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"I think it's war soon," Einar said with a laugh. "At least with the goblins. We've gotten control of your vaults in Gringott's, and we have a team there overseeing the removal of the Black and Potter wealth and property from their grasp. Needless to say, this does not make the goblins very happy with us."

"Is your extraction team likely to be hurt?" Harry asked with worry.

"They're getting combat pay for this," Einar replied. "I'm serious. We sent our best combat extraction team on this mission. When your vaults are removed from their control, easily one-fifth to one quarter of the Galleons in the wizarding world will no longer be under their control."

"Excuse me?" Harry squeaked. "I own twenty to twenty-five percent of Britain's wealth?"

Einar's grin was infectious. "Yes, and once all that lovely gold has been converted to a more usable form, you will be the wealthiest wizard in the world, I believe."

"Well, at least I can keep these ladies in the manner to which they would like to become accustomed," he said with a smile.

"Naked and sated?" Heidi asked with a purr.

"That would certainly save on clothing bills," Einar added with a loud bark of laughter.

When the laughter had died, Harry looked at the group. "It's nearing the end of September now. I would really like to return to Hogwarts at some point, if only because our friends are there. How soon before you think that's possible?" he asked Einar.

"I expect that the first full week of October should be good. Severus Snape is in custody, Albus Dumbledore is on the run, and the goblins are in a fury. The Chang family has been served with papers demanding the return of the bride price that you paid, since their cancellation of it makes it appear that they negotiated with you in bad faith."

"On the good side," Cho said, "now that we're married, they can't say anything about the contract one way or the other. And we finally tied you down long enough to add Heidi to the mix, so we're all happy."

"Now we just have to face Riddle and survive the experience," Harry said, "and then we're all good."

"I have something for you, Harry, that just might help with that," Einar said. "Come with me." The foursome followed the gnomish leader out of the room.

Ron grumbled "I finally get my head out of my arse enough to realise the reason for studying, and everything goes to hell. No potions, and all the other classes are for six until we can sort out the teachers."

Lavender cocked her head. "Wait, you want to study?"

"I know, I know - who am I and what have I done with the real slacker, Ron Weasley, right?"

She giggled slightly. "Well, you have to admit -"

"I do. It's just that I . . . I miss them, to be honest. I'd like to sit here with them and enjoy their stares of incredulity at me suggesting that we study." He noticed that Lavender was staring at him. "Surprised that I know a word like 'incredulity' and even how to use it, right?" He chuckled. "I've been a drag on them for a while. They're going to need support someday, and I am damned well going to be worth something when it comes to them. If they need me at their backs, whether it's facing V-Voldemort or as support against the sheep in the wizarding world, I want to be someone that they know that they can trust. I've had the Creeveys start to teach me what they can about the Muggle world, in case I need it. I need to contact Bill to see what he can help me with."

She was smiling at him. "Ron?" she asked. "Did you know that you're actually kinda sexy when you're focused?"

He raised his eyebrows. "Me? Sexy? I don't think so. And if you're wondering about how I treat women, I suggest that you talk to your room-mate and her sister."

"Yeah," Parvati said. "You and my date treated Padma and I badly. And no one ever grows up, right? If Lavender hadn't made the move first, I'd be trying to jump in your lap myself right now."

Lavender's eyes met Parvati's, and a moment later the dusky beauty nodded, which seemed to make Lavender turn back to face Ron. "Ron? What's your thoughts on Harry being married to Cho and Hermione? More precisely, the fact that the kiss we saw between Hermione and Cho hints at something more than friendship?"

"It's their lives. I don't have a say."

"Very adult of you," Parvati said with a chuckle. "What she's wondering is if the concept of Cho and Hermione . . . together . . . disgusts you."

He blushed to rival his hair. "Ah, no," he finally said. "Disgusts is about as far away as I can think of from what I'm actually thinking." At Parvati's amused eyebrow raise, he said. "Sixteen? Male? Likes girls? You already think I'm an uncouth savage, so I'm safe in saying that it's similar to the reaction most guys - me included - have to thinking about you and your sister naked in the same room. You can't possibly hate me more."

"Hard enough to pound a railroad spike into a six inch board with your penis?" Lavender asked in a purr, breaking into laughter when Ron squeaked in response. She looked around the room for a moment and said, "What does the thought of Parvati and me on a bed together, naked and sweaty, do for you? Or more precisely, to you?"

"Look at his robes," Parvati murmured softly. "I think you've got your answer."

He shook his head. "You're an evil woman, Lavender," he finally said with a laugh. "Now that was proper revenge for what I did to Padma and you in fourth year, Parvati."

"What was?" Parvati asked.

"Putting that image in my head. You know that I'm probably going to add your sister to the image, being the teenager that I am."

"How about if we put it in your bed as well as your head?" Lavender asked.

"I couldn't be that lucky, nor do I deserve to be that lucky, if I'm honest with myself. It's a nice thought, though." He reached down to pick up a school book, but found Parvati placing them nicely in his book bag.

"Let's talk," she said, grabbing one arm.

"Yes, let's," Lavender said, grabbing the other. She steered them to the stairs leading to the boys dormitories.

October first came, and with it came the anger of Voldemort. "How did that child manage to do what I have never successfully done," he raged. "He has Albus Dumbledore on the run! And in the process he has managed to remove my spy within the thrice-damned Order of the Phoenix as well! We need to strike, and soon. Perhaps we can hit the Ministry and free Severus, if we can cause a sufficient diversion elsewhere."

"If I may, My Lord?" Lucius Malfoy asked. At Voldemort's nod, he continued. "Hogwarts is too easy and still too obvious a target. My son mentions in letters to me that the Aurors are everywhere on the grounds."

"Are you suggesting where not to attack, or are you showing cowardice, Lucius?" the Dark Lord hissed angrily, pronouncing the elder Malfoy's name as three distinct syllables.

"My apologies, My Lord. I merely wished to show the logic for my suggestion - Diagon Alley. From what my son tells me, everyone seems to think that the Muggle-loving fool has remained in the area awaiting your attempt on the structure. Given a choice, I would never hit there until the Ministry were mine. Were I in your shoes, My Lord!" he added at the end.

"I know that you enjoyed being in power during my absence, Lucius, and that is likely why you made no effort to locate me during my years as a spirit. Do not think that I have forgotten, or that I shall ever forgive the betrayal."

"No, My Lord. I do not deserve such."

"No, you do not. But our goals are the same in this case. Take over the Ministry, and eventually the entire world. Perhaps I will permit you to govern Australia if you please me. Your suggestion of attacking Diagon Alley is a good one, given what you say of the Auror contingent. If we properly stagger the attacks, we can likely have most of the remainder of the Aurors removed from the Ministry before we attack there."

"Yes, My Lord."

"Oh, Lucius?"

"Yes, My Lord?"

"Remind me to cast the Cruciatus on you when we return from the mission, to remind you of your place."

Lucius paled. "Yes, My Lord."

I do so love doing that to these people. They will actually remind me to do so, under the assumption that I will make it worse if they fail to remind me and I remember it later. He shook his head. Sheep. No wonder it's so easy to gain control here. Dumbledore did it through being the vizier, as did Lucius. I prefer a bit more honesty in the process.

Half an hour later, two teams were ready. Fifty were ready to attack the Alley, while a smaller team of twenty prepared for their assault on the Ministry. "Today we take our rightful place in the world," Voldemort said as they prepared. "Today, after these assaults, we will own the Ministry, and with it, wizarding Britain." The assembled crew of Death Eaters cheered loudly. "Now go and take your place within the world, where you belong!" Another cheer exploded, and fifty of the assembled men disappeared.

"In fifteen minutes, the rest of us will arrive at the Ministry's Apparation point," Voldemort said. "We gain control of the Ministry before we begin freeing our fellow fighters."

"Yes, My Lord!" they replied in unison.

Harry smoothed his robes again. "You look fine," Hermione said.

"Better than fine," Cho added.

"You look good enough to eat," Heidi finished, an evil twinkle in her eyes.

"One-track mind," Hermione said with a laugh.

"Haven't heard you complain yet," Cho replied with a giggle.

"Ladies," Harry said. "Please stop. It would be really bad form to get me to the Ministry just in time to rip your clothes off and have my way with you."

"Why?" Heidi asked in an innocent voice.

"Because they'd put us all in separate cells," he replied. They responded by pouting humorously.

"I know it's necessary," he said after everyone had calmed down, "but I really don't want to go to the Ministry, even if I do supposedly have supporters there."

"I find that I trust Madam Bones," Einar interjected as he entered the room. "She does not let politics get in the way of doing her job. That is a rare find these days."

"And Susan's been raised to be just like her," Hermione said. "I may be jealous of that figure of hers, but I trust her with . . . oh, Harry," she moaned as he walked up behind her and hugged her tightly to him.

"Susan doesn't get me this way, sexy," he said, nibbling her ear. "My sexy little genius does, though."

"We've got to go to the Ministry, Harry," she moaned. "You've got to swear out a . . . why are you doing this to me?"

"Because you're hot and he has trouble keeping his hands off you?" Cho volunteered. "It's an understandable problem, really."

Harry kissed her neck. "No more talk about whether or not some girl has a better figure than you. I'm not married to Susan, or Hannah, or Pansy Parkinson -" he paused for a theatrical shudder, "- I am married to you three."

"I think if it gave her access to us, that Lovegood girl would enjoy being number four," Heidi said.

"That's your choice," Harry said. "If you three think she's worthy, then I'll get to know her better. But nothing more than good friends for now." He sighed. "We keep getting off track. I need to visit the Ministry and swear out the complaints. Let's get going."

They appeared in the Ministry's Floo system and walked over to the bank of elevators, after registering their wands with Eric Munch at the security desk. "Do you ever actually sleep?" Harry asked with some amusement.

"Sleep? What's that?" Munch replied with humour. "Haven't had knowledge of that since I got this job."

"Sorry to hear that, mate," Harry answered him as the made for the lifts.

The doors opened on Level Two and the group stepped off smartly. They were led to Amelia Bones office, where each of them began the process of filing complaints against both Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape. They'd been there no more than five to seven minutes when alarms went off in the Ministry and an Auror ran in. Simultaneously, Harry grabbed his head.

"Attack in Diagon Alley! Death Eaters! Lots of them!" the Auror yelled.

"Send as many men as you can to -" Madam Bones began.

"No!" Harry yelled. "Aurors, yes, but . . . damn, he's broadcasting but good. Keep more here than you normally would. I think that the Ministry is his second target, if I'm reading him right."

"You have a link to that bastard?" she yelled. "Why wasn't I told?"

Harry stood and barked in her face, "Because it wasn't your damned business!"

"You've a link to our foe. I'm supposed to fight him. It damned well is my business!" She was nearly screaming at him by the end.

"Send Aurors to Diagon Alley, but keep more than normal here," Harry said through clenched teeth. "You can throw me in Azkaban for not being your secret weapon later."

"This isn't over," she growled as she left the room.

"Oh yes it is," he said softly. " He stood and walked to the door. "Finish those complaints if you want, ladies, but I have no intention of remaining in England for them to be served when this is done. I have the suspicion that today ends the problem with Riddle." He exited the room and walked through the now empty Auror's offices to the hall containing the lifts, Einar and his wives behind him.

About fifteen minutes after the Auror came in screaming about Diagon Alley, Harry winced and stumbled. "They're in the Ministry's Apparation point. Voldie's with them. I'm going to meet him."

"No, Harry!" Hermione said.

"Yes. I'm not going to challenge him to a duel, don't worry. He doesn't fight fair, for one thing. What I will do is use Einar's secret weapon on him and see how he handles that." He opened the door to the stairwell and headed toward the Atrium.

It was chaos in the Atrium. The Aurors were pinning down the Death Eaters for a moment, but then Voldemort showed up. He swept his hands apart, sending Aurors flying, and several sickly green bolts flew at the flying defenders. None of the Death Eaters seemed to be as talented with aim as Voldemort was, however.

He strode to Amelia Bones, who was rising to her feet. Gesturing, she slammed against a wall, spread eagle. "Now, my dear Amelia, I believe that it is time to get some information from you. First, what are your defences here at the Ministry?"

"Go to hell," she ground out.

"Lucius? Teach her the error of defying me. I want her alive and conscious enough to answer further questions, however."

"Yes, My Lord," came the voice that Amelia had heard all too many times before.

"Might as well take the mask off, Lucius," she said. "We all know who it is under that mask."

"Unless he orders me to take it off, it remains on, Madam Bones," the elder Malfoy said with an amused tone to his voice. His wand came out of the end of his cane and he lashed at her lazily with it, slicing bloody lines in her arms and face. "Now, would you like to tell him what he wishes to know, or would you rather face the Death of a Thousand Cuts?"

"I'll die before I tell you anything willingly," she growled.

"Quite possibly," was the silky reply. "But not by my hand, unless he orders it." He slashed a few more times, and more gashes appeared in her flesh.

"Now, Amelia," Voldemort said in his silkiest sibilant voice, "I've let Lucius have a little fun with you to make you talk. Would you like to discover what made the Longbottoms insane, or will you talk to me and tell me what I wish to know."

"You're supposedly all-powerful, Riddle -"

His wand jabbed toward her and she screamed for a moment. "DO NOT CALL ME BY THAT NAME!"

"Why not, Tom?" she gasped, followed by another scream as he slashed angrily at her. Flames belched from his wand and burned a line across her body from left shoulder to right hip.

"Kinda what I'd expect from a coward like you," came the voice of Harry Potter from further inside the Ministry. "Is torturing a woman who can't fight back giving you a stiffie, Tommie boy? Or do you keep her restrained because you know that she can kick your scaly worthless ass?"

Voldemort spun. "Potter! You've just earned a slow, painful death for those comments."

"Yeah, yeah, I've heard it before. You failed when I was a baby, you failed my first year, your diary failed second year, and boy did you fail when you got your body back. You didn't even bother trying yourself a few months ago. You tried to get Dumbledore to do the work for you, because you knew that you were too incompetent to do it yourself."

One of the columns in the Atrium exploded as Voldemort fired a bolt of pure energy at it. "Come out and fight me, Potter! I'll strip the flesh from your bones! I'll peel your muscles from your frame! Then I'll let Bellatrix have you! You'll spend months dying!"

There was a loud explosive sound, as if a giant had Apparated into the Ministry, and the back of Bellatrix Lestrange's head disappeared in a spray of blood and brains. "I think you'll have to scoop what's left of her brains back in before she can do anything, but I think that she's down for the count right now, Tom," Harry said.

"Interesting spell you used, Potter," said the dark lord, a startled look on his face for only a moment. "I didn't know that you had it in you to cast such destructive magic. Perhaps you -"

"Oh, spare me," Harry interrupted. "I've used something you don't understand, you half-blooded moron, so you think that you can suddenly convince me to join you? Maybe if you hadn't spent years trying to kill me I'd believe you, but that's a little unlikely now." A moment later, another 'giant Apparation' happened, and another Death Eater looked a bit surprised for the split second he had available as his brains exited through the suddenly appearing large hole in the back of his skull.

"That's had to hurt," Amelia said as she watched him fall. She noted the small hole in the front of his skull as he fell like a marionette with his strings cut. Seems as if Potter is using a Muggle firearm.

She watched with interest as a small red dot appeared on the robes of the man before her. She smirked at Lucius. "Hope your will is made out properly, Lucius," she said.

"You expect to win the day?" he asked incredulously.

"You personally won't," she replied just before the explosion happened again, spraying bits of elder Malfoy across the Death Eaters behind him.

"I have him mast-ARGH!" came a shout from behind one of the columns. A smallish fat man came stumbling out from the column cradling his arm where a hand once was. Potter came out right behind him, kicking the man's knees out from beneath him.

"Oh, you're good," Riddle drawled. "You've killed Bellatrix - which is impressive, by the way - Gibbons, and Lucius, and managed to even undo the help I gave to Pettigrew. But now you're in my territory. I can see you, and if I can see you, I can kill you. AVADA KEDAVRA!" Harry deftly stepped out of the way of the incoming spell and pointed a short dark device in Riddle's direction. "Do expect to be able to harm me with -"

Amelia noticed before the report of the device that there was a red dot right between Riddle's eyes, where the top of his nose would have been, had he a nose. A moment later, there was a small hole in the same spot, and utter silence in the Ministry, save the echo of the gunshot, as the back of Riddle's head exploded outward, and he fell to the ground. No mist or ghost arose from the body, and many of the Death Eaters screamed and clutched their arms, falling painfully to the ground.

Harry merely sheathed the weapon back in its sheath and walked away from the group. "It's safe, girls. You can come out now."

"How did you know?" Cho Chang asked as she came out from behind the corner near the lifts.

"Would any of you actually been willing to sit up there while I was down here being stupidly heroic?"

"Well, no," Hermione Granger replied.

"Well, shall we see how the others fare?" he finally asked as he turned to face Amelia and the others. She had been released from the wall the moment that Voldemort died.

They had gotten Healers into the Ministry at an astonishingly rapid pace, and one of them was putting the finishing touches on Amelia Bones as they approached. "Just make sure you put this cream on until the scars are all gone, and you'll be good as new," the Healer was saying. "And take it easy for the rest of the day, Amelia?"

"You know me too well, Joyce, to ask me to not work. I'll be easy on myself." The Healer nodded, and Amelia Bones turned to face Harry. "It's going to be interesting. You've dealt with the Dark Lord, but in a manner that many are going to complain about."

"They want him back so that he can be fought in a more wizard-y manner, they can resurrect the bastard, but I'm glad he's dead, personally."

"Not a terribly politic thing to say, but certainly an understandable one," she said. "Now we should get back upstairs and finish the complaints you were filing."

"Yes, I think you'd rather not hear what I have to say out in front of reporters and everyone." She narrowed her eyes, but ushered him back toward the lifts.

Once in her office again, she looked at him narrowly. "Now that you're here and alone, what is it that you'd like to say to me?"

"Actually, I thought that you could finish your thoughts about how I should have kept you aware of Voldemort having an in into my head," he said, his arms crossed angrily.

"Yes, let's talk about a valuable resource not being available to the Aurors. Do you know how many attacks could have been stopped if we'd known about that connection?"

"No, and neither do you!" Hermione snapped. "Ignoring the fact that he's his own man despite everything that the wizards have done to make it otherwise, the first time that Riddle had an attack planned and it was thwarted by Harry's knowledge, he'd have stopped using the connection."

"I needed every tool at my command to fight him!" Amelia shouted.

"Well this tool is done," Harry replied. "He's finished being Dumbledore's tool, and he's not about to be yours either." He shook his head. "Amazing how free the wizarding world in Britain is with other people's rights. Take the pureblood's toys away, and they'll scream, but yanking from someone else? Go right ahead!" He stared her in the eyes. "I am finishing my schooling at Hogwarts, assuming something else doesn't crop up. From there, it is extremely likely that I will simply leave you to your own devices. I am not part of this world, and it has never made any effort to welcome me and make me part of it. I see no reason why I should bend over backwards to fit in when people like Dumbledore and you both feel that you have the right to decide how I live and die." He spun and stalked from the office, the other three right behind him.

Dark Lord Ascendant?

by Rita Skeeter

The wizarding world sings the praises of Harry James Potter, Defeater of You-Know-Who. And we should party - a madman is finally gone for good.

But should we sing the praises of a child who might well take over the mantle of the one he killed?

Fact - from his own mouth he has admitted that he had a mental link to the dark lord.

Fact - he feels separate from the wizarding world, and blames us for that feeling.

Fact - he has been directly involved with the situation that has led to the goblins clamping down on the wizarding money supply.

Fact - there was a prophecy that stated that he would win against the old dark lord, but that care should be taken to avoid the next dark lord rising in his place.

Think about that. If there was a mental link, then can we help but wonder if perhaps he is merely the newest vessel for You Know Who. He appears to be waging economic warfare on a people that he states he is not part of, blaming us for that separation.

Are we teaching the newest Dark Lord at Hogwarts?

"Is there any reason I should stay?" Harry asked in the common room of the suite he shared with his wives. "I'm looking at the way the school is reacting, and to be honest, with the exception of the Gryffindors, Padma, and Luna, I can't see anyone worthwhile in this school. Remus is giving me looks that are making me nervous, and I'm really wishing that the legends about silver being instantly fatal were true right now. The teachers largely seem to be in Dumbledore's court, so I'm getting minimal help from them. Poppy Pomfrey is no longer here, so there really aren't any teachers that I trust here anymore."

"Smart thinking, young master Potter," spoke one of the portraits. "Many a teacher's meeting recently has been taken up with the question of how to rehabilitate Dumbledore's image, and they feel that it will best be done by either discrediting or . . . removing . . . you."

"I take it, from the pause, that the type of removal would involve a very nice, elaborate party in my honour that I wouldn't be there to enjoy? Except maybe as a ghost?"

"Precisely. I would recommend that you find a way out of this school before the calender year is up, young master."

"I believe that I shall," Harry replied. "Thank you for the information. You have likely just saved my life."

"That was my intention," the portrait replied with a smile before leaving the frame. The other portraits took the hint and vacated the room.

"Interesting," he said. "The portraits are on my side, apparently. The teachers, on the other hand, aren't. This really makes my decision. I need to contact your parents and have them contact Einar for me. I want the three of us, as many of the Gryffindors as we can manage, Luna, and Padma out of here and into different schooling. Specifically, I want us out of Hogwarts as soon as possible. England will follow shortly, and I'll let wizarding Britain have the government that they so desperately want. They want a Dark Lord? Let 'em have Dumbledore in charge."

The group sat on the balcony enjoying the sun. Harry, Ron, and Neville were enjoying the warmth - more precisely, what it led the girls to wear. Or not wear, as the case might be.

Luna was the most dressed of the ladies, wearing a pair of high-leg bikini bottoms. Heidi was the least dressed, wearing nothing but a smile. At three months pregnant, she was just barely beginning to show the tell-tale bulge. Hermione was enjoying the attention she got from walking by in the smallest bikini bottoms that didn't qualify as a thong.

"Have I told you recently how bloody jealous of you I am, Harry?" Ron asked conversationally. "You have the four hottest girls on the planet running around wearing almost nothing, and you're married to three of them. I think the fourth is just waiting for the others to tell you it's okay to touch her."

"We're just waiting for him to ask," Heidi said with a smirk. "And thank you for your assessment of my appearance."

"I just wish Harry shared." He paused. "Well, to be honest, I wish that you girls could find me half as attractive as you find Harry."

Harry never even sat up or uncovered his eyes as he said. "If she's willing, Heidi would probably be your best best to make love to first. She's already pregnant. Maybe you and Nev could double-team her."

"Harry!" Hermione squeaked. "I don't know whether to be shocked, angry, or -"

"I'd go for horny," Luna said. "That Harry can do something about much easier." She bit her lower lip. "I know that it's a much easier state to stay in than the others."

"With the four of you around, I can vouch for that," Harry said. "Since I have the okay from the others, if you're agreeable."

"I've been agreeable about that with you since I was fourteen," Luna said dreamily. For once, it didn't sound spacey or insane or the beginnings of a prophecy - this was the dreamy voice of an aroused woman about to make love. "I've been that way about Cho since I was eleven."

"My first realisation that I liked the way girls are put together was during third year. There was a point when Hermione was in jeans and she bent over. I thought my zipper was going to explode. Managed to hide it, but I noticed girls from that point on."

"You didn't hide it too well," Hermione said with a grin. "That bulge fuelled a few fantasies of mine. I just thought that you were reacting to Parvati, who happened to be wearing a very thin bra that day and was advertising that it was cold in the castle."

"Huh," Harry said, obviously trying to remember that day. "I don't remember Parvati or Lavender or anyone else nearby."

"Are you dreaming about girls again, little brother?" came a female voice from inside. Kaatje Houghtailing walked out into the sunlight in a minuscule bikini, now making her the most dressed woman on the balcony.

He jabbed a thumb toward Heidi. "Doing a little more than dreaming, Katie," he said with a laugh. That was as far as he got, because the balcony was suddenly under spell fire. The shielding on the house held, but there appeared to be quite a bit of spell work to be repelling. The gnomes would be along soon, but they could be gone by the time that happened.

He looked up into the sky and narrowed his eyes. He hadn't had to use the unusual ability to see magic before, but it looked as if it might be necessary. He saw several riding brooms, who seemed to be leading the ones on the ground.

He slid inside and climbed to the small cupola that their beach house had. He had not understood why Luna had insisted on this specific place, but he was beginning to understand it, and if they came out of this clean, had every intention of kissing her so hard that Neville's toes curled.

He squinted again and began firing on the broom riders. Since none of the spells that wizards cast moved at the speed of light, he managed to get off three shots at the four fliers, and a fourth shot was speeding toward the last one by the time that the first three hit.

As the first three fell, he quickly Accio'd them toward the house. He doubted they'd still be alive, since he'd used destructive spells, but it might allow them to know where they'd come from.

Dropping quickly to the ground floor again, he saw that the attackers had apparently managed to make it to the balcony area, and the sight of bare breasts apparently had confused them. There was a pile of injured people on the ground, which was soon joined by three more after three loud thumps. The others had either regrouped or disappeared. Hermione was holding her stomach, and Harry could see blood leaking out from between her fingers.

As had happened when she'd been hurt at the Ministry, his brain shut down. All he could see was her lying on the ground, and he began to hyperventilate.

They had finished disarming and tying up the captives when two things happened simultaneously - the gnomes appeared, and a final loud thump happened on the balcony. They looked to see Harry flat on his back.

A quick check proved that he had fainted from hyperventilation, verified by him shooting upright a moment after awakening screaming "HERMIONE!"

"I'm all right, love," she murmured to him. "It wasn't as bad as it looked. I took a ricochetted blow from a Cutting Curse. Enough to cut me, but nothing more."

"Oh, thank Merlin," he said shakily. "All I could see was the Ministry, after Dolohov hit you."

"I'm alive, and after this has been cleared up, I'll let everyone you're willing to allow in to check out whether or not my skin is blemished from the cut and subsequent healing."

"Let's see who these individuals are," the gnome captain said. He rolled several of them over, and each one bore the same insignia on their robes.

Each of the individuals in question was an Auror.

"How are we going to deal with them?" Harry asked Einar. "It becomes blatant that the British Ministry has no qualms about attacking foreign soil. We were on the French Mediterranean beach when the attack happened."

"Well, I have every intention of taking this international. I believe that we can get an embargo going, which will allow us to carefully wage war on the goblins as well. By the time this is done, Harry, you will be the wealthiest man on the planet, most likely. As it stands right now, I've been converting your gold into property, several of them within Britain and even wizarding Britain. You currently own about ninety-five percent of Diagon and Knockturn Alleys. You might want to look into fireproofing for Knockturn Alley, by the way. It's a fire trap down there."

"Do I own 93 Diagon Alley?" Einar nodded. Harry turned to Ron.

"The twins are about ready to kill someone, and I mean that seriously," he said. "They've stopped talking to Mum and Dad, effectively disowned my sister, and they're talking to Percy again." At Harry's expressive eyebrows, he added, "Perce has never trusted Dumbles. When it seemed like you were Dumbledore's man, he wanted us to distance ourselves from you. Needless to say, he's not the world's best talker. He'd like to talk to you at some point, to see where you stand on things."

"Works for me. Make him come here. See if he can handle four beautiful women wearing almost nothing."

"Five, if you'd like, brother mine," Kaatje added with a laugh.

"If you honestly don't mind? Feel free. I'm not stupid enough to say no to a pretty girl running around topless, even if she is my adopted sister." He turned back to Einar. "If you work it right, you might even get him here on the Ministry's dime."

Percy Weasley walked into the house in the French Mediterranean with a sense of worry. He had never gotten along terribly well with Potter, so he didn't think that this was going to go too well. But he had to make an effort.

He blinked repeatedly as a short Asian girl - Chang, I think? - walked toward him wearing a sarong around her waist. That appeared to be all she was wearing, since an astonishing amount of leg was visible as she walked.

"Thank you, Mr Weasley," she said with a smile.

He shook his head and blushed. "My apologies, Lady Black. I should not be staring at another man's wife."

"Why not?" Harry asked. "If she doesn't mind you looking - and I'd say coming to greet you dressed like that is probably a hint that she doesn't - then it's merely good manners to enjoy the beauty that is available."

Percy relaxed very slightly inside. This might be a test, but at least he's not cold to me, or openly angry. this might be the more dangerous mode, though.

"Come out onto the balcony, Percy," Harry said. "We can talk there, and you can get as comfortable as you want."

He followed Harry onto the balcony, and quickly readjusted his robes. There were five very attractive women on that balcony, and none wore a brassiere of any sort. He found himself staring at Hermione Granger for a long moment, before blushing furiously.

"She has that effect on men," Harry said with a chuckle.

"I still don't know why," she said. "I still think of myself as a stuffy little bookworm."

"With the best body any of us have ever seen," Ron said from the side. "No offence, Cho."

"None taken. What do you think caused the problems in Harry's fifth year? I wanted her as much as I did him, and I couldn't admit it, even to myself."

Percy sat down on the offered chair, and smiled as he did. This was the smile of someone who was in his element. "Thank you, Mr Potter," he said.

Harry grinned. "You've recognised what we're doing, then?"

"I didn't until I sat down. The chair is comfortable, but not quite comfortable enough. It's a standard trick in the political game. Between that and having five very attractive women here - three of whom you are married to, I believe - all in varying states of undress, it was meant to throw me off balance."

"We can talk," Harry said suddenly. He waved his wand at Percy's chair and it morphed slightly, becoming much more comfortable to sit in. "It's up to the ladies if they want to dress."

"I'm comfortable," Luna said, which was quickly echoed by the others.

"What changed?" Percy asked.

"You explained that you knew what we were doing. If this were a truly adversarial meeting, then you would have stored that information and let it colour your decisions. Instead, you told me that you saw what I was trying, which I took to be a sort of peace offering."

"It was intended as such. May I explain myself to you, to explain why I have changed in my attitudes toward you?" At Harry's nod, he began. "As soon as I entered Hogwarts, I was struck by the forcefulness of the Headmaster's personality, as everyone is. But something unnerved me about him. I wasn't sure what, but he simply did not seem to be . . . I have yet to find a good description for what I mean, but would you understand me if I say that he was too right? He always seemed to have the solution, and know what was best." He shrugged. "And then you came to school, and he changed again. You became his focus, and I began to notice how the rules seemed to change for you, or you would be forgiven for things that no one else would be."

Percy sat back in the chair and rubbed a hand across his face. "I admit that I was jealous for a time. But then . . . I've only seen proof of it in the last year, but I had the feeling for a long time that Dumbledore felt that he had this grand vision for the wizarding world and that only he could bring the world to where it needed to be. Very much what You Know Who was like, honestly. He seemed to be turning into a Dark Lord, but a Light one, if that makes sense."

"Evil done for Good's sake is still evil," Harry said. "Being willing to let me die at Voldie's hands was part of that."

Hermione got a faraway look that they all recognised by now, and Harry adjusted his clothes to hide the reaction that it always caused. "'Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.' Then by reasons as my great desire for wisdom and understanding I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One, and said: 'Lord, is it then true as the Ape said that thou and Tash are one?' The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said: 'It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services that thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds, that no service that is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swears by Tash and keeps his oath for the oaths' sake it is by me that he has truly sworn though he know it not and it is I who reward him, and if any man do a cruelty in my name then though he says the name 'Aslan' it is Tash whom he serves and it is by Tash that his deed is accepted.'" She shook her head. "C.S. Lewis. 'The Last Battle'. Lewis and Aslan would agree with you, Harry."

"Eidetic?" Percy asked absently, and smiled as she nodded. "I thought so. You looked as if you were reading it without the book in front of you." He shook his head. "Back to what I had been saying previously. I developed my problems with you because you seemed to be helping Dumbledore with his plans to subjugate our world into his 'loving' tyranny. The name of Potter carries great weight."

"Except when they want to skewer me in the press."

"Even then, Mr Potter," Percy replied. "It is a way to keep you under their thumb, as they see it. If they have you worried about how the press sees you, then they have control over you."

"Why are you here, though?" Hermione asked.

"Because I work for Dumbledore now. He finally acceded to the public's demand that he take the office of Minister, simply because they wanted to keep you from taking control. He is the only wizard that you are afraid of, apparently."

"Ah, so he's come down on the 'Voldemort took me over' side of things?"

"No, but since you live here in France now, it's a simple thing to say. And he knows that you place yourself under British law once again as soon as you set foot on British soil. He has negated all your marriages, planning for you to marry Ginny if you return."

"I'm the next Dark Lord. Why would he want me sullying a Light-sided pureblood family like yours? Could it be the fact that he can cheat the money out of your family after I'm Ginny's husband and he's had me killed?"

"I don't know the people who raised me," Percy said sadly. "I never saw them as the type to throw a young man to his death. But conversations with them make it clear that Mother, Father, and Ginevra are all aware - and are unhappy about - that you 'must' die." He sneered. "What disgusts me is that they believe that you should be married to Ginny before that happens, in order to keep the money from reverting over to the Dark, with Draco Malfoy."

"I'm not sure exactly what we can do," Harry replied. "I want to stop Dumblemort, because it's just a matter of time before he starts using some other method of extending his control. He'll use something to extend his life, I'm sure." His tone turned deeply sarcastic. "After all, if he dies, then he must leave the world without his uniquely clear vision of the way that the world must be. It will be a hard decision for him to forego 'the next great adventure', but for the good of the wizarding world, I'm sure he'll make that sacrifice."

Percy was scowling by the end. "I don't see anything other than war, unfortunately."

"I do, but it's a last ditch effort," Harry said. "I rather like life, so martyring myself on that man's altar is the last thing I want to do."

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked him, a dangerous look in her eye.

"Putting myself in a position where I get killed by a known Dumble lackey, without defending myself. This is a last-ditch effort, assuming that I don't simply decide to let England self-destruct. Sorry, Percy, but I'm more interested in living with four incredibly sexy women than I am in fixing yet another problem caused by British wizarding racism and complacency."

"I understand." He paused. "Four? I count five."

"The fifth one is Kaatje Houghtailing, the woman that Dumbledore kidnapped? She's sort of a sister to me." He grinned. "A damned good looking one, but a sister."

"Neville Longbottom seems smitten by her," Percy said with a smile.

"You'll note that she seems to return the interest, too," Harry replied.

He finally looked back to Percy with a serious mien. "So how are you going to work dealing with Dumblemort? Obviously you're here to make some attempt to convince me to return to England, and it's going to fail. This will not make Dumbledore happy. But he needs to explain why we ended up defending ourselves from more than eight Aurors, considering that's how many were unconscious or dead after their attack on us."

"He defends himself by saying that you are a wanted criminal and that you will not return to England willingly, and that the Aurors were brave and loyal fighters for the side of Light. You have been charged with the murders of the three that you say were riding the brooms."

Harry thought for a long moment. "Tell him that I am willing to meet with him, but that he and his entourage must meet me in a foreign country. I would suggest The Netherlands or Switzerland myself - specifically The Hague or Geneva, respectively. We'll likely settle for somewhere in France - likely Paris or maybe Nice."

"Why, Harry?" Hermione asked.

"Well, he's got a problem. He needs me back and marrying the people he is trying to force me together with, so that he can cheat those people out of the money and use it for whatever purposes he has for it. Or maybe he will leave it with them - I don't know. But he needs me to return to England to fulfil several of his plans before he has me killed. He's likely to do that with someone that he can throw to the dogs, in case things go badly."

"Probably his closest advisor," Percy mused. "He repealed some of the werewolf laws and hired Remus on board. That alone brought most of the werewolves into the fold."

"What I want is the meeting to show off just how crazy he is. I want him to explain how he wants me to marry someone when his own government wants me in prison. He also needs to admit that he wants or wanted me dead."

Percy nodded. "And doing it in a non-British environment should help your case. The attitudes of the past are coming back to bite Britain on the arse, if you'll pardon the language."

Heidi threw out a statement. "Mr Weasley, have you ever been checked for Empathy?"

"There are those who would tell you that I have none," he said, looking at Ron.

"I was angry, okay?" Ron said with a shrug. "I'm sorry I said that."

"Actually, it's quite likely that he began to fight it, if it was telling him things he didn't wish to know," Luna said. "That happens with most seers, to be honest."

"Perhaps," Percy said. "But it makes no difference to the job ahead of us."

"I know one of my demands, though," Harry said as Percy started to rise.

"What might that be?" Percy asked.

"Amelia Bones' head on a pike or a platter. I don't appreciate her sending her Aurors after me any more than I appreciated her telling me that she had a right to use me as a weapon or tool. I'd thought she was different, but she was just another power abuser."

"Actually," Percy said, "she was relieved of duty - cashiered out - when she began to argue against Dumbledore and his attitudes. You must have made an impression, because she publicly blasted him for treating you no better than a weapon or tool to use and throw away." Harry's eyebrows rose at that.

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