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 At nearly five o’clock in the morning, even the latest and longest of witching hours business was usually drawing to a close. In midsummer, the witching business might occasionally continue just past dawn, invoking a special magical time where the midnight businesses and the crepuscular businesses met. But in November, the sun wouldn’t be crawling up out of bed for a couple hours yet, and five o’clock became part of a hollow and waiting time, which was only occupied by unlucky risers and some unluckier few who hadn’t managed to finish the last of their business and find their beds yet.  

Along a tired, empty stretch of street, one such unlucky person was yawning their way back to their apartment building – one foot in front of the other. Sirius Black yawned again and promised himself that he would attempt to become diurnal again tomorrow. After a week of being nocturnal, on shift answering all the dangerous calls of the Order’s midnight business, it was all he could do right now to wander home and hopefully collapse on the nearest vaguely horizontal and decently soft surface.

 CRACK!

 The crack of Apparition split the silence between the dark residential streets. Sirius had his wand in hand and pointed towards the source before it could echo off the last hedge or deserted balcony.

 But there was no one there. It had come from the middle of the street, and yet there was no sign of a person, visible or hidden. The only thing that seemed to have appeared was a misshapen black lump, not much larger than a Beater’s bat and wrapped in some sort of dark fabric, lying on the pavement of the street several meters away. It looked… sopping wet in the dim streetlights.

 But not even a second after Sirius laid eyes on the strange lump, without giving him any time at all to even discern what it truly was, another much louder crack of Apparition split the air and banged off all the edges of the buildings.

 CRACK!

 A large dark figure twisted out of their air just a few meters in front of Sirius, person-shaped and soaking wet. They spun on a wobbly heel, one of their arms apparently clutching at their chest as though in pain and the other making misshapen pinwheels in their air as they tottered. Then they tripped forward over the black lump and landed with a damp, unpleasant squelch sort of sound.

 As soon as he had caught sight of the stick in their failing hand, Sirius had wasted no time in summoning the figure’s wand to his hand with an expert flick. The figure’s wand had jerked out of their pinwheeling grip before they had even tripped over the mysterious lump, and Sirius had deftly caught it before the unknown wizard had even hit the pavement.

 However, the figure, now sprawled facedown over the ground, didn’t even seem aware or bothered that they had lost their wand. They didn’t even try to get up.

 Instead, they made a wretched moaning sound, puke out what looked like an entire stomach full of dark water, and tried to curl in on themselves. They were shaking almost violently and their breath hitched on a keen when they weren’t retching. It took them a few uncoordinated movements to successfully shrivel up in pain, but after about a few seconds of trying, there was an awkward, sobbing, soaking wet ball of gangly limbs and black robes in the middle of a Muggle street.

 Something about them and that looked… very familiar. Pathetic, but familiar.

 Sirius at first had expected an attack, then he had expected an attack using this distraction, but as he held the figure at wandpoint and kept a side-eye on the shadows, he was… having doubts. There was a looming chill standing over him, but it didn’t have the foreboding of a firefight to it. No, there was something else leaning over his shoulder now, something sinister and full of strange unknown, urging him to take the bait, to take the risk of being ambushed from behind, and move towards the seemingly helpless figure on the pavement.

 Whatever it was, it whispered to him with half-remembered urgency. It hissed in his ear to take heed of the fineness of the thin figure’s robes, even soaked and half-ruined, and to see something familiar in the wretched figure’s long black hair, loose past their shoulders and tangled against their greyed skin. Even the soles of gaunt figure’s shoes, of all things, echoed through his head with a pace of you should know this. You should know this. You should know this as well as the back of your hand.

 He didn’t know the back of his hand all that well, come to think of it, but it was the phrase of the thing.

 Familiarity gnawed at him, all condensed in those immediate few seconds that Sirius let himself really look at the writhing creature on the pavement. His mind clamoring with so many feelings of unease and unplaced recognition that he couldn’t begin to make sense of it all – at least, not before something far more alarming caught his roaming eye.

 There was a puddle of dark liquid slowly seeping from the figure, who was already dripping while shriveled pathetically on the pavement. This… wasn’t water. The liquid appeared nearly black at first, but as it spread a little farther, the light of the street lamps revealed a deep, ominous red.

 Sirius stepped decisively forward. His head was buzzing with curiosity and alarm, and at the least he would see the wizard who’d somehow managed to leap across his path down an entirely ordinary Muggle street. He kept his wand raised, the figure’s own wand held tight in his other hand, and circled the figure in a few brisk strides, keeping a couple meters distance as he hoped to see their face.

 It was apparently here that the figure finally noticed him. As he circled them, they forcibly raised their head from the pavement and looked towards the source of the footsteps, wary and still wretched with agony. Their wet hair clung to their greyed face and it was through that dark curtain that they peered towards him. Their gaze was unfocused, but perhaps all the more striking by the hallow glaze; for a terrible moment, it was as though Sirius was looking through a twisted mirror, seeing a haunted reflection of his own light grey eyes stare back at him.

 Sirius couldn’t help but take in a shocked breath and give the wretched figure name.

 “…Reg?

 He didn’t wait for confirmation, he didn’t doubt what he now knew, but flung himself forward. Sirius collapsed on his knees beside his little brother, their wands held with white knuckles as he placed one first against a shaking shoulder and with the other carefully brushed tangled hair from Regulus’ face. He hadn’t see Reggie’s hair loose for years now, and the soaked sight filled his chest with something heavy.

 “Reggie,” he said, panic clawing at the base of his lungs. “Reg, what the fuck. What the fuck. What the fuck.”

 His idiot brother blinked back at him, apparently unable to see through the glassiness over his eyes, and Sirius had never been so wrong in all his life. There was none of the expected victory in this long-awaited and much-anticipated moment. He’d wanted this, but he’d been wrong.

 Regulus’ pupils were enormous, his sclera red, and Sirius knew his brother was either drunk or drugged. Unfortunately, the chill looming over his shoulder made him doubt this was a case of too much wine, and the dark red puddle seeping slowly but alarmingly over the pavement agreed.

 “…’ry…”

 Regulus had ducked his head, laid it down against the pavement again, and Sirius wouldn’t have known that his little brother had said a thing unless he’d caught sight of moving lips. Regulus’ voice was lips trying and failing to shape air, water dribbling from between them, few words catching enough to make sounds that were barely more than desperate whispers.

 Sirius leaned in to listen, hoping for an explanation, or an accusation at the least. But tears were welling in Regulus’ eyes, shut with furrowed pain, and Sirius’ little brother only had a litany of apology. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” was said over and over again – overflowing, desperate, and misshapen.

 Clearly Reggie is going to be difficult about this, as usual, Sirius thought with hysterical humor.

 He wasted no more time on pleasantries. Carefully and deftly, he rolled Regulus over, preparing himself to staunch the bleeding from the chest. Regulus moaned unhelpfully, resisting the movement, but he was too weak and Sirius had his sobbing brother on his back soon enough. He stomped down on his sickened feeling at the tangle of defensive limb, soaked robes, and a chest wet with fresh blood.

Sirius hurried to move Regulus’ arms away from his chest, needing to find the wound, and startled as something immediately felt wrong. The right arm had been pulled away without trouble, and so had the left, but the left arm was far too light… and there wasn’t… enough of it. Not of sleeve. Not of… anything.

 Oh.

 Sirius looked down at the arm in his grasp, having gripped it around the upper bicep, and saw that his younger brother’s left arm now ended somewhere around the elbow. In the mess of ripped black robe and seeping blood, Sirius couldn’t see exactly. Unless there was also a wound on Regulus’ chest, it seemed that Sirius had inadvertently managed to find the source of the bleeding: Regulus’ entire left forearm was gone – just gone – and apparently it hadn’t gone nicely.

 After blinking his eyes at the odd sight, Sirius raised his wand and Regulus’ remaining arm. He waved his wand over the wound, muttering spells, and the bloodied black fabric of Regulus’ soaked robes unraveled and peeled away to give Sirius a better look. It was even more gruesome than it was odd; Regulus’ arm was a wreck, ending just below the elbow. Between the apparent Vanished nature of various parts of the arm and the complete lack of visible spell effects of any kind, Sirius’ best guess, as he worked to at least staunch the bleeding and preserve the arm until they could reach better medical attention, was that Regulus had Splinched himself.

 Clearly Reggie was drugged on something bad and he’d just Apparated, so Splinching it was. The majority of Apparition accidents, the brochures and examiners had said time and time again, happened when inebriated witches or wizards tried to Apparate – whether that meant being slightly tipsy on potions, high on charms, or falling-down drunk after a pub crawl.

 Sirius doubted that Reggie’s inebriation had been recreational. Last Sirius had known, Reggie was still allergic to fun. Leave it to Reggie to fuck up and take “getting wasted” a little too literally.

 “Little git,” Sirius snarled, as he did his best to keep his idiot little brother from dying in front of him.  

 His idiot little brother was writhing with pain, between having lost his arm and Sirius’ probably shitty patch-job, and Sirius had to hold him down to keep him relatively still. Sirius might have made a joke about wrestling a cold fish, if he wasn’t acutely aware of the warm blood seeping into his own clothes. Regulus squirmed and moaned and bit his lip until it too was bleeding, and he apologized brokenly and endlessly until he didn’t have the breath left for more, but he didn’t scream.

 Sirius might have preferred it if Regulus had screamed aloud, instead of the begging, instead going white and making inhuman groans through clenched teeth. But instead of confronting that preference, Sirius said as he worked:

 “Yeah, thanks, Reggie. Do us all a favor and bite your tongue out too?”

 Regulus, ever uncooperative, let his eyes roll back in his head and passed out instead.

 “Great fucking work, Reg,” Sirius said.

 He let his wand fall from away from Regulus’ missing arm, because to work on it any further would probably ruin it. What was it that Lily said about them overworking things? Give them a total five minutes to make something and a total of ten minutes to destroy it. Sirius wasn’t a proper healer by any stretch of the imagination; his experience was limited to fixing his own minor fuck-ups, and a missing arm and unknown intoxication wasn’t a minor fuck-up by most standards.

 Sirius’ eye then fell on the black lump that Regulus had tripped over, the soaking wet and robe plastered lump about the size of a Beater’s bat. It had its own ominous red gathering around it, swirling into Regulus’ miserable puddle. Oh.

 Oh.

 Sirius nearly retched himself. A not-so-missing arm after all.

 “Fuck, Reggie,” he said, and turned to put Reggie’s dismembered arm on ice too.

 He had to get Regulus and Regulus’ arm to a proper healer, but he knew that wheeling up to Saint Mungo’s would bring down dear old Mum and the rest of the family on their heads. It’d be like tossing Reggie back to a pit of starving beasts, not that it wouldn’t be of the idiot’s own deserved making.

 Sirius’ first thought was to bring his little brother to Prongs – to Jim – but even James wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails – or heads and limbs – of Reggie’s mess. James was a better healer than Sirius, the best of the lot of them probably, but that was more in potions and poultices than reattaching an arm. Sirius doubted even Mr. or Mrs. Potter had had some home remedy for a Splinched limb.

 Besides, going to James and Lily would bring down the rest of the Order on their heads. Not that that Reggie wouldn’t deserve it, maybe, but Sirius suddenly wasn’t about to dump his little brother at Moody’s or old man Dumbledore’s feet quite yet. This was a family thing.

 Not that Sirius could really profess to knowing what the actual fuck kind of thing this was.

 “Come on, you idiot,” Sirius said, and yanked his little brother up.

 It wasn’t easy. Regulus was soaked through with water and blood, and, having fainted, flopped about like a soppy doll. Uncooperative git. Even when Sirius managed to get Reggie hefted up, he still had to bend back down and pick up the dismembered arm that Regulus had tripped over earlier.

 Leave it to Reggie to so politely bring his own Splinched limb with him before collapsing at Sirius’ feet.

 That wasn’t easy either – and not just because Regulus was surprisingly heavy for such a skinny twit, but because some of the sleeve fell away from the ice-cold forearm and hand. Right there, bright red and vibrant even against inside of the bloodied forearm, was a Dark Mark. Sirius was touching a Dark Mark. It put him abruptly on edge, and it took everything in him not to drop the arm and then bark at it.

 “Too much time as Padfoot lately,” Sirius muttered disgustedly, and resisted retching. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He wasn’t fucking Reggie. “Eugh. No wonder you wanted to lose this fucking thing.”

 Instead of lobbing the Marked arm as far into someone’s hedges as he could, Sirius gritted his teeth and tucked the soaked, freezing lump under his own arm. Then he turned his wand on the space where Regulus had appeared, which was now a large puddle of water and blood and scraps of robe. Not hardly the sort of thing to leave for this neighborhood to find when morning finally came around.

 Sirius Vanished it. Well, not entirely. There’d still be a reddish stain on the pavement in the morning, because blood was blood, Sirius was tired, and cleaning spells had never been his forte.

 It was enough to hurry up and fuck off already, though, so Sirius did.

 “Come on, Reggie. I’ll never forgive you if you die before I can kill you, you spiteful git.”