Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
As Harry gripped Voldemort's letter in a shaking hand, the door of the infirmary clicked open behind him and Professor McGonagall hurried in, almost running. When she saw Snape her already grey face turned deadly white and she clutched at the end of the bed for support. Harry remembered then that she herself was not yet fully recovered from her injuries sustained during the Death Eater raid at the end of the previous year.
"Is he - "
"No, Minerva" Dumbledore said sadly; "not yet. But yes, he is - dying."
"Then why are you just - standing there? There must be something you can do. St Mungo's - "
Poppy Pomfrey shook her head, unshed tears standing in her eyes like stars. "Trying to Apparate or Floo him, it would just hurt him - a Portkey would be worse, with his stomach cut.... And I know enough to know there's nothing St Mungo's could do anyway. Look at this." She showed McGonagall something with her wand which Harry couldn't see clearly from where he was standing, but it looked as if a diagnostic spell was causing writing to appear on a parchment. "You can see, he's been curse-bound so that none of our healing spells or potions will work on him, not even phoenix tears - curse-bound so he can neither die nor lose consciousness. I can't stop the pain for him, I can't knock him out - I can't even finish him. His soul would still cling to his body."
As if on cue, the maimed wreckage lying sprawled across the bed drew a ragged, shuddering breath. Harry backed away in dry-mouthed horror, until he could feel the door-frame pressing against his back. "I thought you said - he was dying."
"He is," said McGonagall, tight-lipped and grey. "According to this, the spells which are keeping him bound to his body are wearing out. He'll be dead in a few hours."
"But - can't you lift the curses? Can't you - heal him?"
"Harry, please believe me," Madam Pomfrey said, shaking her head. "If there was anything we could do - but even if we could lift the curses, he has injuries there are no spells for. Old injuries, injuries left to rot - that never normally happens in the wizarding world, normally any injury is fixed soon after it occurs, so we have no spells for this.... His body is filled with poisons from the infection - once the curses stop forcing him to live he'll die in a few hours and there's nothing I can do to stop it. I can't even feed him - he's so starved and thirsty and I can't even feed him because his stomach is so shrunken and he's too weak even to swallow. I've tried giving him a little water, but - " She made a desperate, helpless gesture. "He can't swallow, and it just chokes him."
"But you can't just - let him die like that. If he has injuries there are no spells for, make spells for them!" He stared mesmerized at the torn-open body of his sometime enemy, starved to the bone and rigid with pain, breathing in careful, shallow gasps as if every breath was blazing agony and yet making no other sound. So far sunk into shock and exhaustion and helplessness that he showed no reaction to his surroundings, the one open eye fixed and staring and unresponsive, so that at first Pomfrey had not even been certain he was still alive.
Dumbledore looked up for the first time, and every year of his long life hung on his face. "It takes days at best, usually weeks, to design a new healing spell, and Severus only has hours. Perhaps if we had found him earlier... but we have no real idea how long he had been - lying there, and he has been silenced so that he couldn't alert us to his presence by crying out."
"He Who Must Not Be Named has really excelled himself this time," McGonagall said bitterly
"Voldemort! Call him by his damned name. Voldemort!"
"Whatever you wish to call him. He's timed it to a nicety. He's seen to it that Severus will suffer horribly in front of us, for hours, while we can do nothing except watch helplessly - and yet he won't live long enough for us to have a chance of saving him. All we can do is - keep him company - company he's in too much pain to be aware of."
"Harry - "
"No!" He realized that he was still holding Voldemort's gloating letter, and threw it down on the bed in disgust, wiping his hand across his chest. "There are things you can do - Muggle things."
Dumbledore looked at him sharply. "How do you know?"
"From the telly, the papers - Muggles have drugs that can stop pain, they have machines that can clean the blood, that can keep a body alive - maybe you could keep him alive long enough to make a new spell. Hermione will know more about it than I do."
"Then fetch her, Harry" McGonagall said clearly. "Fetch her as fast as you can." When the sound of his racing feet had faded off down the corridor, she turned to the others and spread her hands helplessly. "It can hardly make things worse."
Hermione Granger stands in the doorway, breathless with haste, Harry at her side babbling "There must be something - something we can do - "
"There is." She took a deep breath and looked at Poppy Pomfrey steadily. "You have to get him onto some sort of life-support - take the strain off his body and onto the machines. The first thing he needs is a drip, and I don't know how to do that - but I know a man who does."
"It's an, uhm, mechanical device for introducing fluid into a vein. It will feed and rehydrate him and balance the minerals in his bloodstream. And before you ask," she said, giving Madam Pomfrey a rather pointed look, "yes it does involve sticking a needle in him - but at this stage I don't think we can afford to be picky, OK?"
"Whom do you know, Hermione?" McGonagall asked, wringing her shaking hands while behind her the Headmaster remained oblivious, gazing at the younger man's agonized, ruined face and talking quietly and earnestly, trying to give some small comfort which the injured man was far beyond understanding.
"My sister's fiancé, Adrian Ferrier - he's a surgical houseman - that is, a junior Muggle healer, in his first year after graduation. I'm sorry I don't know anyone more senior, but Adrian - well, he'll know what needs to be done much better than I do, whether or not he can do it himself, and you can bind him to secrecy as one of my close relatives, without having to Obliviate him. And he's, uhm - I know this sounds silly, but he's a big Science Fiction fan, so he won't be panicked by - well, wizards."
"Where do we find him?"
"He's - he works at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, I don't know where he lives. I'd have to ask Imogen - my sister."
"Does your sister know about - about us?"
"A little, yes."
"Give me her address." Hermione scribbled a few lines on the proffered parchment, and McGonagall crossed to the empty fireplace, opened a small box on the mantelpiece and threw a handful of glinting dust onto the logs below, muttering "Three Broomsticks, Hogsmeade." Thrusting her head into the sudden flare of green flame, she began an urgent, rapid-fire conversation with someone on the other side.
Briefly at a loose end, Harry muttered "You never told me you had a sister, 'Mione."
"Joyce - my Dad's first wife - left him twenty years ago. Immie is eight years older than me: I used to see her sometimes on uhm access visits, but we're not exactly close, and she'd already gone away to university before I started at Hogwarts. Hush, now."
As she looked past him, she saw Snape suddenly arch his back in convulsion and begin to gasp and twist, great shudders running through his torn body, and she knew with sickening certainty that if he had not been silenced he would have been shrieking with pain. She saw Professor Dumbledore, shorn of all dignity and all mirth, holding his colleague's shoulders, trying to steady him and only making at worse, as Snape jerked and tried to pull away as if he thought he was being attacked, and his breathing became wilder and more erratic. As Hermione stared transfixed at this grotesque pieta, her heart beating in her throat, McGonagall crossed to the bedside in three long strides, pressed her hands firmly against the sides of Snape's mutilated face to hold him still and snapped "Severus, damn you, listen to me - you stay, do you hear me? Help is coming for you - you bloody-well keep breathing until it gets here!" The coldness of his skin was so intense she half expected her palms to come away wet, as if she'd been handling ice, but he was dry as old leather, except where the chemical burns wept fluid.
After a pause which seemed like eternity, though it must have been only a few seconds, the injured man exhaled in a great sigh and fell back against the bed. For an awful moment Hermione, as poised and tense as a frightened deer, thought that he was dead; but then the harsh sound of his breathing resumed, deeper now and very ragged. McGonagall smoothed the heel of her hand across his left temple - the side that wasn't disfigured by blistering acid-burns but only by bruising - pulled a wry face somewhere between laughing and crying and said firmly "Good boy - you stay with us, now. We're getting help for you." She exchanged a look with Madam Pomfrey and Professor Dumbledore which Hermione recognized very well, and she thought that if they had been younger and less dignified at least one of them would have said "Whew!"
As it was, McGonagall murmured the few words that would draw up a field of warm air over the bed, gave Snape's face a gentle, absent-minded pat and stood up, pulling her sleeves fussily back into order and speaking to Hermione as she did so. "I have sent Rosmerta to Apparate to your sister's address, with Floo powder: and pray that we find her at home."
Luck, it seemed, was with them - at least as far as that went. In less than ten minutes the green fire flared again and Rosmerta's anxious face appeared at knee-level. "She's here, Minerva," this apparition said, "but she wants to talk to Hermione - to prove I'm not with You-Know-Who."
With a gasp of relief, Hermione dropped to her knees and thrust her head and shoulders into the fire where Rosmerta had been a second before - and then yelped as her forehead knocked against the older woman's. "Ow, steady on," Rosmerta said vaguely, as Hermione looked up from floor-height at her half-sister's anxious, dazed-looking face.
"Immie we - we need a Muggle - I mean, a non-wizard surgeon fast. Give me Adrian's address - will he be on the wards tonight, or is he...? Don't worry: there's no danger in it for him but - but somebody here at the school will die if we don't get help fast and we can't just - can't just take him to hospital, because there's magic involved."
While they were waiting for Rosmerta to locate Hermione's prospective brother-in-law, McGonagall sent Harry to wake Ron Weasley and tell him they needed him to Floo his brother Bill in Egypt, urgently, and ask him to come to Hogwarts.
Fortune continued to smile, to the extent that Adrian was both off duty and fairly easy to find - a search-party consisting of Rosmerta, Tonks and Remus Lupin tracked him down to a bar on Sauchiehall Street within fifteen minutes, as far as Hermione could gather from McGonagall and Rosmerta's muffled asides. Better still, it was a bar which had a fireplace - though it evidently took some fairly tense magic to make everybody else look away at just the moment that Rosmerta knelt down and shoved her head and shoulders into the suddenly green flames. Especially since, as Hermione would later learn, Rosmerta had first to convince the young surgeon that she wasn't about to burn herself, by holding her hand in the emerald fire and then showing it to him undamaged.
When he saw Hermione's head appearing in the flames in her turn, he looked slightly stunned. "Look - don't argue" Hermione said quickly. "I don't know what Rosmerta's told you but we can sort it out later; we've got a patient here and we need help and you're it, OK?"
"Cool," he replied, rather faintly, and a moment later he had followed her back through the flames - a round-faced young man, stocky, slightly chubby and very black, who stumbled slightly as he came through the fire, blinked bemusedly at them all through thick, circular spectacles and murmured "Beam me up, Scotty!" in a powerfully Geordie accent.
When he caught sight of Snape, however, splayed out across the bed like some horrible Mediaeval memento mori carving, worm-eaten and starved, his expression snapped into focus. "You don't need me, you need a bloody ICU - right now. I'll help you get him to the Infirmary."
"That's - I'm afraid that's not possible," Madam Pomfrey said apologetically. "There's - strong magic involved and a Muggle - that is, a non-wizard - hospital wouldn't know what to do. But - but we - magic folk - we can't cure him with magic either, because there are spells preventing it. We need your help to keep him alive long enough for us to lift those spells and heal him."
"Spells," he muttered, shaking his head dazedly and glancing back at the fireplace. "Please tell me I'm dreaming."
"No, really, you're - "
"PLEASE TELL ME I'M DREAMING."
"Of course you're dreaming," Albus Dumbledore said with a sudden gleam of his usual, amused self. "At any moment you'll find yourself in a final examination in your underwear."
"Thank you. All right. What have you done so far?" Poppy Pomfrey handed him the diagnostic scroll, although the arcane handwriting style made him blink a bit and mutter something about "Typical bloody doctor."
"We know you're only a, a house-husband or whatever you call it, but as you'll see here he's been spell-bound so he can't bleed very much, and if you cut anything you shouldn't cut we'll be able to fix it later once the anti-healing curse has been lifted."
"Terrific," he muttered under his breath, looking from the scroll to Snape with obvious concern. "All right - if I understand this he probably can't die, not for another hour or two at least, so my job is to stabilize him before the spell that's keeping him alive wears out."
"All right. If I make you a shopping-list of equipment and drugs that I'm going to need, will you be able to get them for me?"
"Yes - but don't ask for anything that runs on electrickery if you can avoid it, because it almost certainly won't work here. The equipment I might be able to make copies of and send back the original, once I know what it looks like - the drugs we can, um, acquire - "
"Pilfer," Dumbledore interjected helpfully.
"Yes, well - from hospital stores. I'm sure they won't miss a few - a few bills, or whatever they're called."
"I'm going to need more than a few tablets - starting with a heavy-duty antibiotic and enough diamorphine to stun a mule. Have you run bloods yet?"
"Blood tests," he said patiently. "On the levels of different electrolytes - mineral salts? - in his blood, leik."
"Er - no, but if you think it will help...." She flourished her wand, muttering under her breath, and a few more lines appeared at the end of the diagnostic scroll.
Adrian glanced down at it. "High on sodium and potassium, low on phosphates, calcium and magnesium - all over the place really. Malnutrition seems to be warring with renal failure... OK." He fished a Muggle biro out of his pocket and scribbled down a list of items on the fresh piece of parchment which Poppy handed to him. "The things I've put a cross by are the most important." He tried not to twitch nervously as the list was passed through the fire to the waiting Rosmerta.
"The first thing I need to do is to control his pain: if he's as conscious as that - diagnostic thingy says then he must be in absolute bloody agony, and it's not just a, a humanitarian issue - the stress of it could bring on a stroke or a heart-attack. The second thing is to get some fluids into him and the third is to do something to stop the infection, and clear the toxins out of his system if we can."
"I had a thought about that," Hermione said eagerly. "The horn of a live unicorn will clear all toxins from any container of liquid, whether it's a poisoned goblet or a stagnant pond, and taken topologically - "
"I'm with you, Thothlet. Taken topologically the human circulatory system is just another container of liquid. OK, it could make a good alternative to dialysis - but pain-control first. God knows how long it's going to take that lot to come back with my diamorphine - anybody in this school got heroin, that you know of?"
"Several," said Hermione, the prefect, and held out her hand. "Accio heroin."
"Isn't heroin... addictive?" McGonagall asked anxiously.
"Doesn't really matter - he's only going to get one dose. By the time it wears off he'll either be a fair bit better, or he'll be dead," Adrian replied bluntly. "Do you people at least have a syringe?"
"I can make you one" McGonagall replied composedly, and took a glass tumbler from the shelf and a hairpin from her own hair and reshaped them in front of his wary eyes.
"Smaller than that, please - with accurate gradations in tenths of a millilitre. Thank you." He blinked as three assorted small boxes slipped under the door and flew to Hermione's hand. "Is that...? All right. Now we just need to know the dosage. Does your dad have a MIMS at home? Good. Call him and ask him what the dosage is for heroin for an adult weighing... probably only about eighteen or nineteen kilos, if you consider that the missing limbs must have subtracted about forty per cent of his body-mass, in addition to the emaciation and dehydration."
"A little under three stone" Poppy agreed, tight-lipped.
Hermione turned to McGonagall appealingly. "Can we get somebody to Apparate to my parents with Floo powder, so I can speak to them?"
"Better to Floo you to The Burrow - your head, anyway. Arthur has managed to magically isolate a Muggle fellytone and get it working."
As Hermione knelt uncomfortably on the wooden floor, trying to hold onto the 'phone one-handed whilst explaining to her father just why she wanted to know the safe dosage for a Class A drug, Adrian rolled his eyes. "The next thing we need is a virgin to summon a unicorn."
"Donít look at me" replied Ron Weasley cheerfully, barrelling through the door with Harry in tow. "Bill's on his way - is that my dad I can hear through the Floo? Hi Dad! Urrgh," he added, catching sight of Snape where he lay breathing in careful, desperate gasps. "Ye gods, you weren't kidding, were you Harry? They've really done a number on the poor bastard."
Harry, however, had turned slightly pink, and Dumbledore looked at him speculatively for a moment and then rubbed his hands together. "Harry, dear boy," he said brightly; "am I to understand that you have not yet, er - indulged in the pleasures of the flesh? In company, that is?"
Harry, very pink indeed, mumbled something that sounded like "...nobody's bloody business but mine - unfortunately." Out-loud, however, he said "Why do you want to know - sir?"
"Only, if you were - I realize that this is a delicate matter, but if you were... inexperienced, you might be able to do poor Professor Snape an inestimable service. Magically speaking."
The boy glanced at Snape's terrible injuries, and winced. "All right," he muttered sullenly. "Yes I'm a bloody virgin - all right?" He aimed a swift cuff at Ron, who was sniggering.
"Thank you, Harry. In which case, I need you to go and tell Hagrid that we need a unicorn - as soon as possible, please, and as close to the castle as he can get it to come - and that you should be able to, ah, help him to call it. Ronald, you go with him and see if you can assist."
"God, his wrist is broken as well" Adrian muttered, turning the stick-thin arm gently in square, competent hands, looking for a vein. "Sorry man - just a little sting" he said quietly to Snape as he pushed the needle home left-handed, although it was unlikely the man could hear him, or feel such a minor pain when he had so many greater ones. Still, he kept talking - remembering, as he tried always to remember, that the patient was someone; not just a collection of symptoms. "This should make you feel better soon.
"Who are these freaks who did this to him?" he asked Poppy, his eyes bleak behind the bottle-thick glasses. "This is - it looks like the injuries they tell you to watch out for in abused kids. Somebody just took hold of his hand and twisted until the bone splintered. Who did this?"
"One Whom we do not name."
"It's a - political issue," McGonagall said delicately. "A very powerful - a very powerful and ambitious Dark wizard is currently trying to take over the organizational structures of wizarding Britain. Severus - Severus was our spy in the enemy camp, for many years, but he was... discovered, and during a skirmish in June they captured him and took their revenge."
"Very bloody slowly, from the look of it." Adrian touched Snape's face gently, his blunt fingers looking as black as jet against the sick man's deadly pallor. "So you're an agent, are you, mate? Brave man. I suppose you can't fix his wrist?"
"Not with these hexes in place," Poppy replied grimly. "I was hoping you could."
"I didn't see it on the diagnostic list - I'm not sure whether it wasn't there or whether I missed it, that stuff is hard on the eyes. Anyway I didn't put plaster on my list - do you have any way of making a cast?"
It was McGonagall who answered him. "If you can set the bones, I can make you a cast."
"All right - as soon as the analgesic kicks in, I'll wash his arm and then get the bone straight."
"Oh, you don't have to touch him to wash him," Poppy replied briskly. "I didn't do it before, because we were - too busy with other issues, but I can easily clean him just with my wand, and it will be a relief to get rid of those!" She pointed her wand eloquently at the squirming mass of maggots which obscured the dreadful gut-wound, and Adrian lunged forward, covering the injury with his own body.
"Oi - leave my wriggly little helpers!"
"The maggots - leave them be. They're the best thing there is for cleaning dead tissue out of a wound. I know it can seem a bit - a bit squicky, but we're starting to introduce them deliberately in hospitals, to treat infected lesions."
"Dear God - are you certain?"
"Well... very well. If you're sure." She gestured with the wand and murmured "Scourgify," and the crusting of blood and filth faded away from the patient's skin, revealing the gashed eyebrow which had sealed his left eye shut with blood. Snape flinched slightly as the eye flew open, staring and desperate.
"He doesn't look - could you run that diagnostic - spell or whatever to check his pain-levels? The heroin should have kicked in by now if it's going to work, but his breathing still seems very pained. Literally. I can't say he looks any better for it."
The mediwitch gestured with her wand again and checked the parchment, then shook her head. "It doesn't seem to be working. Evidently the - prohibition against healing and pain-relieving potions extends to Muggle medicines as well. You will see that He Who Must Not Be Named intends - " She pointed at Voldemort's letter, lying discarded at the foot of the bed, and Adrian picked it up and scanned it rapidly. "I'm not sure I believe the part about Sirius Black - they were bitter enemies, as far as I know - but unfortunately the rest seems all too true; Severus has been spell-bound to suffer in agony until he dies." Hermione, in the background, put her hand over her mouth, looking very sick; but Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore looked hardly any better.
"In that case, the diamorphine isn't going to work either, is it? God - the poor bastard. But - " He tapped his nails against his teeth for a moment. "You said that if I cut anything I shouldn't cut, you'd be able to fix it?"
"Yes, but - "
"But me no buts. Can you fix a broken back?"
"He doesn't have a broken back."
"He could have."
Comprehension dawned suddenly on the older witch's face. "Yes, certainly I could repair it, if it isn't left for more than a few days - that should be long enough. Where do you want - " Before she could finish the sentence, two things happened: the fire flared suddenly green again as a rangy, red-haired young man with an earring and a ponytail and a great, half-healed scar across his cheekbone stepped through it into the room, and Snape arched off the bed in another involuntary spasm, his mouth stretched open in a terrible silent scream as the movement jarred his torn belly. "Oh, God" Poppy muttered as she rushed to his side, trying to hold his hips steady as Professor Dumbledore braced his shoulders again and he heaved and coughed and tried to retch on nothing. After a long moment the injured man slumped back against the bed again, trembling, his breathing coming very rapid and shallow. The mediwitch let go of him and drew her wand across in a long upwards flick, and suddenly the magnified sound of Snape's heartbeat filled the room - thin and thready and fading fast.
Hermione, watching, felt sick and dizzy with grief. Almost, almost she buried her face against Bill Weasley's broad chest, not wanting to see the Potions master die, but then she saw Professor McGonagall take Snape's skeletal hand between hers, gentle and careful of his damaged wrist. "Severus," McGonagall said, softly but firmly. "Severus, listen to me. I know you've run a long race - such a very long race, but you're almost at the finish now. Just hold on for a few hours more and then you can rest, I promise you." Gradually, his heartbeat strengthened a little, though it still sounded stuttering and uncertain.
"All right," Adrian said grimly. "I don't much like it, but we're going to have to cut his spine. If we can't stop the pain the stress is going to kill him anyway and frankly, if we can't stop it he'd be better dead. Do you have a scalpel?"
"No need," Poppy Pomfrey replied, as Dumbledore did something complex with his wand and the injured man drifted up off the bed as if born on a stretcher of air, the brittle, shredded remains of his robe falling away as he rose. Adrian swallowed slightly, and then knelt down by the bed so that he could look at his patient from underneath. The sight made him wince - even with the excess blood cleared away, the man's back was a raw horror. Taking a breath to steady himself, he pointed at a point high up the saw-toothed ridge of Snape's spine, a little below the shoulders.
The mediwitch aimed her wand, very precisely and carefully, and said clearly "Diffindo." Instantly, Snape arched again, gasping, and his magnified heartbeat thumped down like a hammer - but then he drew another gasping breath and another, ragged, almost sobbing, and the racing heart steadied and strengthened. As Dumbledore gestured with his wand again, lowering the injured man back gently onto the bed, still with a thin layer of air under him to cushion his wounds, Adrian stood up and laid his sugar-pink palm along the side of Snape's ravaged face. "That's better now, isn't it man?" he said softly. "Much better."
"Now that that's settled," said the calm voice of Bill Weasley, "would somebody mind explaining what's going on?"
Most people in the U.K. will know what a Geordie accent sounds like, but if you're from elsewhere, and if you've ever seen the British "Inspector Morse" detective drama series, it may help you to know that Adrian sounds like Sergeant Lewis. Only more so.
Quidditch is such a dangerous sport that it must often result in broken necks and backs, yet we do not see any paraplegic wizards or witches - so I think it's safe to assume that magic can mend a severed spinal cord.
MIMS is the Monthly Index of Medical Specialities, a list of drugs and dosages much used by medical personnel in the UK and Australia. The US equivalent is the Physician's Desk Reference.
Snape's extremely low body-weight at this point is based on the fact that there are many mentions of adult male concentration-camp survivors who were down to about 60lb and still apparently walking about, even if only just. Snape is quite a tall man but always a scrawny, narrowly-built one, and he has been starved far past the point of being able to walk, were he still to have the legs to do it with (we are told in Missing in Action that he hasn't been fed for four months, and he was thin to begin with): the Death Eaters probably dumped him because keeping him alive without feeding him was getting to be too much effort. I am assuming, therefore, that were he still whole he would weigh around 66lb - but the mutilations have cost him about 40% of his body-mass, so what's left weighs about 40lb.
Normally we know that fireplaces have to be connected to the Floo network through a formal process which is under Ministry control; but for the sake of the plot I am assuming that it is possibly temporarily to connect any hearth to the Floo network, provided there is Floo powder in the flames on both sides of the connection.
Adrian tends to address Snape as "man" not because he is black but because he's a Geordie. In Newcastle, even women call each other "man."
This chapter has been slightly edited in accordance with the new backstory in Deathly Hallows, to reduce the degree to which Dumbledore thinks of Snape as having been his friend prior to his disappearance.
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