Chapter 14

Walking into breakfast that morning Ines spotted that Hagrid had already single-handedly delivered the usual twelve Christmas trees to the Great Hall; garlands of holly and tinsel had been twisted around the banisters of the stairs; everlasting candles glowed from inside the helmets of suits of armor and great bunches of mistletoe had been hung at intervals along the corridors. Large groups of boys tended to converge underneath the mistletoe bunches every time Ines went past, which caused blockages in the corridors. People filtered in slowly, but Ines stayed with the girls. All of them would be leaving for the upcoming holiday break. They spoke of their plans for the holidays until they were interrupted by a Slytherin first year boy. "I'm supposed to deliver these to Ines Avery and Lily Evans," he faltered, as his eyes met Ines' and she turned scarlet. He was holding out two scrolls of parchment tied with violet ribbon.

Perplexed, Ines and Lily took the scroll addressed to each of them and the boy stumbled away from them. "What is it?" Marlene demanded as Ines unrolled hers. "An invitation," she said aloud. "Miss Avery, I would be delighted if you would join me for a celebration tonight before the holidays. Sincerely, Horace Slughorn." Lily smiled brightly, looking down on her invitation. "I've been waiting for this!". Slughorn called the get-togethers "parties" or "suppers," and indeed, but they were essentially social networking events. "But what does he want me for?" asked Ines jokingly, as though he was expecting detention. "Oh that's right," Ines said sarcastically "He loves my father". Lily, who had rolled up her invitation, playfully smacked her with it, "and you're right skilled at potions! He'd be an idiot not to invite you.". Emmeline was very excited for them, as she was any fancy event. "You've got dresses haven't you?" While Lily nodded, Ines shook her head, but before Emmeline could freak she held up her finger "I'll go up to the owlery now and get a letter to Pippy to send mine over."

She took one last bite of her breakfast before she stood and bid the girls goodbye. Walking through the cold weather wasn't something Ines preferred, and she practically ran all the way there. In doing so she wasn't exactly watching where she was going and ran right into someone. She began to profusely apologize until she saw the laughing face in front of her. Sirius' long hair was covering most of his face, but she could recognize his face from anywhere. "Running from a dementor?" he asked, standing up and holding out his hand to help her. She took it gladly, "No, just wanted to get out of the cold". He nodded, and they walked the rest of the way up the stairs. "Slughorn's invited me to his Christmas celebration, I've come to get Pippy to send me a dress.". He nodded, chuckling slightly, "this is another party just for Slughorn's favorites, is it? James got invited as well". They were now in the Owlery, and as Ines walked, searching for her light gray owl she spoke "Lily's not going to be thrilled, at least he won't be asking her to go with him.".

She quickly wrote to Pippy on a spare piece of parchment and sent her owl away. She paused, realizing something, and turned to Sirius who was already gazing at her. "How would you like to come to Slughorn's party with me tonight?" The words were out her mouth before she could stop them; she heard herself say them as though it were a stranger speaking. He turned his protuberant eyes to her in surprise."Slughorn's party? With you?" "Yeah," said Ines, "We're supposed to bring guests, so I thought you might like.. I mean..." She was keen to make his intentions perfectly clear. " I mean, just as friends, you know. But if you don't want to..." She was already half hoping that he didn't want to. "Oh no, I'd love to go with you," said Sirius, beaming as she had never seen him beam before. " I'll meet you in the common room at eight o'clock then". She walked down the stairs with him and parted in the common room, where they would be meeting hours from then.

Her dress came two hours later, it was practically designed to be a kill switch for rational thought. She held the scarlet dress to her chest and posed in front of a mirror. She didn't understand why she felt she needed to dress up as much as she did for the event, but the impulse had been rising in her since breakfast. She took the dress and shoes back to the bathroom, then sat on the floor and painted her toenails and fingernails pale white. She rolled mascara on her lashes, then brushed her hair and snapped crystals in the long brown strands. She squeezed glitter lotion into her palms and rubbed it on her shoulders and arms. Last she took the dress and stepped into it. She turned to the mirror on the door. A thrill ran through her; her reflection astonished her. She looked otherworldly, a mystical creature, eyes large, skin glowing, eyelashes longer, thicker. Everything about her was more powerful and sleek and fairy tale. She leaned to one side. The dress exposed much of her thigh, but not so much that it would be utterly inappropriate.

She exited the bathroom and was faced with Lily, getting her hair done by Dorcas, in a floor-length green dress. She ran her fingertips lightly down the sides of the silk skirt. The color really was exquisite. A lustrous color, like the color of the grass in the fields beyond the Quidditch pitch. The sort of color a careless glance might mistake for the same as her eyes, but which rewarded close attention. Her jaw dropped, "Ines!". She twirled, her hair swirling around her. "Do you like it!" all the girls gave their affirmative and excited yes'. All but Marlene, "Sirius will love it, I heard him telling James that you'd asked him as your date.". Ines' smile faltered, what had he said? "Ehm, yeah, I did. I'm supposed to meet him down there in a few minutes, so I'd better get going.". She whisked past them, hearing Lily call saying she would be down in a minute. The sound of her heels echoed in the halls, she spotted girls peering through the open doors at her, some looking in awe, some in jealousy, some in almost disgust. But she didn't care, it all melted away once she walked down the stairs into the entrance to the common room.

Sirius was there, his gray eyes watching her every movement. It slowly began to dawn on him that he had been staring at her for an impossible amount of time. Lost in his thoughts, lost in the sight of her. But her face didn't look offended or amused. It almost looked as if she were studying the lines of my face, almost as if she were waiting. He wanted to take her hand. He wanted to tell her that she was the first beautiful thing that he had seen in forever. But even though she was attractive, there was something else about her that caught his eye. She was intelligent, he could sense that right away, and confident, too, as if she were able to move through life on her own terms. To him, these were the things that really mattered. Without them, beauty was nothing. She's was a walking poem, she's a perfect beauty, but at the same time very deep, very smart.

James nudged him in his side, snapping him out of his thoughts. She was in front of him now, her arm outstretched waiting for him to grab a hold. They walked out of the room, ignoring the surrounding students' stares. They heard James behind them, telling Lily she looked "smashing" and stepped out of the portrait hole.

"You look beautiful" he muttered, as they passed the painting of three gossiping witches, leading them to the dungeons. "Thank you," she said, the darkness of the hall hiding her blush "You clean up well yourself". He laughed, and they entered the room. The ceiling and walls had been draped with emerald, crimson, and gold hangings so that it looked as though they were all inside a vast tent. The room was crowded and stuffy and bathed in the red light cast by an ornate golden lamp dangling from the center of the ceiling in which real fairies were fluttering, each a brilliant speck of light. Loud singing accompanied by what sounded like mandolins issued from a distant corner; a haze of pipe smoke hung over several elderly warlocks deep in conversation, and a number of house-elves were negotiating their way squeakily through the forest of knees, obscured by the heavy silver platters of food they were bearing, so that they looked like little roving tables.

"Ines! And Sirius, m'boy!" boomed Slughorn, almost as soon as they had squeezed in through the door. "Come in, come in, so many people I'd like you to meet! Ah, and Ines, your father should be arriving soon!". She stopped had in her tracks, "My father is coming?". He seemed perplexed by her reaction "Why yes! I assume now that both his children are attending he would want to as well! Come, come" He led her to a table in which two people stood, conversing quietly. "Ines, I'd like you to meet Eldred Worple, an old student of mine, author of ' Blood Brothers: My Life Amongst the Vampires' - and, of course, his friend Sanguini." Worple, who was a small, stout, bespectacled man, grabbed Ines' hand and shook it enthusiastically; the vampire Sanguini, who was tall and emaciated with dark shadows under his eyes, merely nodded. He looked rather bored. A gaggle of girls was standing close to him, looking curious and excited. "Miss Avery, I am simply delighted!" said Worple, peering shortsightedly up into her face. "I was just telling Sanguini here that your father works within the Goblin Liaison office. Brilliant! Brilliant man!" Ines shuffled awkwardly, "Thank you, I must be going now, nice meeting you". At this moment all her childhood etiquette lessons flew out the window, as she grabbed Sirius arm and dragged them far from the gaggle of people. She led him to the refreshments table, and poured herself a glass of Firewhiskey, despite it being labeled 'not for student consumption'. They were able to speak privately for quite a while, most people watching. Lily had arrived, flanked by Remus and James. Slughorn introduced her to some man with a tattered coat, that the three of them talked to happily. They spotted Severus, talking to Regulus, something that made their blood boil. All the adults were mingling happily, yet peering at every face, as if sizing

Sirius chuckled, "Merlin, all these stuffy people, I could never be like them". Ines turned to face him and give her agreement, but over his shoulder, she spotted Oberon, with her father's tight grip on his arm. "Ines! Stop sulking and come and join us!" hiccuped Slughorn happily. She grabbed Sirius' hand and dragged him behind her, reluctantly making her way over to them "I was just talking about Ines and Oberon's exceptional potion making! Some credit must go to you, ever the scholar!" Trapped, with Slughorn's arm around his shoulders, Victor looked down his nose at Ines, and behind her at Sirius still gripping her hand, his black eyes narrowed. "Funny, I never had the impression that Ines was any good at potions." Slughorn found the idea preposterous and laughed as if it was a joke. "Well, she must a natural ability, the two of them!" shouted Slughorn. "You should have seen what they gave me, first lesson, an antidote to a swelling solution I had concocted. A perfect deflating draught if I do say so myself, i've never had any students produce finer on a first attempt! They work together absolutely perfectly!".

"Really?" said Victor quietly, his eyes still boring into Ines and his hand still gripping Oberon. "Remind me what other subjects you're taking, Ines?" asked Slughorn. Ines felt as though she needed some sort of permission to speak, her father tended to give that feeling off. "Defense Against the Dark Arts, Charms, Transfiguration, Herbology...". "All the subjects required, in short, for an Auror," Oberon said with the faintest sneer. "Yeah, well, that's what I'd like to do," said Ines defiantly, ignoring the glare from her father. "And a great one you'll make too!" boomed Slughorn. Slughorn was in a drunken stupor, and in looking over Ines' shoulder he spotted a student that he wanted her father to meet. He dragged him off, something her father clearly didn't appreciate to a corner by the refreshments table.

Ines looked at her brother, and the two of them nodded at the same time, as if silently acknowledging the existence of the previous event and deciding to ignore it. She watched him walk off to where Regulus and Severus stood, before realizing her hand was still in Sirius'. She let go, and faced him fully, "That was rough, why'd I have to see him a day before I absolutely have to" she murmured, he nodded, swaying on the balls of his feet "yeah, don't think he likes me much". "Don't take it personally, he doesn't like me either". They stood silently, her words creating an awkward silence. Not that she minded too much though, it was something he would understand. She was beyond grateful that, despite it being incredibly sad, it was something they shared. They initially bonded over their lack of inclusion from their family and growing ability to no longer care. Their ties to their families grew weaker as the bond between them grew stronger. She knew it was something she would cherish for as long as she lived.

The guests slowly trickled out, Ines watched as her father said goodbye to Oberon. Gripping him hard, and whispering something in his ear before walking off. She didn't want a goodbye anyways. Slughorn, too drunk to stand, was being held up by some house elves as he waved goodbye to each guest at the door. Ines and Sirius had parted to walk back with Lily and James respectively. Ines, who was a decent amount drunk herself, due to the insane amount of firewhiskey she drank to try and ignore the fact that her father was there, walked arm in arm with Lily. Once in the common room, she led her up the stairs, passing James and Sirius in the common room deep in conversation. Sirius stood at the sight of Ines, who was practically asleep now. "Need any help?" he asked. Lily, quite determined to finish her feat, shook her head "I've got it." They paused, all thinking of why she had drunk so much. She drank to ignore the fact that her father was brought into a place she considered home more than her own. He had tainted the night and she would never forgive him. She whispered a goodnight, went up to the stairs, and helped Ines to bed, quickly packed her trunk for the next day using a spell she had read the other night, and went to bed.