A/N: Here it is, the end! Thanks of course to Bonnie for spending a large amount of her time beta reading this story. It's much better than it would have been had she not helped so much. You rock! Thanks also to all those who have reviewed, followed, and favorited this story. I'm glad that people have enjoyed it.
You won't be seeing anything new from me until at least January, at which point I'll either be posting some new potential intro chapters (probably Worm crossovers) or the next installment of the Iris Potter series (finally!). The former is more likely than the latter.
Recommendation: A Finger of Suspicion, by Old Toad. In this crossover between Harry Potter and New Tricks, UCOS is tasked with solving a 1981 "gas explosion" which killed at least a dozen people on a London street. The case has never been solved because none of the surviving witnesses could remember much about what happened. The only evidence they have left is a bit of a man's finger.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, JK Rowling does. I don't own Wonder Woman, DC does.
Chapter 24 - Epilogue: All You Need is a Strong Heart
Nine Years Later.
The stone corridor stood silent and empty, waiting. Then a burst of flame lit it up, and four women in flowing white robes appeared. The phoenix whose tail feathers they were holding hovered briefly before landing on the shoulder of a brunette with chocolate-brown eyes.
The youngest, a redhead with green eyes, stepped forward and looked around.
"It hasn't changed. I mean, it looks as if we might have walked out yesterday."
"Instead of nearly a decade ago?"
Rose gave her friend an aggrieved look; it was an old argument. "I'm sorry, Hermione, I just... I couldn't."
"I know," Hermione replied, her voice soft with sympathy. "But avoiding this place hasn't been doing you any favors."
Rose sighed. "That's probably why Fawkes brought us here instead of directly to her office."
"Flaming right into her office would have been a bit rude, wouldn't it?" Mala asked.
"Come on," Diana said, putting a hand on Rose's shoulder. "Let's go find out what she wants and why she insisted we all had to come as soon as possible."
As a group they walked down the corridor, and as a group they all stopped in front of a familiar gargoyle. Once again, Rose stepped forward. "Hello, Professor Dumbledore," she whispered, raising one hand but not quite touching the stone. "I'm sorry I never returned, but after that day, and after all that happened that year, well..."
The gargoyle remained silent, neither accusing nor reassuring.
"Right," Rose went on, taking a deep breath. "So, uh, Headmistress McGonagall asked for us all to come, but she didn't give us the password. I don't suppose you'd—"
Without a sound, the gargoyle slid aside, and the spiral staircase began to rise up to the Headmistress's Office.
"Thank you, Professor," Hermione said as they mounted the stairs. Rose knocked and waited for a clipped "Enter" before opening the door. Inside, she found the room much changed from what she had known under Dumbledore. Gone were the many odd trinkets that had been scattered about. In their place were even more bookcases, all filled with old books of various sizes and ages. Rose couldn't miss how Hermione's eyes lit up.
"Good afternoon," McGonagall said, rising from behind her desk. Fawkes crooned and flew from Hermione's shoulder to McGonagall's, where he began to preen around her ear. "And hello to you, too, Fawkes. I got out Albus' old perch for you." Fawkes chirped in surprise and turned his head to where his old golden perch stood by an open window. He didn't hesitate to fly over and sit contentedly in the sun.
McGonagall smiled at the sight before turning back to her other visitors. "Please, have a seat," she said, gesturing to the chairs arranged in front of her desk before taking her own place behind it. "I'm glad you all decided to come, though to be honest I wasn't sure you would." Her gaze moved from one woman to the next before finally settling on Rose.
"We've... been busy," Rose said. She glanced at the others, but none of them rushed to support her.
"Hm," McGonagall replied as she opened a large book sitting on the desk. "I suppose that's true, more or less." As she flipped through the pages, Rose noticed that instead of writing, the book was filled with newspaper clippings. Though upside down, many of the photos were familiar.
"Are those about us?" Diana asked.
"Indeed they are," McGonagall said. "Once you left, I decided to keep an eye on the muggle press. I wasn't surprised to see that Rose began helping once you rejoined the Justice League."
Diana nodded. "She isn't a full time member, but does help with especially tricky situations. Mala and Hermione, too, occasionally."
McGonagall closed the book and tapped her finger thoughtfully on the cover as she looked them over again. "Would anyone like some tea?" she asked suddenly. The others declined, but she poured a cup for herself. She remained silent as she prepared it, then took a sip.
"I suppose you're wondering why I needed to see you all so urgently," she finally said.
"Yes, none of your previous letters or invitations sounded so desperate," Diana replied.
"It's gotten to the point where I simply cannot wait any longer."
"Wait for what?" Hermione asked.
McGonagall sighed. "I'm getting old. My time here is coming to an end."
There was an immediate outburst of surprise and concern.
"What's wrong? What happened?" Rose demanded. She took a quick inventory of the older woman's limbs. "Are you cursed?"
"No, no!" McGonagall said quickly. "Nothing like that! I meant, my time here at Hogwarts is coming to an end."
"So you're not ill?" Hermione insisted, her eyes narrowed.
"No more than is typical for a witch of my age," McGonagall explained. "But I am getting slower, and keeping up with my responsibilities as headmistress is getting harder. Frankly, I'm not sure how Albus managed, especially when combined with his duties in both the Wizengamot and ICW."
Hermione's expression lightened. "Time Turner?" she suggested with a knowing grin.
McGonagall opened her mouth to reply, then frowned and turned to look over her shoulder. The portrait of Dumbledore, which like all the others had been silent, showed him suspiciously asleep. Her frown was even deeper when she turned back to her guests. "An interesting solution that bears further study. Curious that it hasn't come up before," she said pointedly, and rather loudly.
"You've been here at Hogwarts for a long time, haven't you?" Diana observed.
McGonagall smiled thinly. "Fifty years this December."
"That long?" Mala asked. "You definitely deserve a chance to retire and relax."
"But what does that have to do with us?" Rose asked.
"I need a replacement," McGonagall said, once again fixing her gaze on the green-eyed witch. "I don't want to retire without being assured that I'm leaving Hogwarts in the best hands possible."
Rose stared at her in disbelief. "Professor, surely you can't possibly mean me?"
"That's absurd — I'm not the least bit qualified!"
McGonagall raised one eyebrow, then pulled out a sheaf of parchment. "As I said, I've been keeping my eye on you. All of you." She thumbed idly through the pages. "For example, I know that you and Hermione both sat for your NEWTs here in Britain despite not coming back for your seventh year. The two of you got EE or O in all of your exams, including all of the core classes."
"But that doesn't mean that I'm qualified to teach, much less do your job."
"There are also the many letters which Hermione has written to me," McGonagall continued, pulling out another sheaf of parchment. Rose shot Hermione a glare, but the brunette witch found something far more interesting on the other side of the room to look at. "According to Hermione, the two of you have made great strides in teaching the Amazons of Themyscira non-wanded magical subjects from our world: Potions, Arithmancy, even Runes. So I know you can teach, and I know you can administer a school, even if it's a relatively informal school of adult students."
"But... but this is Hogwarts!"
"True," McGonagall conceded. "Hogwarts does have high standards and a strong reputation to uphold."
Rose threw up her hands in exasperation. "Then why am I here?"
"Just because you aren't qualified now doesn't mean you can't be in the future," McGonagall said sternly. "Basic skills in teaching and administration can be easily taught, providing you have any aptitude at all. Those are things which almost anyone can do. But not just anyone can be Headmistress."
"I don't understand."
McGonagall sighed. "Being Headmistress here is about much more than teaching, hiring staff, signing parchment, and so forth. At its core, it's about caring for the students and the future they represent. It's about being willing and able to do whatever it takes to protect them, to teach them, and to help them create the future of our society. Even, and perhaps especially, when they don't appreciate it. The ability to make the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary is not something that just anyone can do, and it certainly can't be taught."
Rose looked over McGonagall's shoulder at the still-sleeping portrait of Dumbledore. "And you think that I...?"
"Think? I know you have them. I knew back in your first year, when I heard about you and your friends rushing off to save the Philosopher's Stone despite my admonition that you return to your dorm. Everything you've done since has only reinforced that impression."
"I don't know," Rose said doubtfully. "I've been gone for so long."
"That simply means you have perspective," McGonagall countered. "You have more practical magical experience in a greater variety of situations and knowledge of more cultures than most who have sat in this chair. Leaving Hogwarts before completing your education is a slight mark against you, but having been away is probably more of a benefit than not. You'd bring things to this school that no one else would be able to."
Rose fell silent as she considered that.
Hermione spoke up. "Headmistress—"
"Please, call me Minerva."
She smiled. "Minerva, why did you ask the rest of us here? Unless you hoped that we'd help convince Rose?"
McGonagall tapped the book again. "I'm not a fool. I know that the four of you are more or less a package deal, and if I want her to come, then I'll need to make provisions for the rest of you as well." She paused to look at Diana. "Well, most of the rest of you. I assume that you won't give up your duties with the Justice League."
"Us? Really?" Hermione sounded much more excited than Rose had.
"I hardly think that I could—" Mala started.
"I know that you and Diana sat for OWLs and later NEWTs in the same non-wand classes which these two have been teaching. I also know that the two of you have helped bring some of our magic to your people. In many ways, your accomplishments make you more impressive candidates than a British witch or wizard with the same scores."
"Wouldn't we need a Mastery in a subject in order to teach it?" Hermione asked.
McGonagall nodded. "Ideally, yes, and that's why I wanted to see you now, so there's time to take care of such details. My intention for you, Rose, would be to have you come serve as Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching assistant for the next year, then take over the position the following year. That should give you plenty of time to fulfill the requirements for a Defense Mastery. Assuming, of course, they don't automatically give you one for everything you've done already. After a year or two of full-time teaching, I'd start training you on my job, perhaps as Deputy Headmistress, and hopefully you'd be able to take over a few years after that. The more of my duties you can help with, the longer I can probably stay on to mentor you. I might even be able to say on for a couple of years after you officially take over, teaching a bit and offering advice."
"What about Remus?" Rose asked. "I thought he loved teaching Defense here."
"He does, but he's decided that he'd rather teach History. It's long past time that Binns moved on."
"Oh, he'd be good at that," Hermione said. "His books on the two Blood Wars were fascinating."
"Speaking of Defense, I assume you still haven't heard anything about what happened to Snape?" Rose asked with a scowl, and Diana put a hand on hers.
"Not a thing," McGonagall answered, "not since he disappeared a week after the battle."
"It does no good to dwell on him," Diana cautioned. "He's in the past—he doesn't matter anymore."
"I know, I know," Rose replied tiredly. What is it about this place, she wondered, rubbing at her temples. I haven't thought about Snape in years, yet I'm here ten minutes and suddenly all the old resentments come boiling up again. It's like I never left.
"If it'll make you feel any better, I doubt he's off somewhere enjoying the quiet life," Hermione offered. "He was a brilliant Potions Master, and as a Slytherin, he was also ambitious. I suspect he could have accomplished a great deal if he'd had the chance. But he likely can't continue to do major potions research, since that might attract the wrong sort of attention. And even if he is, he's not doing it under his own name."
"Which means there's no chance of his name going down in history as making any great discoveries or accomplishments," Rose finished for her, and Hermione nodded.
"It's a more appropriate punishment than prison, given all the years he spent actively working against Voldemort," Diana added. "Unlike Draco Malfoy, who's still in Azkaban for his crimes."
"Getting back to the subject at hand," McGonagall interjected smoothly, "Hermione and Mala could do something similar to what I propose for you, Rose. Filius has been speaking more often lately about retiring so he could travel, and Bathsheda has mentioned a few times that she's thought about moving to America to live closer to family. I'm sure they would both be happy to train teaching assistants while helping them achieve Masteries in Charms and Runes. Alternatively, we could always revive the position of Castle Warden for you, Mala, if you didn't want to teach." She turned to face Diana. "Of course, you'd be welcome to take that position instead, if you'd like. Since we're not currently facing a Dark Lord, I doubt it would interfere much with your other obligations."
Hermione, Mala, and Diana all looked thoughtful for a long moment, then as one they all turned to stare at Rose.
"What?" Rose asked once she realized she'd become the center of attention.
"I think they're waiting to see what your response is," McGonagall said.
Diana reached out and grasped Rose's hand. "We don't have to do this, but for a while now I've gotten the sense that you've been restless. As if you haven't been entirely satisfied with things."
"Have I?" Rose asked, her eyebrows rising. "I honestly hadn't realized." She considered that, then continued, "I suppose I have been looking for something else. Something more."
"You enjoy the teaching, just like you enjoyed running the DA in our fifth year," Hermione pointed out. "But there's only so much you can teach the women on Themyscira, and I think you're starting to run up against those limits."
"At least until we start having children," Diana added.
"Is that in the near future?" McGonagall asked, sitting up a bit straighter. "Is it something we'd need to plan around?"
"No, not yet," Diana answered. "The introduction of Rose and Hermione and their magic has opened the door for my people to have children for the first time, but not everyone is convinced that it's a good idea. We've been a static, stable community for so long that many are worried about what such a change would do to us."
"And how do you feel about it?" McGonagall asked.
"Oh, we definitely want children," Rose answered. "Even if no one else on Themyscira wants to, we will. But not quite yet."
McGonagall relaxed again. "Well, there are provisions for staff members who are pregnant or who have families, though they haven't been needed for some time now."
"I'm pretty sure that Dobby and Winky will insist on caring for any children," Mala said with a smirk.
Hermione groaned. "Please, don't mention babies around Winky! She's spends half her days planning out how to take care of them as it is!"
"As amusing as all this is, I think we're getting off topic," McGonagall reminded them, turning to Rose. "I hope you understand now why I've come to you. Why I believe that, with the proper preparation, you will be the right person to hand Hogwarts over to."
Rose exhaled heavily, and she stared off into the distance. She hadn't felt this off-balance in a long time. "I suppose," she finally, "but... this is a big decision." She looked back up at the Headmistress. "May I have some time to consider it?"
"Of course—there's no need to give an answer right away. But I will need one by the end of the month, because if you don't wish to do this, I'll need time to start making other arrangements."
"We made plans to use this visit to see other friends, so we'll be here for a few days," Hermione offered.
"I'll give you an answer before we leave Britain," Rose said as she stood.
McGonagall nodded, standing as well. "Thank you for coming," she said, then she met her former student's gaze with a peculiar intensity. "Rose, do give this serious thought. I understand why you left and why you didn't feel you could return, but things are changing. For the better. We really could use you. Hogwarts could use you."
The sounds of laughter and good cheer greeted them as they entered the Hog's Head that evening. Rose and Diana paused for a moment just inside the doorway, drinking in the sights and scanning the crowd for their friends.
"A witch and an Amazon walk into a bar," a voice with a familiar Irish lilt drawled from across the room. "Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke!" Seamus Finnegan, wearing a grubby apron, had paused in his labors bussing tables and grinned at them from ear to ear. A few years after his brother died, Aberforth had decided that he wanted to enjoy a bit of living before he died as well, so he sold his bar to Seamus. The young man had only acquired the money to buy the bar after placing a long-shot, drunken bet on the Chudley Cannons actually winning their final game of the 1999 season.
Rose didn't think the place looked much more respectable now than it had under Aberforth's management, but at least the glasses seemed to be cleaner.
She rolled her eyes at him but returned the grin. "Hey, Seamus!" She gazed around again, her brow furrowed. "Are Ron and the others here yet?"
On catching his name over the noise, Ron turned from where he was seated in the far corner and waved them over. Rose looked more closely and realized to her surprise that everyone was already there, they just looked a lot older than she remembered.
There were hugs and laughter and drinks all around, and for a while Rose enjoyed catching up with her friends too much to bring up any weightier subjects. Eventually, however, the topic turned to why they were back in Britain, and Rose dropped the bombshell of McGonagall's offer.
"Wow," Ron said, his eyebrows climbing into his hair. "She really wants you to teach? And later to run the school?"
"Are you going to do it?" Neville asked.
"Gee, don't get too excited or anything," Ginny chided before half standing and shouting across the room, "Oi, Seamus! Another round!"
"Sorry," Rose finally said. "It's just... Hogwarts is a difficult subject for me. There are a lot of good memories there, but a lot of bad ones, too."
"That's not the only reason, though, is it?" Ron asked. "I mean, you may not have come back to Hogwarts since you left, but you've barely visited Britain at all since the end of sixth year."
"It's not like I felt especially welcome that year," Rose shot back. "None of us did."
"No, you didn't," Neville agreed, "but things have gotten better."
"Would we actually be accepted if we moved here?" Diana asked.
"Would they accept Rose as Headmistress?" Hermione added.
"Some won't," Ginny admitted, "but after the war and everything you did, there's far more acceptance than you probably realize, especially among younger witches and wizards."
"The professors in Hogwarts have made a point of teaching about things you did," Dean said. "Some students complained at first, but Headmistress McGonagall tore strips off of anyone who even suggested that there was anything inferior or immoral about you. I don't think that many who've passed through Hogwarts since that year would have much to say against you, and they're the one's who will soon be sending their own kids there."
Neville nodded. "Even people in our year and a bit before have been coming around, despite how they treated you back then."
"Huh," Rose allowed, impressed despite herself.
"Of course, you'd probably know all this if you came and visited more often," Ginny said before helping relieve Seamus of the drinks he'd brought over. Included among them was a fifth serving of rum-infused cherries which Ginny dutifully placed in front of a glassy-eyed phoenix.
The four women had already resigned themselves to taking the floo back to Grimmauld Place when the night was over. No sane person caught a ride with a drunken phoenix.
"What's this I hear about you taking over as Headmistress?" Seamus asked.
Rose goggled at him. "Already? I only just told that story!"
Seamus grinned. "Gossip travels fast. I'll give you two-to-one odds that they're already talking about it in the Leaky Cauldron."
"Ugh!" Rose banged her head against the table.
"You're not helping. Scat!" Ginny said, making shooing motions with her hands as Seamus laughed and walked away.
"But seriously," Neville said. "Hannah and I will be sending our daughter there in a few years. I can't think of a better, more positive role model than you." He paused with his mug halfway to his mouth as he looked at the four women. "Than all of you, actually."
"You were already a good teacher and leader back in fifth year," Ron pointed out.
"She's gotten even better since then," Hermione added.
Rose sighed deeply as she looked around at her friends. She noticed then that the bar had fallen silent and that everyone seemed to be looking at her. Well, this is familiar, she thought sourly, averting her gaze. Do I want to subject myself to all of this again? Yet as the silence dragged on, she chanced a closer look at the faces in the crowd and found to her surprise that there was no desperation there, no expectation, no sense that she should just get on with her job already. They were simply... curious. Hopeful, even.
Maybe things have changed after all.
"This is... huge," Rose finally said. "I'm not even thirty! Am I ready for something like this?"
"Maybe you don't feel like it yet," Diana assured her, "but you will. You've accomplished a lot in the past nine years, after all, and Minerva will make sure you learn what you need to know."
Rose tipped her head, conceding the point. She looked at the others. "What do you all think?"
"Uh-uh," Hermione said firmly. "This is more about you than us. You should only accept because you want to do it, no matter what we think."
"Or what anyone else thinks," Ginny put in. "Merlin knows, you don't owe Wizarding Britain anything."
Rose turned to Diana, who took her hand. "I'll stand with you no matter what you choose — you know that."
Staring into Diana's bright blue eyes, Rose couldn't help but be reminded of the first time she'd looked into them. That had been at a bar, too. At the time, she'd been depressed and looking for... something. She hadn't known what, and when Diana had invited her to go somewhere new, she'd taken a gamble and agreed.
It had turned out to be the best decision of her life.
Rose took a deep breath and grabbed hold of her mug. Lifting it up, she said, "Alright, I'm in."