Bit by bit, torn apart, the battle wages on..

Under his Cloak, he stared at the massive toll the battle and taken. Families huddled together in bittersweet relief, glad for those who had survived while heavyhearted at their losses. Mothers' keening wails reached his ears filling him with guilt and shame. If only he'd acted sooner... Sobs from those he'd called friends reached his ears and the guilt intensified.

One group of family and friends drew his attention. The mother continuously hugged her children while heavy tears fell down her cheeks. She seemed to count each one, kissing them, before moving on to the next. The father kept his arm around the mother to keep her on her feet as much as it was to reassure him she was safe. The sons all stood stoically and stayed in close contact with each other while the lone daughter sat at the table, bent over with her elbows resting on her knees, hands covering her face as her shoulders convulsed in misery. Another girl stood among them, clinging desperately to the youngest son.

Tearing his eyes away from the reunion, they landed on the pound of flesh the Scales of Balance had required to right themselves again. To his way of thinking, they took more than their fair share. He stared at the cloth draped forms, some of which were much smaller than they should have been. Faces swam before his eyes of those fallen comrades he'd known. Fred, a smile forever frozen on his face. Tiny Colin who never should have been there. Remus, his last link to his parents. Tonks, whose klutzy ways and bright personality was at odds with her chosen profession. Snape was there amongst the shrouded forms, someone who had been misjudged for most of his life, who had more Gryffindor courage in him than most placed into that House.

Faces of others who had been sacrificed for the sake of the Light came, unbidden, before him. Sirius, the stubborn git, was always quick with a joke. Dumbledore, the greatest wizard known, who had passed on all his knowledge in the hopes the Light would prevail. Moody and his 'Constant Vigilance' motto. He may have been paranoid but he'd had every reason to be. Even Hedwig made an appearance, staring reproachfully at him with her wise yellow eyes. Then there was Goyle, a student, burned to death by his own hand. Bellatrix and her fanatical rantings, always taunting, causing pain and enjoying it. And, of course, Tom Riddle, whose lack of a loving childhood, started the whole catastrophe.

Fear, sweat, death, dust from the scorched stones, and burned wood combined into one horrific stench, turning his stomach. Blindly, he made his way out the main doors to a tree. Tugging off his Cloak, he bent over and heaved. Stomach finally empty, he shakily leaned against the tree and looked back at Hogwarts. The school stood, broken but not defeated. Of their own volition, his eyes sought out the massive hole in the wall where Fred had breathed his last. After a moment, they moved on to notice the missing tower, broken windows, broken doors and pock marked stones left by errant spells.

Not able to face the glaring proof of a battle having taken place, he turned on the spot and disappeared. The first thing he did upon reappearing was to check if he was, indeed, alone. To his great relief, he was. Feeling weary and chilled to the bone, he stumbled to the sitting room couch and lay back, praying for sleep. What little sleep that came, came in fits accompanied by flashing lights, friends dying, and buildings collapsing.

After waking to his own shouts for the fourth time, he got up and headed down to the kitchen. Rummaging through the pantry, he found some old firewhiskey. Remembering how brandy seemed to calm his uncle after a hard day, he shrugged. Dusting off the bottle, he poured a generous amount into a glass. Carrying both items to the table, he sat and took his first sip. Wincing at the burn as it went down, he coughed but took another sip. Before he knew it, he'd polished off his glass and was feeling as if he could finally sleep. The thought of climbing all those stairs was too much so he placed the bottle and glass on the little table by the couch in the sitting room. He lay back onto the couch and slept.

When he woke, his stomach heaved. Clearing away the mess, he gingerly sat up. His head pounded in an intensity that could have rivaled his scar pains. The room swayed so he lay back down. Turning his head, he spied the bottle and glass. He'd often heard his cousin mention hangovers and a way to get rid of them was to have a bit of the same drink you had gotten drunk with. Figuring it was worth a try, he reached out a shaky hand and poured himself a drink. He ended up spilling more than he got into his glass, however, and had to clean it up. Finally getting some into the glass, he drank it down in one gulp. Amazingly enough, ten minutes later, his headache slipped to a dull roar, the room righted itself, and he no longer felt nauseous.

"Huh, I'll definitely be remembering that."

A few hours were spent roaming the house. Exhausted beyond belief, he lay down again in the hopes of getting some much needed sleep. As soon as he drifted off, nightmares assaulted him. Jerking awake, sweating profusely, and shaking violently, he huddled in the corner of the couch. He stayed there for a long time trying to get the images out of his head. His head jerked up, wand out, at a creaking sound but he saw nothing.

"Probably just this old house settling."

His eyes landed on the firewhiskey as if it were a beacon. "What the hell, it worked the last time."

Pouring a glassful, he gulped it down and waited. Sure enough, the heat spread to his limbs and the shaking subsided. Realizing how late in the day it truly was, he was surprised no one had come to see him.

"Well, if that's the way they want it, then so be it. Can't really blame them. All those good people are dead because of me. They want to stay away, then let them. I'll even make it easy on them. Kreacher!"

The house-elf appeared with a pop. Before the elf could say anything, Harry brusquely spoke.

"I want this place sealed off from everyone and everything. No one gains entrance but you or me. I don't even want you to be able to bring anyone here with you. Disconnect the fireplace from the Floo while you're at it. Can you do that?"

"Of course, Master Harry."

With a quick flick of the tiny wrinkled hand, the house at Grimmauld Place became a fortress hiding away a broken, haunted hero.

"Master's friends are looking for him, especially the red haired ones."

"Oh, so now they're looking. Realized I'm not there, have they?" Harry asked scornfully. "Just tell them to quit pretending. They've shown their true colors. They can go on and live their lives. I won't be there to muck it up for them."

As he spoke, he began to shake once more. Seemingly of its own volition, the firewhiskey bottle lifted and poured more contents into the glass beside it. Automatically, he reached for the glass and gulped it as if it were pumpkin juice. Relief flooded through him as he, once again, felt calmer, numbing him to the hurt, anger, and guilt that had been threatening to explode.

"I want to be left alone. Go help with the clean-up or anything else they need you to do."

With that, Harry grabbed the now almost empty bottle, tapped it with his wand to refill it and grabbed the glass. He headed for a bedroom without a backward glance.