Long after the incident that came to be known officially as the Battle of Sacrifices, (though all who were actually involved scoffed at this, since 'the defeat of Lord Voldemort' worked just as well, now that there was no real need not to say his name, and was certainly far less melodramatic) there would still be debate over what exactly transpired.
Some wizards claimed that Harry Potter defeated Voldemort by using all of his emotions to create a spell of greater power than Voldemort's precautions could counter. Others supposed that Potter was somehow able to use the powers he had gained from Voldemort as a baby, powers the Dark Lord had failed to realise had been transferred, to beat the evil wizard at his own game – these people gave Harry odd looks and practically crossed to the other side of the street when he got too close. Others still said that he simply withdrew a Muggle knife and, in his rage at witnessing the murder of Sirius Black, planted it in the Dark Lord's chest, which only worked because Lord Voldemort had never contemplated the possibility of dying by Muggle means. It was hard to tell, because the body had been completely incinerated by the time any Ministry officials arrived. Everyone speculated about that, as well; whether Potter had burned his enemy as some final revenge, or perhaps just as a sort of closure, or maybe (and probably) just to make sure it was over.
At least that way, there could be none of that 'one last scare' rubbish that Muggle horror films seemed so fond of. A dead man was undeniably dead when he was little more than ashes being blown away by the wind.
Whatever the story truly was, Harry Potter himself certainly wasn't telling. When he'd been asked how he did it, he just gave them a bitter sort of smile and said that he hadn't done it; it had been Sirius Black who had defeated Lord Voldemort. The press would have none of it, of course. Harry Potter had been destined to defeat the Dark Lord, the Chosen One, and he was the only one still alive at the end of the fight. Plus, he was a far more glamorous hero than a scraggly looking convicted murderer, and so that was that as far as they were concerned.
All that anyone could say for sure was that after Harry Potter allegedly defeated the most powerful Dark Lord in centuries, he'd failed to return to Hogwarts when the new school year started. The school was, of course, remaining open despite Dumbledore's death, since there was no longer a threat of huge proportions due to which parents would fear being separated from their children.
The press had no idea where Harry Potter had gone. If pressed, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley might have said that Harry had initially returned to Godric's Hollow for a short while, though he had long since moved on, and neither of them knew to where. Hermione was very quick, though, to assert that Harry intended to return to Hogwarts the following school year, after he'd had a bit of a break. Even she didn't believe the truth of her words.
For the moment though, as only Harry Potter himself knew, he was at Grimmauld Place. It had passed to him when Sirius died, since the man had apparently had the foresight to leave a will. And to take the blood inheritance ward off it, at that, since a house that Harry couldn't even get into wouldn't have been of much use. It wasn't that Harry particularly wanted to keep the place – it was really quite creepy, when it came down to it – but he was glad that the wards hadn't deprived him of one last visit to one of the only places he'd felt remotely safe, and one of the places he'd been able to spend time with Sirius. Certainly, he had learned a lot more about Sirius and even Regulus during his short return there.
He found it ironic, of course, that he should return to the Black House after Sirius's death when he'd told the man himself that not even him being there would ever make Harry go back.
He would have gone anywhere on earth or beyond if it meant he could see Sirius again.
But then, Harry had made up for the irony straight after his visit by doing what Sirius would have done if he could. Harry didn't think he'd ever seen a fire quite as big as the one that burned the house of Black to the ground. It had been… well, magical.
It had been his even shorter return to Godric's Hollow that had prompted his return there. For all that he'd been nearly choked by bittersweet memories of Sirius, he'd decided that it truly couldn't hurt to indulge them just for a little while. If he didn't properly mourn while the hurting was fresh, he was worried that he might never be able to later, when and if his life had regained whatever form of balance could be called normalcy in his tumultuous world.
Then again, he wasn't sure he'd ever recover properly regardless. It was true, he found, what they said about there not really being life after war. Certainly, he could settle into a life. But it wasn't really his life. His relationships all felt different. As he'd begun to realise after Dumbledore's death, even Ron and Hermione seemed so much younger than him. How could they possibly understand him when they hadn't had to repeatedly pour poison down a man's throat as he begged them to just kill him, hadn't had to murder someone just to stay alive, hadn't had their first real lover kill himself for them in front of their very eyes. Those differences seemed to put years between them. Harry wished it wasn't true, but there was nothing to be done for it. He'd wondered how much more pronounced it would be if he finished out his schooling the following year, as Hermione insisted to all who had listen that he would.
He found that he at least actually still got along quite well with Remus Lupin, even though neither the Order nor Sirius stood as a bridge between them any longer. He thought that that helped, at least a little. Remus knew what emotional anguish and suffering was, and he knew how it felt to miss Sirius like a constant physical ache. Most importantly, he knew not to press Harry to talk about it or to move on.
The owl post that found Harry as he travelled about, seeing those places of the world that were mostly untouched by Voldemort's corruption, became face-to-face encounters once Harry returned to Britain. He enjoyed chatting away about inane things to a man that he knew already understood the more complex things about him. And Remus also seemed to be the only person who actually had any clue what Sirius had meant to Harry. He had suspected that something was happening back before Harry had even really considered it, and it had been confirmed to him the moment he'd seen Harry once again after Sirius's death. It was the look in his eyes, he told Harry. It was different from how one would look after they lost a friend, or a parental figure. Harry tried not to remind himself just how Remus might have grown familiar with such a look.
As it was, Harry himself saw it far too often in the mirror. He'd encountered it for the first time, not on the battlefield when Sirius had died, and not when actually looking at himself, but reflected in the script of a man who hadn't yet lost the person he loved, but rather knew that he was going to have to leave that person behind.
For that was what Harry had found at Godric's Hollow, and what had inspired him to take the time first to remember Sirius, and then to remember that there was a world outside Voldemort's influence. One letter, quickly scribbled sometime before Sirius had trailed after him on that last venture out to face Voldemort, had been left waiting for him on a bench. It said all that he and Sirius could not have said to each other in the heat of the moment, because they'd really been just too stubborn for either one of them to just say it already. It read:
So here we go. The only godfatherly advice I'll ever give you. Follow it for me, will you? I'd hate it to go to waste. Well, you have your life ahead of you. You once told me that all you ever really wanted was to not have to die. Don't stress about the future. Don't mourn me, or focus on the past. Do something that really matters with your life, because otherwise you might as well have died with me. Live in the moment, and love as I loved you, as if I never hurt you like I'm sure I have. I don't know if you loved me quite like that, though you told me that you loved me, and it doesn't matter. Either way, you gave me something worth dying for, which is something self-important evil prick like Voldemort could ever take away. That's all I ever really wanted.
All my love,
It may not have been the romance of the century, at least to anyone else's eyes, but Harry had certainly cried over its loss when he read the note, as well as several times since then.
Merlin, he still had no idea what he was going to tell Ginny, who expected them to pick up where they had left off now that the main threat was gone and most of the Death Eaters had been captured. That relationship seemed decades ago. Harry was stunned to think that he'd left her about a year ago, though they'd never officially broken up. It had been a year since Dumbledore died.
How time flies when you're fighting for your life.
It was three months after the defeat of Voldemort – after Sirius had died – when Harry had decided what he wanted to do with his life. He had, of course, taken Sirius's parting words to heart. One of the things that mattered in the world, and mattered most to him, was werewolves, with Remus having to deal with turning into one once a month. Snape, whom he had finally managed to be civil to, had scoffed at him, claiming that one couldn't work with werewolves unless they actually had potions knowledge, and that relying on the stolen notes in a book – Snape's book, it turned out, and didn't that idea burn a little – would not be sufficient out in the real world. He, and everyone else, was surprised when Harry, instead of looking for a cure as they'd thought he would, campaigned for werewolf rights and set up networks of all kinds. He was, after all, not a genius in any field. He had no chance of finding a cure where all others had failed. He wasn't stupid. He was, however, famous. Nothing worked like fame and adoration to influence the political world.
And if he spent the next several years ignoring the ever-growing closeness between himself and Remus, well, that wasn't stupidity, that was just him remembering that Remus was twice his age. It wasn't that he didn't want to heed Sirius's advice about love. It was just… well, really, one could only have one grand romance that defied all rules, boundaries and common sense in one lifetime.
And, of course, if by the time Harry was nearly thirty the age gap started looking a lot smaller, that was hardly an excuse to suddenly jump into bed with the man who had been his best friend since he still was a teenager.
Then again, who did he really think he was kidding?
Author's Notes: Mostly this was written because back in late 2006 I had to write a Harry Potter fic for a particular fairytale prompt (Prince Ivan and the Grey Wolf), which anyone who's read it will know is basically the perfect setting for a Horcrux hunting fic with Sirius in it. Even though I swore I'd never write a Horcrux-hunting fic at all, how could I not go there? But, actually, I was astonished at how easy it was to make the story AU enough to fit that fairytale. The only point at which this purposely goes AU from canon is Voldemort making Sirius a Horcrux instead of Harry. Everything else (including Sirius having just enough of Voldemort in him to actually kill Peter before Peter could get away, and the many, MANY consequences of that) actually just logically flowed from there. Weird.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, and that it was hopefully just different enough from other Horcrux-hunting fics that I don't have to hide my face after caving and writing one. ;)