Harold had had a lot of time to ruminate over the summer of the letters he had received, especially the latter one
. His old friend had suggested that the travelling circus was in town. It was, of course, code - and at the time he had interpreted it as a suggestion that the Unspeakables were out and about, that a leak was in the Ministry and perhaps that someone senior was missing or mysteriously indisposed.
His recent trip to Diagon Alley on a matter of stocking items - the one that rather turned into an unexpected run-in with a curious curio seller
- had left him plenty to contemplate and so it was that he found himself looking at the calendar as August's days were waning. He'd heard nothing - and Dumbledore had often been seen wandering the castle muttering to himself, almost feverishly of late. Something was afoot, and perhaps it was better if he, Harold, could get this rather trifling matter dusted off and quite resolved before the new term.
It was a over a week or so before the end of August, and he'd indicated to the staff in the castle that he should be gone to London for the day - it was an overcast Thursday morning that otherwise held little appeal - and to not prepare either lunch or dinner for him.
Bubo was poddling around on the desk, absent-mindedly even by the little owl's standards, and Harold smiled at him. "Now, Bubo, I'm going to be out all day, don't worry about me. I'll be back before the evening." He fed the little owl a couple of treats and Bubo seemed contented. "I have people I need to see and they would rather I don't write to them. But no matter, I will have scrolls for you to deliver soon." Bubo bobbed his little head. He liked feeling useful, even if that wasn't today.
Harold stopped in the small bathroom that was in his quarters, a splash of cold water on his face before doing this. He hadn't been back to the Ministry since... well... the day he last saw Sylvia. All subsequent inquiry had been at a distance through owls, fireplace connections and what in hindsight could laughably have been called clandestine.
He stared at the reflection in the mirror, it seemed almost farcical to him to see his own reflection there. He seemed older and more tired than he remembered himself looking. Perhaps teaching wasn't necessarily for him, as much as watching the imagination and enlightenment dawn in younger minds was joyous to behold.
"Come on, man, you can do this." He packed his precious pocketwatch in his pocket. It seemed like a day where it might come in useful. As would perhaps a few private papers from his stash.
He found himself almost walking down to the edge of the grounds on automatic; he'd done it enough times over the last year or so that it felt very familiar. And his routine, so precise, glasses in his pocket, deep breath, apparation.
The side entrance to the Ministry building where he had intended to be was as unwelcoming as ever. He wondered if he should take the visitor's entrance, and since it occurred to him that he wasn't strictly a Ministry employee at this particular time, let alone part of his former station at the Department of Mysteries. Visitor's entrance it was, then. Reception was noisier than he remembered, but he supposed that was why he didn't go in very often through that entrance, not when he had previously enjoyed better options.
The receptionist looked at him, "Do you have an appointment, sir?"
Harold smiled his most genial, ingratiating smile. "No, I'm afraid I don't. I should very much like to speak to a..." He paused, wondering how to phrase it, and choosing to keep his voice calm and measured, but not loud. "...a specific member of staff from level nine."
The receptionist arched an eyebrow. Even she didn't know what went on in level nine, only that it was off limits to almost everyone and that she knew not to venture beyond the most outward door, and then only to pass messages to the wizard or witch on duty. The fact that this visitor knew to refer to it as 'level nine' rather than its more unnerving sobriquet - the Department of Mysteries
- alone told her something about who she might be dealing with.
"Would you happen to have any identification, sir?"
Harold smiled again. "Yes, here are my identification papers." He handed over a piece of paper with a moving photo of him on it, pacing idly back and forth, though not impatiently so, bearing seals and generally identifying the person in the photograph as one Charles Wainwright - a legend written up for him during his time in the Department, and one to be used when dealing with the Circus in general. Better not to use real names.
The receptionist looked over the paperwork and returned it, after consulting with something behind the desk out of Harold's view. "Thank you, Mr Wainwright. Who were you looking to speak with?"
Harold thought for a moment. "Just tell the wizard or witch on duty that I should like to pay a visit, I'm certain the person I need to see will be sent out promptly."
There was a light frown from the receptionist - this wasn't how things normally worked, but this was her first time dealing with anyone wishing to visit level nine, and as far as she knew this was how it might be done. She knew better than to question it.
She dashed off a small scroll and with a wave of her wand, spirited it away. "If you'll please take a seat, Mr Wainwright, I'm sure someone will be along shortly."
Harold smiled politely and went to take a seat but even before he had the chance to settle, the receptionist interrupted him. "Mr Wainwright? Please take the stairwell, someone will meet you there."
He frowned, thanked her and made in the direction of the stairwell. This wasn't how he remembered it but it had been a while since he'd taken the front door to the Circus. And with the Ringmaster still away, so to speak, anything was possible.
More surprisingly, the door to the department was ajar, and no-one was there. This was most irregular.