Chapter 34

The gown Ines decided on wearing was simple yet beautiful, a delicate sheath of white overlaid with silvery gauze. The neckline swooped dramatically low, while the sleeves were nothing more than transparent bands of silver lace. Putting one last pin into her hair she glanced over at Lily. The blue gown she'd chosen was the color of the ocean, the rippling watered silk seeming to subtly change from blue to white to nearly purple in different lights. Not exactly festive, contrasting the themes of Christmas that filled the castle.

To everyone's surprise, Lily had asked James to accompany her to Slughorns. She had asked him in the common room the day before, Ines having missed it by mere seconds only saw Lily run up the stairs she had just descended with a blush and a wide smile. As well as James, practically frozen in his seat, while Sirius and Remus smiled and laughed at him. Sirius had ran up to her, "She's finally done it, she's asked to spend time with him on her own free will and all he can respond with is 'alright'." Ines had laughed with them for a few minutes, trying to shake James out of his stupor before running back up to her dormitory. When she entered Lily was rummaging through her trunk, looking for the dress, and turned to her only to say "Don't say a word." before turning back to her trunk, the blush yet again on her cheeks.

Ines was correct in thinking that when she went down to the common room to find Sirius, James would be exploding with anticipation. Sirius came to the doorway and surveyed her leisurely. "Merlin's beard Ines," he murmured. "Shut it!" she spat back playfully before grabbing his arm. She pulled him to the door, receiving a few glances from surrounding students. James' gaze was set on nothing else but Lily, who had just stepped through the doorway from the stairwell. The two stopped for only a moment to admire their friends, having found friendship in each other, before setting off to the party. As the full moon was soon approaching, Remus stayed behind to rest to both his friends and Slughorn's dismay.

Still arm in arm the two of them paraded through the halls. Ines slowed suddenly, bringing Sirius with her to her slower pace. "I nearly forgot," she muttered, digging into the hidden pocket in the side of the dress. She pulled out the necklace Sirius had gifted her last Christmas, surrounding the charm was a garland of sparkling flowers, lilacs, her favorite. She handed it to him, "put it on for me?". He took a moment, gazing into her eyes before arranging it in his hands as she turned to face the other way. "I thought I noticed something different," he muttered from behind Ines and fastened it gently around her neck. The cold weight of the charms and the warm brush of his fingers at her nape elicited a shiver. He remained behind her, his hands settling lightly on the curves of her neck, moving in a warm stroke to the tops of her shoulders. "Lovely," he murmured. "Although nothing is as beautiful as your bare skin.". She whirled back around to face him, her face dangerously close to his considering they were in public. Before he could lean in any further she grabbed his shoulder and pushed him away and forward, trying her best yet failing at hiding her smile. His laughter bounced through the empty corridor, one of Ines' favorite sounds.

The music from Slughorn's party could be heard from a ways down the hall. Ines and Sirius' hold up had caused James and Lily to catch up with them and they all walked in together. This party was much more informal than last years Christmas party had been. A large dining table had been obstructed, beside it was a large buffet table by which people were milling about. Many students had already arrived, a few Hufflepuffs spoke with Slughorn who already had a drink clutched in his hand.

Ines, still arm in arm with Sirius, immediately spotted Oberon. He was standing next to Regulus which was no surprise to anyone. But something was different in him, he was standing closer to him than usual and seemed much more relaxed. Despite or hatred, or whatever it may be, that she had for her brother she couldn't help but smile at the sight of him. Slughorn being on the opposite side of the room allowed the four of them to be able to enjoy themselves for a while without being bombarded with invasive questions and took the opportunity to stroll around his office. Walking close to his desk Ines and Sirius stopped at his shelves of photos. There was a photo of him and the Holyhead Harpies, him and what seemed to be his family, and then multiple past slug club photos. Ines gazed at them all, noticing that the higher up on the shelves they went the older they were. It wasn't until her gaze reached the top of the highest shelf, on the second to last photo. The eyes that gazed down at hers were too hard to miss, as they were her own.

Arthur Avery was never a kind man, and Ines was glad to say that she only knew her grandfather for a short amount of time. He died when Ines and Oberon were seven, and it was hard to discern if her father even mourned him. Ines, ignoring Sirius' confused look, reached up and grabbed the photo to get a better look at it. In the photo he was clearly in his last year of Hogwarts, standing besides students of a similar age, all surrounding a much younger looking Slughorn. She recognized the man next to him to be the recently deceased Nott man, but the man on his opposite side was someone Ines had never seen before. His skin was milky white, contrasting his perfectly manicured dark hair. His smile wasn't much of a smile at all and more of a smirk. As if he knew something, and nothing pleasant.

Suddenly, a movement and the sound of a door slamming open from a bit further in the room caught her eye. A man stood in the doorway, leaning upon a long staff, shrouded in a black traveling cloak. He lowered his hood, shook out a long mane of grizzled, dark gray hair, then began to walk up towards Ines. It looked as though his face had been carved out of weathered wood by someone who had only the vaguest idea of what human faces are supposed to look like, and was none too skilled with a chisel. Every inch of skin seemed to be scarred. The mouth looked like a diagonal gash, and a large chunk of the nose was missing. But it was the man's eyes that made him frightening. One of them was small, dark, and beady. The other was large, round as a coin, and a vivid, electric blue. The blue eye was moving ceaselessly, without blinking, and was rolling up, down, and from side to side, quite independently of the normal eye, and then it rolled right over, pointing into the back of the man's head so that all she could see was whiteness.

He stopped in front of Ines, who had instinctively backed into Sirius. "What is it that you know about the men in this picture?". His voice matched his appearance and demeanor as exactly as Ines had thought it would. She stammered for only a second before muttering her answer. "My grandfather is in this photo, he's third to last in the back row." Her voice slowly got softer as she spoke, as the man got closer and closer. His bright blue eye scoured the photo for what seemed to be fifty times before he looked up at her. "You're Victor Avery's daughter, aren't you." She nodded. "And your brother is the boy right over there.". His eye flew backward, so Ines could only see the white of it. Indeed, behind him making his way to a seat at the table was Oberon. She nodded again. The eye landed back on her again, flitting up to Sirius behind her and back down to her.

"Why isn't your father here?". Ines shrugged, "I wouldn't know, I haven't spoken to him since winter break. My brother would know.". He looked her up and down, "What house are you in?". Ines briefly looked up at Sirius, and he gave her a nod of reassurance. "Gryffindor, we both are.". He took one more second to look at them both before straightening up and taking a step back. As if he knew it was coming, Slughorn popped up next to him. "Alastor Moody! It is so very good to see you, I see you have met Miss Avery and Mr. Black. What wonderful students they both are.". He nodded, his blue eye still fleeting about.

"Why Ines," Slughorn exclaimed, "Was it not you who expressed interest in being an Auror? Alastor here is one of the best our ministry has!". Ines nodded, flinching a bit as Alastors piercing gaze was back on her. "We can discuss it over our meal, I should have called it a few minutes ago," Slughorn muttered before transfiguring his glass into a dinner bell. Alastor gripped her arm before she could take a step away, "You've got a good head on your shoulders, send me a letter when you get out of school and we can talk about you being an Auror.".He then strode off sat down, shook his mane of dark gray hair out of his face, pulled a plate of sausages toward him, raised it to what was left of his nose, and sniffed it. He then took a small knife out of his pocket, speared a sausage on the end of it, and began to eat. His normal eye was fixed upon the sausages, but the blue eye was still darting around restlessly around in its socket, taking in the students.

Sirius and Ines made their way a few seats down the table to sit by Lily and James who were speaking surprisingly civilly. James leaned over Lily to look at the two of them, "What in bloody hell was that?". Ines ran her fingers through her hair, in an attempt to calm herself down. "Alastor Moody, an Auror, asked me about my family a bit.". Sirius leaned forward to look at James better, "That's not even the best part, said she had a good head on her shoulders and asked to send him a letter when she gets out of here about being an Auror.". Lily gripped Ines arm in excitement, "Ines that's wonderful!". Ines tried to stifle her smile in the slightest and shushed her playfully before turning back to her meal. She tried not to get her hopes up about anything, and with the inevitability of the future, she didn't know how much further she could even think. The dark thoughts swirling in her mind were drowned out by a hand on her thigh, not in any sort of sexual way, just a firm grip on her. A grip that tethered her and that stayed there the whole meal.