Sirius wrenched the door open and threw himself into the dark, circular room that lay beyond. He ran full pelt to the opposite door, just hoping that this was the way out; he didn’t have the time or patience to try every single one. He wanted desperately to get back to Grimmauld Place and find out what had happened to everyone. What had happened to Harry.
To his immense delight and luck, he found that this was the right door; he was looking down the passageway that he and the Order had come down earlier; he could see the glinting golden grilles of the lifts! He ran at it, but turned aside, not wanting to bother waiting for the lift. He moved aside a tapestry to the left and hurtled up the stairs that were concealed there two at a time.
At the next landing he stopped and ripped aside the tapestry that concealed the entrance, and almost fell into the noisy atrium that was packed with people.
At once, Sirius’s heart stopped and he froze in panic. He stared aghast at the people, his mind whirling uncontrollably. He was done for! He shouldn’t be seen! He was supposed to be a dangerous criminal, on the run from the law, he couldn’t be spotted in the Ministry of Magic itself! His brain was screaming at him to move, to conceal himself, to transform, anything would be better than standing here exposed, but his muscles wouldn’t work. This was it, his worst fear realised. It was the end, and the thudding of his impatient heart was going to be his last memory.
However, his sudden arrival seemed to have gone unnoticed somehow. Not wanting to risk giving himself away, be backed away slowly and concealed himself behind the tapestry once again, his heart in his mouth. He snapped it quickly shut, and tried to steady his breathing as his heart returned to a normal rhythm. What were all those people doing? It had looked like they were going about their daily business, but he and the Order couldn’t have been in the Department of Mysteries that long! It was all very strange. As he leaned against the cold stone wall to try and clear his thoughts, the curtain was pulled aside, and Sirius immediately sprang into a defensive position, wand raised, heart once again in his throat, veins pumping with the adrenaline of shock.
There was nowhere to hide here, nowhere to run. The two men looked straight at him, their faces registering nothing, and Sirius began to think fast. Two, he could deal with; nobody need know he was here; he could simply leave their Stunned bodies here to be discovered later. But, incredibly, they ignored him and turned to face one another to carry on their conversation!
Sirius lowered his wand slightly in shock. It was not the reaction he had imagined, and he still half expected them to spring at him at any moment, but the men were carrying on as if he wasn’t there! Thinking hard, he remembered the blank reactions of the people in the atrium when he had burst unexpectedly amongst them, and began to wonder if they could actually, see him at all.
Cautiously, he stepped towards the men, his wand still raised, just in case, but they paid him no more attention than the wall behind them.
‘Can you hear me?’ he asked tentatively.
Neither man gave any indication that they could. They remained in deep discussion, whispering in fast, hurried tones with animated gestures. Sirius crept closer, as close as he dared, and waved a hand in front of one of their faces. Nothing.
He stepped back in shock and disbelief, unsure as to what to do. Was this a trap? Were they going to turn around now in his moment of uncertainty when his guard was dropped, and wheel him off to the Dementors? He stared at the men, and as he did so, he began to recognise one of them, Pius Thicknesse, someone who was a couple of years above him at Hogwarts. Yes, he was sure it was him. Older, but it was definitely the same person. Sirius turned his attention to the other man. It was Yaxley, a Death Eater. He scowled at him. What he wouldn’t give to take him out here and now, but he became distracted by their conversation.
‘The Dark Lord wants us to delay on this matter,’ Thicknesse was saying. ‘Surely he has spoken of it with you?’
‘You know he hasn’t, Thicknesse,’ Yaxley said with a snide tone. ‘Don’t try and throw your power around, remember who put you here.’
‘I’d prefer it if you addressed me as Minister,’ Thicknesse snarled.
‘Certainly, Minister.’ Yaxley’s tone was less than civil, but Sirius wasn’t listening anymore.
Thicknesse, Minister for Magic? Had he heard correctly? But what about Fudge? And what was all this ‘Dark Lord’ nonsense? Sirius shook his head, trying to make sense of what he had heard. If what he was hearing was true, then Thicknesse had gone over, and it sounded like he and Yaxley were plotting to put him as Minister for Magic. He couldn’t all ready be Minister, it just wasn’t possible that he had come into office in the few short hours Sirius had spent in the Department of Mysteries; it must be a plot against Fudge.
His thoughts fled to Dumbledore. Was he aware of this? He was sure he wasn’t; the Order would have been aware if Dumbledore knew about something as serious as this; they would have upped their protection over Fudge. But there was a sly voice creeping into his mind.
Are you sure they just didn’t tell you to keep you out of the way? it hissed in his ear, mocking him, exactly the way Snape did. To stop you from getting involved? To keep you out of trouble>
‘I would have known,’ he snarled back at the voice, painfully aware that hearing voices was not a good omen. ‘Dumbledore’s a better man than that.’
He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the voice, but a trace of it still lingered in his mind.
He would have to tell Dumbledore; there was no way something like this could be ignored, and he would finally prove himself useful and be the one to deliver the news. The idea seemed to light a fire in his mind. He would show Snape that he was not useless.
Striding past Thicknesse and Yaxley, he tore open the curtain and strode off among the oblivious witches and wizards going about their daily business.