At 6:49pm Draco reached into his pocket for his DA galleon. He took a slow, deep breath and tried to calm the subtle shaking of his hands as he sent his final message to Harry and the rest of the "Manor Invaders". When he saw the words materialize across the gold surface, he shoved the coin back into his pocket, squared his shoulders (a bad habit he'd certainly blame on prolonged exposure to Gryffindors if ever asked), and took a deep breath as he touched his wand to the vanishing cabinet.
He heard a telltale thud much larger than that he had seen when transporting one small bird and had to fight back a gulp as he reached to open the door.
The first person through was an even more manic looking than usual Bellatrix. Draco had to fight back a shudder when he saw her, though whether at the thought that they were related or the feeling of her long claw-like nails through the shoulder of his coat when she bestowed him with a congratulatory pat he didn't know.
The Dark Lord had been immensely pleased when he had gone above and beyond fixing the vanishing cabinet and had actually turned it into a portal through which the Death Eaters could freely walk, rather than having to open and shut the door with each subsequent passenger. While the Dark Lord had taken this as a sign of initiative on Draco's part, it had actually been a calculated move of Hermione's invention to try and lure as large a portion as possible of Voldemort's army away from Malfoy manor (and therefore away from the Dark Lord himself) and into Hogwarts. However, as Draco watched the ever-growing herd of seedy, sadistic, and smirking faces emerging head after head from the cabinet, he couldn't help but wonder if the number of Order members remaining in Hogwarts could really handle that large of an invading force.
By the time Draco finally clicked the door to the cabinet shut, there were over a hundred Death Eaters (and other dark henchmen who hadn't made the grade for the Dark Mark) crowded into the now-cramped room of requirement. Draco was insanely glad the Dark Lord had very clearly ordered that there was to be absolute silence until they engaged the headmaster in a fight (something about the flair for dramatics Hermione had insisted was a common trait amongst Slytherins), because for a brief and terrifying moment he felt like he would otherwise have been expected to give a speech of some kind to rally the troops.
Thank Merlin for small mercies. Let's get this over with.
He knew the Order fighters had cordoned off the hallway outside the room of requirement for 50 meters in either direction and was waiting just outside the line of sight from the door. They had used a spell of Hermione's invention to make the shutting of the room of requirement door trigger a sound that only those who had previously been selected could hear. The plan was to wait until the entire group of Death Eaters had exited the room of requirement and then to attack from both sides once the invading forces had shut the door and had nowhere to retreat. (Draco had been very specific to request that the room shut itself off for a few hours after the door shut. He would deny it if anyone ever asked, but he could have sworn he felt excitement coming from the castle at the idea of being part of the defense strategy.)
He gave the waiting Death Eaters the agreed upon signal and opened the door, allowing Bellatrix to assume her role at the front of the pack, feigning deference and solidarity as he held the door open for all who followed. After the last grungy foot soldier (Draco really had no idea where the Dark Lord had found all of these people or why they couldn't be bothered to shower) had stumped through the door, he walked quietly out of the room of requirement, sending a silent mental thank you and reminder of the plan to the castle, swearing he didn't hear an excited mental chuckle in return, and then shutting the door. He heard the sound of a gong in a strange part of his brain that recognized the sound had come from his magic instead of his ears and knew that the plan had so far been successful.
It was another three heartbeats before he heard the first yell break out followed by the sound of footsteps and hastily yelled spells.
The battle had begun.
Fifty meters down the corridor from the room of requirement, Hermione waited apprehensively as the head of her group of Order fighters. They had divided the collection of Hogwarts' defenders into two groups, one led by Hermione to wait at the North end of the corridor the other led by Dumbledore to wait at the South. They were fortunate that the room of requirement was situated in an area of the castle with no other classrooms, pathways, or passages between the two points, making it the perfect spot for an ambush, especially with Draco's insistence that he could render the door to the room itself inoperable once it had been closed.
Through a reflective one-way mirror strategically placed in the top corner of the ceiling, Hermione could see as soon as the Death Eaters emerged from the room and began advancing toward their end of the hallway. It's like muggle clowns in a Volkswagen. Just how many Death Eaters did that soulless lunatic send? Hermione began doing mental force depletion calculations as she saw the sheer numbers of the Dark Lord's foot soldiers emerging from the door.
She began to worry as the first Death Eaters out of the room began nearing their position before the door to the room of requirement had been sealed, but just as the frizzy mop of Bellatrix's hair became frighteningly clear in the one-way mirror Hermione heard the gong that announced the shutting of the door and let out a silent sigh of relief.
At the sound of the gong, all order fighters simultaneously fired the strongest stunners possible into the crowd. The wall of Death Eaters that had been leading the way down each side of the hallway dropped like stones, which triggered an immediate and almost blinding burst of spellfire from both sides. The wall of multitudinous black Death Eater cloaks seemed almost like a single living organism as they poured away from the now-sealed room of requirement and towards the two groups of order fighters.
As the Order fighters met this surging wall of black, the battle quickly switched from two unified fronts to a multitude of individual skirmishes. Hermione was dueling a group of now fewer than five large Death Eaters, who appeared to be foreign mercenaries judging by the foreign-sounding grunts and expletives emitted as they tried to eliminate the persistent witch. The Lestrange brothers seemed to take it on themselves to eliminate the leader of the light, as they were both soon immersed in a ferocious duel with Dumbledore. Every member of the DA was immediately immersed in a duel with one Death Eater after another. Their advantage of surprise and initial position was all that kept them from decimation solely based on the numbers alone.
After the initial outpouring of Death Eaters, it slowly became evident to the more experienced of the Order fighters that the tide was slowly turning in their favor. Dumbledore had managed to incapacitate and stun the remaining Lestrange brother after the first was bisected by a whip-like fire spell from the elder wizard's wand. The wall behind Fred and George was slowly disappearing behind a growing pile of Death Eater bodies (whether they were stunned or dead was impossible to tell through the inflexible, purple, gelatinous ooze that seemed to have covered each one of their bodies). Tonks and Remus had taken it upon themselves to engage Fenrir Greyback and his contingent of werewolves. In the trials to come, it would be remarked on as odd by some of the members of the wizengamot how none of the other Order fighters had witnessed anything that happened in that specific end of the hallway, but everyone could agree that the Wizarding world would be a much better place without any remaining members of that particular pack of werewolves.
As Neville was dueling a large man whose Death Eater mask had cracked and fallen away under the weight of one of Neville's shields, Neville froze as he heard a mad, feminine cackle and a group of heavy footfalls run past him and disappear down the hallway behind him.
"Hermione!" he shouted, briefly catching eyes with the formerly bushy-haired witch who was now wandlessly binding one Death Eater in heavy chains while shooting permanent paralysis hexes at the back of other fleeing enemies.
"Go! Take someone with you!" she shouted, seeing what had happened.
"I'm on it!" cried Ginny, shaking her red hair out like a Valkyrie as she leaped over the body of the fallen Death Eater who had been flinging killing curses at her only moments ago.
They sprinted away and down the hallway as Hermione turned back to the task in front of her, fire flashing in her eyes and out of her non-dominant palm as she created a fiery wall behind a group of Death Eaters currently attempting to retreat from the angry spells of the Patil twins.
"I don't know which way she went!" Ginny shouted. She and Neville had followed the haunting cackles down the hallway until they came to a fork. They each took one direction and sprinted onward, in hot pursuit of the mad Death Eater and her posse, currently charging towards a castle of younger students.
Ginny saw a black-clad figure ahead and hastily drew her wand. She came face to face with Blaize Zabini, wand out and pointed in her direction, but skidded to a halt as she saw the bodies of four bruised and very still Death Eaters strewn about his feet. Her eyes quickly moved up past his chest, still heaving with exertion, to his hardened expression.
"What…?" she started without the plans or the ability to finish the thought.
"Not all Slytherins are for the Dark Lord. We may not run headfirst into danger like you lot, but I'm not about to watch as…" he stopped just as suddenly as Ginny had, the look in his ironclad eyes holding her gaze and stealing her breath for an extended moment.
"No one else will pass this way either," he stated firmly. "You can search the other way, spitfire," he finished with a small hint of a smirk on his features.
Ginny raised an eyebrow in return, only for the smirk to disappear and leave only a resolute look in its place. She nodded once and turned, running in the other direction.
"Little baby lions, where's the great Dumbledore now?" the piercing tone of madness mixed with the mockingly diminutive baby talk cut a stark contrast as the group of first years wreathed and screamed under Bellatrix's outstretched wand. Neville could hear the voice that had haunted his nightmares ever since experiencing it first hand at the Department of Mysteries even before he turned the corner.
As he sprinted into view of the horrific scene, Bellatrix didn't even have time to fully whip her head around before an unnaturally deep, masculine shout echoed down the hallway. Neville didn't even draw his wand before his wordless battle cry was accompanied by a burst of golden light from deep within his chest, which passed through the prone first years without harm, but blasted Bellatrix backward at warp speed and plastered her against the craggy rocks of the castle about fifteen feet in the air with an ear-splitting crack. Time seemed to move in slow motion as her limp body half slid, half fell down the stone wall to collapse in an unnatural heap on the floor.
Neville drew his wand and began to approach the body until the pool of red slowly started seeping out from the edges of her robes, at which point he turned to face the wide-eyed group of first years, still strewn on the floor where they had been tortured only seconds previously.
"Are you guys okay?" he asked calmly as he began to help them up.
After Neville and Ginny had returned the gaggle of first-years to a safe location, they returned to the seventh-floor hallway only to find that the battle had all but ended. Hermione, Dumbledore, and the other Order members were walking calmly up and down rows of fallen Death Eaters, ensuring that any who still had a pulse were stunned and heavily bound in anticipation of impending Auror reinforcements.
As they came closer he heard Hermione and Remus discussing when they should hear news from the contingent of members that had gone to Malfoy manor when all of a sudden Hermione stiffened as if she had been hit with a petrificus totalis and then dropped to the floor.
He sprinted up to help, but instead of seeing his friend on the ground, his eyes were met with a bushy mess of soft, red fur. As he got closer he shook his head to ensure he was seeing things correctly. In the place of Hermione Granger was a softly breathing, yet still very much unconscious form of a small, red fox.