Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 24

Sirius turned up at the Potter home in Godric's Hollow, looking rather dishevelled, after his disastrous Grimmauld Place visit. "I couldn't get it," he admitted sheepishly, in reference to the Horcrux he'd been sent to retrieve.

"What happened?" asked Harry. He took in his godfather’s appearance as he let him in, then gestured towards the living room where Luna and James were already sitting, discussing James' trip to the Ministry. Lily was nowhere in sight but Sirius could hear her upstairs trying to coax little Harry to take a nap.

"What do you think happened?" he said, flopping into the armchair nearest the fireplace. "My mother found me. We argued. She refused to listen to reason and kicked me out. What did you expect?"

Harry groaned in frustration. "I was hoping you'd manage to avoid notice. Or at the very least avoid confrontation..." He sighed; it wasn't fair to blame Sirius. Harry's only experience with Walburga Black had been with her portrait, which was bad enough. He couldn't imagine having to deal with a flesh and blood version of such a thoroughly disagreeable individual. But, that didn't change the fact that they needed the locket… "You'll just have to try again..."

Sirius shook his head. "She'll be on the lookout now. There's no way I'm getting back in that house before the old hag is dead."

"She's got a very bad case of fanumalia," cut in Luna, "I could tell when I met her portrait. I'm sure it'll kill her soon."

Harry shook his head, "We're not waiting for her to die. That won't be for another four years…"

"What about my Invisibility Cloak?" suggested James. "I lent it to Dumbledore, but I'm sure he'll give it back to me if I ask."

Sirius shook his head again, "Not going to work. She'll set traps for me, like she did when I ran away from home. I'm not falling for that one again."

Harry sighed again, more loudly this time, then grinned suddenly—though the expression didn't quite reach his eyes. "Well, then, I suppose we'll just have to get Kreacher to come to us."

Sirius snorted, "Like that would work! He's not likely to want to answer my call and, as long as my mother is still alive, he doesn't have to."

"We won't know unless you try," insisted Harry, "Though, if that really that doesn't work, we'll have to figure out something else; we're not waiting for her to die… "

"We could always speed up the process," suggested Sirius, smirking uncharitably, a hint of maliciousness in his voice.

Harry regarded he godfather incredulously. He wasn't serious, was he? Harry shook his head; he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer to that question…

Looking Sirius straight in the eyes, he said, "We are not murdering your mother, despicable human being though she may be." His tone left no room for argument.

Sirius, taken aback by the finality of the statement, didn't argue, particularly since a quick glance confirmed that both James and Luna seemed to have sided with Harry. That didn't mean he had to like it…

"Fine!" He threw up his arms in exasperation. "We'll call the stupid elf! But don't blame me if it doesn't work…or if it does work and he spends the entire time insulting you and refusing to help… Krea—"

"No, no, not here," Lily—who had come down the stairs just in time to hear the tail end of the conversation—cut him off before he could finish the call. "You are not calling that despicable creature into my home. Especially not now that I've finally gotten Harry down for his nap."

Sirius' expression turned smug, as he addressed the group, "See? Lily agrees with me."

Harry shook his head in irritation, "We'll use the Shrieking Shack," he decided, shooting a glare at his godfather. It would be a simple enough matter to Apparate to the run-down shack and Lily was right. No need to give Kreacher access to Godric's Hollow, while his loyalty was still to Walburga Black. It was bad enough that Peter Pettigrew, still at large despite all attempts to locate him, knew their location. "It's fortified against Dark Magic, and it's remote, in case something goes wrong."

There was some argument about who would be going. Simplicity won out in the end, though, and Harry and Sirius went alone.

Unfortunately, the time spent arguing had given Sirius sufficient time to calm down that he was, once more, hesitant about calling the house-elf. However, it took only a pointed look from Harry to prompt him into tentatively calling for Kreacher.

There was no responding crack of house-elf apparition. He tried a second time, louder, "Kreacher?"

When the second call was no more successful than the first, Sirius shot his companion a look that screamed 'told you so'. However, Harry wasn't so easily discouraged. "Mention Regulus in your call," he suggested. "It might make a difference."

Sirius raised an eyebrow in scepticism, but tried anyway. "Kreacher, it's about Regulus"

He jumped back, startled by the loud crack that followed his call, as Kreacher appeared before him, scowling in his tea towel embroidered with the Black family emblem. "What does nasty ungrateful Master who broke his mother's heart want with Kreacher?"

Sirius started to answer, his response equally acrid, but Harry cut him off, "Let me, Sirius. He won't answer you, anyway. Regulus forbade him from telling any of the family."

The house-elf's eyes widened in surprise, "Who is unknown wizard who knows of Master Regulus' orders to Kreacher?" he asked.

"Who I am isn't important, Kreacher," began Harry, unwilling to give his name lest the word Potter prompt a longwinded rant about blood traitors and Muggle lovers. He chose his next words carefully, "What is important is the locket that Regulus asked you to destroy, before he died."

The house-elf stared at him, shaking his head in distrust. "How does unknown wizard who hangs around with treacherous Master Sirius know about good Master Regulus' locket?" Not waiting for an answer, he began to shake and sob. "Kreacher has tried everything, but nothing will make a mark on the casing...so many powerful spells. Kreacher has failed to obey orders! Kreacher punished himself and tried again, and punished himself again. Kreacher cannot even open the locket! And his mistress is mad with grief, because good Master Regulus has disappeared and because horrible treacherous Master Sirius has come to visit… But Kreacher has set traps for nasty disloyal Master Sirius, so that he will not disturb poor heart-broken Mistress again, and—"

"Kreacher!" By the time Harry managed to cut him off, Sirius' face had gone from pink, to bright red, to purple, in poorly suppressed anger—likely a few seconds away from losing his temper and strangling the misguided elf. "I know how to open the locket and destroy it; I want to help you obey your Master's orders," he continued softly, "but, I need you to bring the locket here for me. Can you do that?"

Kreacher, still shaking, looked up at him, his big eyes glistening with tears, and asked uncertainly, "Strange wizard wants to help Kreacher?"

"Yes, Kreacher," replied Harry softly, "Can you bring me the locket?"

Kreacher appeared to consider the matter for a good long while before he finally pulled himself upright, out of the sobbing ball he'd curled himself into, and nodded decisively. "Kreacher will be right back."

While they waited, Harry set about reproducing, as closely as he could, the same safety precautions as those the Room of Requirement had provided. First, he repaired the Shrieking Shack's severely damaged kitchen table, before transfiguring it into stone and conjuring restraints to hold the locket.

For a while, Sirius watched in silence as Harry worked, still processing his godson's conversation with Kreacher. Only when Harry had holstered his wand and flopped into a freshly repaired wooden chair, did Sirius finally speak, "I never realized..."

"Few wizards do." Harry smiled sadly as he answered. "A wise witch once told me that witches and wizards would one day learn to regret the way they treat their house-elves; they are beings capable of just as much emotion as we are. Treat them with respect, and you'll generally get the same in return...

"You've seen only a fraction of Kreacher's devotion to Regulus just now. I've witnessed him charge into battle, leading hundreds of Hogwarts house-elves, all in Regulus' name."

Sirius frowned. "But he still hates me and I still..." Sirius paused, searching his own feelings. Kreacher's words had confirmed what Harry had said – that Regulus had been trying to destroy a Horcrux. As for Kreacher himself... he had been trying to help him – and obviously suffering for it. For the first time, a trace of respect for not only his brother, but even the old house-elf had somehow crept unwanted into Sirius' feelings. He shook himself. Regulus was a stinking toe-rag and Kreacher is still a foul little...Sirius straightened himself up, trying to come to terms with his own confused thinking.

"Yes, he still hates you but at least I'm hopeful he might help us – that in itself is more important than—" said Harry, but before he could explain, a sharp crack announced Kreacher's return, the locket grasped firmly in one hand.

He seemed to hesitate before holding it out, tentatively, as if afraid of being double-crossed.

Harry took it gently from him and laid it on the table. He then fastened the bindings he'd conjured, and added a sticking charm—just in case. Finally, he withdrew a Basilisk fang from the mokeskin pouch he'd liberated from the Room of Hidden Things when looking for the diadem.

This he handed to Kreacher, "Here, stab the locket with it once I get it open."

Kreacher looked up at him, in utter astonishment, "Strange wizard gives Kreacher a weapon?"

"Yes, Kreacher," Harry smiled kindly, "destroying the locket was one of the last orders that Regulus gave you before he died; it's only fitting that you be the one to finish this."

Kreacher bowed deeply, "Thank you, Kreacher will."

"Just a word of warning, the locket doesn't want to be destroyed," Harry explained as he stepped back, allowing Kreacher to approach the locket. "It might say some really mean things. Try not to listen to it..."

"Kreacher understands," the house-elf nodded.

Harry activated the charmed toy microphone that they'd used to get into the Chamber of Secrets.

From his vantage point behind Kreacher, he had a good view of the locket springing open with a little click. He watched as Tom Riddle's eyes blinked out from both of its compartments, just as he remembered…

The house-elf didn't move.

"Go on, stab it," Harry prompted.

Kreacher raised the fang with shaking hands, but before he could bring it down onto the locket, a hissing voice emerged from the Horcrux.

"Pitiful creature. I have seen you fail your orders, time and again."

"Don't listen to it!" the strange man who had given Kreacher a weapon ordered harshly. "Stab it!"

But the hissing voice drowned the orders out. "What makes you think that you, a pitiful snivelling creature have the power to destroy me, Lord Voldemort? You should have died in that cave; instead you killed your master." The locket was right. He had killed his master, kept feeding him that terrible potion, and left him to die. He hadn't wanted to, no, but Master had ordered him to… Kreacher lowered his trembling hands to his side, his grip on the fang limp. His whole body was trembling now. He'd killed his master, but Master had ordered him to…

"Stab it!" the unknown wizard shouted again, his voice echoing in the small room, and breaking through the haze in Kreacher's mind. He raised his trembling hands once more, but couldn't bring himself to actually stab the horrible locket.

"You are a disgrace to your Masters... Can't follow the simplest commands...Always having to punish yourself..."

"Kreacher, stab it now!" the wizard was bellowing now, but Kreacher was paralysed. He couldn't do it. He was a disgrace and needed to be punished. Maybe he should use the fang he was holding to stab himself.

"Kreacher, stab it now!" Sirius shouted, and Kreacher found himself bringing the fang down decisively, just as the eyes in the locket gleamed scarlet—unable to disobey a direct order from his Master.

There was a clang as fang hit metal, followed by a long, drawn-out scream. And then all that remained was the sticky shattered locket, sitting in the middle of the table.

For a moment, Kreacher stood and stared blankly at the Horcrux. Then, the fang fell to the ground as his grip on it slackened once more, and he sank to his knees, shaking and sobbing in grief. Oh, how he missed his Master Regulus, poor kind Master Regulus…Why had Master Regulus had to die? Why did Master Regulus have to order Kreacher to leave him to die? Why did Master Regulus have to give his life to avenge stupid, useless, worthless Kreacher?"

Harry allowed the house-elf to cry himself out. Only when he seemed to have calmed, spasmodic shuddering replacing his loud and violent sobs, did he approach cautiously, and place a calming hand on the elf's shoulder. "It's done now, Kreacher; you've avenged your Master." He smiled kindly. "Regulus would be proud of you."

Surprisingly, Kreacher didn't wrench away from the touch, as he'd so often done when Hermione had tried to comfort him. Instead, he looked up at Harry, his big eyes swimming in tears, and sobbed out, "Th-thank you, good and kind wizard who shouldn't hang around with nasty Master Sirius." He even allowed Harry to help him to his feet.

When the house-elf finally stopped shaking, Sirius stepped forwards himself, and spoke hesitantly, "Kreacher?"

"Yes, Master?" the elf replied, his tone not quite as hostile as it had been earlier.

"I'd... I'd like to.... Regulus was..." Sirius stumbled over his words then finally gave up and turned away, blotting at the single tear that made it down his cheek, against his will.

Kreacher gaped at his Master in astonishment and disbelief for nearly a full minute before he managed to respond, "Master is trying to apologize but Master is still an ungrateful swine for breaking his mother's heart."

Sirius laughed nervously, "Let's just agree to disagree on that one for now. It's hardly the time or place for me to start explaining my side of that story..."

“Kreacher should be getting back to Mistress now..."

"Did you want to keep the fruit of your efforts as a trophy?" offered Harry, remembering how Kreacher had treasured Regulus' locket.

Kreacher shook his head, curling up his lower lip in disgust as he glanced at the destroyed Horcrux, covered in sticky liquid, "Kreacher is thinking that that is belonging in the rubbish bin!" he responded before popping away.

"Well that's that, then," Harry turned to Sirius and smiled, "One more down; three more to go."

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