Chapter 46: The Sword's Decision

Sanctuary was chaos.

The wails of frightened babies and the whines of fretful children battled for place with a hubbub of adult voices, male and female, human and house-elf. Every few moments, another member of Order or DA, or one of the Red Shepherds, would appear at an entrance, escorting another small, bewildered group, then vanish again. The members of the DA who had already arrived were doing their best, with the house-elves' help, to keep everything sorted out, but for every family they got packed off to quarters which would suit them, two more were arriving.

"We're falling behind," Hannah Abbott said between her teeth, fighting to keep her composure, hold herself level and steady. "If we can't even do this—"

"That will be enough of that," said a stern, motherly voice, as an imperious hand was extended for the parchment on which Hannah had been checking off the various suites and dormitory accommodations Sanctuary had to offer. "You never expected to be housing guests this soon, or with this little notice, did you?"

"No, ma'am." Hannah surrendered her parchment and turned away to exhale a single, shaky breath of pure relief. She hadn't met Molly Weasley before, but if the resemblance to Ginny hadn't given the older witch away, her composure in the face of this cacophonous scene would have done so.

"You're doing quite well, considering." Mrs. Weasley studied the parchment for a moment, then swirled her wand three times overhead. Three large signs formed, hovering in mid-air, directing 'ADULTS ONLY' to the left, 'FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN SIX AND UNDER' on the right, and 'FAMILIES WITH OLDER CHILDREN' in the center. "How many of you are here at the moment?"

"Seven—eight," Hannah corrected herself as she saw Lindsay Jordan detach herself from a tangle of people who'd just arrived on the far side of the cavern, kiss Dean Thomas on the cheek, and start across the lawn at a lope. "Nine, with me."

"Excellent. Three on each queue, then, with as many house-elves as you think the Muggles can handle. Or the house-elves, for that matter." Mrs. Weasley chuckled. "They have some of the most peculiar notions of propriety to our ways of thinking."

"Yes, they really do." Hannah caught the eye of her various compatriots and waved them over. "Susan, Arti, Elayne, Padma, Parvati, Su, and Hannah," she said quickly, pointing at each girl in turn. "And Lindz," she added as that young witch arrived, breathing hard. "This is Mrs. Weasley, Ron and Ginny's mum."

"Pleased to meet you all." Mrs. Weasley glanced back and forth between one of the girls Hannah had introduced and Hannah herself. "Two Hannahs?"

"We call this one Highland Hannah," Artemis Moon volunteered, causing the witch she'd named to squeal indignantly. "Because she loves to read Muggle romance novels, the sort with men on the covers wearing kilts. And nothing else."

"I see." Mrs. Weasley nodded, but her lips were curving suspiciously on one side. "Highland Hannah, then, and you two, Padma and Parvati, will you take the queue with the older children? Try to get as many of them into the dormitories as you can, it'll let us keep the larger suites for the families with the younger ones—which, Su, Susan, and Elayne, if you could cover that? And Hannah, Lindz, and Artemis…" She made a shooing motion. "To the adults."

Hannah nodded and hurried off towards her assigned line, noticing in passing that the unruly crowd was already quieting and calming now that some form of order was being imposed.

But we still need something to keep the children happy, if we can find it…

A thought came to her. As the next house-elf passed her by, she tapped it on the shoulder, and bent down to whisper into a large, pointed ear. The elf nodded vigorously and disappeared, and Hannah joined her friends at the adults' queue, putting on her best 'I know what I am doing and everything will be all right now' smile, as taught by Professor Alice Longbottom the year before.

It's the face that got me through O.W.L.s, but will it work on a war?

Time to find out.

"Welcome to Sanctuary," she said to the next pair in line, a middle-aged witch and an older woman in Muggle clothing who was probably her mother. "Accommodations for two?"

Joanne was bored.

It wasn't bad enough that her big brother Chris had to have stupid magic (she didn't know why Mum and Dad were so surprised, she'd known the stuff he could do was freaky since she was a baby, and she was almost grown up now that she was six), but the magic people were having a stupid war and people like her and Mum and Dad were in trouble, so they had to pack up their things and run away from their home and live in a cave. Which was actually kind of awesome, but nobody was going to get her to admit that, not when she'd had to leave home two weeks before her big football game, and she couldn't even tell any of her friends why—

Movement across the grass (and how weird was that, having grass in a cave) caught her eye. One of the little, funny-colored, big-eared people who seemed to wear nothing but tea towels was walking towards the big crowd, and beside her (or him, Joanne couldn't tell), walked something four-legged, black, and very large—

"Dog!" shouted Joanne gleefully, and wrenched free of her mum's hand to bolt towards the huge, jowly creature. He cocked his head as he saw her coming, but made no other move, and she reached his side and held out a hand for him to sniff, then scratched behind his ears once he had done so, giggling as he turned his big, square head and solemnly swiped his tongue up her forearm. She could hear a small crowd of other kids behind her, but she'd been the first to start running and for these few, blissful seconds, the dog was all hers.

Having to live in a cave for a while might not be so bad after all.

"His name is Fang," Remus told the small sea of children, keeping part of his mind open to Danger, who was back at Headquarters, handling the Order's efforts to keep the damage from the Ministry contained. "But his bark is much, much worse than his bite. Fang, speak."

Obediently, the boarhound boomed out two of his basso barks, making the children laugh and poke each other, some of them imitating him.

"Fang is a very gentle dog. But if anybody hurt a person he cared about…" Remus stroked the side of the boarhound's muzzle. "Well, that just isn't a very good idea." Gently, he flipped back the dangling lip to reveal the assortment of sharp, gleaming teeth underneath it. "Is it?"

More laughter, as the five or six children who were using Fang as a pillow or backrest snuggled closer. Remus hadn't seen the boarhound this content since Hagrid's death, and wondered for a fleeting moment what might have been if his friend had lived.

If he and Olympe Maxime could have made it work…I could see Fang guarding a cradle that would make him look like a spaniel, and the babies steadying themselves on his back as they took their first steps…

"Look!" a little boy shouted, pointing across the lawn. "More doggies!"

"Wait," Remus said hastily, and just in time, as half the children seemed likely to surge up and stampede across the grass. "They'll come to us."

And what they're doing in here, instead of out there, I haven't a clue.

I sent them, Danger said into the back of his mind. We've got all the help we need here, the Red Shepherds have the warnings and evacuations well underway, and what are the odds Harry would try and sneak out to give them a hand when my back was turned? Whereas there, with both you and Sirius to ride herd on him, we have a chance of keeping him out of harm's way.

Because this is our work. Only he can do his. Remus stifled a sigh as the two dark-furred canines dropped to the ground beside the mass of children and were immediately mobbed. And isn't that something I never thought I'd be saying about the boy I raised.

And yet, because we raised him, how much more ready and capable is he? Danger blew an insubstantial kiss his way. Go deal with your masses of children. I've got plenty of adults acting like children over here, and that's worse.

No argument. Remus returned the kiss and let the link fall back into its semi-dormant state. "Yes, they are very pretty," he said to one little girl who was tugging insistently on his arm. "And they're also friendly. You should always ask first, you know, but these two are harmless."

Gray eyes and green shot twin looks of chagrin at him before half-closing in bliss as tiny hands scratched furred bellies.

"This one's name is Padfoot," Remus told the children, patting the stockier-bodied of the black canines on the shoulder. "And that one is just called Wolf."

"'Cause he looks like one!" crowed a boy who was rubbing between Wolf's pointed ears. "Do they do tricks, Mr. Lupin? Fang knows roll over—"

"No!" squealed a trio of girls. "He'll squish us!"

"Hmm. Tricks." Remus smiled at his Pack-brother and son. "What a good idea."

Padfoot sighed in a very put-upon manner and closed his eyes. Wolf, for his part, sat up, shedding children left and right, his ears twitching in a manner which would have equated to a devilish smirk in the human Harry. Slowly, he stalked closer and closer to his godfather, the children who'd been petting and stroking Padfoot squeaking in gleeful fright and scooting back.

Then he pounced.

Girls shrieked, boys yelled, and Remus was at some pains to explain how, precisely, one could tell that this was not a real fight. "This is how dogs play," he told the children, summoning his best adult-authority voice from the days when the cubs themselves had been this small. "They wrestle and mouth, and it looks like fighting, but see where they're biting each other?" Wolf's teeth closed around Padfoot's ear even as he spoke. "There's no force behind it, no blood, no yelping or snarling. If they were really fighting, those bites would hurt a lot, and you'd be able to hear them telling you so."

"But dogs don't talk," objected one boy, leaning back against Fang, who was regarding the whirling ball of fur with the tolerant dispassion of one who had outgrown all such childish pastimes.

"Oh yes they do. With their bodies and their faces." Remus pointed at Padfoot, who had dislodged his tormentor and was standing off a few feet. "Look at the way he's standing. He's braced on his feet, he's ready to jump any way. And look at his ears. They're lifted up, listening hard so he knows when Wolf is coming. But the big giveaway, for him, is his teeth. Do you see them?"

"No," chorused half a dozen voices, with one little girl adding dubiously, "Only when he's panting."

"That's right, only when he has his mouth open to breathe. If he really was angry and wanting to hurt, he'd pull his lips back like this and keep them there." Remus bared his own teeth and growled at both canines, who obligingly returned the favor. "But he only growls a little bit, and he lets his face relax again in between times. And sometimes—yes, see that?" As he spoke, Padfoot lowered his front half to the ground, then rose again. "That's how a dog says, 'Come play with me!' It's called a play-bow."

"Wolf did it back!" The same girl who had seen Padfoot's teeth bounced in excitement, pointing. "Wolf play-bowed too! That means they're going to play again!"

"Yes, it does. In fact—" Remus drew his wand and conjured a hunk of thick, knotted rope. "Why don't I give them a hand with that."

He tossed the rope into the air. In perfect synchronization, Wolf and Padfoot leaped to catch opposite ends, and came down already tugging. The children cheered, and Remus smiled with satisfaction and sat back to watch.

Because the best thing for these little ones, magical or Muggle as the case may be, is to feel comfortable and happy and at home here.

They might be here for quite a while.


Percy turned just in time to receive an armful of Crystal. "Hello," he said in some bemusement. "What's—"

"Are you all right?" Crystal pulled back to look him over. "There's blood on your robes, and a bruise on your face."

"The blood's not mine." Percy frowned at it nonetheless, and drew his wand to remove it. "And bruises heal."

"Yes, they do." Crystal flushed, for no reason Percy could detect. "I just…I was worried. When we heard what happened at the Ministry, and that you were there."

"It won't be so bad." Percy patted her shoulder, a bit awkwardly. "We got most of the people who'd be in any true danger out of the Ministry in time, and we're locating as many families as we can who have Muggle or Muggleborn members and offering them protection in Sanctuary, if they don't have relations somewhere else that they can go to visit." A thought occurred to him. "Your parents?"

"Already here. Fred helped me go and get them." Crystal grinned briefly. "Dad's offered his services if they need extra help guarding the entrances."

"That could get…interesting," Percy said guardedly, before turning as his name was called again, this time from behind.

"What," his mother demanded, holding out a brick of a reddish substance, "is this?"

Percy looked over her shoulder at Fred. "Moving the stocks out of the restaurant?" he asked.

"Restaurant and the shop," Fred returned. "It's too dangerous to have them anywhere in Diagon Alley now that the Ministry's gone. Not all the Death Eaters are as anti-Muggle as they say they are. Somebody could recognize it."

"And it is?" Mrs. Weasley repeated, her voice growing dangerously sharp-edged. "And if you try to tell me 'modeling clay', Percy Ignatius Weasley—"

"It's called Semtex, Mother." Percy relieved his mother of her burden. "It's a Muggle substance which, properly prepared, can be used as an explosive."

"And you thought it would be a wise idea to leave large amounts of it near a great many Muggles?" Mrs. Weasley glared at both her sons, including Crystal along the arc of her turning head. "Some of whom might well recognize it, and try to take some for their own personal use? Absolutely not. Get it out of here. Keep it where you can get it if you need it, I can see how it could be useful, but if I find one speck of it near these children—"

"How about Hagrid's Place?" Crystal suggested, sliding her words into the conversation with an ease which made Percy suspect her mother had similar habits to his own. "If we put it up in the rafters there, then nobody who doesn't have a wand will be able to get it down. And there are spells that will stop it from responding to anything common, like Banishing or Summoning, aren't there? So that they can't just get one of the magical kids to bring it down for them—they'd have to know the particular spell it's been told to answer to."

"That will do." Mrs. Weasley nodded shortly. "But it goes now, do you understand me?"

"Yes, Mother," said Percy and Fred in unison.

Crystal snickered.

Late in the evening of the day the Death Eaters took the Ministry, the proper combination of spells was finally discovered to stop the records in the rooms from dancing. The team of wizards and witches assigned to this problem breathed sighs of relief.

Their emotion, as they discovered upon reading the now-quiescent scrolls, was premature.

"What does 'Nice as nine, very cold den' even mean?" wailed one of them, clutching her hair with the hand not displaying the scroll to the rest of the group. "Or 'dive nor rivet fur bumper'?"

Severus Snape plucked the scroll from his colleague's hands and stroked his wand across the words. The letters promptly rose off the parchment and floated above it. "Obviously," he said in the tone he used with his slowest students, "the names and addresses of the so-called 'Muggleborns' have been scrambled. We will need to repeat our earlier work to unscramble them. One scroll, one line, at a time."

Groans rose all around the room.

"The Dark Lord won't like this," the witch moaned. "The Dark Lord won't like this at all…"

The Dark Lord did not like it, and said so in no uncertain terms when the news was brought to him, the snake-Inferius which ornamented the back of his throne raising her head in uneasy sympathy with her creator's anger. Bellatrix watched with gloating anticipation as the messenger cowered before her Master. Lucius, his fingers woven into Starwing's hair as she busied herself unconcernedly with her sewing, waited until the first blast of Voldemort's icy rage was past, then spoke just as the yew wand was rising towards its target.

"My lord, if I may?"

Without taking his red eyes from the whimpering wizard lying prostrate before him, Voldemort gestured abruptly for Lucius to continue.

"My lord, you wish to win this war," Lucius began, sparing the briefest glance of contempt for the messenger. "The only way to do so is to have the most complete and correct picture of happenings at all times. And the only way to do that, my lord, is to be certain that your followers do not hesitate to tell you the bad news as well as the good. If they fear your anger towards those who bring tidings you will not like, they will conspire to conceal their failures until what would have been a very small problem becomes too large of one to hide any longer."

"Do I hear you saying, Lucius," said Voldemort in his softest tone, "that I should not punish those who fail in my service?"

"By no means, my lord. Punishments are vital and deserved." Lucius smiled coolly. "But should they not be meted out to all who have failed you, not merely the one chosen to speak the unhappy word?"

Bellatrix cooed appreciatively, and Voldemort, after a moment's consideration, nodded. "You dare much, Lucius," he warned. "In this case, your daring was wise. But it will not always be."

"I hear your words, my lord." Lucius bowed slightly, his silver hair shifting to fall over his shoulder. "That course which balances bravery and wisdom must always be my goal."

Starwing folded the black ribbon at an angle and continued stitching.

Sirius was stealing a few seconds in Sanctuary's infirmary with Aletha when Rufus Scrimgeour began to stir on his crisp, white-sheeted camp bed. "Don't," he muttered to his wife, only half-jokingly, drawing her closer and forestalling her efforts to slide away. "Don't bother with him, I want you…"

"Stop that." Aletha freed one arm and slapped him lightly on the ear. "You know better."

"Sure I do. But every so often, the Marauder in me gets loose." Releasing her after one last kiss, Sirius followed her to the bedside. "So they got him here in time, then?"

"It was touch-and-go for a moment or two when he first arrived, but yes." Aletha shut her eyes, then opened them focused differently, as Sirius had seen their daughter do many times before. "Excellent. His body's responding properly to the Blood Replenishment Potion, his heart rate's nearly back to normal, and that wound is all but healed. It might not even scar."

As though the words had been an incantation, Scrimgeour groaned softly and opened his eyes, squinting in confusion until he made out Aletha's face. Sirius spotted the man's spectacles on a small table in the corner and, repressing the urge to cause more trouble, Summoned them, handing them discreetly to his lady.

"Good evening, Minister," Aletha said, smoothly passing the spectacles to their proper owner. "How are you feeling?"

"Surprisingly well." Scrimgeour ran his free hand down his side where he had been stabbed, then exhaled a long breath. "I suppose I have Percy Weasley to thank for that."

"Yes, you do." Through some arcane feminine art which Sirius could only admire, Aletha kept the words entirely neutral, free of either gloating or blame.

Or possibly it's a Healer trick. Merlin knows they see plenty of people hurt through their own stupidity.

"He defeated the two Death Eaters who'd used Ministry security uniforms to gain your trust, then performed the first aid which saved your life," Aletha continued, still in the tone of calm fact. "Unfortunately, the Ministry itself has been taken over."

"We think they're going to claim you were killed in the attack, along with anyone senior to Pius Thicknesse," Sirius added, feeling one ignoble thrill of glee at the combined shock and offense which stabbed across Scrimgeour's features at the name. "He's the highest ranked official they've been able to suborn."

"Merlin's beard and boots." Scrimgeour pushed himself upright and hooked his glasses onto his face. "Thick by name and thick by nature—though what right I have to be pointing fingers, when I couldn't tell who was and wasn't trustworthy—"

"They're good at picking out the people you'd never suspect," said Sirius hastily. He might not be overly fond of Scrimgeour, but no one had ever faulted the older wizard's skills in battle or as a tactician, and they would need all the fighters and planners they could get. "The ones who'll go unnoticed simply because they're so ordinary, so everyday, that you'd never give them a second look. Until suddenly they've got their wands in your face, or behind their backs, and your whole world's gone from under you."

"You would know." Scrimgeour regarded his hands for a moment, then offered his right one to Sirius. "I've had a few things wrong when it came to you, Black." His lips twisted, but he got his next words out clearly. "I apologize."

"Accepted, sir. And thank you." Sirius met the hand with his own, and didn't even have to trample on his glee very hard. "We got a fair number of people out of the Ministry before the broom went up. Every department's represented, though it's not always the top brass by any means. Still, we've got enough to set up a skeleton government, a Ministry in exile—"

"That's all well and good," Scrimgeour interrupted. "But it's got nothing to do with me any longer."

"Pardon?" Sirius plastered one of his dumber expressions across his face, both to give Scrimgeour incentive to keep talking and to hide his grin. That's right, come on, play into it…

"Politics, Black." Scrimgeour smiled sourly. "You never have liked them, have you? But you've learned to understand them, at least a little. What's bound to happen if the official Ministry's claiming I've been killed, and this 'Ministry in exile' of yours pops up with me as the leader?"

"It becomes a battle over you, doesn't it?" Aletha asked before Sirius could reply. "You become the issue, rather than anything else. Who's telling the truth about Minister Scrimgeour? And in the meantime, the rest of the issues—such as what's going to be happening to Muggles and Muggleborns under the new regime—get dismissed. People conveniently ignore or forget them, sweep them under the carpet. Which means the Death Eaters will have more or less a free rein."

"Precisely." Scrimgeour half-bowed in her direction. "So if I'm officially dead, let me be officially dead. I can do more good that way. Pick someone else to be your leader. Someone who's trusted, well-liked, well-connected. And I don't mean who they know," he added irritably at the look on both Blacks' faces. "Or I do, but not the way you're thinking. Someone who's an old Ministry hand, who's been around the pitch a few times." He narrowed his eyes at them. "Are you going to tell me you don't have a candidate in mind already?"

"No." Sirius shook his head. "But it won't be up to us. Or to anyone, really. We'll be starting the process out at the open-air arena in…" He glanced at his watch. "Probably about an hour now, depending on how long it takes for the new arrivals to taper off and everyone to get settled in. Anybody can come and watch, and I'd imagine an awful lot of them will…"

Harry sat just offstage at the arena, spinning his dagger on the polished floorboards in front of him, letting his ears give him an approximate count of people, Muggle and magical, filing into the seats and murmuring to one another. He wasn't sure he'd expected so many of them to come.

But the Muggles are going to be curious about everything, and the magical people are here because we spread the word that we were going to be choosing someone to lead us…

Planting a finger in the center of his dagger's blade, he stopped its spin. "I hope they accept it," he muttered. "The way we want to do it, I mean. It's like something out of a story—it is something out of a story—"

"So have one of them verify it," Ginny said from behind him, only not startling him because he'd caught a whiff of her scent a single instant before she spoke. "Call for a volunteer, someone who knows how to run a diagnostic spell, and have them do one in front of everybody, so the results are visible."

"That's not a bad idea." Harry turned his head to smile up at her. "What would I do without you?"

"I have a more important question." Ginny seated herself beside him. "What are you going to do with me?"

Harry chose to provide a nonverbal response to this, and only broke it off when a toe prodded him in the side.

"We're getting ready to start," said Hermione, pointing to the stage. "If you're ready?"

"And what if I'm not?" Harry squeezed Ginny in a one-armed hug. "What if I like it here?"

"Your mums just sat down out there," said Ron from beside his girlfriend. "And ours, Gin."

Ginny flushed and ducked out of Harry's embrace, scrambling quickly to her feet. Harry blinked at her. "Wait. We're married. We're allowed."

"Yes, but I'm still not sixteen, and since when did something being allowed mean a mum couldn't shout at you about it?"

"This is the truth." Harry brushed off his robes and got to his feet. "Who elected me the person to do the talking anyway?"

"You're famous," said Neville, coming through the curtained-off entryway with an unusually solemn Meghan at his side. "They'll listen to you just out of curiosity to start with, and by the time that wears off, you'll have their attention for other reasons. With anyone else, we'd have to explain who they are and why people should listen, and that would take time." He glanced upwards, at the cavern ceiling above them, mimicking the star-studded sky outside. "Which is one of the things we have the least of."

"Also the truth." Harry sighed, sheathing his dagger. "Right. Here we go."

After one more squeeze of Ginny's hand, for courage, he drew himself into a state of conscious alertness, as though he were about to fight or Apparate, and stepped onto the stage. The Pride flanked him, spreading out into a half-circle behind him naturally, as the predictable whispers from the audience began.

"Harry Potter…Boy Who Lived…"

As he'd been taught, Harry waited for the first wave of chatter to subside, then spoke.

"When I was little," he said in a normal tone, hearing the last of the whispering fade away as people worked to hear him, "I always wanted to curse people who annoyed me. So my godfather would teach me things he said were curses. It wasn't until I got to Hogwarts that I found out they weren't the kind of curses you use a wand to cast. Instead they were things like "I hope you drop a glass of water down your front' or 'I hope your hair gets so tangled up that you have to brush it for an hour'." He glanced to one side, spotting Padfoot without much trouble. "It wasn't that he didn't know any real curses. More that he didn't want my godmother getting him in trouble for teaching them to me."

The wave of snickering through the audience was gratifyingly widespread.

"But the worst curse of all of them, and the one we kept only for people who really, really bugged us, was 'I hope you live in interesting times'." Harry smiled. "I was just a kid, and I didn't understand why interesting times would be a curse. Until my godfather took some old history books off the shelf and showed me the interesting times. Then I understood. And now, here we are." He spread his arms, indicating Sanctuary and everything beyond it. "Living in interesting times."

Heads nodded slowly throughout the seats as people leaned forward, listening.

"The Ministry's been taken over by our enemies, but they're not going to admit that. Not to start with." Harry glanced once towards Hermione, standing statue-calm beside him. "'Kill all the Muggleborns' isn't exactly the sort of thing you can win an election with. So they're going to try to make everyone think it's business as usual, just a harder-line Minister than before. One who'll somehow discover that dozens and hundreds of witches and wizards have committed crimes—witches and wizards who just happen to be Muggleborn. Which is why we've asked you to come here, to Sanctuary, where they can't find you, and where you can help us fight. But to fight, we need a leader. And that's not going to be me."

"Why not?" called a heavyset wizard from the middle rows, over murmurs of confusion from the rest of the listeners. "If you're really the Chosen One—"

"The Daily Prophet came up with that, not me," said Harry, a little more sharply than he'd intended. "And the most important thing about it is that it keeps You-Know-Who's attention on me, instead of on a dozen other places he ought to be looking. If I'm the leader, he'll spot everything coming, we'll never get anything done. Besides." He shrugged. "I'm not even seventeen. Wouldn't you rather have somebody in charge who actually knows what he's doing?"

The question drew a real, rolling laugh from the audience, and Harry allowed a little of his smile to show.

Got them.

"What I have done, with the help of my friends, here," he said, indicating the Pride, "is find something out of the wizarding world's past. Something that will find what we need most right now. A good leader, someone we can trust, someone who can win this war for us. And someone who'll be willing to give that power back when it's over." Drawing his dagger, he twisted his wrist, mentally pronouncing Filio leonis and bracing his arm for added weight.

The audience gasped almost in unison as dagger blossomed into sword, silver blade agleam, hilt studded with rubies.

"Can I ask for someone who's good with diagnostic spells to step up here and show everyone what kind of magic is on here?" Harry asked, laying the sword down carefully, its engraved side to the stage. Invoking the name of Godric Gryffindor right now would only cause more confusion. "Raise your hands if you're—yes, please, the witch in the fifth row, with the silver hair, could you stand up? Thank you. Will she do, ladies and gentlemen?" he asked more generally as the woman rose, straightening her red work robes.

A few mutters made themselves known, but no one objected out loud to the choice.

"Excellent. If you'd step up here, ma'am?" Harry gestured towards the stairs, and the woman threaded her way out of her row of seats and climbed easily to the stage, kneeling down beside the sword and drawing her wand.

"Specialis revelium omnibus," she said without fanfare, and a series of smoke-drawn pictures erupted from the sword, drawing gasps from the Muggle portion of the crowd. "So let me see here." Tapping her wand against her lips, she studied the images. "As you said, Potter, this spell is meant to find a leader. To take the 'temperature' of a crowd, so to speak, and find a person who has both the ability to gain their trust and the integrity not to misuse it. A fighter, but a thinker too. And—intriguing." Her lips quirked up on one side. "Has to have at least one child, I see. Establishing a legacy."

"And is that the only magic that's on this sword?" Harry asked, trying not to frown as the suspicion he'd seen this witch before grew stronger in his mind. She had something to do with Padfoot, he thought, other than the obvious connection that they were both Aurors, but what, he couldn't yet fathom.

"Apart from a few incidentals like changing its shape when a better design comes along, yes, that's all." The witch dismissed the spell and got to her feet. "Would anyone care to check my work?" she asked the audience, one eyebrow elevated.

"Hold on a moment." The man who rose had been seated off to one side. His skeptical expression, as much as his jeans and T-shirt, made Harry suspect strongly that here was one of Sanctuary's Muggle inhabitants. "A sword is going to pick out the leader in this crazy fight?"

"It worked for Merlin," quipped Ron from farther up the stage, the wizarding section of the audience snickering in appreciation.

"In a story." The man glared around him. "But this isn't a story. These are our lives we'll be entrusting to this fellow, whoever he turns out to be, and I'm not too fond of the idea of blindly following someone just because a shiny hunk of metal likes him—"

"But we won't." Meghan had been sitting on the edge of the stage, dangling her feet off it, but now she in her turn stood up, looking at the man with all the certainty her silvery eyes could convey. "If we blindly followed, we wouldn't be us. We'd be them. The Death Eaters. Whoever he is, or she is, that the Sword picks out, will be a person who wants people to ask questions. Because that's the only way to make a battle plan good, or a strategy for a war, is for lots of people to see it and ask questions about it and find the problems with it before the enemy does. And besides." She looked around Sanctuary before returning her gaze to the man. "If we start fighting each other, then our enemies won't have to do anything. They'll just win by default."

"That's true," the man acknowledged, "but still, a sword—"

"Not the sword, but the magic on the sword." Harry bent and picked up the item in question, balancing it before him on its point. "The sword's just the vessel. It's the magic that's going to find a leader who's strong, and honest, and trustworthy. Who's ready to fight and to think, and to do whatever else needs to be done to win this war quickly and cleanly. For the sake of their own children and everyone else's."

The man sighed. "I suppose it's better than a popularity contest," he said, sitting down again. "But still. A sword."

That's going to be the catchphrase of the next three weeks at least, isn't it. Harry had to fight to keep his face straight. "But still. A sword." Like we were asking a flobberworm to do the picking or something! Though I guess, for a Muggle, the two are about equivalent.

Time for him to see what it's really going to be like.

Time for us all to see.

"Show of hands, please," he said, turning to the whole of the audience. "All in favor of accepting the decision of the Sword?" After a moment for everyone to look around and see the large number of hands in the air, he waved them back down. "And all opposed?" This showing, though present, was decidedly smaller. "All right, then." He drew his wand, a few more gasps rising from Muggles at the sudden appearance of the slender rod of wood in his hand. "Would everyone who's magical, who's willing to fight, and who has at least one child please rise?"

Off to one side, he saw Ginny crossing her fingers. You and me both, love…

"Constituo," Harry Potter intoned, tapping his wand against the pommel stone of the Sword of Decision.

A soft hum, like a distant hive of bees, was Harry's first indication that the spell was live. Then, faintly at first but growing every second, the rubies on the hilt began to glow, and the Sword rose into the air, Harry releasing it and stepping back as it pulled itself gently away from him.

Not that I wouldn't be willing, but like I already said, I'm not even seventeen. I'll handle the DA and the Horcruxes. Somebody who can inspire a lot more confidence needs to run the rest of the war.

Over the heads of the staring, barely breathing audience, the Sword floated, the hum of its power fluctuating in tone every so often as it moved slowly towards the back of the audience. Muggles gawked and reached out tentative hands, not to touch the Sword but to check underneath it for hidden pedestals or rods, Harry guessed. Some of them gazed not at it but above it, as if looking for wires.

I wonder, sometimes, if life wouldn't be easier if magic was only pretend. If we could just go find Voldemort and kill him, and know he'd stay dead. But then, we'd lose all the wonderful things that magic can do. Animagus, and Apparition, and flying—Muggles can't fly, or only in airplanes or helicopters—centaurs and merpeople, house-elves and goblins, thestrals and unicorns…

The Sword's hum grew louder, and Harry started to smile as he saw who it was headed for.

And I think we've just found the perfect person to lead us in safeguarding all of that.

Behind him, Ron breathed half a word in shock, then stood very still. Beside him, Ginny had her hands pressed against her mouth, imperfectly masking her smile.

The wizard before whom the Sword now hovered blinked at it several times, glancing to one side and the other as though certain there must be some mistake. When no relief was forthcoming, he sighed, squared his shoulders, and reached out as though to a friend.

The hilt of the Sword of Decision laid itself neatly in the hand of Arthur Weasley, and its blade came briefly alive with shimmering, dancing light.

(A/N: And if you are surprised by this, I direct you to the very earliest chapters of Living with Danger, and the description of the wizard who conducts Remus and Danger's dream-wedding.

Quite honestly, I thought Jo was going this route in canon, with all the emphasis she put on how much people liked and trusted Arthur in the middle books. Not that there's anything wrong with Kingsley, but he was introduced so much later, and didn't really play that much of a role, plus she would have had ALL the King Arthur mythos behind her…

Ah well, guess it didn't fit her Visualization of the Cosmic All. It does, however, fit mine, and quite nicely. Hope you're still enjoying! Next time: "Through Summer Months", with lots of moments from a strange and war-filled season. Let me know if you're missing any particular characters, and I'll try and see what they're up to!

Also, I would ask that if you have a few minutes, that you pop over to my website, annebwalsh dot com, and have a look at my last few blog posts (under "Anne's Randomness" in the left-hand bar). If you don't have the time, I'll summarize: while I do thank you all most truly for reading my fanworks, when a large number of people choose to consume only that portion of my writing for which they do not have to pay me in money, and also choose not to respond to that work and thus 'pay' me in time and attention, I can sometimes feel just a trifle taken advantage of. Thank you for understanding.)