"How long, Severus?" Dumbledore asked.
Snape was silent for a long time. Then he said, "Half a year, perhaps a few months longer. But half a year is all I can guarantee, and that only if you follow my instructions faithfully."
"Half a year," Dumbledore echoed with no inflection whatsoever. "That's not very long, I'm afraid."
"You were lucky to survive at all," Snape said, looking pointedly at Dumbledore's blackened ruin of a hand.
"I know, Severus, I know. But I fear we need more than half a year, if we're to beat Voldemort at his game. Is there nothing you can do? I don't care how painful it is."
Snape shook his head. "The coming half year will be painful regardless of what I do, Headmaster. We can alleviate the pain to some extent, but once the curse hits vital organs … ."
"Six months is too short a time to prepare the boy for his task," Dumbledore murmured. "We have to extend the time somehow." He turned to the window overlooking the lake and looked out pensively. "Perhaps, Severus, it's time to think outside the box. Arthur once told me that there's a Muggle hospital in the USA that specialises in uncommon ailments. I think an injury caused by a cursed artefact counts as an 'uncommon' ailment, don't you?"
Snape didn't respond, but from one of the portraits of former headmasters on the wall came the unmistakeable sound of a cackle. "Muggle hospital?" the portrait of Phineas Nigellus said. "What has this school come to, that the headmaster seeks help from Muggles? Does the magical world not have a long and proud tradition of healers and potion makers?"
"Yes, indeed, Phineas, it does, but the magical world has no antidote for the black magic of as mighty a wizard as Voldemort," Dumbledore said with a faint note of reproof. "The healers at St. Mungo's have done what they can, and they have informed me that I've been a very imprudent old man. Severus and Madame Pomfrey are doing their best, but I fear that their best isn't good enough."
"Then perhaps it is time for a new headmaster, someone who is more prudent and not so prone to poking his long nose where it doesn't belong," Nigellus rejoined.
"Tsk-tsk, are you mocking my nose?" Dumbledore asked mildly. "There will undoubtedly be a new headmaster or headmistress here soon, but I'd like to die knowing that I won't have lost my life unnecessarily. If I need to enlist Muggle aid to do so, then so be it. Unlike other wizards, Phineas, I do not believe that Muggle lifestyle or customs are inferior to ours. They are merely different. There's no reason why we shouldn't profit from them, or they from us for that matter."
"Headmaster," Snape said. "Regardless of whether Muggle medicine is inferior to ours or not, there is the question of whether Muggle doctors are competent to deal with this. They don't even deal with common spells, jinxes, hexes, or charms. How are they to cope with black art such as this?"
"Have I anything to lose?"
"Possibly a few of the six months that still remain," Snape said.
Dumbledore awkwardly opened a casket on his desk with his healthy hand and made a show of choosing a lozenge from its contents. "You too, Severus?" he asked.
Snape shook his head.
"You should try these some time. They are truly excellent," Dumbledore said, popping the lozenge he'd chosen into his mouth. "Do you know that Muggle card game called poker? The players bet money on the chance that they'll have the best set of cards in the round. When a player bets all his money on his hand, he is said to go 'all in'. I think, Severus, that's what we'll do: we'll go all in."