A dull red stone tower sat atop a low rise at the base of the Lammermuir Hills. The tower had a great number of heavy red bricks scattered around it, perhaps the remnants of another tower, as this one was quite intact, and quite sturdy. Today, a fat brown tabby cat lay on one of the crenelations, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun. This would not surprise anyone passing by (though few people ever did pass by) as cats went where they pleased, and did not care for such things as the Condemned, Keep Out sign tied to a rusted iron chain wrapped all the way around the base of the tower.
They might be surprised by the tall, silver-haired woman visible through one of the wide windows on the top story, and the eagle owl that landed on a wooden perch next to her. Or by the fact that she removed a small, embossed envelope from the pouch on the owl’s leg, before giving it a dead mouse the tabby cat had presented her that morning. They would most certainly be surprised by the sight of the woman, a few minutes later, walking out of the tower and through the chains over the doorway as though they weren’t there.
But, as we have established, very few people ever did pass by, and Liwei Lin walked down the winding sheep path to the sprawling, three-winged house set into the base of the hill with only her own thoughts for company. The eagle owl helped itself to water in the tower’s basin (fed from a collecting pipe on the roof, and kept clean with magic) and flew off again. Liwei paused to watch it fly south, a slight frown slowly replaced with a look of determination.
“Adrian?” Liwei called, after locking the porter’s door hidden by an overgrown rose bush behind her. No answer. Liwei sighed, and went looking for her young relative. Adrian was her cousin Zhiwei’s granddaughter but niece was how she thought of her. Liwei had always felt Zhiwei was her sister in all but name; you didn’t spend nearly three decades travelling the world and breaking curses together without getting close.
Not in the kitchen, not in her bedroom, not in the parlor. Adrian’s broomstick and hiking boots were still in the mudroom, so she couldn’t be out in the hills. The other two wings were still locked up; surely she wasn’t foolhardy enough to visit the attic . Even if she was , apparently, foolhardy enough to anger Lucius Malfoy, of all people.
Liwei rubbed at her temples. Where-
The sound of rustling paper caught her ear from down the hall. Liwei smiled, and quietly made her way to the Vouched Library. Unlike the Cursed Library in the South Wing, and the Unknown Library in the North Wing, every book, pamphlet, map, and miscellaneous informational item in the Vouched Library was sure to be uncursed. Quite a few tomes had been made safe by Liwei herself, at Alvie’s request.
There was Adrian. Sprawled across a long, brown leather couch pushed against the bay window, Adrian was deeply engrossed in that morning’s Daily Prophet, mug of tea resting on the wide windowsill. The headline read GILDEROY LOCKHART: HERO OR HOAX? and there was a photo of the blonde wizard trying to cover his face as he ducked into Ollivander’s wand shop.
“Adrian,” Liwei said. Her niece looked up with grin, shaking the paper.
“Did you see?” she asked excitedly. “Gemma finally got all her interviews together, they’ve got all the discrepancies from his books listed on the back page, and the main article says he’s under investigation by the Ministry-”
“Adrian, it’s today ,” Liwei interjected, replacing the paper in Adrian’s hands with the embossed envelope. Lips snapping shut into a tight line, Adrian pulled the square of vellum out, reading it over quickly.
“Four o’clock high tea, huh?” she said finally. “You want me to get wood for the Floo?”
“Yes,” Liwei said, as Adrian swung herself off the couch. “I’ll finish up today’s tonic, and then we have many more preparations to make.”
Adrian grimaced at the mention of the foul-tasting potion. Liwei had half-brewed a large cauldron of a generalized anti-poison tonic at the beginning of the summer, when Adrian told her of freeing Dobby, and completed a small dose every day for Adrian and herself to drink. It tasted like molding oatmeal.
The rest of the morning passed in meticulous preparation. Adrian pulled on her boots and tromped out to the woodshed several times, bringing back armfuls of firewood. She stacked them in the entrance hall, next to the large fireplace that was connected to the Floo network. She also unlocked and scrubbed the huge double-doors that let out into the short drive (no one ever used them, but it was the look of the thing that counted) and oiled the two suits of armor that flanked it. All that was left after that was setting the table for tea, and making sure none of the food had spoiled.
Liwei administered the tonic to both of them after lunch, and slipped a bezoar into Adrian’s hand. “Just in case he brings something unusual.”
“Should we put the chess photo up in the dining room?” Adrian asked, the stone heavy on her palm.
“I’ll get it,” Liwei said. The photo of Adrian’s mother and Lucius Malfoy playing chess was the one grain of truth in the handful of lies Adrian had thrown at Malfoy, bluffing him into freeing his family’s house elf. It wouldn’t do anything to sooth his wrath, but it would remind him that he had more to lose by making this incident public than they did. “You go make yourself presentable, before I start the wards.”
Adrian glanced down at herself; old jeans and a denim button-up shirt were practical for exploring the local hills and hauling firewood, but they would be considered an insult if worn to tea with a Malfoy. The sweat and grime she’d acquired over the morning didn’t help either. Adrian nodded, and vanished up the stairs; Liwei heard the shower running a moment later.
By three-thirty, they were both clad in linen robes suitable for the summer heat, and going over the final pieces of protection in the dining hall. A fire roared in the entrance hall, making it easier for Malfoy to leave; anyone could arrive on the empty hearth through the Floor network, but it took active flames to depart, and Liwei wanted nothing to slow down Malfoy’s exit.
“When I let go, swallow this whole, don’t chew,” Liwei instructed. Adrian nodded and opened her mouth; Liwei pressed the rowan berry to the middle of Adrian’s tongue, and recited her most reliable warding spell. She let go. Adrian swallowed, and took a deep breath.
“Is that everything?”
“Let me check your arms again,” Liwei said, and Adrian obligingly raised her arms to shake down the long, loose sleeves of her robe, exposing the complicated string knots just above her elbows. Liwei studied them for a long moment, and smiled fiercely. “Good. He’d need a lot more than a wand get something fatal or irreversible on you now, save for the Killing Curse itself.” She and Adrian automatically rapped their knuckles on the wooden table at her mention of the Killing Curse.
“We can’t just close the curtains and pretend we’re not home, can we?” Adrian asked, voice light and face distressed. She dropped her arms, letting the dark green linen of her robes hide the knots once more.
“No.” Liwei placed her hand on Adrian’s cheek, remembering this same anxious face coming home from her first year at Hogwarts, trying to hide her poor scores from the end-of-term exams. “Vengeance is as terrible when it is simmering from delay as it is when impulsive. But if you delay this encounter, I may not be here to help.”
“I know,” Adrian said, dropping her head down, cheek sliding away from Liwei’s hand. “I know. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Liwei said, as the light from the entrance hall suddenly flared brighter. “He might decide not to curse a teenage girl for tricking him out of a servant, after all.”
Adrian snorted, and got up to greet their ill-tempered guest.