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Kreacher

Title: Kreacher
Characters: Albus Potter, James Potter II, Minerva McGonagall, Kreacher
Rating: PG
Word Count: 2635
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter things belong to JK Rowling, or maybe Warner Brothers, but definitely not me.
Summary: Albus Potter is alone and miserable in the Gryffindor common room on Christmas day. Comfort appears at his feet in the form of an unexpected Christmas present.

Written for xLauriePotters' Under the Christmas Tree Challenge on HPFF


A/N: I kept McGonagall as Head of Gryffindor even though this is next-gen and that's not canon. Shoot me.

Two weeks had passed since the accident, and Mum was still in St Mungo’s. Uncle Ron had arrived last week, at the start of the Christmas holidays, to take the Potter boys home with Rose; James had stormed straight up to his dormitory and refused to come down. Albus stayed even though Aunt Hermione had begged him to go with her, reckoning that he was best off sticking with his big brother. The look on Lily’s face as she left with the Weasleys very nearly changed his mind, though.

He leant against the wall and shuffled his feet, feeling tiny by the side of a tinsel-adorned suit of armour. James had always made empty Hogwarts corridors sound exciting, but when the few kids left at school were pulling crackers and singing songs in the Great Hall, and you were waiting outside Professor McGonagall’s office, the effect was more depressing.

James was standing with his arms folded, angry and glaring at a tapestry. He looked weirdly like Dad had when Teddy had crashed his Firebolt Millennium, like a horrible caricature. Albus looked down quickly, rubbing his eyes with his sleeve and hoping his brother hadn’t noticed him staring. He closed his eyes and wished once more, as he felt like he’d been wishing for half his life, that Mum would wake up and Dad would go to collect her, that the whole thing had been a mistake and they could all go home and have Christmas dinner with Teddy and his Gran.

Both boys looked up as footsteps sounded down the corridor. Professor McGonagall walked towards them with a solemn expression, followed by an equally grave old wizard with a very round middle. She ushered them all into her office, Albus sticking as close to James as he thought he could get away with, and closed the door quickly behind them. The portly wizard sat behind her desk, and the boys took seats opposite him. McGonagall stuck a tartan tin under James’ nose.

“Have a biscuit.”

He ignored her. She sighed, then pointed the Ginger Newts at Albus.

“Would you like a biscuit, Mr Potter?”

He shook his head meekly, feeling very much as though he was about to be sick. The old wizard, who had been watching them closely, met Professor McGonagall’s eyes briefly before taking some papers from a battered, old-fashioned briefcase. He looked at each of the boys once more, then cleared his throat loudly.

“As you have probably both realised, I work for the Ministry of Magic.” He waited for confirmation that the brothers had indeed realised, but neither of them gave it. “Now, what I have here is very important, but it’s nothing for you to worry about. You just need to understand what’s going to happen.” He paused again, possibly expecting questions, but he might have been conversing with a brick wall. “I’ll read out the bit about you two, then.” He cleared his throat once more, lifted a pair of reading glasses to his face, and held the sheets of paper in front of him.

The Last Will and Testament of Harry James Potter…” Albus stared even more determinedly at his shoes, trying to hide his face. It just seemed absurd that Dad had written a will, that he could have even imagined that this might happen.

To my eldest son, James Sirius Potter, I leave my Cloak of Invisibility. I also leave my share of our home, and my possessions within it, to be left in the care of my wife, Ginevra, until he is of age.

James betrayed a trace of emotion at the mention of the Invisibility Cloak, but his face was completely blank once more by the time the man paused again.

To my second son, Albus Severus Potter, I leave the house-elf Kreacher. I also leave Number 12 Grimmauld Place, London, and all of its contents, to be left in the care of my wife, Ginevra, until he is of age.

Albus continued to stare at his shoelaces, locking the words ‘house-elf Kreacher’ in his mind without considering their meaning. He didn’t want to think about it all and ask questions now; it would be too much, there was too much in his head already, ready to burst. All he wanted was to run from this office back to his dormitory and be on his own – but he sat completely still, and closed his eyes as tightly as he could.

The rest of the meeting passed in a blur; the adults spoke a little more, but Albus had no idea what they were saying, and he barely noticed when everyone began shuffling about and he was ushered out of the office. The man from the Ministry said his goodbyes and walked off, leaving the boys alone in the corridor with Professor McGonagall.

“Would you like to go down to the feast? We won’t be too late if we hurry… Or would you prefer to eat up here, in my office?”

Albus felt his stomach clench at the thought of either option, so he followed without question when James grabbed his arm and pulled him down the corridor, having quickly made their excuses with McGonagall. The older boy glanced back over his shoulder as they rounded a corner, and Albus noticed with a jolt that his eyes were red and watery. They hurried through a tapestry together, scrambling up the staircase hidden behind it, strode along two more corridors and found themselves crawling through the portrait hole.

James disappeared up to his dormitory without a word, and Albus watched him for a moment before collapsing into an armchair. The empty common room made everything seem even more surreal than it was already. He sank into the chair and closed his eyes, turning those words over in his head – ‘house-elf Kreacher’. Hermione sometimes worked with house-elves, Albus remembered that. Dad didn’t though. Dad didn’t know any house-elves. And as for the second word, well that made even less sense. Albus racked his brains, trying to remember if his aunt had ever mentioned a house-elf named Kreacher.

“Kreacher…” he muttered.

Crack.

Albus clenched the arms of the chair, pushing himself backwards, and stared with wide eyes at the thing that had just appeared by the fire.

It was small and wrinkly, with knobbly little arms and legs and big, pointy ears. Some kind of cloth or towel was wrapped around it, with a crest in the corner that Albus recognised as the Hogwarts emblem. An ugly, expensive-looking old locket hung around its neck, and it was staring up at Albus with a horrible smile.

“Uh… Are you Kreacher?” said Albus, still recoiled.

“Yes, Master Albus!” said the house-elf.

“I’ve never met a house-elf before,” he said stupidly.

“Kreacher is a house-elf, and Master Albus is meeting Kreacher.” The strange little being finished his sentence with a long, deep bow, and his crooked nose nearly touched the carpet. Albus leant forwards a little, his shock and repulsion giving way to curiosity.

“How do you know my name?”

“’tis written in Master Albus’s robes, Master.”

Albus glanced the room, a little unnerved. “How’ve you seen what’s in my robes?”

“Kreacher has washed them, and tidied them away, Master.” The house-elf was still smiling hopefully at the boy.

“Oh.” Of course, thought Albus. This was some strange coincidence; Kreacher was obviously a Hogwarts house-elf, not his. “I’m not your master, Kreacher, the teachers are; you work for the school.”

“Yes, Master Albus, Kreacher works with the Hogwarts elves, Master Harry orders it so!” Kreacher beamed at the mention of his master, and Albus felt his stomach drop. For a moment, he’d forgotten. He looked down miserably.

“That’s my dad. He…” Albus paused, unable to put his father’s death into words, but Kreacher misunderstood.

“Master Albus should not be sad, to have such family! Master Harry is a great, great wizard!” Kreacher’s eyes watered a little, and Albus looked up curiously in spite of his grief.

“How do you know him?”

“Master Harry is inheriting Kreacher from Kreacher’s family, sir, the noble-and-most-ancient-house-of-Black.” The elf’s eyes glazed over, and he gazed fondly into the distance.

“Like Sirius Black?” Albus was struggling to make any sense of all this, but that at least was a familiar name. Kreacher immediately snapped out of his reverie, and looked at his feet with an ugly face.

“Yes, Master Sirius is a friend of Master Harry’s,” he croaked in a forced voice, furiously avoiding the boy’s eyes.

“I know that,” Albus replied a little indignantly, clinging to the little knowledge he had. Kreacher had begun to mumble under his breath, so rapidly it was barely intelligible. Albus neither heard nor cared what he said; he was too eager for new information, and beginning to lose patience.

“Alright, alright, you didn’t like him,” he waved his arms for silence, and the elf obeyed, looking up at him once again, “I’m not surprised you didn’t if you liked his family, Dad said they didn’t get on.”

“Kreacher liked the Masters and Mistresses Black very much, Master Albus!” the elf squealed excitedly, ignoring Albus entirely after the mention of his old family. “Kreacher’s Mistress is trusting Kreacher with the most important matters, and Master Regulus is telling Kreacher his most important secrets!” He stepped forwards, lifting up the ugly old locket carefully in his hand, and Albus leaned towards it curiously. “Master Harry is giving Kreacher Master Regulus’s locket! ‘tis belonging to many old Masters and Mistresses Black, and Master Regulus is trusting Kreacher to keep it safe, and Master Harry is giving it to Kreacher for a reward, for he is saying… he is saying Kreacher is a good elf!” He stood up straight as if about to give a salute and beamed up at Albus, holding the locket tightly in his hand.

Albus sank back in the armchair, his head swimming with questions. He had no idea who Master Regulus was, but that could wait.

“How did Dad get the locket?”

“Kreacher does not know, Master,” said the house-elf, looking down sadly, “Master Harry is leaving and Kreacher is coming back to Hogwarts, and Kreacher is not seeing Master Harry until the fighting.”

“Fighting? What fighting?” Albus looked up sharply. Kreacher glanced around the room nervously before he spoke.

“The most terrible fighting, Master Albus…” He croaked quietly and mournfully, as if at an old friend’s deathbed. “The bloodiest war Kreacher is ever knowing, and it is coming to Hogwarts, and all wizards and elves and creatures is fighting, and they is… they is…”

The elf collapsed to his knees, sobbing with his head in his arms. Albus stayed still for a moment, shocked by the elf’s outburst. He understood exactly what Kreacher had tried to say, the same thing he hadn’t been able to say just minutes before. And now his mind was racing; nobody had ever mentioned fighting at Hogwarts. He remembered countless occasions at home when Mum would fold the newspaper away before he had a chance to look at it, and times when Uncle Ron had had a bit too much Firewhisky and was speaking a little too loudly to Dad, and Hermione had to stamp on his foot before the children heard him. And then there was the way people always seemed interested in Dad on Diagon Alley, and how they had stared at the Bludger scar on his forehead at platform nine and three-quarters. Albus was suddenly filled with the sort of curiosity and recklessness he normally associated with James.

“Kreacher, what happened? What happened with the fighting, how did it all work out?”

Kreacher rubbed his eyes with his knuckles then looked up at Albus, eyes still brimming with water. “Kreacher… Kreacher is leading the elves, he is – is fighting proper for Master Harry and - and Master Regulus.” He stood up, holding out his arm, and his voice steadied. “Look, Master Albus, Kreacher is hit!” – there was a tiny burn mark on his knobbly little elbow – “But Kreacher is too quick, Master! Kreacher is moving all over, he is here and he is there, and the wizard is falling from Kreacher’s spell, Master!” He was stood up tall now, grinning with tears still streaming down his face and his chest puffed out so much he looked as if he might burst. “And then, Master Albus, when the fighting is ending, Kreacher is telling all the house elves, ‘Harry Potter is Chosen, and Harry Potter is saving us all, and Harry Potter is Kreacher’s noble Master!’”

Albus felt his head pounding. It was as if he was looking in on someone else’s life – this couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t. But then he remembered the staring and the hushed adult voices, and he had to admit it did fit.

“Master Harry is fighting most terrible evil, Master, and he is winning! And such a great, noble wizard… Kreacher is hearing stories, Master Albus, from the other house-elves. Kreacher is thinking he knows all his Master’s greatness, but Kreacher hears even more, Master!”

“So Dad is famous?” Albus asked quietly.

“Oh yes, Master Albus, Master Harry is known to all wizards and elves and all creatures, for he is doing such noble deeds!” Kreacher was smiling proudy, rocking back and forth on his skinny feet.

“What noble deeds has he done?” asked Albus.

“Oh, many more than Kreacher can count, Master!” said the elf, bouncing happily as he recalled them, “Master Harry is fighting evil when he is a tiny baby, Master Albus, Kreacher is hearing this many years ago! And Kreacher is hearing of Master Harry competing in the most dangerous and difficult wizard tournaments! Oh, and Master Albus! Kreacher is hearing also of Master Harry’s great kindness!” He leant forwards to Albus, his smile fading a little, and lowered his voice to little more than a whisper. “Kreacher is hearing from the other house-elves, Master Albus, of an elf who was a great friend of Master Harry’s. Master Harry is freeing the elf, Master! For the elf is serving the most cruel family…” Kreacher shook his head sadly. “And the elf is fighting, fighting his old Masters! And they… they has killed the elf, Master! But Master Harry Potter, such a good, kind wizard, he is burying the curious young elf, and he is tending the grave like the elf is… a friend, Master Albus.”

Kreacher gazed up, his eyes wide with awe. Albus began to worry; perhaps he was supposed to free Kreacher, that’s what Dad did to this other house-elf. Then again, he thought, Kreacher had looked almost frightened at the mention of freedom. He decided to consult Aunt Hermione on the matter, and turned his thoughts to Dad instead. For the first time in days, he was smiling, picturing his own fully grown father and his Uncle Ron wandering back from the pub with a drunken house elf in tow.

“Master Albus?” Kreacher cleared his throat. “Is Master Albus requiring Kreacher’s services, Master? The house-elves is very busy in the kitchens...” The elf was very nervous, barely meeting Albus’s eye.

“Oh, of course, you can go. Thanks a lot,” he added, as Kreacher gave another low bow and disappeared with a crack.

Albus sat on his own for a few more minutes, beginning to wish he could ask Dad about it all for himself, or Mum even. Maybe if James decided to go to the Weasley’s he could ask Uncle Ron, or Hermione when he asked about freeing Kreacher. For the moment, he decided to take advantage of the almost-empty castle, and headed down to the library, hoping the librarian was at the feast with everybody else. Albus reckoned it was time to learn some history; something a little more recent than the stuff Professor Binns taught.