The tension in the air was so thick, it made an ogre's neck look slim and shapely. Hushed mumblings and shuffled papers were the only sounds that could be heard. Anything louder than a whisper made everybody jumpy and nervous, as though the entire roof might collapse in on them, Death Eaters possibly storming through the door at any moment.
It drove Percy crazy.
He stood up quickly, slamming shut the file he was looking at. Everybody started, reaching for their wands and looking at him with wide eyes. He ignored them all as best he could, putting protection spells on sensitive material, and draping his messenger bag over his shoulders. Without a single word, he started for the door.
Percy paused and turned, Minister Fudge standing at the door to his office, wringing his hands. Percy had to bite back a nasty comment that popped in his head. It was happening more and more frequently. He attributed it to stress.
"Yes?" he replied shortly.
"Where are you going?" Fudge continued. "I need your assistance on a press release going out this afternoon."
"Lunch," Percy said. "I'll be back in an hour. The press release is on the top of my outbox. I finished it two hours ago. I informed you about it then. Remember?"
"Oh." The Minister walked over and picked it up, scanning it quickly. "Good work, Weasley."
Percy nodded and went on out the door, not having the energy to engage in any more prattle. He strode purposely in a straight line, only deviating slightly to avoid the other Ministry workers doing what was commonly called, "The Forbidden Curse Shuffle." It looked utterly foolish, grown men and women bobbing and weaving through the halls just in case anyone was firing a killing curse at their backs. Personally, he didn't see the point. If they wanted him dead, he'd be dead. It would probably make several people at the Ministry happy, especially those vying for the same position he was interested in attaining.
Finally making his way out of the Ministry building, Percy stopped and took a deep breath of the damp, autumn air. If felt good to get away from the office, from all the stress. Very few people took the front doors these days, afraid of getting ambushed, which made it all the more pleasant for Percy. He had a thing about crowded places.
He took off his Ministry Robes, shrinking them with a simple spell and putting them in his bag, deciding to take his lunch in muggle London, away from suspicious glances and constant fear. The muggles were clueless and happy. Percy envied them at times.
A quick stop at a sandwich cart later and Percy held his lunch in his hand, nibbling at it as he pondered what to do with the rest of his lunch break. He knew what he should do - he should go back to the office and finish up the work awaiting him. His heart just wasn't in it today, though. Everyone was too worked up about all the death and fear of death to get any significant work done and it annoyed him.
Instead, he headed for Diagon Alley, not using the pub entrance, but taking a different route. The streets were mostly empty, the few people out hurrying along the road without making eye contact. Percy wandered past the shops, not really stopping to look at anything, then quietly slipped into Diagon Alley.
He frequented the dark, shadowed place more often these days. At first, he'd done it to show that he wasn't afraid, that the Ministry wasn't afraid. It was a PR move, designed to give people some faith. For awhile, it helped, but the more time he spent there, the more people started whispering about his real motives. Now a days, he still visited the place, more because he was fascinated by some of the stores in the area. He made no effort to conceal his identity. His red hair gave him away no matter what he tried to do. It fit in well with his new philosophy - if they were going to kill him, they were going to kill him. So be it. He wasn't going to let it ruin his life in the interim.
Not this time. Never again. He'd had enough of that as a child.
His favorite bookstore in this part of town, The Poison Quill, was open and not at all crowded. The one-eyed, shifty looking store owner looked up as he came in, made a face, but said nothing. Percy's money was as good as any body else's these days. So long as Percy spent it, he wouldn't say anything, even if it was obvious that he didn't want some Ministry lackey in his store. Percy decided long ago that he could just get over it.
A dusty, ancient tome on curse runes caught his eye and he picked it up, flipping through the pages, letting his mind get engrossed in the odd looking chicken scratches that held so much power. A person suddenly bumped into him from behind. It had to be on purpose, since the store was so unpopulated. He turned and saw a teenager ignoring him, though he'd clearly been the one jostle him. Percy frowned.
"Watch it," he snapped, then turned back to his book.