Chapter Six: In the Air
Sam made his way to the lab directly after dinner, carrying a tin of Bobby's muscle ointment in one pocket. Dean hadn't been happy when he'd mentioned what he'd be doing, but Cas had backed him up. Sam had shared his suspicions about Snape with both of them, and Dean had reluctantly agreed that they should watch him. Besides, even he was a fan of medicine that worked in less than half the time that regular stuff did.
He knocked on the door politely. There was a shimmer in the air, like looking through glass, or water, and then the snick of a lock. He took that as a sign to let himself in.
Snape was already working away when he showed up, multiple cauldrons over various fires. He gestured at a pile of plants on one table as Sam came in. "Those need to be chopped fine and put in that cauldron..." He indicated a smallish one closest to the table of leaves. "...to stew."
Sam nodded. "Sure. Got any spare knives? My hunting knife isn't the best for this." Not that it couldn't be used, but Sam suspected that Snape appreciated proper instruments.
Snape jerked his head towards a cabinet. Sam opened it to find equipment of all kinds. He searched through the knives to find one suited to chopping that was sharp enough for him. He took it to the sink and cleaned it, as a precaution, then went back to the table. "When you say fine...how fine? I mean, more like herbs for seasoning, or more like grated cheese fine? Or, like chopping onions?"
Snape raised his head to stare at him a moment. Then he turned back to his cauldron. "The finer the better."
Sam nodded and set to work. It had been a while since he'd done anything like this, but it was simple work, easier than many things he did in hunting. Before long, he'd fallen into a rhythm. The methodical thump of the knife was almost hypnotizing.
Finally it was done. He took a sample to Snape. "This fine enough?"
Snape glanced at it. "Yes."
He went back, dumped the leaves in the cauldron. It smoked a little, giving off a sharp herbal scent. A scent Sam thought he recognized. He blinked. "This is...dittany?"
That earned him a sharp glance, followed by a slow nod. "It is."
Sam relaxed, studying the cauldron. "Is this the whole potion, or just the base?"
Snape didn't even look up that time. "Dittany potion requires very little. The hardest task is to draw out the full potency of the leaves in a liquid form. Finely chopped, stewed, and drained has been know to produce the best results. Though it sometimes mixed with other herbs to enhance the strength. I find that to be unnecessary, if the dittany is properly chopped, and risky besides. Dittany is fairly innocuous of it's own, but most enhancing herbs can have unfortunate side effects, particularly if mixed with other potions in the bloodstream." He looked at the cauldron. "Leave that. It will take time." He tilted his head at another table, this one with a pile of bug carcasses. "I need those ground. A fine powder, and put it in a marble bowl."
"Fine powder, marble bowl. Got it." Sam went back to the cabinet to get the appropriate items and got to work. Closer inspection revealed they weren't actual dead bugs, just what looked like beetle carapaces. "Are these beetle?"
"Scarab. No questions for the next three minutes." Snape's tone was sharp, but it was the distracted type of sharpness Sam recognized in both himself and Bobby during a research project. Snape needed to focus on something.
He settled in to grind the carapaces, watching Snape. The man was stirring another cauldron. He seemed to be timing the stirs very carefully. With no timepiece visible, Snape was probably judging the tempo of the stirs in his head. Which would require concentration. Sam went back to his work, wondering what about potions might require a specific stirring tempo.
Finally the Potions Master relaxed and pulled the stirrer out of the cauldron."It will steep for the better part of an hour. If you have questions, I will answer them now."
"Thanks." Sam continued grinding. "So...it looked like you had a specific tempo. Is that important for Potions, or just a specific ritual for you?"
Snape blinked at him. "For this potion, it is essential to time the stirs exactly. For others, it is less critical. The type of Potion determines many of the necessary parameters." Snape paused, then added "The direction is also important. Some potions require clockwise motions, some counter-clockwise."
"Huh. Does anyone know why? I mean, are there rules you can use to figure that out, or specific ingredients or reactions that dictate the patterns?" Sam paused to study the ground scarab carapaces, then decided that a little further grinding wouldn't hurt.
"There are...commonalities. However, it would take a Master's education to keep track of all of them." Snape sounded almost pleased, and certainly more relaxed.
"So I'm really just better off reading the instructions and asking for assistance." Sam nodded, then offered the professor the bowl for inspection. "How are these?"
Snape inspected the powder, running a finger through it and gauging the fineness of the grain with sharp eyes. "It will do." He took the bowl and set it beside a specific cauldron. "You have some talent in this area, and you ask intelligent questions."
"I've always been interested in different things. With my dad, we focused on hunting lore, and basic...well, the stuff we needed to get the job done. But, I can see the benefit of Potions, and I'll probably never have a decent teacher again, so...I want to make the most of it."
Snape studied his face. "There are schools in America."
"Yeah. But I'd have to find them, and there's no guarantee that they'd take me. Especially since I'm not a kid, as you pointed out. Plus, I'm not sure Dean would be willing to stay in one place long enough. And..." He grimaced. "We're kind of well known in the States. And not really in a good way. Even if Dean and Cas agreed, I might not have the chance." He shrugged. "Here I can at least learn the basics, enough to maybe be of use to Dean and Bobby when we get back, and I can get some resources to keep learning, some books and all. Speaking of which..." He glanced around the lab. "If you've got some recommendations, I'd appreciate it."
Snape considered, then pointed him to a pile of beans. "Crush those and drain the juice into those decanters..." He pointed to a stack of small jars. "And I will collect some study materials for you." He turned and made his way to a door on the far side of the room.
Sam set to crushing the beans. They were a pearly lavender, and released a soothing scent. He had to be careful not to press too hard, but other than that the task was fairly simple.
Snape returned 15 minutes later with a stack of books, which he set on a nearby table. "These are the student texts, and a few supplementary documents that students who actually care about their studies use for essays. Should you read through these, you will have a fairly decent grounding in Potions theory. After that, it is a matter of practice, and learning through experience."
"Thanks." Sam nodded his appreciation. He might have said more, but Snape turned to one of the cauldrons. He stared at it intently for a moment, then began to add the scarab carapaces in measured amounts, stirring twice between each addition. Sam let him work, content to focus on his beans.
Finally the beans were done. By the look of it, so were three of Snape's four potions. At the very least, the fires had been put out. Sam put down his knife, and Snape picked up two of the decanters and went back to the still-simmering potion. He poured both decanters into the cauldron in a steady stream. The potion hissed and changed color, before fading into a light bluish-lavender.
Snape doused that flame. Sam took that as a sign that he was finished and stepped closer. "So...what's this?"
"Dreamless Sleep. An excellent antidote to poor sleep or nightmares, but dangerous if taken too long." Snape ladled it into phials. "In smaller doses, it can soothe anxiety. In extreme cases, it may be used to combat such conditions as night terrors, though there is some risk involved."
"Yeah. But I can see how it would be useful. And easy to abuse." Sam grimaced, thinking of his own nightmares. And of how he'd been just after Jess had died, unable to sleep more than one or two hours at a time. "If you've got a spare ladle, I can help you with that. And with these others." He gestured to the other potions."
"That one needs to continue simmering." Snape pointed to the small cauldron with the dittany, which still had a low fire burning under it. "And that one..." He indicated a larger cauldron. "Must settle and thicken. It is meant to be a burn paste."
"Got it." Sam nodded, then went to the supplies cabinet. A search revealed another ladle and more phials. He collected them and, at Snape's nod of approval, began filling the vials.
An hour later, everything had been bottled, labeled and stored. Sam cracked his shoulders. He hadn't done much, but he felt good about what he had accomplished. Across the table, Snape also stretched. He checked the two remaining potions, then nodded and waved a hand across both cauldrons, covering them in a faint shimmer that looked like the same ward that had blocked the door. "That is all that can be done for tonight."
"Great." Sam nodded. "Thanks for the lesson." He hesitated. "Umm...is there a way we can schedule more of these sessions?"
"My schedule is erratic. However, I will send you a message or advise you over dinner if I am planning another session and can spare the concentration." Snape blinked.
"That sounds fine." Sam nodded. "Thank you Professor."
"Severus." Sam blinked and one corner of Snape's mouth twitched in a faint sneer. "Given that we shall be working together, you are permitted to use my given name."
"Thanks...Severus. In that case...call me Sam."
"Short for Samuel?"
"Yeah. But no one calls me that. Not even Cas." Sam grinned. "Although, if you prefer it, I'm okay with it." He shrugged. "It's better than Dean. He insists on calling me Sammy, like I'm five."
"Samuel then." Severus nodded. "I will bid you good evening." With that he turned and vanished through the door on the far wall, which shut behind him.
Sam collected the books Snape had left him, set the tin of ointment he'd brought on the table in their place, and left as well.
The weeks passed, and October faded slowly towards November. Harry was kept busy with his school-work, though he also had Quidditch. He had been nominated Captain, but had backed off in favor of Alicia Johnson, the Seventh Year Chaser. He was content to play Seeker. With everything else, he didn't think he'd have the energy or time to manage the team. Besides, he didn't envy anyone the task of keeping Fred and George disciplined.
Castiel's classes were much smoother now that the other two Winchesters were helping, but that didn't make it easy. Their regular spell revisions were being interspersed with Enochian, and even Hermione was having some difficulty with that. Harry hadn't seen her struggle with classes since she'd had the disaster with her boggart in Third Year, but Enochian tripped her up as badly as it did the rest of them.
A part of it was that the words themselves were so alien. The syllables were difficult, and being sure to pair them with the proper sigil or say them in the proper order was harder than it seemed. Castiel was patient with them, helping them work through things, but Harry found himself frustrated. He'd always been good at Defense, and he was determined to excel now. He was certain it would give him an edge over Voldemort, but the Enochian didn't come nearly as easily as Defense had previous years.
In fact, it reminded him of his efforts to produce a Patronus in Third Year. The comparison spurred him to spend long hours practicing, tracing and retracing the sigils on his own, poring over the incantations.
The hardest part was that it was wandless magic, which made it more difficult. He hadn't realized until Castiel came how much he used his wand and depended on it.
In the meantime, he watched his teachers. There were no more altercations with Snape, which was sort of disappointing. In fact, it looked like the younger professor, Sam Winchester, had even formed some sort of relationship with the Git. At the very least, Harry spotted them talking on several occasions.
No matter how hard he watched, he couldn't catch Castiel Winchester eating. He tried to ignore it, but it nagged at him, like a sore tooth or a healing bruise. He couldn't shake the feeling that there was something off about the professor, and he wasn't about to discount his instincts. Not with the professors he'd had in previous years.
Then November came, with colder weather and the advent of Quidditch season. Halloween passed with absolutely no incidents, for which Harry was grateful. But following Halloween, Alicia increased practices to nearly every evening. She wasn't nearly as fanatical as Wood had been, but the pace was still grueling, especially with the amount of homework Harry had. Between Quidditch and classes, he had no time to ponder the mysteries of the Winchesters. He was almost glad that he wasn't a Prefect. He couldn't imagine those duties on top of everything else he had to do. Ron spent most of the time looking stressed, and even Hermione appeared tired most evenings.
Finally, the day of the first match arrived. Gryffindor vs. Slytherin. Harry dressed for the match early and ate a solid breakfast, despite his usual pre-match nerves. He was looking forward to squashing Malfoy on the field. Ginny and Ron had also tried out and accepted reserve positions (the first time Harry could remember even having reserves), so they were dressed in uniform as well. Ron looked a little nervous, but Ginny was calm and collected. Harry watched her eating her toast and eggs, marveling at her cool. He was torn between wanting to see her play and hoping she didn't. After all, she was the reserve Seeker. Though she could take a Chaser position too. Harry thought that might be okay.
Two hours later, the teams marched out onto the field in the freezing weather. The sky was overcast, but not raining, which was a plus. Harry wasn't fond of playing matches in the rain. It was cold, but Angelina had applied Warming Charms to all the uniforms, so he wasn't too uncomfortable. He flexed his fingers in his gloves to keep them limber, and exchanged a sneer with Malfoy as the opening greetings were shouted and the rest of the team got into starting positions.
The Snitch was released, then Madam Hooch tossed the Quaffle up and the game was on. Harry got out of his team-mates way, one eye on Malfoy and the other on the lookout for the Snitch. It had disappeared fast this time, and he hadn't seen it yet.
The Gryffindor and Slytherin teams were well matched. The Slytherins might have been more inclined to foul the Gryffindor players, but Angelina was tough and smart, and she'd prepared the team well, working them in pairs and through strategies to cope with anything the other teams might come up with.
Thirty minutes in, Gryffindor was leading by 20 points. They'd gotten a couple of free foul shots, courtesy of Madam Hooch and the Slytherin Chasers fouling the Gryffindor ones. No one had been seriously hurt yet, but Harry had ducked a couple of Bludgers, and he had a feeling the Slytherin Beaters were watching for a chance to knock him out of the game. Not that he cared much. He was confident he could handle anything they or Malfoy could try to dish out.
Twenty minutes and seven goals (4 Gryffindor, 3 Slytherin) later, he spotted a flash of gold, up near the teacher's stands. Draco didn't look like he'd spotted it yet, too busy sneering at Harry. Harry sneered back, then followed the strategy Angelina had suggested. He let his eyes widen, then dove straight into the middle of the game, as if he'd seen the Snitch among the players.
Draco followed him of course. Draco always did. Harry smirked to himself and dove right under where Alicia Spinnet was racing for the goal with the Quaffle, narrowly ducking a Bludger and two Slytherin Chasers as he did so. One of the Chasers tried to block him, but Harry rolled out of the way, twisting in a hard corkscrew around the little group.
Draco wasn't so lucky. Harry heard a shout of frustration, and the thud of a midair collision. He grinned. Even if Draco and the other player could stay on their brooms, they'd be hard pressed to follow him or Alicia. He whipped back into the air and around, just as the chime sounded for another Gryffindor goal.
The Snitch was still near the teacher's stand. Harry raced toward it, dodging everything in his path. Both of the Slytherin Beaters sent Bludgers at him, and the Captain of the team tried to block him, but Harry's Firebolt was more than a match for anything else on the field, and Harry was good enough to take full advantage of that fact.
He looped around to avoid another Bludger, caught a brief glimpse of Malfoy racing to catch up, then put on a burst of speed.
He snatched the Snitch out of the air between the Ravenclaw and the teacher's boxes as he passed, right as Slytherin scored another goal, and the game was over.
Harry grinned fiercely, all fears of Voldemort and Death Eaters wiped away by triumph.
This...this he could do.
Sam wasn't sure what he expected Quidditch to be like. He'd read about it, of course, as part of their cover for being wizards. Castiel, having discovered that the sport was played in the air, had expressed a mild curiosity, which for him was akin to wild excitement. Dean, of course, had vowed to avoid the whole thing as soon as he heard it involved flying.
Sam grinned as he and Castiel made their way to the seats in the teacher's box. Dean had always hated flying. A plane was bad enough, but when he'd heard about riding broomsticks, and when he'd seen the students practicing...well, it wasn't often Sam saw anything that could really faze his hunt-hardened brother. Quidditch, however, was definitely one of those things.
Honestly, Sam figured he himself wouldn't be much good at the sport. He wasn't as nervous in the air as Dean was, but he didn't much like the idea of being a hundred feet up with nothing more than a stick between him and a long fall either. Being up in the stands was enough. Still, he thought it might be interesting to watch. Besides, Castiel wanted to go, and he and Dean had privately agreed that letting Castiel out on his own among crowds was...unwise. The angel was getting better at behaving more normally, but he still slipped far more often than he should. Sam didn't mind helping out and answering Castiel's questions, but he was pretty sure their cover story would be blown if Castiel was left to his own devices.
The two of them found a seat in the very back, behind Dumbledore where there was plenty of room. Sam made sure Castiel took the corner, as much to insulate him from people as to insulate Sam from the thought of a wooden wall being the only thing between him and a two hundred foot drop.
Castiel settled in, watching quietly as the stands filled up. He remained quiet as the teams marched out onto the field and rose into the air. He even stayed quiet for the first ten minutes of the game, though Sam could see him frowning in concentration. Then he cocked his head. "The rules of this game escape me."
Sam grinned. He'd been expecting that, honestly. "Yeah, well...it's not as complicated as it looks." He pointed to the field. "That red ball those six players are passing around, it's called the Quaffle. Those six players are called Chasers. Their job is to catch the Quaffle and take it to either end of the field, then throw it through one of those three hoops." He pointed to the goal posts. "That gets them points. The two players in front of the hoops try to stop the ball from going through. They're called Keepers, because they Keep the goals safe from the opposing team." At least, that's what Sam thought it meant.
Castiel frowned. "And the black balls?"
"Those are Bludgers. They're used to try and keep the Chasers from the opposing team from getting close enough to throw the ball through the hoops." Sam pointed to where a player in green had just smacked a Bludger toward the red player carrying the Quaffle. "See, they were trying to push her off course. They can also be used to try and prevent other players from getting in the way." He pointed to where a red player with red hair had smacked a Bludger at a green player. "See?"
"Yes. I believe so."
Sam took Castiel at his word and continued. "The players who deal with the Bludgers are called Beaters. For obvious reasons." He grinned.
"Indeed. Their purpose seems largely self-explanatory." Castiel tilted his head. "However, there are two more players, and the golden ball." He started to lift a hand to point. Sam caught his hand and dragged it back down.
"Don't point. You'll cause a foul. That ball is called the Golden Snitch. It's worth a lot of points, and catching it ends the game. The last two players are called Seekers, and catching the Snitch is their job. Whoever succeeds ends the game and gets the points for his team."
Cas frowned. "That seems...redundant. Why would they do that?"
"Probably to have some clear way of designating a winner, and of ending the game." Sam shrugged. "Seekers usually win the game for their team, but not necessarily. A good set of Chasers can override the advantage. I think there was a championship game last year or the year before, where the Seeker from one team caught the Snitch, but the other team won the game." He'd done some reading on past games as well as the rules. He wasn't particularly sports oriented, but he was interested in maintaining their cover, and figured a good background knowledge wouldn't hurt. Especially since, unlike normal people, wizards only seemed to have the one sport.
"Ah." Cas turned back to the game. He watched in silence for a few moments. To anyone else, he might have looked impassive, but Sam knew him well enough to catch the faint sheen of nostalgia in his eyes.
He considered a moment, then decided they were too far up to be observed, and everyone else was too focused on the game to pay attention to them. "You play games like this in Heaven?"
"Not games. But there were strategic exercises, assessments, that were somewhat similar. Gabriel...when I was a fledgling, he would sometimes disguise our assessments as 'games'. Much more complicated than this, of course."
Cas hesitated, then spoke. "Though they were meant merely to test our aptitude and development in different areas, I did enjoy many of the exercises. I enjoy flying, even in the constraints of this vessel."
"Huh." It was the first time Sam had heard Cas speak of anything that he actively enjoyed, the Famine-induced fascination with burgers notwithstanding. "So...what position would you play? If you were playing this game?"
"I am considered very fast." Castiel frowned. "But all of these players seem to require speed..."
"But the fastest one would be the Seeker. So I guess that would be you." He could see it, actually. Cas as the Seeker. The intense focus needed to find a small ball in the middle of the controlled chaos of the game seemed to suit the angel. Not to mention the hand-eye coordination involved.
"Perhaps." Castiel shrugged, but Sam thought the angel might like the idea.
Sam turned back to watch the players, running through the angels he knew. "So, Gabriel would definitely have been a Beater." He couldn't picture the small archangel in any other position. Not given how he had liked to 'beat' lessons into people. "Balthazar..."
"He is quite talented at strategy and evasion." Cas spoke the words quietly, but Sam found himself amused and encouraged. It was the first time he'd ever heard Cas engage in what he considered trivial conversation.
He smirked. Dean would be amused. "So, Balthazar would probably be a Chaser?"
"It is possible. Rachel is...more protective." Cas paused. "I think she could be a...a Keeper."
The unintended (he was sure it was unintended, given Cas's absolute lack of understanding in innuendo) pun, was enough to make Sam splutter with laughter. Cas turned to give him an uncomprehending stare, and that made it worse. Sam had to look away for a moment to compose himself. He finally got himself under control. "Uh...yeah. I can see that."
Castiel was staring at him with a faintly puzzled look. "I do not understand your amusement."
If he wasn't careful he'd start laughing again. "I'll let Dean explain it to you." He was distracted by the red Seeker suddenly bursting into motion, headed right for the center of the field. "Hey, looks like something's happening."
He watched the black-haired boy, the blond from the other team hot on his heels, dive into the midst of the players. The boy was fast, ducking around three other players and a Bludger as he dove through the group. His pursuer wasn't nearly as quick, and crashed into one of his teammates. Not only did the crash stop the blond boy, but it disabled one of the other green players long enough for the girl in red holding the Quaffle to dart forward, free of the press and with a clear shot at the goal.
The black-haired boy, one he recognized from Cas's class, spun in a maneuver that would have made Dean throw up just watching, the streaked upward and toward the teacher's stand. Sam followed his trajectory, and realized the boy had seen the same thing Cas had. The Snitch.
There was a roar from the crowd, then the boy shot past and snatched the golden ball out of the air, to another roar of sound. He flew in a tight circle, waving the Snitch, as the announcer shouted. "Harry Potter has the Snitch! Gryffindor wins!" The students in red cheered, while the students in green slumped in their stands, looking unhappy even from across the field.
Sam watched as the slender young man was mobbed by his teammates, and others dressed in uniforms who hadn't played. Beside him, Castiel watched as well.
He wondered if Cas had ever been congratulated like that. He doubted it. From what he'd seen of angels, they weren't big on celebrations, or team spirit, or congratulations. Suddenly, he wanted to do something for Cas. Cas was alone, trying to sort out a war in Heaven and work with them, all at the same time. He was the only angel around too.
Sam cleared his throat. He was probably going to regret this, but… "Cas...after everyone leaves, do you want to maybe...play some?"
Cas tilted his head. "We would not have enough players..."
"Not for a Quidditch game. But we could...I don't know, toss the Quaffle back and forth. Play dodge the Bludger maybe?" That would be good for his reflex training at least. "Just...you know, play. Exercise. Get you some time up in the air, some chances to fly. I know you miss it."
Cas blinked. "Raphael..."
"We're behind wards. If he hasn't caught the Enochian you've been doing or your meetings with Balthazar, then you'll probably be fine. As long as you don't dive into Hell or make the Quaffle explode or something."
Cas frowned. "I have no reason to do either of those things."
"Then you'll be fine. If it's something you want to do, I think I can manage myself on a broom long enough to give you some exercise." Sam grinned, though he felt his stomach twisting a bit with nerves. He knew the mechanics of flying, sure, but the actual practice was something he hadn't had much of. "Just...don't let me fall off the broom, okay?"
"I would not let you fall. Dean would be angry with me." Castiel regarded him solemnly. After a moment, he looked at the field, then back at Sam. "And I would not be adverse to some exercise, provided we are cautious."
"Great. Catch it is." Sam grinned. He'd rather play catch than 'dodge the Bludger' for his first time on a broom.
The students had mostly gone back to the Castle, but the lady who'd refereed the match was still there, looking over the equipment. Sam made his way to the base of the stands, then out onto the field. "Umm…excuse me?" The woman looked up, her stare reminiscent of a hawk. Sam smiled back, using the sheepish, youthful grin that usually served him well when looking for information on hunts. "Umm...sorry. It's just...my brother and I, we were wondering if we could borrow a Quaffle and a couple of brooms. See, he used to play, and he was hoping he could practice a little. Nothing with the Snitch or anything, just...you know, toss the Quaffle back and forth."
The woman pursed her lips, looking at the two of them. Then she shrugged. "All right. But mind you don't damage my equipment. And be sure you put it back when you're done. Professor or not, if you lose my brooms or my Quidditch supplies, you'll be replacing them."
"Understood. We'll take good care of them." Sam nodded.
The woman, Madame Hooch if he recalled the introductions from the first of the year, showed him where the brooms and Quidditch gear was meant to be stored. He took the two nicest looking brooms of the lot and the Quaffle, then went back out onto the field. By now it was deserted, except for Cas. Given that it was already dusk and freezing, Sam could understand quite well why everyone else was inside. He almost regretted offering to play with Cas, but he was hardly going to back out after he'd gotten Cas to agree to relax, for a change.
Cas was waiting in the middle of the field when he returned. The angel cocked his head at the second broom. "Sam...I do not need..."
"I know." Sam cut him off. "I just brought it out so the flying teacher wouldn't get suspicious, okay? We are supposed to be pretending you're normal."
"Of course." Castiel nodded. He took the broom from Sam's hand, studying it curiously. "If you wish me to try flying on this object, I shall."
Sam sighed and looked around. The field was deserted. It was also surrounded by high walls. "No. Just fly the way you normally do. I don't think anyone can see us. And it'll probably do your wings good to stretch them a little."
Cas nodded. Sam tucked the Quaffle carefully under one arm and flipped one leg over the broomstick. He flushed, feeling a little ridiculous, then concentrated on the feeling of magic at his core, the core he'd learned to access when he'd begun working with Ruby. Then, very cautiously, he bent his knees and pushed off, as if he were jumping.
As it turned out, he pushed far too hard. Sam shot into the air, wavering madly as he scrambled to catch his balance. He dropped the Quaffle and grabbed on with both hands. His first instinct was to lean forward, but that sent the broom into a dive. Yanking back flipped it the other way. He nearly fell. Then jerked to a stop, floating in midair. He looked down.
Cas had one hand outstretched, his eyes shining in the dimness. Sam huffed out a sigh of relief. "Thanks Cas." he straightened himself out, got his balance adjusted and his feet positioned more or less in the correct places, then took a deep breath. "Okay. I think I've got it. Try letting go now."
Cas dropped his hand. The broom stayed steady in the air. Sam sat still to make sure it wasn't going to do anything unexpected, then began to move cautiously.
Twenty minutes later, he had a decent handle on the basics. As long as he didn't panic, he thought he'd be okay. At the very least, he could go up and down and turn. He doubted he'd be able to perform any of the maneuvers he'd seen the players executing earlier, but he could at least control the broom and send it where he wanted it to go.
He looked down to where Cas was waiting patiently, Quaffle in one hand. He held out his left hand, the one he felt most confident taking off the broom. "Okay. Throw it to me."
Cas did. His aim was good, and Sam caught it easily, though his broom wavered a bit in the air. He steadied himself, then looked back at the angel. "You ready?"
"Yes." Castiel cocked his head.
"Okay." Sam grinned, then tossed the Quaffle hard toward the other end of the stadium.
Cas's head snapped around, following it's path. Then the angel disappeared, reappearing in mid-air in front of the solid leather ball. He caught it in one hand, already falling, then disappeared again to reappear in the front row of a nearby set of stands. From there, he tossed the ball back at Sam. Or, more accurately, he tossed the ball thirty feet to Sam's left.
Sam grinned as he twisted and shot forward, scooping the ball out of the air. He hadn't played ball since he was a kid, playing catch with Bobby, and it was fun. Even being several feet up in the air wasn't so bad, once he knew what he was doing. He threw the ball again, watching as Cas followed the trajectory, reappeared in front of it and caught the ball, then transported himself back to a section of the stands and tossed it back.
They threw it back and forth for several minutes. It was beyond hilarious to see Cas darting around the stadium, still wearing his trench coat and suit, and Sam had a hard time controlling his laughter. But it was refreshing and it was fun, and it reminded him of the way things had been. Before the past few years. Before Stanford, back when it had been he and Dean playing around, sometimes together and sometimes with Bobby.
It had been a long time since any of them had relaxed. He wasn't sure Cas ever had relaxed, not even when he was unconscious during the fight to prevent the Apocalypse. As funny as it was to see a man in a suit and trench coat playing ball, it was also good to see the way Cas seemed to loosen up as they played. He was still intense and impassive, but his movements were smoother, his flight (what Sam could see of it), more relaxed. He looked comfortable in his vessel for the first time. And despite the simplicity of the exercise and the shortness of each hop, he really did look like he was sort of enjoying himself.
Sam finally called a halt when it became too dark for him to see clearly. He was freezing and his internal clock told him it was about dinner time. He brought the broom in for a landing, gesturing to where he thought Cas was for the angel to join him. He must have been successful, because Cas appeared beside him a moment later. Sam grinned, noticing the angel's wild hair was even messier than usual. "You have fun?"
"It was...soothing. I miss flying. It's different in this vessel, of course."
"Sure. I kind of figured." Sam rolled his shoulders, stiff from sitting on the broom. He jumped when Cas tapped him with two fingers, then sighed in appreciation as the stiffness and ache disappeared. "Thanks."
Cas frowned, then nodded. "You're welcome."
Sam smiled, then collected the unused broom and headed for the storage area. "Come on. Dean's probably wondering where we are." Cas nodded and fell into step beside him.
In the gathering dark, he didn't see the slender figure that appeared at one end of the pitch.
Harry honestly hadn't meant to take as long as he had in the shower, but even with the Warming Charms it had been bloody cold on the Pitch, and the hot water had felt good. Sure, he could have gotten the same shower back in the Tower, but he'd wanted a little time to himself. Back in the Tower, they'd be throwing a huge party to celebrate, and he wanted a bit of a breather from being mobbed. So he'd sent his mates on their way and enjoyed a good long soak, followed by liberal use of Drying Charms and Warming Charms.
He left the locker room in the dusk and decided to take a short cut through the Pitch to get back tot he Castle faster. He only made it as far as the door though, before he stopped.
The Professors Winchester were still there, the two who'd come to the game, at least. It looked like Castiel and Sam. Professor Castiel Winchester was standing on the Pitch holding a Quaffle, while above him Sam Winchester was doing slow glides and turns. He looked awkward, like he'd never been on a broom before.
Harry watched the taller professor circle around a bit before coming to a hover above his own. Sam Winchester gestured, and Castiel threw him the Quaffle. He caught it awkwardly with one hand. Then he threw it toward the other end of the Pitch, with a throw worthy of any Chaser.
And Castiel disappeared. Harry's hand clenched on his Firebolt in shock. Then he had to catch himself against the door-frame as Castiel appeared in midair, grabbed the Quaffle and disappeared again, to reappear in the Ravenclaw stands. He threw the Quaffle back.
Harry watched as Sam Winchester caught the Quaffle, then launched it in a completely different direction. And, once again, Castiel Winchester disappeared, reappeared in midair, caught the ball, and vanished to appear again, this time in the Hufflepuff stands.
Harry watched the strange back-and-forth for several minutes, his mind trying to comprehend what he was seeing.
You couldn't Apparate on the grounds of Hogwarts. It was impossible. He'd learned that in his Third Year. And even if there were a way around that, he'd heard the technique required some sort of stepping motion, at least according to the twins. Not to mention, he'd never heard of silent Apparition, and he was absolutely sure Fred and George would have become experts if there were any such thing. But Castiel Winchester's disappearances and reappearances were soundless.
He'd also never heard of anyone who could (or would) Apparate into midair like that. A Portkey seemed possible, but then...why would anyone enchant a Portkey for something like that? And how? Neither of them seemed to be using incantations of any sort, and he didn't see any object that could be a Portkey, unless Castiel had somehow charmed his clothes. But then...didn't you have to be touching a Portkey to activate it? Like with your hand or something? He thought that's what he remembered.
And that still left the question of the enchantment, and why anyone would waste that kind of magic on a simple game of catch. Besides, there was something about the whole thing, about the smoothness of Castiel Winchester's movements, that was just uncanny, even in a world of magic.
Harry ducked out of sight as Sam Winchester landed back on the Pitch. It was so dark he could hardly see, and he didn't think his professors could either. Surprisingly, neither of them used a Lumos. Instead, Harry watched as the dim outlines of the two men made their way to the Quidditch storage area. Only when they were gone did he emerge, to race across the pitch and towards Hogwarts Castle.
He couldn't wait to tell Hermione and Ron what he'd seen. He just hoped one of them would have a better explanation than he'd been able to produce.
Author's Note: Uh-oh...Cas got caught...not that Harry knows what it is he's seen...
So, a little fun for our boys. Next up...Harry wants training. Sam's getting some instruction on the subtle science of Potions...and Dean is learning magic.