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
Since no analgesic would work on him, and they dare not cut his spine too high in case it interfered with his breathing, Adrian had to set Snape's wrist without anaesthetic as best he could; pulling the bones straight with a swift, steady hand and profuse apologies, while McGonagall reshaped a papier maché tray into a lightweight cast. It helped that Snape's forearm was largely unburned, although there was a red streak of scald near the elbow, and an area of blistering on the back of his hand. Even so, just looking at that arm made Adrian wince. He could see the twin bones all the way from elbow to wrist, before McGonagall put the cast on; knife-sharp bones barely covered by a thin scraping of white skin which was decorated with purple, finger-shaped bruises, and he realized with a sick little flinching of his own gut that the man had no fingernails.
Just as they finished, Rosmerta's pretty, peevish face appeared in the fire. "There's no way I'm going to get all this lot through the fireplace, Dumbledore - open a window, do, and Accio it. I've got it in the yard at the pub."
It was Hermione, being the least preoccupied person in the room, who opened the big window and called out "Accio Adrian's medical supplies. Stand clear," she said to Adrian himself; "it could arrive with a rush."
"It could arrive with a waterlily, for all I care." The first flood of adrenalin had worn off, leaving him feeling distinctly frazzled and unpleasantly sober; and, perversely, now that he had actually managed to reduce the patient's bitter agony to something almost bearable, the knowledge of how much pain the man had been in made him feel sick and shaky.
When his order of medical equipment arrived, however, clattering over the windowsill in a hailstorm of steel and glass, he snapped back instantly into focus; actually humming to himself as he extracted the appropriate combination of electrolytes from their ampoules and injected them through the rubber access port on the drip bag. Poppy Pomfrey offered to make her own ersatz drip-stand and send back the one they had purloined, and he agreed that she should do so as soon as the patient was stable; drip-stands were fairly expensive and often in short supply, but the hospital had been having a quiet Tuesday afternoon when he went off duty, and was unlikely to notice if they borrowed this one from stores for a few hours.
"There's no time to mess about, in any case; I need to balance his electrolytes before the staying-alive spell wears out, or he could go into seizure and flatline." He looked at their blank faces, and realized that of the five other people in the room (not counting the patient himself, who was beyond all such considerations), only Hermione had the remotest idea what he had just said. "I need to bring the - the minerals in his blood back to their normal, healthy levels as quickly as I can," he said patiently, "because any serious imbalance might bring on another convulsion which could cause his heart to stop beating."
When he had the drip set up, he took Snape's skeletal arm between his hands again, very gently, and started searching for a visible vein - a difficult and fiddly task, when all the man's veins were so shrunken with dehydration, but at least the extreme whiteness of his skin helped. He would absolutely hate to have to find a vein in his own arm under these circumstances. "Sorry, mate," he said softly; "I know I seem to be always messing about with this arm, but itís the only one there is, see?" That could hardly be news to Snape himself; the stump where his right lower leg should be was red-raw and showing bone, but where his left leg and arm had been the skin had long since healed over, although there still seemed to be a patch of ulceration at his hip, under the blistering acid burns. As the needle went in Snape's heartbeat jerked audibly, and then settled again when nothing else bad followed that single sting.
Adrian nodded to the onlookers: Dumbledore, who had never stirred from Snape's side; McGonagall, whey-faced and shaken but looking slightly more positive now; Poppy and Hermione, both of them wearing militantly competent expressions despite the tears in their eyes; and Bill Weasley, who was obliviously poring over his own version of a diagnostic chart, and muttering under his breath. He both looked and sounded to Adrian like a hacker trying to analyze a difficult computer virus, although the word "hex," in this context, was probably not short for "hexadecimal." "I've put a strong antibiotic in with the drip; fingers crossed, but I think we might get away with that one, because strictly speaking an antibiotic isn't a healing potion - itís a poison. A very specific poison," he continued before anyone could interrupt him, "which only kills bacteria - the organisms which cause the infection.
"All right." He drew a deep breath, feeling that he was quite a long way out of his depth and paddling furiously - and almost the worst part was that he would never be able to boast about it to his colleagues afterwards. "That will resolve the dehydration - eventually - and when his electrolytes are more balanced I'll add some glucose and protein to feed him. In addition to the partial kidney failure and the risk of seizures - which could continue to be a danger for a couple of days - there's also a risk of developing blood-clots due to the dehydration, which - well, which could be fatal, if one reached his lung."
"I'll set up a standing diagnostic spell to warn us if a clot forms: if it does I should be able to dissolve it magically, because like your anti bio-tick it's not strictly a healing spell."
"Good. Check his electrolytes for me again in about twenty minutes. The next step is going to be either the burns or the dialysis-by-unicorn, and since the Virgin Soldier isn't back yet...."
"As if - as if everything else they did wasn't enough," Poppy said shakily, "they had to pour acid over him as well."
"Oh, I don't think that's how they did it," Adrian replied absently. "From the pattern, I'd say they dipped his - academic gown, or whatever you call those dress-things you all wear - in acid and then dressed him in it. That's why the fabric's rotted so completely - and why all the burns are below the neck, except for that one on his forehead which must be where they dragged it on over his head.... I'm going to need gloves for this: can you see them among that lot?"
"No need." She pointed her wand, and a thin, shimmering field appeared around the young surgeon's hands.
"Cool. OK, the next thing I need is a clean sponge - and I mean very clean, please - and... let's say, about three pints of milk."
"Don't worry - I haven't taken leave of my senses, and it's not for his ivory complexion: it will neutralize any remaining acid."
Without warning, McGonagall clapped her hands and called out "Rinna - to the infirmary, please!" With an even louder clap, the hospital wing's head house-elf materialized in the middle of the room.
Adrian said "Aaah!" and stepped back smartly, then tried to pretend he hadn't.
"We need milk, please, Rinna," McGonagall said composedly; "three pints of clean milk and a perfectly clean sponge, and then stand by to await further orders."
"As Miss Deputy HeadMiss pleases. Your wish, my command, etc.."
As Adrian worked, wiping the clean milk across the burns and then dressing them with sheets of hydrogel foam, he kept up a constant emollient murmur. "Good man - that's it - I'm sorry if this hurts a bit but I have to treat these burns if you're going to get better - good man - you're going to be just fine." He wasn't sure whether it was a good sign or not, but Snape had started actually to react to what he was doing, wincing and flinching slightly whenever he touched an area for which the man still had sensation, instead of just staring in blank desperation. His heartbeat and his breathing raced and slowed, raced and slowed as Adrian moved from one area of burning to the next.
When it came time to treat his back, Adrian slid his arm behind Snape's shoulders and rolled him over gently, trusting to Poppy's spell to prevent either the maggots or the man's own guts from spilling out. The man weighed no more than a small child. His flanks were hollowed out worse than a greyhound's, and the curve of every individual rib left its own sharp shadow: starved until he looked more like some bizarre anatomical specimen than a still-living being.
At least, he could no longer feel the searing pain of the gut-wound; it would have been better if they could have prevented him from feeling his entire upper body as well, but cutting the spine any higher would have left the patient breathing only shallowly and from the diaphragm and the young surgeon was afraid to risk it, when the burns themselves were likely to cause respiratory complications. Even cutting it where he had cut could lead to slight impairment - but cutting any lower would have left the man still tortured by abdominal pain.
The induced spinal-cord break at Thoracic Five did at least mean that Snape's skin was numbed from just below the nipple-line down at the front, and slightly higher than that at the back: but that still left him sensitive to a large area of injury across his shoulders and chest, including some of the worst of the acid burns, and Adrian noted rather queasily that somebody armed with, possibly, a razor and a cigarette lighter (or their magical equivalents) had already paid a lot of attention to his nipples, even before the burning cloth went over him. It was difficult to tell how badly his back was burned - the whole thing was just a half-flayed ruin of cuts and welts and blisters anyway, and the only sensible thing to do with it was to treat the whole mess as one huge lesion and dress it accordingly. When the job was done the patient's breathing became noticeably more stable, and some of the tension slackened out of the rigid line of his jaw.
Extensive and raw-looking though the burns were, they only penetrated to full-thickness in a few places; most of them were second or even first degree. Without magic, the extent of the burning, combined with Snape's other injuries, would still have been seriously life-threatening; but Adrian trusted, most sincerely, that all he had to do was keep the wounds clean and moist and as far as possible comfortable for a few days, until Mr Magic-Hacker came up with a way of enabling Poppy Pomfrey to heal them - hopefully, before the three-day mark at which the secondary complications of burning would start to get really nasty. And again, the hydrogel dressings should be under the radar as far as the anti-healing hex was concerned, since they did nothing actively to heal the patient; only made it much easier for him to heal himself.
"Of course," he said to the world in general, as he wrapped the elasticated netting over the top of the dressings to hold them in place, "all this - I mean using milk and so on - this is all make-it-up-as-you-go-along, MASH-Unit stuff; but I always rather fancied myself as Hawkeye Pierce."
"That's looking quite a bit better already," he said, looking at the fresh diagnostic sheet which Madam Pomfrey had handed him. "Still very high on potassium, of course; it's much easier to put things in than take them out. Something else we have to consider - at the moment his lungs seem fairly clear but there's always a risk, with severe burns, that it will disrupt his fluid balance and cause pulmonary oedema - water on the lungs, right? That thing there that looks like a bomb is a cylinder of compressed oxygen, with a pneumatic - air-controlled? - non-electric? - conserver; that's a thing that responds to his breathing and adds a puff of extra oxygen every time he breathes in. If he starts to sound bubbly at all, we'll need to put an oxygen mask on him and hook him up. Or a nasal cannula - whichever he seems most comfortable with.
"In the meantime.... Could you see if that little - Yoda-lady could find me a plant-mister; boiled, please. And some distilled water - you do have distilled water?"
"You interest me strangely. Do tell." That was Dumbledore - looking slightly less abstracted and a great deal more cheerful, now that Snape was no longer in such overwhelming agony, and was beginning to look more like a patient to be treated and less like a somehow still-breathing corpse to be mourned.
"Another MASH-Unit improvisation; I'm going to aerosol antibiotic topically directly into the gut-wound, to keep it clean until I can seal it. The maggots will tend to clean out bacteria anyway - but I don't want to take any chances. Belt and braces, leik, in case the infection's spread further than the wiggly things."
"I thought you were going to - well, Apparate, or whatever it's called."
"Operate. How long do you think it will take you lot to break the - curses?"
Bill Weasley ran his hand through his hair distractedly. "God knows. I'll work as fast as I can, but You-Know-Who has set the most godawful bloody mare's nest of hexes on him. Realistically, it could take two to three days to sort out."
"And when you lift them, will they come off individually, or all together?"
"All together, most likely."
"All right. In some respects that suits my purposes. On the one hand, the sooner you can magically heal the patient and block his pain the better, but at the same time Madam Pomfrey tells me it will be much easier for her to heal his gut if I actually do a normal surgical end to end anastomosis on the most damaged areas first... that means, if I cut out the portions which are too shredded to retrieve, and join the cut ends back together. With dissolving stitches, you understand - I mean, ones that dissolve after a week or two when he's healed, not right now. I'd prefer to do that while the curse which prevents him from bleeding to death is in place - but at the same time I actually want to leave the gut wound for a day or two to let the maggots do their work. It will make it much easier to resect the damage successfully if all necrosed tissue has been snipped away first, and nothing does that so beautifully as a maggot. So a delay of a couple of days in lifting the curses is ideal from that point of view: and I can keep him at least tolerably comfortable with dressings in the interim."
"What about his - his face?" Hermione asked.
"I'm not sure." He wiped the back of his wrist across his forehead. "Really it ought to be stitched; that will give a much more accurate alignment for Madam Pomfrey to work her wonders on, and leave him with less scarring in the long term. You might not think that that matters much, but facial scarring can have a big psychological impact. Using paper sutures - little tags you stick on with glue" he clarified, with a nod to Poppy - "would be less precise and they only really join the surface, skin injury - whereas this goes right through his facial muscles and the mucosa. And even if he were clean shaven, using paper sutures would be a pig on an area which is going to grow stubble.
"But if I do stitch him at this point - with a needle and thread, you understand," he added with another nod to Poppy - "that's going to mean doing it without anaesthetic, and remember he can feel his face - whereas he can't feel his abdomen at present. I know stitching his face would be - a drop in the ocean, compared to what he's already suffered, but I don't want him to get the idea that he's still among people who want to inflict pain on him. Doing his wrist was bad enough, but there's something so... deliberate about stitches."
"That sounds as if you think you should leave it until the curses are broken."
"Possibly. But in that case, any change of facial expression is going to hurt him. I don't know what to do for the best."
"If it helps," Madam Pomfrey said tiredly, "I could use a shaving charm on him. They're a bit unpredictable - you can end up losing your eyebrows - but that's not the end of the world, is it? If I use a charm, I can shave him clean without hurting him, and then stop him from growing stubble for as long as your... pay-per-sitters are in place."
"Very well. I suppose if - if using paper sutures causes the wound to start healing without the edges being properly lined up, once you can work your - your magic on him you could open the wound again and re-align it."
"In fact, we really should re-open the edges of the wound anyway before I stitch them: it would give a better join. All right. Later, though. His skin is so tightened by dehydration I'm not sure I could even get the edges to touch at this point, so it will have to wait until probably tomorrow morning. If...."
"If he survives the night" McGonagall chimed in softly.
"Well - yes. Basically. Besides, it's an elective procedure, really. Having his face slashed open may look bloody awful, but it's one of the few things wrong with him which isn't life-threatening. It's the level of toxicity in his system which is worrying me now."
They were relieved, therefore, when Harry came clattering through the door, muddy and rather out of breath. "Sorry it took so long," he panted, "but they were deep into the forest and we had to dodge the giant spiders and everything."
"What giant spiders?" Adrian said with a slight squeak in his voice.
"Oh... you know. The usual. Anyway Hagrid's got one for you down in the bushes at the back of Sproutie's vegetable patch. A unicorn, that is - not a giant spider."
"Oh good. Spider-silk makes quite a good dressing, but I don't think involving Shelob would be at all helpful at this point."
They took him through backways and passageways and private stairways, laid quietly on a stretcher with warm blankets over him and the drip-stand bobbing along beside like some sort of bizarre puppy, and McGonagall walking ahead to clear their road. Adrian tried hard not to be unnerved by the sight of a stretcher which bloody levitated. He was becoming unpleasantly aware that he probably wasn't dreaming - had even surreptitiously stuck a needle in himself to wake himself up, and it hadn't helped.
Really, he should have been thrilled - surely it was every fan's secret longing, to step into a real world that was like something in the books? But he was more of a Science Fiction than a Fantasy fan anyway - aliens would be fine, but magic was, well, embarrassing, and it made it easier to deal with Snape's injuries if he could tell himself he was dreaming them. Realizing that the man really had been tortured to the brink of death over a period of months, and that now his only chance of survival - and his friends' only hope for a future unmarred by bitter grief - depended on some wee guy from Newcastle who was only four months out of Medical School was frankly terrifying. But if he'd been scared of playing God, he wouldn't have picked a career in surgery....
When he saw the unicorn, though, everything - everything went out of his head except wonder. Even the fact that the man standing next to it looked like a psycho-hillbilly at least ten foot tall wasn't enough to detract from the moment. It - he - looked like a Mediaeval tapestry sprung to life, with his delicate, deer-like cloven hooves, his swishing lion's tail with its flag of shining silk, and the great spiral twist of the horn. Yet all this was not some fluffy New Age fantasy but uncompromisingly real and animal; there was sweat on the shimmeringly-white coat and mud on the fine-boned legs, the thing had obvious and quite impressive genitalia and the horn was very sharp and strong and obviously not there just for ornament. The head and neck were those of a graceful horse, but the body-shape reminded him of an eland more than anything else.
"Yeh'd be the Muggle doctor, then," said the hillbilly, red lips appearing startlingly through the forest of beard.
"Er - yes. Right. I'm Adrian. Pleased to meet you."
"Hagrid, same. Ye do what yeh can for him." The startling apparition crossed to the stretcher in a single stride and touched Snape's dressing-covered shoulder with unexpected delicacy, though his thumb was almost as thick as the man's whole arm, as emaciated as he was. "Welcome home. I'd've been up teh see yeh already, but I cahn' rightly fit into them little private rooms in the infirmary" the giant said in a surprizingly soft, gruff voice. Dumbledore might think that the injured man was beyond recognizing anybody at all, but judging from his heart-rate he seemed to find Hagrid's looming presence reassuring - even if Adrian found it anything but.
The easiest place to find a substantial blood-vessel was at the raw stump of the amputated leg, where the cut and ragged and magically-sealed ends of veins and arteries could still be traced - and it had the advantage of being an area Snape could no longer feel. If this curious mythological procedure worked, and if the patient survived, and if he proved to need more than a couple of repeat performances, Adrian would have to think about putting in a venous catheter - perhaps even a shunt or a subcutaneous port. But for the moment, speed was of the essence. Taking a scalpel, he made a swift, deep cut along the line of a vein. The vessel tried to seal itself off again almost instantly, as all major vessels had been spelled to do (but not minor ones; Dumbledore had said grimly that the enemy wizards liked to see at least a little blood, when they were playing) - but the young houseman pressed his thumbs either side of the incision and held it open forcefully, until the dark blood welled up and started to spill.
Harry, red-faced with furious embarrassment, went to the unicorn and laid his hand on the white neck. The stallion (buck?) snorted and sidled slightly, shivering where the boy's hand touched him, and then permitted himself to be guided towards Snape, stepping delicately, his dark, horse-like eyes wide and his ears flicking. The beast seemed to understand what was required of him, though, for when he reached the injured man he tossed his narrow head, snorted and then bowed his neck and dipped his horn with some precision into the inch-long cut.
There was a - Adrian was never afterwards sure what, it was a sound a scent a sensation, all and none of those, the universe twitched and shifted as if someone had just tugged the cloth it was painted on, and no more than that, before the unicorn lifted his fringed jaw and backed away. Madam Pomfrey silently ran the diagnostic spell again and then passed the parchment into the young houseman's magic-gloved hands. Adrian raised both eyebrows. They had been gambling twice - once that the unicorn's horn would work in the same way on a human circulatory system as it did on a poisoned chalice, and once that the anti-healing hex would not be activated by what was, in its essence, a cleansing rather than a healing spell. It had worked better than their wildest hopes. Not only had the brief contact scrubbed the bacterial toxins and the residue of harmful potions out of Snape's system; it had also dropped his blood potassium and sodium levels back to normal parameters. Evidently, unicorn-magic interpreted elevated electrolytes as just another sort of poison.
"Wow," he said, highly impressed. "We need one of these guys at the Infirmary."
Minerva McGonagall snorted. "To do that, you would need a team of virgins over the age of puberty - in Glasgow."
"Could be a problem, yes."
Hagrid bowed to the unicorn, and spoke to him softly. "We thank yeh, Fair One, for yehr aid, and would be thankful if yeh could come to us again for the same purpose - when?"
"Tomorrow morning - say about 7am? Could you be up for 7am, Harry?"
"I suppose." He glanced at Snape and pulled a face. "Yes, of course."
Poppy Pomfrey glanced at the latest diagnostic sheet, then looked at Snape's white, strained face and shivered. "We are now officially.... We are now officially on our own. The spell that's been keeping him alive - isn't."
"That just means he can die though, doesn't it? - it doesn't mean he will. I'm quite pleased with him, under the circumstances. His temperature is still low, but that's only to be expected in a burns patient and he seems to be fairly stable now... and a lot closer to comfortable. In fact I think he's ready to start on a little glucose, now. Though we'll have to bring the glucose in slowly and monitor his bloods - he's been burning his own muscles and internal organs for months just to stay alive, and if the changeover back to burning sugars causes his phosphate levels to drop too far too fast he could arrest. But that's all right so long as you check his electrolytes every half-hour or so. The real danger will come when the complications of the burns build up. Can you tell how long ago he was burned?"
"We're not sure... well, we think he must have been smuggled into the school somehow during the small hours of the morning - he could hardly have been brought through into the back of a busy classroom when people were awake - but that fool Professor Sweeney didn't check the stores yesterday, so we don't know whether he was brought in this morning or - or yesterday morning. Since he can't call out, or move under his own power...."
"So it could be fifteen hours - or nearly forty."
"Longer, if he was burned significantly before they moved him.... I'll see if - " She made some more complex gestures with the wand, and then checked the parchment. "Almost forty-one hours," she said quietly, "so he probably had been lying there.... Sit down, dear" she added to Hermione, who had turned distinctly green. The two boys had been sworn to secrecy and sent off down to the Great Hall to get their dinner, but Hermione was far too shaken to have an appetite (whereas nothing on earth would prevent the boys from eating whatever was set in front of them like a pair of starving gannets); and since Adrian was her future brother-in-law and it was her impressive bit of lateral thinking concerning unicorns which had probably saved Snape's life, she had been tacitly accepted as a member of the team.
Besides, with Snape himself lost somewhere far beyond coherence or capability, and the unlamented Professor Sweeney having apparently handed in her notice via Madam Hooch in a moment of stammering hysteria, there was nobody but Hermione left to brew whatever potions the infirmary might require. So she stayed, keeping herself quietly out of the way with her hands clasped together in anxiety while Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall talked to the patient in low voices, encouraging and calming him as best they could, and Bill Weasley sat in the corner and his own little world, scribbling furiously. Beyond the door of the private room, the life of the hospital wing ticked over under the anxious eye of Filius Flitwick: fortunately there were no other inpatients at present.
Adrian clicked his tongue, frowning. "With extensive, fairly severe burning like this, there are major complications which usually become potentially life-threatening between seventy-two and ninety-six hours after the injury, so we have thirty-one hours before we need to start worrying. After that - I really hope Bill can get those hexes lifted. His hormone-balances are going to go more and more all over the place, he can't regulate his own body-temperature - that's part of why he's so cold - and despite that his metabolism is going to go into overdrive. He must already have had some increase due to the infection anyway, and now, with the burns - well, it's already starting to climb, you can see from these readings, and by tomorrow his system is going to be racing so fast he'll start burning up and trying to digest his own tissues. More than he is already, I mean. And he hasn't any body-mass left to burn. He really needs to be fed, and fed well, before that happens - but even if he didn't have the gut-wound, his stomach's so shrunken I couldn't get more than a trickle into him anyway."
Once Poppy had cleaned the awful gut wound of everything except maggots, Adrian had sprayed it with aeorosoled antibiotic and then covered the whole thing, maggots and all, with a porous dressing. This was a great relief to everybody except himself; as a surgeon he could contemplate the sight and the abattoir stink of infected human innards without turning a hair but he appreciated that lay-persons were more sensitive about these things, and in any case the dressing conserved both the heat of the wound and the heat generated by the maggots themselves. Between the disruption of thermal control caused by the burns and the sheer lack of anything to feed on except the wasted remnant of his own muscle-tissue Snape was still borderline hypothermic, despite McGonagall's warming spell, and needed all the help he could get to maintain his body-temperature.
"Now that his bloods are OK-ish I'm going to add some protein in with the IV but I don't know if I can get it into him faster than the burns are going to eat it up, and he's only about ten kilos over his skeletal weight anyway - he can't spare any more. He would already have died of the fluid-loss from the burns, on top of the existing dehydration, if it hadn't been for the spell holding him in his body - and as you say, we won't have that luxury this time around. In fact - I really hate to do this but I think I'm going to have to call the hospital and tell them I'm sick, so I can stay here with him. I really don't want to leave him until he's properly stabilized or - "
"Dead," Poppy replied, with a horrible sort of professional composure, as she spread a blanket over the man she had cared for like a son and spelled it warm. At least the peculiar, rubbery-looking Muggle wound-dressings which covered most of his torso meant that she now could put a blanket over him, without it sticking to his injuries.
"Yes. But the idea is to avoid that. The next thing is to put in a catheter to monitor his urine output - he'll need one anyway, with his spine cut."
"What's a catheter?"
"A fine, fairly soft tube - sometimes you put them into veins to draw blood, like this one connecting the drip to his arm, but in this case it'll be a thicker one - quite a bit thicker, actually - which goes up the urethra and into the bladder, to draw off urine."
"You're going to put it where?? If you mean what I think you mean - "
"Um - yeah, probably. It - well, goes up his dick. Not to put too fine a point on it. I know it's a bit... especially to a bloke, but it's not like he's going to feel it, is it?"
"Good God, do you Muggles really - "
"Yes we Muggles really. We can't just wave a bloody bit of twig and make everything suddenly all right, and neither can you at present. That was why you needed me, wasnít it? Everything has to go by tube - like the London Underground."
"I have a map of the London Underground on my knee" Dumbledore said helpfully. "Look!"
"Er - yes, that's - really interesting."
"And you're sure - you're quite sure that this is necessary?" Madam Pomfrey said rather pleadingly. "And safe?"
"Completely safe, if the tube is sterile - which it is. And besides, there's so much swelling that - well, he needs all the help he can get to keep everything open and working." He knew intellectually, of course, that torturers were likely to go for the most pain-sensitive areas and that the genitals were bound to be a favourite target, but the mess of cuts and burns and black bruises still made him wince in masculine empathy, and it was a relief to know that the patient could no longer feel either that or the bruising and tearing due, he presumed, to repeated sexual assault.
For that matter, it was a relief that Snape couldn't feel the catheter going in, which in his confused and panic-stricken frame of mind he would probably have interpreted as some new torture - even though Adrian kept up a constant, reassuring chatter, telling him roughly what he was doing and why on the off-chance that he might understand even a fraction of it. Or at least, that he might understand that he was being informed, was being treated as a rational being and not a piece of meat.
When that was done, the houseman went and stood by McGonagall, looking down at his patient thoughtfully. Snape's face was still pinched and dazed, and that was only to be expected: even if he could feel nothing now below his chest, he still had full sensation for a substantial area of severe burning and probably of neuralgia from the severed arm, quite apart from the psychological burden of remembered trauma and terror, and the mental confusion caused by starvation and by sheer exhaustion and lack of REM sleep. Nevertheless, he no longer looked as if he would be screaming in agony if he could. Whimpering quietly, perhaps, but that was still a distinct improvement. "Good man," he said softly. "You just stay with us now, do you hear me? Just stay with us and you'll be fine, I promise."
He touched the side of Snape's face, pressing his thumb gently against the sharp, newly-shaven chin. "Open up for me, please. It's all right" he added quietly, guessing why the man shuddered as he obeyed. "Nothing bad, leik. I just want to check your teeth, and that." The man's tongue was still leathery and swollen with dehydration, and he had several broken teeth. "Good man, that's it. We'll need to ask your mum to have a look at this when he's stable, Thothlet," he said abstractedly. "Teeth aren't really my thing - and I don't suppose anything I might do to numb them is going to work, is it? Could one of you lot do that cleaning thing on his mouth, please? There's a lot of blood, and if they've been sexually... well. You can imagine."
"Unfortunately, yes" Dumbledore said sadly, performing the cleansing spell with a tenderness which suggested that the younger man might be more to him than just a colleague in trouble. "But he's here now, and we'll do everything we can to make things - to make things as right for him as they can be. At least he is - surrounded by people who care about him. Even if he doesn't believe it."
"What's he like when he is - when he's more himself?"
"Clever, competitive, cantankerous and contrary" McGonagall said with a strained smile, though there were tears in her eyes as she said it.
"Well - that's hopeful. What do you think, mate - will you get better for me out of pure bloody-minded determination not to be beaten? Could someone call that - that elf," he said, feeling embarrassingly silly, "and ask her to get me a little chamomile tea and some cotton buds, please, if you have any? The drip will take care of the dehydration, but his mouth must feel horrible, leik. His throat is too weak and dry and sore to swallow, and he has the gut-wound anyway so I can't give him a proper drink, but if I swab his mouth with something moist it will be much more comfortable for him. Peppermint would be fine too, but chamomile is slightly antiseptic so it will help with his teeth. And... do you have something like Vaseline, to put on his lips?" As cracked and bleeding as they were....
"Vassy-lean?" Poppy said anxiously: "I'm afraid I don't know what that is...."
"We have more chamomile," Hermione said with a faint smile. "Chamomile and peppermint lotion is just as good as Vaseline, and it tastes a lot nicer."
Poppy Pomfrey looked down at the patient and sighed. "I suppose I shall have to take this off for him" she said, touching the ends of his filth-clotted hair. "It must be uncomfortable for him - there are things living in it - and even if I could clean it it's matted beyond redemption. But it seems such a pity, when he has - when having long hair was one of his few real vanities, and he has already lost so very much."
"Is he still conscious?" Hermione asked softly. "I mean - able to understand what's happening to him at all?"
Professor Dumbledore cleared his throat. "So far as I can tell he's still aware," he said sadly; "they've curse-bound him so he can't not be. But conscious? It's a matter of definition. All he seems to be aware of is raw physical sensation - and absolute terror of physical sensation."
"If he can't stop feeling, then we should give him something to feel that's nice" Hermione said firmly. "I'm sure I could get the mats out of his hair - I've done it for Crookshanks often enough, and I've got a special tool for doing it. And having his hair washed and brushed ought to be all right because it won't feel anything like what He Who Must Not Be Named did to him."
Adrian coughed gently. "Don't be too sure, Thothlet. If he's been sexually assaulted on top of all the rest, which appears to be the case, then having someone grip him by the hair might have unfortunate associations. One way or another."
Hermione thought about that for a moment, winced and then set her mouth in a determined straight line. "I don't intend to be - grabby" she said firmly. Taking her wand in her right hand, she held out her left and said clearly "Accio cat-comb, mat-splitter and slicker-brush."
After a minute or two the named implements thunked into her hand. She looked at Madam Pomfrey and Professor Dumbledore enquiringly, and when they nodded in encouragement she went and sat down by Snape's bedside. "Hello professor - sir," she said gently. "Please don't be alarmed. It's Hermione Granger, sir, and I'm just going to tidy your hair for you and make you more comfortable."
Snape gave no sign whatsoever that he had heard her, but continued to stare at the ceiling with wide, blank, terrified eyes, his breathing shallow but reassuringly even. Hermione tried not to notice the twin slashes which bisected his cheeks, his irregular yellow teeth showing horrifyingly through the gashes. The skull beneath the skin - his skin was drawn so tight with famine that it hardly covered his bones, dragging the edges of the cut flesh apart and baring the gums beneath, and shaving off the lank beard had only revealed more layers of bruising beneath it. She touched a lock of his hair lightly, without putting any pressure on his scalp, and winced. That straight black mane of his tended to be rather greasy at the best of times, but now it was clogged with oil and blood and worse things she didn't even want to speculate about and there were, as Madam Pomfrey had said, things living in it.
A quick, muttered Scourgify took care of the worst of the muck, at least, but when she started to stroke her fingers lightly across his scalp, feeling for the most obvious mats, he flinched at her touch and his breath sucked in sharply. "It's all right, professor" she said steadily, in the face of his rigid fear and misery. "This won't take long, and you'll feel better for it."
She learned to feel for the mats from the ends inwards instead of from the scalp outwards, minimizing the times she had to touch him. At every hard, felted knot she came to she gripped the hair between the mat and his scalp, to prevent tugging, and then stroked the sharp, shielded blade of the mat-splitter through the knot from his head outwards, cutting through the clot again and again, until she could rake out the remains by wielding the slicker-brush. The pile of discarded hair on the pillow grew larger and larger as she worked, until it seemed a wonder that he still had any left to save.
When at last she could find no more significant mats she began to stroke Snape's hair out smooth and straight with the fine-toothed comb she more commonly used on Crookshanks: fine enough to filter out any lingering little inhabitants. Once again he flinched and stiffened, as far as he had the strength to do so, but when she murmured reassuringly and kept on brushing in steady, even strokes he visibly relaxed again, giving in to the strange sensation which was, indeed, nothing at all like anything which Voldemort or his followers had done. "You've got a good bedside manner, Thothlet" Adrian said, grinning, and she gave him a watery smile.
"Should I wash...?"
"You might as well, dear" Madam Pomfrey said, nodding. "Since he seems to be all right about it. Knowing Severus it will be greasy again in a few hours anyway but at least it will make him more comfortable for now. I'll get you a cleansing potion."
"Uhm, no. Thank you. Hair is one of the things that Muggles do better than wizards. Accio shampoo."
While they were waiting for the shampoo to show up, Adrian stood with his hands in his pockets, contemplating his patient. "From the point of view of treating the poor sod, I'd say the sooner we can get him used to the idea that not everyone that touches him is out to hurt him, the better. Assuming that he does survive, and grow stronger, I don't think it would be very helpful if I had to hold him down in order to change a dressing. Would you agree, sir?"
Dumbledore nodded. "He seems at least to 'get' the idea that Miss Granger isn't doing anything actively harmful to him, and in the long run that may help him to realize that his situation has improved."
McGonagall, still looking very pale and unsteady, temporarily transfigured the pillow into a shallow bowl and Hermione sat by the bedside and washed her former professor's hair, slowly and gently, talking to him in a low voice until his eyes actually lost some of that awful, frozen look and drifted half-shut. She thought that, if he had been able to do so, he would have fallen asleep as she smoothed the coconut-scented shampoo into his black hair and then rinsed it away, taking with it the last of the blood and filth of Voldemort's stronghold.
A simple drying charm got rid of the water, from his hair and from the bowl, which duly became a clean pillow again. Cleaned and combed out as it was now, they could see that his hair had grown considerably while he was a captive, but cutting the mats out had left it thinned and feathered. Hermione privately thought that the effect was quite good, then wondered at herself for her frivolity in thinking it, when the man was so very badly hurt.
Dumbledore, trying to monitor his patient's mind with a light touch, looked at McGonagall and smiled faintly, the bare beginnings of his trademark twinkle showing in his eyes. "That is better. At least, he can feel that he is clean, and that he has a pillow, and he has at least a vague idea that neither of those eventualities would be likely to occur in Tom's tender care."
Paper sutures and cotton buds are known in the U.S. as steri-strips and Q-tips. A slicker-brush is a pad covered in fine, soft, slightly bent wires, normally used for grooming short-coated pets but also useful for raking hairs out of the brushes used on long-coated ones.
Live maggots, known euphemistically as "larval therapy," not only clean necrosed tissue out of a wound but also mop up bacteria, reducing or even preventing infection. Dr. W.S. Baer, who made the first scientific studies on the medicinal use of maggots, first became interested in them after treating two World War I soldiers who had lain on the battlefield for seven days, untreated, with abdominal wounds and compound fractures heaving with maggots, and when they were finally rescued their wounds were found to be healthy and healing nicely.
Although Hagrid tells his Care of Magical Creatures class that adult unicorns can only be approached by girls, not boys, this is clearly not entirely true; Hagrid himself is able to approach them and so is Ollivander, who speaks of having personally plucked a hair from the tail of a 17 hand (5'8" at the shoulder) male unicorn, although the unicorn was very annoyed about it. Tradition says that a unicorn will come peacefully to a virgin, but doesn't specify the gender.
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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