couldn’t possibly hate him any more, so he was really just doing this for Hermione, or perhaps himself. He had taken his last draft and sent it off with Hedwig.
With his owl gone, he had not been able to send a letter Hermione right away. For marking the end of the year, he decided he needed some sort of ritual at the turn of his birthday, and he would write Hermione at the end of that. He had taken Hermione’s letter -- as a symbol of the end of the year -- and the first disciplinary notice from the Ministry of Magic -- as a symbol of the beginning of the year -- and bound them together with a ribbon from a present Sirius had given him. They were now on the floor in front of him, set on the emptied drop pan from Hedwig’s cage. It felt like an elaborate spell, Harry thought, as he fumbled with a match. He broke it in his nervousness, and had to start again with another.
“Miss you, Sirius,” he whispered, as he held the match to the two letters. The paper smoldered and caught, and Harry fanned the smoke towards the open window, thinking fiercely:
This year is over. Next year will be better.
The fire went out twice and needed to be restarted, but the smoke wafted outside, and neither the smoke detector nor his relatives noticed. When the letters had been turned to ash, Harry carried the drop pan to the window, slid it through the narrow opening, and blew the ash out into the night.
Go. You are the past.
Afterwards, he returned the drop pan to Hedwig’s cage, then went and lay down on his bed. He kept his eyes on the display on the small digital alarm clock. When it reached midnight, he would say his new sentences, write a new letter to Hermione, do his exercises, and then go to sleep. He looked at the paper on which he had written the new sentences. He had wanted positive statements, but the last one was still clearly reactive:
I am responsible for my actions.
I will learn what I need to learn to protect myself and my friends.
I will ask for help when I need it and accept help from qualified people, even if I don’t personally like them.
Harry shrugged. He couldn’t think of any better way to say what he meant. Maybe a month or two of this would make it clearer. He returned his attention to the clock.