“You’re staring again.”
Dean jerks his head back in alarm, eyes shifting to his breakfast then Charlie, who looks infuriatingly amused. He groans and rubs a hand over his face, feels Charlie’s sympathetic pats on his shoulder, but they don’t help much considering it’s eight am on Monday and his mood has already gone to the dogs.
“Honestly, you should say something,” Charlie suggests softly, mindful of their colleagues’ ears ensconcing them at the table. Her eyes have gone all huge and sad, as she knows better than anyone how frustrated Dean has been, and don’t get him wrong, Dean wants to move things along, it’s just. Well, it’s a question of Dean ceasing to be atrociously pathetic, and so far the prospects of that appear rather bleak – like, angry storm cloud bleak.
“I should go, um, check the equipment for the match.”
Dean averts Charlie’s gaze as he stands, and she doesn’t comment on the fact that there will be no match until Saturday. He nods politely at the professor on his other side and moves away toward the massive arched doors, and is halfway past the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor tables when something catches his robe at the elbow.
He turns, wondering if it’s a student, and freezes completely at the realization that it’s not. He can already feel the heat on his face by the time Cas retracts his arm, and his mind is so loud from the thumps of his own heartbeat that the subsequent greeting barely cuts through.
“Good morning, Dean.”
Dean swallows hard, like he always does upon hearing Castiel’s voice. It actually sounds deeper than normal today, rough and sort of tired, and Dean notices the dark circles beneath those beautiful eyes, still so blue and brilliant but laden with the effects of losing sleep.
“Hey, Cas,” he replies. “How was your weekend?”
“I didn’t have much of one, I’m afraid,” Cas sighs with a resigned little wave. “I was holed up in the greenhouses all of yesterday, had my arms buried deep in dirt.”
“Mandrake season, huh?”
“Yes,” Cas says, mouth parting in surprise. “How did you know?”
Shit. “Uh...” I ask about you. I read Herbology books just in case. “A student might’ve mentioned it. Kevin- Kevin Tran? Said the lesson was coming up so he had to find his earmuffs.”
“Right, Mr. Tran,” Cas nods. “He was a great student, a natural with handling mandrakes.”
Was? Oh. Dean only then recalls that Kevin is a third year, not a second. Christ.
“Yes, well...” he finishes lamely, hoping that a shrug might disguise the swell of panic rushing through his brain. But Cas is smiling, not unkindly – because Cas is the nicest wizard Dean has ever met – and for a second Dean thinks he sees a faint blush dusting the guy’s cheekbones. Blushing. Sure. Better add hallucination to his list of affection-related maladies.
“Were you headed to the training grounds?” Cas asks after a moment.
Dean relaxes a bit at the change in topic; flying is a subject he’s far more comfortable discussing. “Yeah, the weather’s perfect for the first years to get some extra practice. They’re probably itching to give it a go, you know, since the last few lessons have all been theory.”
“Any potential recruits for the house teams?”
They’re walking together now, shoulders brushing slightly. If Dean weren’t so focused on answering the question, he’d be way too occupied with the pleasant, citrusy scent lingering on Cas’ skin.
“There’s a Hufflepuff named Alfie Honeysett,” Dean tells Castiel, both of them leaving the Great Hall and turning into the left corridor. “He’s got the instincts to make a solid Keeper.”
“I’m certain he’ll become one under your tutelage. I’ve heard our Quidditch has improved by leaps and bounds ever since you assumed your post.”
“Sounds like someone’s been feeding you lies,” Dean laughs, never having grown accustomed to accepting praise. That the words are coming from Castiel doesn’t make them any easier to digest. In fact, Dean’s ears have resumed their cacophonous ringing, punctuated by his rapidly increasing pulse and the flutter of butterflies in his stomach.
“You could afford to be less modest, Dean,” Cas says with another smile, his tone so fond and genuine that Dean momentarily forgets where they are. When he remembers, his face feels hot, and he also registers that they’ve stopped moving. He tears his eyes away from Cas to their right and sees the sign for Herbology mounted on the brick wall.
“So I guess I’ll... see you, Cas,” he murmurs quietly, managing to look back at him. He sees Cas’ face fall minutely, merely a flash of something akin to disappointment, but a smile returns too quickly for Dean to decipher anything and he chalks the expression up to his imagination once more.
“Yes, Dean. Have a lovely day.”
Cas nods shyly and reaches for the door, disappearing into his classroom in a blur of black and blue. Dean watches, and watches, before shaking his head and continuing down the hallway, and somewhere along his path he runs into Charlie again, has to deal with her sighs and an exasperated nudge into his side.
◇ ◇ ◇
The rest of the week passes with little incident, mainly a repeated pattern of Dean chatting with Cas at breakfast; Dean embarrassing himself in some verbal way; and Cas taking all of this in kind, beatific stride. Each day also has Dean falling harder for the professor, shoving him beyond physical attraction and into the feelings territory – which apparently makes him insufferable because it’s Charlie who’s groaning miserably the following Saturday morning.
“Dean, for the love of Merlin,” she hisses, stabbing at her Toad in the Hole. “I am choking on your unresolved tension over here. Just ask him out already. Please.”
“Have you not seen the guy?” Dean shoots back, equally cross. “He’s smart and, and gorgeous and- You know, I believe that’s what Muggles call ‘being out of your league.’”
Charlie rolls her eyes. “And did you happen to lose your mirror, Dean? Or suffered a mild case of amnesia? Forget about the boys and girls who receive detention on purpose to ogle at your face?”
Dean huffs with full-force indignation. “That’s different. They’re just horny.”
“Oh, and what are you exactly?”
“I’m-” Dean flushes red again, glaring daggers at his blameless eggs. He senses Charlie’s patience as she waits for him to look at her, and he relents once he’s positive that numerous holes have burned their way into his food.
“I know,” she says gently. “I know this is about more than that, and despite the flirtatious façade you kept up in school, you know you’re a huge romantic at heart.”
“I’m...” Dean’s hand curls around his goblet of pumpkin juice, his stubbornness refusing to grant Charlie the satisfaction of being right. She is, though, of course; after all, they’ve been best friends since they were eleven.
“I wouldn’t push if I didn’t believe the feelings are mutual,” Charlie states with some finality, and Dean gives one last, pained sigh before rising up like a martyr from his seat.
◇ ◇ ◇
Dean leaves the Great Hall and heads straight for the Quidditch pitch, stopping by the locker rooms to switch into his referee’s robes. He’s soon swept up in the adrenaline that accompanies every game, which offers him temporary relief from all his anxieties surrounding Cas.
The match today is between Slytherin and Ravenclaw, and Dean jots down a mental note to pay particular attention to dirty plays. The post-war years have amended Slytherin’s reputation somewhat, though that doesn’t mean the House has lost its Machiavellian streak completely.
“I want a clean game,” Dean announces an hour later, clutching his whistle as he peers at the fourteen players hovering above him. The stands and towers are filled, the spectators’ cheers nearly deafening, but Dean’s the one with the megaphone here and both teams know he’ll be watching them like a hawk.
He hears the Chasers start to zip through the air as soon as he tosses the Quaffle, and within twenty minutes Ravenclaw is ahead by an inch, ten points that throw the green and silver crowds in a tizzy. He comes close to blowing his whistle when the Slytherin Seeker narrowly misses an injury, but the match proceeds tamely otherwise and Dean is proud of the students for their sportsmanship. The Slytherin team catches up and leaves the Ravenclaws in the dust for some time, scoring and blocking goals with impressive coordination. To their dismay, however, the Ravenclaw Seeker gets a hold of the Snitch first, and with that the game ends, one-seventy to fifty.
Dean stays on his broom for a bit, flying in figure eights around the goal posts to give the pitch a cursory onceover. He happens to slow next to the Hufflepuff tower where the staff are gathering themselves to head down, and he spots Castiel in the very front row, leaning forward against the wooden ledge. He waves at Dean and Dean’s breath hitches in his throat, at the dark, windswept hair and soft-looking cheeks pink from the chill. Dean wants nothing more than to cradle that face in his hands, and thanks to a single surge of courage, waves back and flies closer till he’s only a feet away.
“That was a great match,” Cas smiles warmly, “and not one instance of foul play. They must be terrified of their coach.”
“Oh yeah, he’s wretched,” Dean laughs. “It’s either cheat or do laps until you cry... or something.”
Cas goes along with the joke, murmurs “Wow” as he widens his eyes. There’s no reason for mock disbelief to be so cute but there he is, charming blue lit up in twinkling amusement.
“Aren’t you cold, by the way?” Castiel asks, which makes Dean realize that, yeah, he might be, just a little. He only has his robes and a pair of gloves to keep him warm, and they don’t provide much insulation at this altitude, not when the sun’s barely peeking out from behind the clouds.
Castiel blinks up at him, forehead delicately creased with concern, and Dean suddenly feels like his chest is too tight because Cas is... worried about him. He’s even more surprised when Cas pulls him closer by his Nimbus, until the toes of Dean’s boots are practically scraping against the drapes. Cas then reach for his own scarf, canary yellow with thin black stripes, and it’s a testament to Dean’s reflexes that he doesn’t topple at the wool coming to encircle his neck.
Cas’ warmth carries over onto his skin, though it’s the kind gesture that heats Dean up more than anything. He watches Cas tie a knot and step back looking pleased, and his immediate impulse is to return the scarf so Cas won’t freeze; bloody hell, how much of a goner is he?
“I’ll be heading in soon,” Cas assures him. “Just... give it back to me at breakfast sometime.”
“I appreciate it, Cas,” Dean smiles. “Thanks.”
Cas nods and turns around, falling in line with the other professors and slipping out the door behind the seats. When he’s gone, Dean is still running the scarf’s fringes through his fingers, and he flips over the end to find C.J. Novak embroidered in loopy text with black thread.
◇ ◇ ◇
“So,” Sam says dramatically in the Three Broomsticks later that day, “you’ve been mooning over this guy for nearly a year, and you’ve yet to ask him out on a date? Dean, what happened to you?”
Dean shoves his brother hard, partly from annoyance, and partly because Sam is taking up an ungodly amount of space in their tiny booth. He then sees Jess’ and Charlie’s teasing smiles across the table, leaving him surrounded on all sides with no choice but to sulk into his Butterbeer – at least Butterbeer has got his back.
“Castiel is different, Sam,” Charlie explains on Dean’s behalf. “I’ve never seen your brother so terribly hung up on anyone like this.”
“I think it’s adorable,” Jess chimes in, blonde curls bouncing perkily around her shoulders. “You should do something about it, though, because if the way Sam behaved is any indication, you’re probably being really obvious anyhow.”
Dean tries to look affronted but Charlie cuts him off with a “You are, sweetheart.”
“Well, you’re the worst,” he groans, dropping his head in his hands, “the whole lot of you.”
“You love us,” Sam laughs as he slaps Dean’s back with his huge paw. Honestly, Dean is one jostle away from investigating the Winchester family tree for giant genes.
He sighs when Sam puts down the galleons for their tab and steers him out of the pub, the cooler air a rather nice respite from the body heat and smoky interior. They linger by the entrance for a moment, planning where to go next, and in a blink Dean is left to wait with Jess while Sam and Charlie head to Tomes and Scrolls for a fast purchase.
Dean doesn’t mind, of course. Jess is sweet and pleasant company, and has known him for almost three years ever since she started dating Sam. Dean remembers reading Sam’s first letter, owled to him from London, three pages of gushing over this girl he’d met on his Muggle Relations externship. Sam had called her smart and so beautiful and a Muggle ‘but that doesn’t matter, does it, Dean?’ He’d sounded worried, which was absurd because Dean just wants his brother to be happy, so he’d written back quickly and simply said, ‘Sammy, you dog. I doubt your supervisor meant that kind of Muggle relations.’
“I’m sorry if you were bothered by our antics, Dean.”
Jess’ voice shakes Dean from his thoughts and he meets her eyes with a soft smile. “Oh, you’re fine. It’s those two hooligans that should be fitted with a pair of muzzles.”
“We just hate seeing you so down is all,” she placates. “Have you thought about how you might ask your friend out?”
He has. Thousands of times. “More or less,” he says weakly.
Jess smiles at him. “Maybe you won’t be as nervous if you practiced.”
“I don’t know,” Dean rubs the back of his neck, which prompts Jess to click her tongue.
“Would you rather it be Sam or Charlie?” she quips. “Or an owl?”
“Well, if you put it like that...” Dean grumbles at her satisfied expression. He should’ve known better than to argue with a solicitor. “Alright, here goes,” he clears his throat, squares his shoulders. “I... would like to take you to coffee next Saturday if you... if you’re free.”
“Like a date?” Jess throws back at him, tilting her head in what must be an exaggerated imitation of Cas. She even lowers her voice a little and puts a frown between her brows and Dean thinks to himself, wow, he has mentioned Cas a lot, hasn’t he.
“Yeah. Yes,” Dean resists the urge to roll his eyes. “Who knows, I might even bring you flowers.”
“Aw, and I wonder where you’d get them from. The Herbology greenhouses, perhaps?”
Dean does give her a bona fide eye roll this time, lets her laugh at him as he shakes his head. He’s got to admit that any kick to his sorry arse is probably beyond well-deserved at this point.
Jess’ eyes widen first, as does Dean’s upon hearing the familiar voice. He turns to find Cas standing close – how could he not have noticed him? – and for a second the mood is awkward though Dean has no real idea why that might be.
“Cas!” he smiles, breaking the silence. “Running errands?”
“Yes, I was just...” Cas gestures vaguely to his right. “I’m headed to Dogweed and Deathcap.” His voice quiets near the end and there’s something off about the way he avoids Dean’s gaze. The tip of his nose is slightly reddened from the cold and Dean could hit himself for leaving the scarf back at school. Damn, he should’ve brought it just in case.
“Right, um,” he says in lieu of an apology. “Uh, god, I’m being rude, aren’t I. Jess, this is my friend Cas, Herbology professor at Hogwarts. And Cas, this is Jess, my-”
“There you are!”
Dean bristles at the interruption but the irritation fades when he sees that it’s Charles, the cheery Divination professor. Shurley smiles at Dean then Jess and asks Cas if he’s ready for the plant shop, sighs that he definitely needs to go buy some tea leaves since without them he’d be bereft of crucial lesson supplies on Monday.
“Of course,” Cas replies. “Dean. Jessica.”
His blue eyes are solemn and Dean has no chance for a goodbye before he turns away swiftly with Charles in tow.
“Is it just me or did he seem...”
Dean nods helplessly, feels Jess’ eyes on him as he stares at Cas’ retreating back. Charles is talking with animated hand gestures, a contrast to the stiffness evident in his colleague’s frame, and Dean cannot help but wonder what could have possibly happened in the past few hours.
◇ ◇ ◇
By Monday, Dean’s gathered enough courage to put his plan into action, thanks to Sam pestering him to “grow a pair,” effectively motivating him via wounding his pride. Charlie, meanwhile, offers to do the reconnaissance work, and Dean, following her tip-off, heads to the greenhouses right after second period.
Sure enough, the houses are empty, and it doesn’t take long for Dean to spot Cas bent over a work station by the windows. He contemplates knocking, or maybe taking louder footsteps, but ultimately he decides to just say “Hey, Cas,” which turns out to be the worst idea of them all.
Cas spins around so quickly that he bumps a pot off the edge of the counter, and a crash reverberates around the greenhouse when the dried clay collides with the floor right by his feet. He jumps to the side, wide-eyed and wary, watches Dean uses his wand to mend the damage and tend to the mess. He extends both hands to catch the planter Dean soon levitates in its restored form, and only then does he let out his breath, though it sounds heavy and tired and sad.
“Thank you,” he murmurs nonetheless. “What can I do for you, Dean?”
“Oh, well, I...” Dean lowers his wand and ducks his head. “I’m here to ask if... If, uh-”
“Peonies would be a good choice. I have quite a few colors blooming this week, though the pink ones are- They’re the loveliest, in my opinion. The flower symbolizes romance, and prosperity, but I suppose the latter is a bit... weighty for a relationship in its early stages.”
Dean has absolutely no idea what is going on. “Cas, I don’t-”
“Or the hydrangeas,” Cas continues to speak as he walks past the nettles and lilies and asphodels. He pauses at a box that’s more like a cloud of bright emerald green, brushes the petals with his fingertips and smiles so faintly that Dean almost misses it. “These are my favorite; they remind me of your-” he drops his hand. “I, um, I do have orange and blue as well if...”
“I think-” Dean interrupts desperately. “Cas, I’m not really following you here.”
Cas finally looks at him, though it’s brief and guarded, breaks his fucking heart. The most devastating part is that he doesn’t know why their dynamic has changed, because if doesn’t know, then he can’t fix it, and if he can’t fix it, then-
“I didn’t mean to overhear,” Cas says, eyes hard and focused away from Dean. His hands, however, stay busy as they grab an empty pot to fill partway with soil, and he pushes the whole thing into Dean’s arms a moment later, telling him, “Please take a bouquet of whatever you prefer. I should- There are plants in the other greenhouse that require my attention.”
He leaves in a flash, before Dean can protest, and when the door swings shut all that remains is a tense, smothering silence. Dean sees Cas’ silhouette beyond the frosted glass and his grip tightens on the ceramic resting in his hands. It’s beautiful, painted blue, majestic winged horses etched along the bottom. Dean debates putting it back, as he’s unsure why Cas gave it to him to begin with, but then he glimpses the patch of blue hydrangeas out of one corner, flowers that match the shade of Cas’ eyes.
He returns to his office with a small bunch, places the pot on his desk and peers down at it for god knows how long. They provide no answers to the many questions swarming inside his head, but he does realize that his least favorite color ever is that of Castiel’s melancholy baby blues.
◇ ◇ ◇
That evening, an owl departs the West Tower with a letter for Professor Balthazar Novak at the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic. The note isn’t lengthy at all, just barely taking up three inches of parchment, and the elegant handwriting upon it reads:
I’m afraid he already has a significant other. Thank you for your advice regardless.