The cauldron exploded.
The window panes of the laboratory rattled but held. Cauldron shards shot in all directions, taking splashes of the hot potion with them.
The graduate students’ laboratory erupted into havoc, people vociferously surveying their largely non-existent damage and injuries, or just wondering in loud exclamations what the devil had happened.
The unfortunate pair of experimenters at the offending bench looked dazedly at each other as they slowly realised their fortunate escape without a single scratch or stain.
At the neighbouring bench, a heavy-set woman with short-cropped brown hair quickly moved through the confusion to the sink in the corner. She removed her eyeglasses, turned on the tap and put her face under the stream of water.
The pale, slender, black-clad young man who had shared her cauldron decanted the result of their own work into a blue glass bottle without spilling a drop. He put a cut-glass stopper in the bottle, wiped his hands and with only a couple of long strides joined the woman at the sink.
He leaned over her: “Catrin, did you get any of that in your eyes?”
“My left eye, yes. I’m rinsing out as much as I can.”
The man in the black robes pounced on the owner of the exploded cauldron and shook him like a terrier might shake a rat.
“What did you put in it?!”
“I don’t know. I followed the instructions.”
“No, you didn’t, you dolt, you must have changed something!!!”
“I don’t... I thought...”
“You did not think!!! So think now, what was it, we need the antidote!!!”
The group fell silent, shocked by the vicious attack by this quiet young man who rarely said anything not related to their course work.
The woman straightened up from the sink, her face, hair and the front of her robes sopping wet, water-diluted blood trickling from a cut across her left eyebrow.
“Leave it, Severus. The gear probably wasn’t clean. We won’t find a specific antidote. Do you have bezoar tincture?”
Bezoar. The universal antidote. Severus visibly forced himself to calm down. He shoved the culprit aside and returned to Catrin.
“Yes, I have some at home. Let me go get it.”
“No. Take me along, you’ll treat me there. It’ll be faster and calmer.”
He put an arm about her shoulders in preparation for sidelong Apparition.
“Bring my bag,” she reminded him.
He picked up the black leather Mediwitch’s bag under the work bench.
Catrin put her arms around his waist. Together, they Disapparated.
- - - - - - - - -
They popped into visibility in the middle of Severus’ spacious, sparsely furnished bed sitter.
“Come,” he said. “The bed’s over here.”
“We don’t want a soft, wobbly bed,” she corrected. “You need something firmer if you’re going to treat me. The rug on the floor will do fine.”
She was holding a handkerchief to her left eye, surveying the room with her near-sighted right one.
“Get the bezoar,” she said. “Where do you keep your linen?”
“Cupboard, over there,” he gestured to the right.
With a simple flick of her fingers, she Accioed a bed-sheet and a towel and had them spread out neatly on the rug. A wave of her wand covered and sealed their surface with a cleansing spell. She stretched out on the sheet, the towel under her head, with an audible sigh that was almost a groan. She rested a moment and, as an afterthought, she Accioed a large flat cushion from the couch and placed it by her head.
Meanwhile, the man had unlocked the spells around a heavy oaken chest and removed a small brown glass bottle from it. Catrin heard a splash of liquid and a light clink of glass against glass.
“What are you doing?”
“Diluting the bezoar tincture. One part, to four parts normal saline.”
“Don’t. I’ve had this crap in my eye for too long, we need the antidote to work fast.”
“You can’t put concentrated bezoar in your eye!”
“It isn’t harmful, just uncomfortable. The tears will dilute it anyway.”
He set down the glass beaker, undecided.
“I’m a qualified Mediwitch, damn it! Let’s have two drops of the tincture in my eye, now! I’d do it myself, but you’ll be more accurate.”
His mouth tightened, but he picked up a tiny amount of the liquid in a dropper and kneeled on the cushion by her head.
“Are you in pain?” he asked gently.
“Yes, it smarts like hell, and I'm afraid for my eye. That’s why I shouted at you. I’m sorry.”
He nudged her hand holding the handkerchief, and she removed it from her eye.
He tried to remain impassive, but could not suppress a flinch at the sight of her injury.
“You have a bad cut here,” he said. “It won’t stop bleeding.”
“Face injuries will look messier than they are. Just smack a compress on it, we’ll deal with it later. In my bag,” she added when she noticed his momentary confusion.
She waved her hand in the direction of the bag and spoke the password that lowered its wards.
Severus put down the dropper next to her head and opened the black bag. The contents were neat and orderly. He rolled his wand between his hands in a cleansing spell, picked up a sterile package, tore it open and extracted a piece of gauze. Gently and carefully he mopped the blood from her eyebrow and forehead, discarded the gauze and laid another clean compress over the wound.
His face was tense, his eyes wide, but his hands worked with economic, purposeful precision.
He picked up the dropper.
“Are you really sure you want this?”
“No, I don’t want it, but it’s necessary. Talk me through it... please.”
“All right.” His voice sank into a low, nearly hypnotic mode.
“Close both your eyes lightly and relax as much as you can. I’ll breathe and focus with you.”
She let herself float on the sound of his voice, focusing on the air filling her body cavity and on the relaxation brought on by each deep exhalation. She sensed his breath matching hers, and mentally leaned on the sensation for support.
“There. Now, do absolutely nothing. Just focus on your breathing. I’m going to open your eye with my fingers.”
Gently, firmly, his thumb and index finger spread her eyelids.
The air smarted her injured eye, but she took another deep breath and kept still.
He approached the dropper to her eye.
“This will feel very, very cold, and quite nasty. But it’s just two drops.”
“Go ahead,” she said.
Her pupil rolled up towards her eyebrow.
“Inhale, and hold your breath.”
“Steady now. Exhale.”
As she let out her breath, he released one drop of the amber liquid inside her lower eyelid.
Her breath ended on a loud, shaky gasp.
His fingers released her eyelids and covered her eye for a brief moment.
“Good. Once more now. Look down.”
He spread her eyelids again. The pupil rolled in the direction of her cheek and held steady.
“Inhale, and hold your breath.”
Again she complied, somewhat raggedly.
“Almost there,” he murmured gently. “Exhale.”
Below her upper eyelid, another drop. Another gasp.
He released her eyelids and her eye closed, flooded with tears.
“That’s it, that’s it,” he murmured. “You’ll be all right. You have the antidote now.”
It felt as though not just a grain of sand, but an entire desert had lodged itself in her eye. Instinctively she raised a hand to rub it, but encountered his hands lightly covering both her eyes. His voice was there, steadying and grounding her.
“Keep your arms along your body and try to relax. We’ll let the bezoar act for a while and then I’ll rinse your eye.”
“That’s three to five minutes, isn’t it,” she noted.
“Stay with me?”
He swept his right hand across her forehead, as if to smooth away a non-existent strand of hair, and let his hand return to her eye.
“Give me five minutes, then,” she requested in a steady voice.
He raised his head and looked at a clock on his desk. “Timer,” he intoned, “five minutes.”
“Five minutes,” repeated a metallic voice.
Severus shifted from his kneeling position to sitting cross-legged behind Catrin’s head, his elbows supported by his knees, his head lowered, his hands lightly covering her eyes.
He looked up as if trying to remember something. A barely noticeable blush spread over his face. He lowered his head again and, in a very low voice, began murmuring a simple song.
His blush dissipated and a sense of warmth, calm and comfort filled the room. Catrin’s breathing settled and her lips parted slightly as her face relaxed.
- - - - - - - - -
“Time’s up, time’s up, time’s up!” called the metallic voice of the clock.
Severus raised his head, rolled his shoulders and ran the backs of his curled fingers across Catrin’s cheek.
“All right?” he asked.
“Yes. Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome. Keep your eyes closed for a while. I have to get up, to get the saline.”
He could have Accioed the bottle, but she sensed the discomfort in his legs and understood that he needed to move.
He stood up with a low grunt and stretched his legs before going over to his desk. He brought a clear plastic bottle and a large dropper, that he filled from the bottle. Then he returned to his kneeling position on the cushion at Catrin’s head.
“I have normal saline solution here,” he said. “It may be a bit cold, but it will make your eye feel better. Do nothing at all, let me handle it.”
As before, he spread her eyelids and approached the dropper to her eye.
He released a large, soft drop of the clear liquid into her eye, then another one, and another.
This time Catrin sighed with relief.
“Oh, that’s good. Wonderful. More.”
“Coming up,” he said as he re-filled the dropper.
He rinsed her eye thoroughly to remove as much of the tincture as possible. Then he released her eyelids.
“Blink hard a couple of times.”
She did as he told her, and sat up.
“How does it feel?” he inquired.
“Fine.” There was no mistaking the relief in her beaming smile. “Perfect.”
“Can you see?”
“More or less. I left my glasses in the lab.”
He took her glasses out of his breast pocket and handed them to her.
She put them on and winced as she carelessly touched the wound on her forehead.
She turned around to face him, also on her knees.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she took both his hands in hers. “You’ve saved my eye.”
“You were quite active in the process,” he said wryly, and added more softly: “And very brave.”
She pulled a face. “Humph! What’s so brave about wanting to keep my eyesight?”
“If you say so,” he replied. “But you still have that cut. May I have a look?”
“Feel free.” She took off her glasses and flopped down on her back on the rug again.
Severus tried to lift the piece of gauze on her eyebrow, but it stuck, and he hissed in sympathy.
He moistened another compress with saline solution and dabbed at the wound to release the gauze. Soon it came unstuck, but the wound began bleeding again. He touched it gently here and there, examining its length and depth.
“I think you need stitches,” he said.
“Very likely. Get me a mirror.”
He raised his hand, a small mirror zipped from his bedside table and landed in it. He handed it to Catrin. She sat up again and held the mirror close to her face to compensate for her bad eyesight. She pulled and poked at the wound intently.
“You’re right,” she said. “Three stitches at least, four would be better. And as soon as possible. We can’t do magic on my face for at least twelve hours so it doesn’t interfere with the after-effects of the bezoar, and by that time I’d end up looking like the Bride of Frankenstein.”
“I’ll take you to a Muggle hospital,” he suggested. “They’ll be able to anaesthetize and suture you without magic.”
“Try it, Severus, and I’ll jinx your balls.”
He winced. “What’s the problem?”
“I don’t intend to spend hours in a crowded waiting room to have some anonymous butcher poke at my face.”
“So what do you suggest?”
“You stitch me up.”
“Me?!” He scrambled to his feet.
“Of course,” she said calmly, looking up at him. “You have good enough training.”
“Yes,” he replied with an exasperated sigh, “but I have no Muggle anaesthetics, and even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to use them.”
He was pacing the room, his hands clenched behind his back.
“There’s no need. It’s just four stitches.”
“Catrin, you can’t ask that of me.”
“Why not? I know you. I trust you. And I’ve seen you throw perfectly neat sutures on squirming furry guinea pigs in the lab. At least my face isn’t furry, and I promise not to squirm.”
“Catrin, please, don’t ask me to hurt you any more than I already have.”
She thought for a moment, then said: “All right, we’ll freeze it, if it makes you feel better.”
“Cold. It numbs the tissues. Do you have something like a bag of peas in the freezer?”
“Get it for me, and a clean tea towel.”
Her overwhelming trust literally made him dizzy. In an effort to clear his head, he walked to the kitchen to get the items without magic.
Catrin wrapped the bag of frozen peas in the towel and held it against her forehead. She imagined the funny picture that she made, and laughed at it, but Severus was in no humorous mood. He laced his fingers together, clenched them hard and pressed them to his chin. He stared down at her, eyes wide. Then he released his hands, stretched his arms along his sides and clenched and unclenched his fists.
“Catrin, I don’t know...” he begun.
“Come on,” she interrupted him in a conversational tone. “Just get on with it. Where’s your suture kit?”
She stretched out on her back on the floor again, and looked at him intently past the cold towel-wrapped package.
“In the lab,” he answered.
“All right, then, you’ll use mine. It’s in the bag.”
He kneeled on the cushion again and rummaged in the black bag. Soon, too soon in his opinion, he found the small black zippered case, just like his own. He opened it.
“You’ll find a couple of extra thin, needled ones on the left,” Catrin instructed.
He did find them, and took out one of the sterile envelopes.
“Another thing.” He heard his own voice as if from a distance.
“I’ll have to use Muggle disinfectant.”
“Flat brown bottle,” she directed calmly. “In one of the middle holders. And you know where the gauze is.”
He found all the materials, laid them out on the towel and settled down cross-legged by her head again. Slowly and thoroughly he renewed the cleaning charm on his hands. Catrin put aside the towel with the frozen peas.
When he cleaned the wound, she only closed her eyes, but did not flinch or make a sound.
He ripped open the suture pack, picked up the curved needle and held it up for the curled-up suture to straighten. He felt his movements become automatic. Still, he shivered when Catrin looked up at him.
“Please, don’t worry if I grunt and groan,” she commented. “I’m no hero when it comes to pain. Just go on. I promise not to fidget.”
She sensed his effort to brace himself.
“Go ahead,” she said. “I really do want you to do it.”
“Close your eyes, please,” he said. She flashed him a brief smile and complied.
“I’ll be as gentle as I possibly can,” he went on, “but it is going to hurt.”
He bit his lips and took a deep, steadying breath. This time she was the one to match her breathing to his as they grounded and focused each other.
He pressed the heel of his hand against her forehead to steady them both, held the edges of the wound together, and applied the needle. Catrin exhaled with a deep, groaning ‘aaaahhhh’ as the needle penetrated the skin. When he pulled the suture through, her hands grasped the sheet at her sides. She felt him tie the first knot, and pushed herself into deeper relaxation. Then there was no more sound from her, and no movement, as he placed the remaining three stitches.
- - - - - - - - -
She felt a drop of something wet on her forehead, and opened her eyes. Severus was still leaning over her, sweat trickling down his face. She groped for the tea towel and lifted it to wipe his forehead.
“Are you all right, Master Surgeon?” she asked in a gently mocking tone.
“Catrin, you incorrigible old clown,” he gave an exasperated laugh. “I torture you, and you poke fun at me?”
He let her wipe his face, although her ministrations at the awkward angle were getting rather more sweat in his eyes. Then he took the towel from her and finished the job himself.
“Where’s the mirror?”
He handed it to her, and she examined his handiwork.
“Hmm, nice embroidery,” she said. “A really neat job. This shouldn’t leave much of a scar.”
She settled back to let him cover the wound with a light bandage. Then she sat up and put on her glasses.
“Well... Thank you again,” she said.
And then, in a tone of mock royalty: “Will you be my personal surgeon, Master Severus?”
She extended a limp-wristed hand to him.
He picked up the game: “Thank you for your gracious offer, Your Ladyship.”
He took her proffered hand and kissed it.
“But...” he continued in earnest, “I’d rather not, if you don’t mind. I hope I never have to do this again. Please take care of yourself.”
“I’ll try, I promise. But, if necessary, I do hope you’ll be there.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Me too,” she said.
Severus collected the equipment and returned every piece to its proper place. He re-locked his potions chest, and Catrin locked and warded her bag. They tidied away the blood-stained linen and the cushion.
Then Severus said: “You know what? I’m starving.”
“Me too,” Catrin laughed.
She looked at the thawing bag of peas in her hand.
“What do you have that goes with peas?”
If you want to know how Severus lost his virginity,
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