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Love Me, Love Me Not

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Professor Crowley was lecturing about how correctly brewed potions could change lives, but as far as Dean was concerned, the Potions classroom just reeked of a challenge. Well, that and the charred remains of what was supposed to be his Swelling Solution. Potions was hard. He’d always struggled in the class; keeping track of every intricate detail wasn’t his strong suit to begin with and there was Novak to consider. The smug, distracting little...little jerk was always trying to ruin things for Dean. That much was especially clear after last year’s exams and it seemed Castiel hadn't changed during the summer.

(Unfortunate, really, because Dean had been hoping he’d be eaten by a dragon or something.)

Normally, Dean could reasonably ignore Novak. But that was on better days. It certainly didn’t occur on the days Dean slept through breakfast, spilled ink on his nearly finished Charms paper and tripped on one of the moving staircases. Really, it was just cruel that he even had to look at Castiel for a single moment after a day like that, much less sit near him in Potions. Worse, today, Castiel had opted to announce pointless Potions facts to his tablemates and, by nature of his location, Dean himself.

Did you know Felix Felicis is banned at Quidditch games? Felix Felicis is actually a luck potion.

They actually developed a new strain of fire resistant potion for dragon tamers, it’s supposed to be able to withstand extreme temperatures for half an hour!

Apparently every person smells something different in a love potion. Gabriel says it’s one of the hardest potions he ever brewed in Year 6, but I’m thinking if I work hard, I could make it earlier.

It was clear to Dean that with every ‘fun’ fact, Castiel was merely trying to distract everyone from how bad his Swelling Solution was. It might not be smoking like Dean’s, but that didn’t mean Castiel wasn’t struggling just as much. Probably more, given how many obnoxious factoids he was spewing. Dean tried valiantly to ignore him, but the last comment was just too much. He scoffed loudly, catching the attention of the other table.

“What now?” Castiel sighed, reminding Dean that there was one category Castiel had changed in. He’d gone from openly antagonistic in his interactions with Dean to something akin to sad. Disappointed. Which, really, was a truly evil thing to do. Trying to frame Dean as some bully when it was obvious Castiel was the bully! Looking down on everyone without a ‘pure’ magical background.

He’d tried to explain as much to Jo, and Anna, and really anyone who would listen, but his friends had grown tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. In fact, Anna in particular seemed not to be immune to Castiel’s devious trickery, shooting Dean a look that clearly said stop.

Which only made Dean more irritated. “You? Making a love potion? Did your Swelling Solution hit your ego?”

“Dean!” Anna snapped.

“Lemme guess,” Dean continued, trying to ignore Castiel, who looked like he’d been punched. How low could he get? Acting like Dean might have actually hurt his feelings. “You probably also think I couldn’t make a Love Potion early because--”

“--at what point did I mention your name?” Castiel replied, his voice frustratingly calm, “Not everything is about you, Winchester.” He turned back to his table in an obvious attempt to dodge the conversation, which only made Dean more furious.

“I bet you I could make a love potion this year!”

“Why would I possibly care about that bet?” Castiel kept his back to Dean, reaching to stir his potion a couple times.

“If I do make the potion, you have to admit I’m a genius. In front of everyone,” Dean said. That, surely, would irritate Novak. “And if I don’t...well...I’ll say you’re a genius.”

“Not good enough,” Castiel replied, “If you don’t succeed, I want you to leave me alone.”

Another surge of irritation rolled over Dean. What a snide comment, just another jab at how cruel Dean was. Which obviously wasn’t true. Castiel was no victim in this. Just a couple months ago he’d have been hurling insults back with ease, but ever since that incident in the Forbidden Forest, he’d acted like Dean had kicked his puppy. Though, really, how could Novak be surprised at Dean’s answer? As though they could possibly ever be friends.

“Fine,” Dean said, “That’s the bet.” He extended a hand to shake, which Castiel took. Castiel’s hand was soft, stupidly soft, and Dean squeezed it just a little too hard. He smirked as Castiel winced and reveled in the blessed silence that fell over the remainder of Potions class.

 

---

 

As much as Dean hated to admit it, Castiel might have had a point when he talked about how hard it was to brew a Love Potion. He’d started feeling fairly confident as he managed to get a book on love potions from the library. Dean had gotten a weird look, but came up with a pretty great lie about how he was running errands for an older student who was going to tutor him. Such things must have occurred often, because when he was handed the book, he was also told “don’t let ‘em work you too hard.”

The book was simply titled Amore , and within it detailed the history of love potions, as well as a variety of batches formulated by different witches and wizards. Dean chose the easiest one, which the book promised was a simple concoction for simulating infatuation. And at first, it did look simple. Rose thorns, for example, were an easy ingredient to get his hands on, as was peppermint. But then the list quickly turned to pearl dust, moonstone, and something called ashwinder eggs.

“How’m I supposed to find ashwinder eggs?” he muttered to himself, reaching for his own potions book to look them up. As he reached for the book, however, he brushed against Turvey, the house elf. Dean yelped.

“Is sir looking for ingredients for his bet with Novak?” Turvey asked, staring down at Dean’s open book with wide, unblinking eyes. Dean stopped asking how Turvey knew these sorts of things. Turvey seemed to know everything.

“Yeah,” Dean nodded, “You don’t happen to know where I could find these, do you?”

“Sir wants to win the bet.”

“Definitely.”

“So sir can continue to have contact with Novak.”

“Defin--wait, no!” Dean shook his head vehemently as soon as he understood what the house-elf was getting at. “No, it’s so Novak will call me a genius and feel like an idiot.” He corrected Turvey. Clearly some part of the bet had been muddled between its conception and Turvey hearing about it.

And you will continue to be in contact,” Turvey added wisely. Well, it would have been wisely if his statement had actually been wise and not crazy . Dean wasn’t keeping up with this bet to make sure he could keep talking to Castiel. He was doing it to prove a point. And maybe humiliate Castiel. Really, Dean would win either way but obviously proving a point was a better reward. 

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“Hmmm,” the elf was not convinced, “Turvey still wants to help,” Turvey peered over Dean’s shoulder, looking at the list. “I could find you most of these ingredients soon.”

“Really? Awesome! That’s, wow, that’s really awesome! Thank you!” Dean beamed. Maybe this bet would be winnable after all. Which he was only concerned about because he wanted Novak to call him a genius. Turvey might be great for a lot of things, but he clearly couldn’t read people.

Dean, wanting to stay in contact with Castiel? Never.

He even made it a point to remind Turvey as much when Turvey arrived a week later with the full spread of ingredients necessary for the potion. He thanked the house elf profusely, of course, but really, Turvey ought to know all the facts about how horrible Novak was. After half an hour, Turvey still didn’t look convinced and Dean decided to drop it. After all, with the ingredients at his disposal, it was high time to start the love potion.

Even with the ingredients, though, the potion looked wildly difficult. It had to be brewed at certain times, like under a full moon, and at exact temperatures. Ingredients had to be added at precise moments, stirred just so...not to mention, he’d have to find a place to hide it when he brewed. Somewhere the professors wouldn’t think to look. For a guy who struggled with even a Swelling Solution, something like this seemed almost out of reach.

Almost . There was no way he was going to let Castiel win. Not now. Not ever.

The solution to the location came rather like the solution to the ingredients, through the help of a trusted friend. This time, it was Hannah, who shyly showed Dean an abandoned girl’s bathroom that she herself occasionally frequented, largely due to the privacy. “People don’t come here because it’s haunted by Becky,” she informed him,  “But Becky’s harmless, really. Just lonely.”

“Why are you helping me, anyway?” Dean asked as she helped him carry his sack of ingredients to the bathroom. He hefted an old cauldron, trying to pretend it wasn’t that heavy. “You being Castiel’s friend and all.”

Hannah shrugged. “I don’t think either of you will benefit from you losing the bet.”

Dean had half a mind to explain to her what he’d tried to explain to Turvey, that it wasn’t about losing contact with Novak (smug, stupid Novak) and was entirely about how the benefits from winning outweighed the benefits of losing. But Hannah was so kind, it felt rude to be badmouthing her friend while she was helping him. Even if her friend was an asshole.

So instead, he let her talk. They chatted about classes for a while before making it to the bathroom, where Hannah introduced him to Becky, a wide-eyed bespectacled ghost girl who was obsessed with any sort of attention. Hannah also helped him get set up and even promised to make sure nobody bothered the potion. When Hannah finally left to study, Dean was forced to start working.

Carefully, he stoked the flames and poured the first ingredient, lavender water soaked in the light of a waning moon, into the cauldron and started to stir.

“Are you going to use that on a girl?” Becky interrupted, drifting close enough for Dean to feel a slight rush of cold air on his shoulder, “Because I’m pretty sure I’m already in love with you.”

Yeah, this was gonna be a hard potion to brew.

 

---

 

The potion soon became his life. It was all he could think about. Classes were neglected, his time with friends grew slim and he barely had the energy to inform Novak about how well the potion was going. But he still made time.

“I’m just gonna rub in how great my potion’s going,” Dean said to Jo, heartened by the puff of heart shaped smoke that had emitted, right on schedule, out of the cauldron that morning. At least, he certainly hoped it was heart shaped. It been hard to tell. Becky had cheered for him though, leaning in to kiss his cheek, and he’d had to make up an excuse as he dashed out of the bathroom. Still, not even a Becky kiss could dampen his spirits. Two weeks into his potion and nothing had gone seriously wrong.

Jo was less impressed.

“Let me get this straight,” Jo sighed, rubbing her temples as they sat down to eat breakfast about two weeks after Dean had started the potion. Dean had just started to eat when he’d noticed Castiel enter the Great Hall and stood up to confront him. “You don’t have time to play games with us during the weekends, but you do have time to talk to Castiel?”

“It’s not like we’re going to chat the day away,” Dean replied, rolling his eyes, “I’m just going to remind him that I’m superior to him in every way.”

Jo made a show of groaning loudly as he left the table, jogging to Castiel’s side. Castiel was in the process of serving himself breakfast, it made sense that someone as bland as him would choose oatmeal as his meal of choice. When Dean tapped Castiel’s shoulder, the boy flinched, turning around with a frown. When his blue eyes caught Dean’s, the frown deepened.

Dean smirked.

“Guess what, Novak?”

“You’ve decided to be nicer to me?”

“Only when you’re nicer to me ,” Dean sneered, “Which, by the way, will start in about two weeks when my perfect love potion is done. Because you’ll actually have to compliment me.”

“Oh, only two more weeks before you leave me alone?” Castiel asked airily, an irritatingly smug look crossing his face as he stared up at Dean. It was a simple reminder of just how much Dean despised him.

“Dream on,” Dean replied, wondering vaguely if Castiel ever dreamed. He might just plug into a magical power source and charge like a robot. Dean snickered at the mental image of Castiel in pajamas, chest glowing as his battery charged back up to 100%.

“Yo, Winchester!” Jo’s voice rang out over the din of the Great Hall, “Get back here!”

“Duty calls,” Dean gave Castiel a casual salute as he swaggered away. Castiel might think he had the upper hand now, but in two weeks, Dean was going to be privy to Castiel’s stupid shocked gasp as he admitted, in front of everyone, that Dean was a genius. And the best part was? There was no way Novak could upstage him without looking bad. It really was a brilliant plan on Dean’s part, especially given how well his potion was coming along.

He ignored the way his grades slipped ever so slightly.

But thanks to his intense focus, about a month later, the potion was almost complete. Dean sat in the bathroom he’d come to call his own, ignoring Becky’s gossip about classmates who had since moved on. In any other circumstance, Dean was positive Becky would have driven him up a wall, but nothing could distract him from this goal. He hummed one of his favorite songs as he consulted the potions book. The noon-time sunlight shone in through one of the small windows as he worked.

With careful precision, Dean added the final ingredient, which turned out to simply be cloves, stirring once, then twice, then three times counter-clockwise until...done. The potion shimmered silver as Dean extinguished the flames under the cauldron. According to the recipe, if brewed correctly the potion should look...exactly how it did! Dean beamed; he’d actually done it. The final indicator was the scent, which the book informed him would vary between creators, but inevitably smell like things he loved.

Tentatively, Dean leaned forwards, sniffing the potion. He could smell his mother’s apple pie, that was a good sign, and the motor oil from his family’s Impala, also a good sign, and something else...something familiar...something that smelled, in a way he couldn’t quite explain, like...Castiel?

Dean recoiled. No. No way. That couldn’t be right. He sniffed again, and again he caught scents of pie, and oil and Castiel .

This could mean only one thing.  Castiel had somehow discovered the potion and purposely ruined it .

Of course he would, that was exactly the sort of sneaky, underhanded strategy Castiel had been utilizing lately. Dean was angry. Nay. Furious. This went way beyond Castiel’s usual trickery. And he had to pay. Dean poured a small amount of the potion into a vial, proof of Castiel’s misdeeds, and left to find him. Spoiling over a month’s worth of work over a bet was one of the worst things Castiel had done to date, and he’d done some pretty awful things.

It was easy enough to track Castiel down; everyone knew that Castiel spent most of his free time in the library. Today Dean found him tucked far back in between a couple shelves of wizard history, sitting cross-legged on the floor as he read a book on Charms. Of course he’d be tucked away. Dean would be hiding too if he’d just sabotaged someone’s potion. The infuriating thing was how relaxed Castiel looked, leaning casually against the wall. Dean bent down, grabbing him by his cloak. “What are you playing at, Novak?”

Castiel dropped the book, blue eyes wide for a moment before they narrowed into a glare. “What does that even mean?”

Playing dumb. Classic Novak. “My potion, dumbass. You ruined it.”

“Dean, if this is about last year--”

“--it’s about the love potion!” Dean hissed, his face scarlet as he could barely contain his irritation. “ My love potion, which you ruined.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about…” Castiel looked bewildered, which only stoked the fire of fury that roared in Dean’s brain. It was one thing to ruin his potion, but at least Novak could own up to his misdeeds instead of slinking around like a Slytherin. Dean let him go, roughly pushing Castiel back onto the floor.

“This,” Dean pulled the vial of potion from his robes, uncorking it as he shoved it under Castiel’s nose. “This potion smells funny.”

Castiel sniffed. “Old books,” he mumbled, “Honey...and…” he turned pink. “Where did you get this love potion?”

“I already told you, I made it.”

“Then, congratulations,” Castiel looked a little shaken, “You...you’re a genius.”

Dean rolled his eyes. Even now, Castiel sounded sarcastic. Of course he’d try and rub it in that Dean hadn’t actually succeeded. “Well, it would have been perfect if it didn’t smell like you .”

At those words, Castiel turned a darker shade of pink.

“I can see your guilt, you know,” Dean pointed out. Seriously, for a guy who’d been playing up being a victim, Castiel was certainly having a hard time lying now. His face was lit up like a Christmas tree, “You don’t have a good poker face at all.”

“I don’t know what that means, but I didn’t--” Castiel took a deep breath, trying to scoot away from Dean, but he bumped into the bookshelf. Dean followed, keeping the incriminating potion shoved under Castiel’s nose, “Maybe you just made a mistake. That would...that would make this whole thing palatable.”

Palatable? Really? His mistake would make this all better? Dean fumed. “Quit that! It smells like you, I know you had something to do with it!” Dean snapped, “I worked so hard on this,  harder than anything else and you...you just had to ruin it!”

“Why do you peg all your failures on me?” Castiel replied, pushing Dean’s hand away. The potion tilted precariously, but Dean managed to keep it all inside the vial, “I’ve spent the last month avoiding you!”

“Yeah!” Dean snapped, “For part of your evil plan to make me look bad!”

Castiel opened and closed his mouth, face entirely flushed now. “You...you are really that self-centered, that arrogant , that you think I’m the one trying to make your life bad? Winchester, you make my life hell!

In the heat of the moment, Dean swung his fist, forgetting one extraordinarily crucial fact: he was still holding the open vial of love potion. It splattered all over Castiel’s face, dripping down into his mouth and onto his shirt. The world seemed to slow considerably, Castiel gaping up at Dean, his eyes widening, then--

You have so many freckles ,” Castiel whispered dreamily, the expression in his eyes something akin to awe. It was a new look on Castiel and Dean wasn’t sure how to react. “No wonder everyone wants to be your friend.”

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“Stop it, Cas,” Dean said, disliking this sudden turn of events. The likeliest solution was, of course, that Castiel was faking it, but that didn’t stop it from being weird. Besides, if Castiel was faking it, that also meant he was mocking Dean at the same time. Dean was about to add a more furious reply when Castiel spoke again.

“If I carry your books, can I be your friend?” Castiel asked, “Or...or maybe even…” he looked away, smiling a shy smile that Dean had never seen before. Suddenly, Dean wasn’t so sure about what was happening.

“Well, Cas,” Dean licked his lips nervously, an odd feeling forming in the pit of his stomach as a plan started to emerge, “I gotta go to Charms soon. I don’t have any books, but you could me how great I am.”

Castiel absolutely beamed . “You are so great!” he exclaimed. If there was pretense, he was doing a darn good job of acting infatuated. “You are very talented and have very pretty eyes.”

Dean snickered. It was starting to seem like Castiel was right, that his love potion did work. And oh, what an incredible way to find out. This was the best possible outcome to his bet. As they walked to class, Castiel stayed close to Dean’s side.

“You have a nice smile,” Castiel said, “And you’re popular and very clever. My mother would probably rather have you as her son than me.”

Suddenly, Dean didn’t feel so great about continuing on with the potion. He became aware of all the eyes on them as they wandered through the halls. Would word get out? What would happen to Castiel? Why on earth did he care about Castiel, it wasn’t like Castiel was that great. But...his love potion had smelled like Castiel. What was that all about?

So consumed in his own line of questioning, Dean hardly noticed he’d made it to class until he felt Castiel’s arms wrap around him. “I’ll miss you, Dean!” Castiel mumbled, but all Dean could think was Cas hugs like this is the last hug he’ll ever get .

For a moment, he forgot who he was hugging and simply hugged back. It felt like the kind of hug one received on a special occasion, like the hug he’d given Sam when he’d gotten back from Hogwarts. When Castiel finally pulled away, he was beaming. For the briefest moment, the whole world felt like it had slid into place. Like he and Castiel were meant to be more than enemies. Then--

“I have a crush on Dean Winchester!” Castiel exclaimed loudly, “A great big crush!” The shouting gathered the attention of the students in the halls, as well as those in the classroom. Many of which knew Castiel. Dean cringed. This no longer felt like a fun game.

Sure, he’d wanted Castiel to make a fool of himself, but not like this. Not under the effects of a love potion he hadn’t asked to take.

“Shhhh, Cas,” he said, wrapping an arm around Castiel’s shoulder and covering his mouth with his other hand as he tried to shush him. But Castiel could not be stopped, wiggling out of Dean’s grasp to poke his head into a nearby classroom to announce how spectacular Dean was. He might have continued, too, but he was stopped by none other than Professor Novak. She looked as intimidating as ever, her footsteps echoing as she increased her pace down the hallway towards Castiel. Dean stepped out of the way, pressing himself against the doorway to the classroom. He didn’t want to get in trouble, but he was also, just a little, worried for Castiel.

“I see my son is making a fool of himself,” she said sternly, grabbing Castiel by the shoulders and guiding him away from any more classrooms, settling them along the wall across from the doorway Dean had settled himself into. He ignored the chatter inside the classroom that had arisen with Castiel's declarations as he tried to see what would happen to Novak.

“I can’t help it!” Castiel said, though Dean could see the potion-induced cheer sliding off his face, “I’m infatuated with Dean!” This declaration was not as intense as his previous ones, the smile wavering on his face.

“Your infatuation is embarrassing not only you, but your family in front of half the school,” she replied coldly, and Dean couldn’t help but feel his heart tighten as the last of the potion wore off. He could tell as much because Castiel’s smile, that rare thing, was completely gone. In its place was an expression of disappointed contrition. Castiel’s shoulders slumped and he stared down at the floor.

“What has gotten into you, anyway?”

“It’s…” Castiel stole one look back at Dean, an expression of pure hurt crossing his face as they locked eyes. Dean inched further through the door, afraid of what might happen if Castiel turned him in. Castiel looked back at his mother, voice wobbling ever so slightly, “...a spell gone wrong. I have been feeling so stressed, so I--”

Professor Novak tutted, cutting him off. “Disgraceful, Castiel. Airing your failures like that, in such a disgraceful manner?” she sighed, shaking her head, “I have a class teach now, but I expect to see you tonight. In my office. As for you, Winchester,” she pointed at him, “Get inside and take a seat.”

Had...had Novak just lied to his own mother? Stunned, Dean tried to peer out the doorway to see if Castiel was okay, but before he knew it, Professor Novak was sweeping him into the classroom. The door swung shut with a loud bang. Turning away from the door, Dean scanned the classroom, settling on an empty seat next to Jo. When Dean sat down, she grinned at him. “Guess you won the love potion bet, huh?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled, staring at his hands. He was supposed to feel awesome after winning the bet. That was the whole point, right? Proving he could do something that should have been impossible for second year students, having Novak admit he was a genius and watching as Castiel make a fool of himself in front of everyone? It was the stuff of daydreams. But all he could think of was the look of betrayal on Castiel’s face before his mother scolded him and once again, Dean felt sorry for the guy he was supposed to hate.

Then again, if his potion worked and smelled like Castiel...Dean sighed. He hated Castiel, right? He couldn’t not hate him. Even if he gave nice hugs and smiled widely and lied to his mother to keep Dean out of trouble. The love potion was...well. The love potion was a confusing wrench in Dean’s otherwise clear worldview. He spent half of class trying not to think about the Castiel smell, and the other half trying not to wonder what it was that Cas had smelled in the love potion that had made him blush.

One thing was for certain: things were not nearly as clear as he imagined they’d be after winning the bet. Professor Crowley was right. A correctly brewed potion really could change things.