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Fic: Limits - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Fic: Limits
Well, a lot of people suggested things yesterday and I started the Remus's birthday fic, but it wasn't working out. But gehayi brought up a story that I've thought about on and off for awhile--what happened between Peter and Bellatrix after Peter thwarted her in The Doll Army? I had a pretty good idea, but because I was only thinking in terms of Peter and Bella, the truth is it was mainly straight violence--a more pornographic level of violence than I care to write or read, and I'm the chick who just raved about It and Lord of the Flies. I'd start thinking about it, realize that I really wasn't saying much, and stop. So I kind of turned it over casually when gehayi brought it up, almost set it aside again, and then one of those fun little wire-crosses happened in my head. Mixed it up with the story and character that has been impatiently tugging at my brain.




Regulus Black wasn't sure what woke him up at first. He was in one of Narcissa's guest rooms, and the waning moon was still bright, but the light wasn't enough to have awakened him.

He sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes, trying to judge whether or not the new tattoo on his arm was burning or just itching as it healed. He supposed if he were being summoned by the Dark Lord, it would be a bit clearer.

The ghost of a teenage girl was huddled near the door; he thought her name was Isabel or Isabella. She was one of the many who haunted Wiltshire, and occasionally took refuge in the Malfoy home, which had once been a more inviting for them. Narcissa was wild to have them all barred from the mansion, but she hadn't had any luck yet. Lucius wouldn't do it until he was certain there would be no gossip carried out with them.

Isabel looked over her shoulder with wide, transparent eyes. "You heard it as well?" she asked.

"Heard what?"

But the question was unnecessary--somewhere far below him, it came again: a long, agonized scream, seeming to tear through the floorboards and soar through the very walls.

"Who is it?" Regulus asked. "Who do they have?"

The ghost drew back into the shadows. "I don't know. I don't look. Bellatrix frightens me."

"Join the club. Bellatrix is here?"

"She arrived nearly an hour ago, with..." Isabel made a motion toward the floor. "I'm going to go back to the castle. I don't want to be here. I'd rather..." She faded off. "I'm going," she said again, and drifted through the wall. Regulus looked out the window and saw her drifting across the rainy fields toward the Muggle castle she had died in. He wondered why she would come here of all places--the ghost of a Mudblood had to annoy Lucius and Narcissa even more than the other wandering spirits. It annoyed Regulus as well when he thought about it--what business did she have looking horrified at the actions of pure-bloods, when her own people had buried her alive inside a wall?--but he often neglected to think about it. She was a ghost, and she wasn't trying to change anything. She wasn't one of the Mudbloods who was trying to wipe out the Old Magic and infiltrate the wizarding government.

She looked back up at his window and waved shyly before disappearing. He waved back at nothing.

The scream came again.

Regulus pulled on his robes, and for safety's sake, took the mask he had made from the endtable before going downstairs. He found Narcissa in the drawing room, casually sipping a glass of wine.

"What's happening?" he asked.

"Bellatrix brought a guest to visit for a day or two. She thought it would be... inconvenient... for him to visit her in the city."

"Who did... er... what did he do to... get the invitation?"

"He interfered in family business."

Regulus felt the blood drain from his face. The only person he knew who would bother interfering with Black family business was Sirius, and Sirius was just enough of a fool to do it. He hastily fixed his mask and headed for the labyrinth of underground rooms where most of Lucius's less public business occurred. It was here that Regulus had met the Dark Lord last week, and here that he had sworn fealty... and here that Bellatrix had taught him the Cruciatus Curse, using a Muggle boy who had tried to steal her handbag as the target. It had ended with a different Unforgiveable Curse. Regulus hadn't been able to work the Killing Curse, but he was rather good at the Imperius. The Bourne River had carried the boy away, and Muggle newspapers had reported it as an accidental drowning.

The corridors led past locked rooms full of items the Malfoys had collected over the years... items it wouldn't do to have on public display. Lucius had shown these with pride on the night Regulus had been initiated. At the far end of the maze, a door stood open, and flickering torchlight poured into the corridor.

"Do you think I can't read your mind?" Bellatrix was saying. "You thought you could use us, use what's sacred to us... and use it against us. Protect your filthy, blood-traitor friends. Crucio!"

There was another scream as Regulus stepped into the room. Bellatrix was masked, but there was no mistaking her. She hadn't even made an effort to hide her hair.

The man on the floor wasn't Sirius. He was too small. But he was also masked, and Regulus couldn't see who he was.

"What's going on?" he asked. "Isn't he... one of us?"

Bellatrix darted her tongue out and tapped it against her upper teeth, holding her wand steady on the screaming man. "Oh, he will be by the time I'm done with him. He thought it was a lark. Thought he could use us." She pulled her wand up sharply and the screams stopped.

The man lay panting on the floor, making weak attempts to crawl toward the wall. His robes had torn as he rolled on the rough stone floor, and Regulus could see that he was slightly chubby, with thin blonde hair. Short. His eyes snapped up. "Is that--?"

"No names," Bellatrix hissed.

"Peter..." the man whispered. "Peter. I'm Peter."

"No names, Wormtail."

He began to weep at this name.

"Why do you call him that?"

"It's the name he gave himself, if we must call him something. I didn't ask why." Bellatrix gave a dismissive sniff.

"Peter," Peter Pettigrew whispered again. Bellatrix threw a short bolt of pain at him, and he stopped making any noise, but his mask was knocked askew, and Regulus could see him mouthing his name, over and over. Peter, Peter, Peter...

Bellatrix, quite unfortunately, also saw it. She bent over him and pointed her wand at his mouth, then jerked her hand back in a sudden motion. Pettigrew screamed as his jaw was dislocated, and again as she knocked it back into place by physically slamming his head against the floor. The soundless muttering stopped. He curled into a ball, whimpering. "What do you want?" he asked, though it came out as "Whayuwa?"

"Nothing whatsoever," Bellatrix said, standing up and backing away. "I'll see you in the morning, Wormtail." She looped her arm through Regulus's and led him back away from the dungeon, sealing the door to the chamber as soon as she was clear of it. She pulled her mask off, revealing a wide, excited smile. "The Dark Lord wants a word with him tomorrow," she confided.

"What did he do? And isn't he... Dumbledore's?"

"Dumbledore thinks so. I suspect Wormtail thought so before, but he'll be disabused of the notion before the week is out. He's on the inside. The Dark Lord finds his information useful."

"He trusts a friend of Sirius's?" Regulus took his own mask off and pocketed it.

A shadow passed over her face. "I don't always understand his choices. But I'm quite certain he has his reasons."

"What did Petti... er, Wormtail... do, exactly?"

Bellatrix gnashed her teeth. "He's put his own protection over Andromeda's monstrous half-blood brat. I was going to resolve that situation and bring my sister back tonight, but I can't simply ignore Wormtail's sign. The Dark Lord is very clear on that. So the brat and her Mudblood father are under the protection of our sign. It's obscene."

Regulus privately thought that Andromeda would agree wholeheartedly with this assessment, marking the first time the two sisters would be in agreement on anything at any point that Regulus could remember. "You were going to kill Ted? And... what's the child's name again?"

"Nymphadora," Bellatrix said, the name slipping out of her mouth like an ice cube. "A name from our family. I remember when Andromeda first heard it. How dare she give it to that"--her nose wrinkled--"child?"

"Does Mum know? About you... you know, killing people in the family? I mean, I'm sure she'd be glad to see them just leave, but..."

"They're not in the family."

"Narcissa said... family business..."

"They're certainly none of Wormtail's business." That closed the conversation. Bellatrix led them into the drawing room, and spoke passionately about the infiltration of Muggle legal definitions and arguments into Wizengamot discussions until Regulus was sleepy again. He went upstairs and drifted off until dawn.

When he awakened again, the house was still, except for the house elves. Lucius's personal servant, Dobby, was preparing his breakfast, casting anxious glances upward--then downward--as Regulus went into the kitchen.

"Dobby will get sir breakfast," the house elf said, "if sir would like."

"Yes, Dobby. Eggs." Regulus shook his head. "On second thought, just toast."

Dobby looked at him oddly, his head cocked to one side, then scurried over to the sideboard, where a large wooden box held several loaves of bread. Here, he paused, then said slyly, "Dobby must retrieve butter from the cellar." He opened the door to the underground area and disappeared into the shadows.

From the bowels of house, Regulus heard soft, steady weeping. Dobby seemed to remain in the cellar for an interminable amount of time. He didn't close the door when he returned.

"How much toast would sir like?"

Regulus sighed. "I get the picture. Dobby, may I have enough for two?"

Dobby nodded gratefully and made eight slices of toast, buttering them and slathering on marmalade. As soon as he finished, he shoved the food aside and pressed his hand against the stove, saying, "Bad Dobby, bad Dobby, bad Dobby."

Regulus ignored him and took the toast downstairs. No reason not to feed Pettigrew. If they starved him, he wouldn't scream, and Bellatrix wouldn't find it nearly as satisfying to torture him anyway. He Conjured a temporary mask, then went down to the far chamber and unlocked the door.

Pettigrew was lying against the wall again. If he'd been sleeping, he was a very quick waker--he rolled over and jumped to his feet as soon as the door opened, then fell to his knees at Regulus's feet.

"Help me," he said. "Help me, please. Regulus. I know it's you. Your brother would help me."

"I'm not my brother. I brought you breakfast."

Pettigrew took the offered toast and ate it in a few gulps, spraying the area around him with crumbs. A moment later, it came back up.

Regulus Vanished it. "I don't have anymore. I don't know if I was supposed to bring you anything in the first place."

Pettigrew began to cry again, and grabbed at Regulus's robe. "Please," he said. "Help me. Please. Let me out. Regulus. Your brother loves you. Let me out."

"Those two things have nothing to do with one another, even if that were true."

"It's true. He trusts you. He says he doesn't but he does. You'll help. You'll help..."

Regulus shook his head and pulled away, yanking his robes out of Pettigrew's fists. His heart was thudding in his chest like a Whomping Willow under attack. "You'll go help them," he said.

No answer but further crying.

Regulus backed away, putting distance between them, closing the door, running up to the kitchen. Bellatrix was there. She said nothing about the visit, though she looked at him shrewdly. Later that day, the Dark Lord himself arrived, and after they'd each paid obeisance, he went down to the chamber where Pettigrew was.

It was a noisy conversation, though Regulus doubted anything Pettigrew said was comprehensible.

Three days later, Lucius brought Pettigrew upstairs and Narcissa provided him with clean robes. He left docile and unmarked, and the next time Regulus saw him, his demeanor remained submissive, only agitated when approached by the Dark Lord or Bellatrix... and the agitation seemed only an eagerness to please. Which was hardly surprising, as any slight failure on his part earned another day of hospitality in Wiltshire.

Regulus was only present for two of these sessions over the next year, but he knew there had been several others, and the pattern didn't change over the year after it. He had his own life to attend to, and wasn't always visiting with Narcissa; the Dark Lord had allowed him to oversee removing a group of quite literally filthy Muggles who had taken up residence in the rubbish near the entrance to the Ministry of Magic. That was perfectly fine. Human waste, really, if they could even be called human. But as months passed, and year, and another, more and more, the Dark Lord called on him to do things that seemed less and less involved with cleaning out the filthy influences on the wizarding world, and more and more like...

Regulus had no words for what it was becoming. He had helped Severus Snape and Bellatrix torture a werewolf for no reason other than Snape's personal dislike of lycanthropes. He'd helped giants find their way into remote villages and watched them destroy Muggle towns on the outskirts of magical regions, towns that had been there for centuries without doing damage. And he watched old, pure-blood families destroyed for political opposition, even if they hadn't allied themselves with Dumbledore.

By the time a flourish of activity began in the summer of nineteen-eighty, Regulus had become a skeptic, and Pettigrew something of a joke. Pettigrew's official position was to provide information on Dumbledore's little band, but he was so keen to avoid torture that he was known for providing such pertinent details as what Lily Potter was craving during her pregnancy and how Alastor Moody liked his drinks. Occasionally, a more important fact would get through, though whatever had piqued the Dark Lord's interest had not come through Pettigrew this time.

But still, it was Pettigrew Regulus found cowering in the shadows early that August, Pettigrew who summoned him him there.

Regulus frowned. "What?"

Pettigrew bit his lip nervously and looked around, as though expecting a thorough team of reinforcements. "You're alone?"

Regulus raised a wary eyebrow.

"I... there's..." Pettigrew breathed rapidly--panted, really. "JamesLilyHarry," he said in one breath. "Dark Lord... after them."

"The Potters? Yes, I know. I--"

"Help."

"I'm trying to. They got away last time."

"No."

Regulus closed his eyes. Of course. "Why me?"

"I see you... You're..." He leaned in and whispered, his eyes wide and watery. "You're Sirius's brother."

"Sirius treats you and Potter and Lupin more like brothers than he treats me."

Pettigrew shook his head, not so much disagreeing, Regulus thought, as trying to convey that this was hardly the point. "You're leaving," he said.

"No."

"Yes..." He bit his lip, and started shaking. "I... can't. You know what they'll do to me. You know what..."

"What do you think would happen to any of us?"

"You're going," he said again, then grabbed Regulus's wrist. "Warn them," he said. "When you get there. Warn them. Warn Sirius. About me. Warn JamesLilyHarry. Warn Remus. Warn them... they'll listen."

With that, he gave a wild look around the clearing, then back away and Disapparated.

Regulus sat down on a rock at the edge of the clearing, his head in his hands, trying hard not to think about Pettigrew, and able to think of nothing else.

Once, he'd accepted certain torture to protect a near stranger. But they'd broken him for it, and now all he could do was plead with someone else to intervene before he did any harm.

He took the mask from his pocket and looked at it for a long time, then threw it hard into the underbrush. If he was going to leave, it may as well be now, when he could warn them.

He stood up and turned around.

Bellatrix was standing at the edge of the clearing, her wand raised, and knife at her belt. "Were you going somewhere?" she asked.

The world filled with light.

And then, darkness.

The End

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Comments
thunderemerald From: thunderemerald Date: April 22nd, 2005 07:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Wahahahahaha, so good... and thoroughly plausible, that Voldemort could've converted Pettigrew through nothing more than torture. But I like that he's still torn -- and that Regulus sort of is, too. Good job. Yeah.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 22nd, 2005 01:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Something about Peter's behavior suggests that, no matter reasons he initially had for going over there, he's telling the truth about being a spy because he was terrified, and that Sirius and Remus didn't know what Voldemort could do.
elinevere From: elinevere Date: April 22nd, 2005 08:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Poor Peter...he's still a weakling, but he has good reasons for it. Love Regulus; his thoughts on the ghost, his conversations with Bellatrix, his compassion that reminds me so much of Sirius in a way. And I hate Sirius for dismissing his brother so easily in canon, when something like this could've happened. beautiful piece of work!:)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 22nd, 2005 01:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
There was something about the very brevity of Sirius's mention of his brother, and his reduction of it to Regulus being "stupid" rather than evil, that suggests to me that they were close and Sirius was very frustrated with him.
elinevere From: elinevere Date: April 22nd, 2005 05:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
As in that he was trying to ignore what was pointedly staring him in the face? Sounds like Sirius. :)

hmmm, you're the first who's making me think about their relationship in a 3D way, usually it's just either slash or hatred.
dudley_doright From: dudley_doright Date: April 27th, 2005 05:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Sirius....and Regulus...is slash?

I thought I'd given up being surprised by things in this fandom.
elinevere From: elinevere Date: April 27th, 2005 06:33 am (UTC) (Link)
*laughs*

Yeah, could be slash too, but in this caase I meant just the brother and brother thing; siblings also have relationships (platonic ones). ;)
lyras From: lyras Date: April 22nd, 2005 08:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, well done. This is a really dark, plausible tale, and I love the way you've shown events through Regulus's eyes. He's an interesting character, I think, when he's written well.

I don't know how much you read other people's fic (I'd imagine writing your own takes up enough of your time!), but I recommend Black Widow by musesfool as an excellent look at the dynamics of the Black family, set during Regulus's funeral. The full text (slightly over 1000 words) is here: http://www.livejournal.com/users/musesfool/722836.html. I've quoted a couple of sentences below that seem particularly apt in the light of your fic.

""His murderer will be brought to justice," Bellatrix began in her throaty voice. Cassiopeia itched to slap her, but she refrained, restrained herself from admitting she knew exactly how Regulus had died, and that if Bellatrix hadn't cast the curse herself, she'd certainly been involved. That anger must have shown in Cassiopeia's eyes, because Bellatrix, usually fearless, fell silent at the cold glare directed her way."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 22nd, 2005 01:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I usually try to avoid reading fanfic that deals with the same themes I'm dealing with, just to avoid influence while I'm writing. I've give it a check when I'm done playing with Regulus, though; it sounds good.
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: April 22nd, 2005 12:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
*Shivers* Bellatrix is so... cold. And remorseless.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 22nd, 2005 01:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
[Bellatrix]Remorse? For demanding loyalty? Why should I feel remorse?[/Bellatrix]

Bella's actually a fun villain to write for me, because she's so... well, pure. She absolutely believes in what she's doing, and of course she's completely insane, but as far as shades of gray go, there are none. She's just evil.
a_t_rain From: a_t_rain Date: April 22nd, 2005 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh my God. Wow. Poor Regulus. And poor Peter.

I absolutely love Dobby in this story -- he reminds me a little of the servants in King Lear who go out of their way to help the man their mistress has just blinded (and come to think of it, the entire Black family could have stepped straight out of Lear with very few modifications).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 22nd, 2005 04:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
You know, I missed Lear in school--it wasn't one of our required Shakespeares; I should check it out.
jetamors From: jetamors Date: April 22nd, 2005 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Whoa. I love how Regulus is moving away from the DEs, as Peter moves toward them, and how their positions are reversed at the end. And Bellatrix is just scary.

One nitpick: She was one of the many who haunted Wiltshire, and occasionally took refuge in the Malfoy home, which had once been a more inviting for them. I think should be 'which had once been a more inviting place for them' or 'which had once been more inviting to them.'
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 22nd, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hm, I can't remember which of those I meant to say!
izhilzha From: izhilzha Date: April 22nd, 2005 08:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow, I really like this! Creepy, plausible, very (imo) in character for Peter.

And for Dobby, which was actually my favorite thing about the fic. "How much toast would sir like?" :-) Of course Dobby would do something like that.
sreya From: sreya Date: April 22nd, 2005 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
You know, more than your Thudding Tracts, which I know you spend a lot of time organizing and figuring out, it's these little "Hmm, I feel like writing something" pieces of yours that occasionally make me want to throw my hands up in the air and give up writing, because I will never be able to capture characterization the way you do. I have been wrangling with Bellatrix for 4 years now (first as simply Mrs. Lestrange), and I'm not even close to presenting her as well as you do. Good grief, she even frightens the ghosts. And pre-Azkaban, yet!

Peter was well done, too. The eagerness to please is, I think, a key part of his character that many people tend to overlook. This is a man who craves approval, even if it's a twisted, backhanded, abusive approval.

And then there's Regulus. He almost seems to come across as flat, but there's a slight twist that changes it into detachment which really works for him. He's doing what is expected of him, what he thinks is good for the family, and tries not to think too deeply about it. I can totally see how Sirius would think this is being "stupid" even without the idea that he says that because he cared about his brother and doesn't want to call him evil. Sirius is very much someone who challenges the system, and treats rules as a "glass ceiling" of sorts, something to be broken through in order to achieve something greater. If his brother was the type to accept the system, in comparison that could be seen as a lack of intelligence.
penny_pixie From: penny_pixie Date: April 22nd, 2005 08:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really liked this. And the torture session with Bella and Peter is sort of what had crossed my mind after I read the Doll Army. I really liked the way you wrote Regulus as well.
gehayi From: gehayi Date: April 22nd, 2005 09:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, you know my opinion--I think that Peter was broken by torture in the first place, so I can see him trying to rebel, trying to use the DEs to do some good, and being smashed even worse than before. And even at the end--he wants to prevent himself from doing harm, but he can't do it on his own any more.

Regulus is wonderful--he's trying so hard to do what's good for the family and yet he finds what he's doing so repugnant that he doesn't want to think about it. And yes, I can see him deciding to leave in the end--no drama, no fuss, just a quiet decision to leave.

I want very badly to burn Bellatrix's wand and then strangle her. What a vile person. And completely believable.

This is heartbreaking. And it's excellent. Thank you for writing it.
daisan From: daisan Date: April 23rd, 2005 03:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Very nicely done. :)
genesse From: genesse Date: April 23rd, 2005 03:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
That Bellatrix--she is kind of fun to write, isn't she? So creepy and evil and insane. I do like the point you made that Wormtail was "converted" through torture. He's a fearful person, and you did a good job conveying that in this story.
From: psalm_27 Date: April 23rd, 2005 07:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I found this quite chilling for a couple of reasons, all related to Regulus.

First, he's sympathetic and a cold mudblood-hater at the same time. Its scary to visit the mind of someone who so completely hates another that they think torture and killing of them is natural.

Second, the fact that he left the DE to warn Sirius of Peter's betrayal and was killed for it opens many wounds. Sadness for Sirius (because he loses both his blood brother and eventually James, his brother in sprirt.

Finally, the fact that we now have both Black brothers killed by Bellatrix.

I found my way to your LJ via reading Shifts at SQ. I'm so glad, because I now have the chance to read more of your wonderful work! May I friend you? Thanks! Sandra
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 23rd, 2005 07:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like friends. :)

Glad you liked the story! I did want to get into the fact that he's really not all cuddly; he is running around torturing Muggle-borns and werewolves and killing winos.
From: psalm_27 Date: April 24th, 2005 12:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Friends are great, aren't they? Please, add me to your friends' list if you'd like.

I've never thought of Regulus as even being remotely cuddly. The fact that you made him sympathetic (his love of his brother, an attempt to save the Potters) was what made it so chilling, so human.
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