Gwen had indeed been upset the morning after her night with Barty. It hadn't been the way in which he'd left without waking her – she thought the explanation he'd left in his note had been quite reasonable and although disappointing, she could understand it. What had upset her was that when she'd opened the drawer on her bedside cabinet that morning, she'd found Sander's auroscope still glowing faintly blue.
She'd spent most of Friday at work trying to work out the reason for it. Barty had told her he'd been using dark magic for the project at the Department of Mysteries, but that was defunct now so surely he couldn't still be involved with it? Residual magic, maybe? Was that even possible? She didn't know. It had crossed her mind that the auroscope had started glowing because maybe she'd been betraying Sander somehow by being with Barty, and even though thinking about that made her uncomfortable it probably wasn't the real reason anyway. Sander had said the auroscope would behave like a normal sneakoscope if anyone was doing anything untrustworthy (although the silencing charm she'd put on it stopped it whistling), but it would only light up and go blue if there was dark magic nearby. And there hadn't been any dark magic nearby that she'd been aware of.
Unless there was still dark magic around Barty that he didn't know about. Or – dare she even think it? – he'd lied to her. The thought of that hurt, and although she didn't want to think the worst of him, she had to admit it was a possibility.
Ideally, she wanted to be able to see him to talk to him about it, but she didn't know when she'd next get the chance. There was no way he was going to be able to come to see her at work now, and she didn't dare to try and go see him at the weekend after what his father had said about them meeting during work hours. She'd thought about asking her mother to speak to him at work, but she had no idea what to ask her to say. And besides, she'd only end up facing her mother's relentless questioning – which was probably well-intentioned, but something Gwen would rather avoid, all the same. On Friday evening she'd been holding out in the hope that maybe Barty had taken the initiative and asked Christine to pass a message on to her, but he hadn't. She'd even hoped that just maybe he'd sent her an owl, even though she wasn't sure what she'd been wanting him to say in a letter, but he hadn't done that either.
The whole thing had left her in a rather sullen mood. Her father had noticed, but she didn't want to tell him what was really the matter. Everything was just too complicated to involve other people, and she wanted to sort things out between her and Barty for herself. She had eventually managed to get her father to stop asking what was wrong, and even though he didn't seem convinced she was relieved he had backed down. Gwen hoped that she'd be able to see Barty and get things sorted soon, before her mother finally found the time and energy to notice what was going on outside of the Ministry and start questioning her as well.
As it was, on Saturday Gwen found herself to be alone in the house as the only member of her family not at work – something that she hated – and still in the dark about what was going on with Barty. It may be that there was a perfectly innocent explanation for the auroscope's behaviour. Maybe it was just residual magic or whatever, but she'd still like the chance to talk to him, even if she didn't know how she would go about doing it. She didn't like confronting people, and every time she thought about how she might raise the issue of the auroscope with Barty she remembered how he'd reacted to it when they'd met behind Flourish and Blotts. She just didn't know what to say to him without upsetting him or somehow implying she didn't trust him. But the truth was, she couldn't trust him, no matter how much she wanted to.
Oh, it was all too complicated.
At around lunchtime on Saturday she decided she was going to go out after all, just to get out of the house and try and take her mind off things. The enchanted chess set she'd been having solo matches with all morning really wasn't half as good to play against as her father, and she'd quickly gotten bored of it. There really wasn't much else for her to do in the house, so she decided to go to Diagon Alley for a couple of hours, even if there wasn't anything she needed to shop for.
There was always one shop she liked to visit in Diagon Alley – the Mabinogian Apothecary. The Welsh witch Llinos Eynon had bought the shop in 1931 after marrying the muggle accountant Lawrence Coulthard, and had made a decent income from it before temporarily closing the apothecary to work as a healer during the war. After Lawrence was killed in the assault on Sword Beach, Llinos had returned to the shop to raise her almost teenage son John, and many years later she'd retired as successful businesswoman, proud to have seen her son become one of the country's most successful wizarding bankers. Even though Gwen's grandmother had retired from her job there several years ago now, Gwen still remembered visiting when she was younger and being given free candy potions and getting to play with 'pet' flobberworms her Gran kept. She didn't really know the people who had bought the shop all that well, but she liked to call in every now and then just to see how it was doing. The shop was now owned by a middle-aged couple from Cornwall called Adrian and Patrice, and Gwen had found them quite pleasant on the few occasions she'd spoken to them.
The first thing she noticed today though was that neither Ady's ginger bearded face nor Paddy's blond curls and wide smile were behind the counter. Instead it was a man who looked to be in his mid thirties, with sleek black hair and a fine moustache who she didn't recognise at all. She was slightly shocked when she first noticed him, but then supposed he just must be another one of their staff and didn't think much more of it. "Hello," she said, smiling as she walked further into the shop.
He gave her a curt nod. "Afternoon."
There was only the two of them in the shop, and since she wasn't planning on buying anything she thought she ought to make the effort to talk to him. "No Robinsons today?"
"They've gone away."
"Oh." His abrupt manner made her think he wasn't interested in conversation after all, and she wondered if maybe she should just continue browsing. "Er, back soon, I hope?"
He definitely didn't seem like much of a talker, but she felt too awkward to simply walk away now. "You're shopkeeping for them, I take it?"
"Actually, I'm just waiting for somebody."
"Oh, er, ok…" She was looking at the shelves behind him, trying to see if there was anything she could pretend to be interested in buying to give her an excuse for something to say. But then suddenly, there was a hissing sound off to her right and she jumped as she turned to see a rather large snake that was beginning to slither up onto the counter from down at the man's feet. "Oh," she gasped, shocked, but then realised that wasn't really unusual for an apothecary. "Sorry, that scared me."
"It wasn't you." He said abruptly.
She looked at him, a little unnerved now. "What?"
"I wasn't waiting for you."
The snake hissed again, and Gwen took a couple of steps back from the counter, wondering what was going on. She watched as the man reached for his wand, and tried to reach for her own, but her reactions seemed to be delayed and her hand was moving rather slowly.
"I don't think you should be here." His tone was definitely threatening, and she thought she should probably do something, but she didn't know what. As she tried to process her thoughts, he suddenly moved and she felt her wand wrenched out of her hand as he shouted, "Expelliarmus."
Now she was scared. The snake hissed again and began to slither over the counter towards her. She'd walked into something bad. Panic started to settle in, and as she fixed her gaze on the snake's fangs and flickering tongue she felt the fear beginning to grip her.
But then she sensed movement behind her, and her heart leapt as she heard the sound of a Dutch-accented voice. "Do you have a license for that snake, Mr Hanson?"