They were all rubies now. Sapphires and topaz, emeralds and the true-red gems alike covered the cracked and dust-caked floor of the entry hall amid the chips of more common stone, all of them crimson now with shed blood that painted them the color this school had called heroic. Minerva knelt stiffly, biting back a moan as her own still-untreated injuries and the more subtle chastizement of age protested the night's hard combat, sliding away the thickening glaze of one with her thumb.

It was blue beneath, and her eyes closed, thinking of how she had transfigured stone to feathers barely hours ago to free Anthony from the rubble that had crushed his feet and legs. He was seventeen, only so barely, so technically not a child, but his chin was scarcely shadowed, his face lined only with pain when she had knelt over him. Hers was supposed to be the House that created heroes, but that night had broken all the rules.

Ravenclaws didn't fight. Hufflepuffs were soft. Children didn't die. Teachers could protect.

She slipped the sapphire into the pocket of her battered tartan dressing gown, sifting through others now on an impulse she didn't quite understand, looking for a true ruby and the golden glint of a topaz, but she was interrupted by a sound that made her fingers clench to an instant fist, her back stiffening as her lips drew to a thin, hard line.


The feigned little cough was unmistakable, and Minerva's voice was ice as she stood carefully, refusing to allow a single twinge of her own discomfort to show. "Dolores." The other witch was standing a few feet behind her, hands folded primly in front of her rounded belly, looking too neat and too put-together and sickeningly out of place in her fluffy pink cardigan and robes, that ridiculous bow perched so neatly atop her toadish head.

"So glad to see you're all right, Minerva," Umbridge simpered. "A woman of your age...I was so worried when I heard what had happened here."

"Thank you for your concern," she replied dryly. "I'm well enough. There are too many others who can't say the same."

"Oh, I know," Umbridge clucked her tongue with a rueful shake of her head as she looked down at the bloodstains beneath her delicate pink flats. "I have to wonder how things could have gotten so out of control here! Severus said he was trying to do his best, but it's such a shame those children were allowed to re-form that little trouble-maker's club I had TRIED to deal with. I spoke to Mr. Longbottom myself earlier this year, you know...such a sweet boy underneath, I think." She wagged a plump finger reproachfully. "But he needed a tight hand! Too much of an idealist, and I just don't understand how you could have let him get so carried away! All these poor little babies...oh, but I know that teaching can be SO overwhelming at times, isn't it?"

Minerva took a deep, slow breath, trying to keep her temper in check. "The situation, Dolores, was a little more complex than you are giving credit."

"For some, maybe," the viciously sweet smile widened, and she reached out to pat Minerva on the elbow with the very tips of her fingers. "I'm sure you did everything you could. We can't linger on regrets. Must move on, you know, learn from the mistakes of the past."

"Yes." Umbridge seemed surprised to be met with such pleasant agreement, but it lasted only a split second before Minerva's hand whipped back, connecting with the soft, flabby face in what was less a slap than a roundhouse punch.

She shook her hand gingerly, arthritic knuckles wildly protesting what would have been an abusive blow sixty years ago, but there was a smile grimly lined on her face as she stepped carefully over Umbridge's insensate body, taking only a moment to glance back in satisfaction at the blood and grime that now covered the pink robes. "I agree with you, Dolores," she said in her sweetest tone. "It's much better when we can address our regrets directly."